British music magazine NME is not exactly known for its coverage of women, let alone radical American feminists. So it came as a small shock a few weeks ago when the English music weekly deviated from its skinny-young-lads focus in order to grant the Gossip its March 3 cover. In fact, since the UK re-release of Standing in the Way of Control, NME has transformed itself into something resembling a Gossip fanzine, with a review of Control leading to a series of adoring and ever-larger write-ups that culminated in the cover issue and a lengthy interview with bandmates Beth Ditto, Brace Paine, and Hannah Blilie. Ditto sang a riveting duet with Jarvis Cocker at this year's NME Awards, and in November she became the first woman ever to grab the number one spot on the magazine's "Cool List," beating out Brit boy perennials Liam Gallagher and Thom Yorke.
NME's crush on the Gossip is proof of the band's exploding popularity, and represents an unexpected victory against sexist industry conservatism. "We didn't know that the record would do so well," Ditto admitted to me over the phone. "It's about time that someone like me made it there. The [UK] market is very small and it's a place that's not afraid to take risks. The American market is very afraid to take risks."
All of this new visibility, both overseas and back home in the US, has brought big changes for the Gossip. Though the trio remains close to former label Kill Rock Stars ("I will love those people 'til the day I die," Ditto declares), in November of 2006 they began a switch to Sony subsidiary Music with a Twist, a niche label committed to, in the words of their press release, "identifying and developing lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and trans gendered [sic] (LGBT) artists." The Gossip's sound is shifting too, edging away from the Delta blues center of the early records toward a fusion of disco, punk, and rock that is fearless, irresistible, and innovative, as well as dancier and more accessible to a mainstream audience.
With the band poised on the brink of crossover success, it's easy to speculate that major label digs and international attention will change the Gossip, diluting the feminist critique and radical queer politics that make them so precious in the first place. But so far they've lost none of their fierceness or skepticism, turning down an offer to tour with Pearl Jam as well as a pitch for a British reality TV show centered on Ditto that seemed unoriginal and exploitative. And for Ditto, the move to Music with a Twist has been far more complicated than an exchange of independence for visibility, or integrity for money.
"People on indies can be just as shitty as people on majors," she points out. "I don't want to preach to the choir. I want things to be better. Why should I go without? It's such a straight white boy privilege to be able to say, 'Don't sell out!' I'm still fat, I'm still gay, I'm still loud, and that's not going to change just because I'm making a little more money." The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house, but if the Gossip are involved, they just might weaken its foundations.