*by Death Valentine, I surely mean "Death Valentine and its past and future incarnations" ; "Valentine Enterprises affiliated content" ; "anything Valentine-related in the creative realms". I'm not sure how much longer the Death Valentine project will be around. By the time you read this, Death Valentine may well be dead, dissected, and reanimated as Saint Valentine, a tertiary-level evolved form stemming from my first boozy college band Red Stripe, to grim postgrad princess Death Valentine, to timeless aaaaarrrrrrtttttt deity Saint Valentine. Sanctify my love. ✨
It's not that I'm disappointed in the Death archetype, I'm just very partial to being a Saint right now. At this level, the moments and feels that I siphoned into Death's origin story last year are no longer bothering me. I'm in a chiller and happier place, and I want that to reflect in whatever alter ego I'm channelling at whatever phase. MOM IT'S NOT A PHASE I'M EMO FOR LIFE!!!
In honor of this re-reincarnation, this second rebirth, I'm going to do three things (four, if you count writing this):
1. A fast, cathartic release of a lot of content, beginning as a new Death Valentine video + EP, ending in a new Saint Valentine track. All within one week of each other (maybe the week of Easter cause I'm a sucker for holiday timing, and hurrhurr ~resurrection themes~), all made within the past month.
2. A private ceremony, meditation, and furious diarying session, uberfocused on leaving behind the dregs of Death and welcoming my newfound Sainthood.
3. A show!!!! Duh.
I probably spend more time conceptualizing than I do actually creating content at this point, which I think is fine--manifest reality is only like 10% of the conceptual possibility, if you were to follow Aldous Huxley's ~reducing valve~ theory or any quantum physics gems. I definitely spend more time creating content than I do peddling my wares and marketing my brand, which is fine when I want to just make the shit in peace without being bothered about metrics, but irritating when I don't feel "business-savvy" enough to make my zygotic art dreams come true.
Growing up, my dream was to be a dank, dark, princess musician, who lived in a trippy mirror world, making beautiful and warped ethereal songs without any insecurities and pretensions, and not giving a fuck about what haters think. (yes me as a five-year-old was saying all this.)
I moved to Los Angeles from Moscow when I was two; the first cultural obsessions I can remember involved Disney princesses (duh! Sleeping Beauty was a particular fave), Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, the Scooby Doo gang, anything cute and pretty and cartoony like Hello Kitty or Space Ghost. I liked them because they’re easy to look at, listen to, and digest.
Somewhere, I must have subconsciously felt that they were dishonest to the grim darknesses of my reality as a lower middle class immigrant with a divided household. Transforming out of my baby princess phase, I got into rock n roll \m/ and emo and punk and scene and whatever was synchronous with “rebel”!!!!!
Rebelling was a religious experience for me. First was Nirvana and Hole: I used to literally pray to Kurt Cobain from fifth grade until maybe the end of middle school. I considered myself an authority on all things Nirvana; their music was my bible. I shoplifted a lot in my rebellious phase. Hole's Live Through This was the first album I actually bought (with money), somehow atoning my sin. I don’t have the theological knowledge to supplement the metaphor, but consider my discovery of Nirvana and the 90s grunge history as a sublime spiritual awakening. Rocknroll religion, b*~*~tch!!!!
Perhaps it was growing up without a consistent faith and religiously apathetic parents, that factored into me trying to create improvised spiritual experiments from everything I experienced. Of course, music and film were on the tallest pedestal. When I saw Star Wars in seventh grade, I drew little pamphlets about “Vaderism”, a religion which I thought I invented. Vaderism consisted mostly of draughts of myself dressed as Darth Vader and the occasional deep, heartfelt line from Live Through This… It was pretty lame and unoriginal but I still enjoyed it.
Oh, and let’s not forget about My Chemical Romance. In the midst of my primordial rebelism and unfulfilled vanity, I became obsessed with this band because I loved how they looked. They “vibed” with my frequency. Aw feck, especially the music videos. The ~fuck prep school~ attitude of “I’m Not Okay” and the sexy ghost resurrection choreography of “Helena” knocked me out. (x_x) (OoO).
The music of the first album of theirs I heard, Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, I didn’t really like it as much as their #aesthetic. However, it made me want to ROCK OUT DUDE (but like really dramatically with a lot of artifice but also a lot of sincerity but mostly artifice) and wear black makeup and write deep lyrics about drinking my own blood in a graveyard while I mourn my crush’s metaphysical passing (oh noes!) and post my shitty poetry on livejournal! I should also note that their first album I Brought You My Bullets You Brought Me Your Love, which I discovered (gerard) way later on was something I felt a much deeper connection with — it was, I felt, more visual and dark and weird and narrative-conscious and synesthetic than its successor. This band may have sparked my obsession with the fragile, hyperpermeable membrane between sincerity and artifice. I’m going to add that now 10+ years later in 2016, I still gravitate towards MCR type of cohesive theatricality in albums, still want to ROCK OUT WHILE WEARING CRAZY MAKEUP, still write deep thematic lyrics about crushes and graveyards, and still listen to MCR’s first album if it comes on shuffle. That’s how deep my branding goes.
Branding and bankability: this flies around my brain constantly. Yeah, Death Valentine is morbid and weird and doesn't have dollar signs raining down on it, but in an ideal world, I'd have a target demographic. The type of people my brand or whatever would influence isn't my millennial/collegiate brethren but preteen/teenage girls. Trendy, losery, pretentious, cute little demons, like I was, but now technologically advanced. And these little girls need cyber.alt#goth princesses just like my troubled 13 yr old self needed MCR and black lipstick. They can handle a little loaded word like "death".
Still, I'm not so sure I need to be the goth princess for myself now. I've been needing a divine intervention for years, and literally, ask and thy shall receive. Saint.
Enough about my emoteen rebel phase. This thesis is supposed to explore and validate why my side music project, Death Valentine, is important to me as a creative character concept that validates my work's existence. Although a wise philosopher once told me via facebook "it's 2016 and I'm still emo ;(" truer words have never been posted.
It's emo as fuck being a girl......in the big bad gnarly undank music world. Anyone who’s had significant artistic oppression and opposition understands the importance (and in many cases, difficulty) of standing up to the haters. When someone tells you with utmost confidence that “you shouldn’t make your art” / “as an artist you are at a dead end, a loser”, / "you will be blowing out the candles on your 30th birthday cake with nothing to your name but failure", those are statements that go beyond the perception of “your art sucks/I hate your music”. The nature of the latter is completely subjective; someone’s opinions that can be retorted with a “well, then don’t listen to it/don’t watch it”.
However, when someone targets your identity and purpose as an artist, they might as well be attacking your rights to existence. Oppression is bullying. Dude, I don't give a fuck if you don't like my music, as long as you don't get in the way of me actually making it. LEAVE DEATH ALONE PLEEEAZSE😭😵💀👻🙏✨
Sadly it’s common, even “normal”, in all the creative industries to take advantage of female artists and employees. This is an obvious and aggravating fact, but I want to talk about the music industry in particular because this is where I feel oppression has affected me the most.
There are thousands of articles and thought-pieces about this. Google “female oppression in music industry” and a catalogue of items shows up. Women in rap, indie rock, avant-garde, classical, mainstream pop, niche genre, and everything music are united not only in their practice of auditory art, but in being harassed at the hands of males in positions of power. Yeah, yeah. Truly I'm just repeating things that everyone already knows. However, these are important things that require as much repetition as is needed to facilitate even a slight change.
There are very few female managers, label CEOs, sound engineers, and executives. Most of those positions of power are occupied by men. I really wish to change that in the future. Less clowns, more queens!
I would love to, at some point in my creative career, to start a label, or expand Valentine Enterprises into a music-release powerhouse, or even take on an industry job that's more administrative in nature. I want to ~feel the girl power~ not just on stage or near a camera, but adjacent to executive decision making.
I love working with Suzanne Kite and Mint Park, the ladies at Unheard Records, because they are doing exactly that.
Historically, femininity and music have gone hand-in-hand, with many traditional music teachers (RIP from most history books though) and musical deities being women. Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of art, music, wisdom, and healing. Kanye West, the self-proclaimed nucleus of pop culture and genius, sings, “I Am A God”. I do love Kanye, but would prefer to worship Saraswati. Kanye gets away with sanctifying himself; his ridiculously exaggerated bravado gets equally applauded and reprimanded. What the fuck, I want to do that!!! I want to freely have a KANYE SIZED EGO THAT INSPIRES REACTIONS FROM PEOPLE LIKE, "DAAMN! ZAYYUUMM! THAT WEIRD CHICK IS GOD!" or something. Women who run that kind of conceit of "all powerful queen", like Madonna or Nicki or Beyonce, have to fight twenty times harder to deserve acclaim, and are more easily reprimanded for things like age, body, and thoughts. This is some bull ass shit.
(Ok, don't even get me started on age + looks + body issues; that's a trippy mirror world I do NOT want to exist in and requires a whole separate discussion)
Ok yeah, the ethos of the music industry is misleading and creepy. This is known. Yet, women still pursue careers in it. I’m pursuing my musical passion project in it (or outside of it? or something?)
*bear in mind that I'm not categorically detesting all men in music ; most of my guy friends are musicians, and literally all of my friends are DJs, and literally actually literally I only associate with future bass~altnoisewave~anthropocene-techno vine-famous male models ; my angst here is totally towards *males in positions of executive power in the music industry*
What is it that I want from the music world anyway? Financial stability? Popularity? The drama? Getting laid more? World domination?
The reason Death Valentine (and its affiliates/evolutions) must continue to exist is because there isn’t enough representation for ~weird divas~in music. I do love Bjork, Grace Jones, Peaches, Grimes, Lady Gaga, Hiromi Uehara, Lil Kim, Regina Spektor, Shakira, Laurie Anderson, Clara Rockwell, Evanescence, Courtney Love, and the strides they’ve made with their cleverness, outrageousness, sexuality, confidence, realness, surrealness, and bringing their eccentricities to a larger global market.... oh, and their music! How could I forget the actual, tedious, hard-fought contributions to their respective genres!
Also, I fucking love DIY pop stars. My good friends, LA-based pop performers the Bedroom Witch and Belly Belt, have inspired me so much in their work ethic, talent, dedication, and fabulousness. (Also just an aside, all of my friends are so remarkably talented and grossly beautiful, I can literally cry at the nature of their genius. Ewwww.)
In March, Belly Belt went on tour to the enchanted SXSW and beyond. I joined Belly as a documentarian (so I'll be putting up loads of DANK PIX!) and backup dancer, and we played on bills with varying acts: rocknrollers, DJs, industrial performers, hip-hop shows, nerdy older gearheads, melancholy girls with acoustic guitar, dreamy shoegaze boizzz, etc. The hip hop shows were the fucking funnest. The crowds were rowdy but respectful. They felt for the artists. People literally danced, even if it was a party of two for an up-and-comer. iPhones obviously came out to get close to the artist, but eyes weren't glued to a little screen. Perhaps it also mattered that it wasn't shows in LA, it was shows in TX and NM. Don't get me wrong, I've seen gr8 shows here, LA people are chill for the most part, but not always very approachable or enthusiastic. This experience validated my approach to genre-expanding. Now I know that in addition to the music being more genre-fluid, the crowd and audience is also vital. I definitely want to play shows with more hip-hop/pop/R&B artists.
I love pop acts and performative artists because when I go to a show, I don't wanna see a three-piece "dreamy dudes with guitars" for the thousandth time, I want to see a fucking SHOW. I want visuals. Costume changes. Dancing, for fuck's sake. Tears of glitter shed to power ballads. Interpretive stripping. Balloon animals. Something that takes me out of my routine-heavy, instagramming-from-the-pit body and brings me joy. I don't believe that's too demanding.
It’s a double edged sword. I wish the nature of my music, as opposed to my appearance in promo photos or music videos, commanded more attention and inspired more conversation. However, my image is important to my art. I wanna look #fabulous.
My fellow female musicians may be attractive and have advanced #aesthetics, but that shouldn’t neglect the hours, weeks, years spent training our ears and developing our sound. I'm not a virtuoso and I wasn't playing Shostakovich on violin when I was 6, nor am I an ~instagram DJ~ whose prodigiousness is manifest in #ipod #partyatjamesfrancohouse or #pastelhair2.0 under the glances of 30k followers who may never hear a full length album but will totally read about me in Nylon. I'm certainly exempt from the aforementioned "dreamy dudes with guitars" indie etherealwave rock club (shit, I have the #pastelhairs and #dreamwaveguitars but boys still don't ask me to do shows), but I want you to hear the influences on my work, whether they are male or female.
Those bands that I mentioned before, like Nirvana and MCR, and even going back to boy bands: N*SYNC, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, One Direction… they all have merch (stickers, lighters, shirts, dolls, pretty much all branded stuff that excludes CDs/mp3s/music). Just like Lil Kim has merch, just like Belly Belt has merch, just like Britney has merch, just like Death Valentine has merch.
Boy bands and girl bands have merch.
Girls generally buy more merch than boys, and they buy an even amount of boy band merch and girl band merch.
Boys are hardly seen in purchased girl band merch.
Girl band merch makes less money.
Girls make less money.
(Literally, as I'm writing this, I hear a guy in conversation outside my window saying "Katy Perry sucks").
"Sir, Capitalism Sucks!" I yell back into a void.
Now, whether I like it or not, I'm living in the self-prophecized trippy mirror world I wanted to frolic within as a pre-princess. Maybe in another life, I can be a virtuosic instagram DJ dude with a bankable boy band of dreamy guitars, but in the present, it is this particular identity (or bundle of identities) that I'm destined to exist within. Death Valentine clearly isn't a Top 40 darling, but it's an essential force in how I operate my creative field. If this existential microdrama wasn't a Life or Death or God or Saint or Devil or Angel or Whatever matter to me, why the fuck would I be writing this in the first place?
PS. I'm just going to leave you with this..........
“You see, if I was a guy, and I was sitting here with a cigarette in my hand, grabbing my crotch and talking about how I make music 'cause I love fast cars and f***ing girls, you'd call me a rock star. But when I do it in my music and in my videos, because I'm a female, because I make pop music, you're judgmental, and you say that it is distracting.” -Lady Gaga