A blistering note on the cheapest-sounding guitar. Distortion set to nasty-beautiful. The tone of negotiations are set. The note is distorted to tipping point. Then comes the sound of ring-pull being opened. We’re away. It’s ‘Diet Coke Head’; the first track from Keeping Up With Miss World.
‘Diet Coke Head’ is not the only pun-title in this sequence. We recently talked about ‘Carb Your Enthusiasm’, the lead single from this collection from Natalie Chahal – the mind behind Miss World. That thing was loaded with explicit and implicit swipes at pop, punk, and contemporary distractions. The full album now amplifies the concerns of vacuity versus substance. “Give me sugar” is the first line in a sequence of artificially sweetened tunes. From the outset Chahal establishes the sense of compulsion. Nothing is quite enough. She then builds momentum to explore the appetites that gather where creativity meets commerce. The album is a dense, at times playfully smothering load of art.
The issues on this album have been shared with us before with a similar punk sensibility. Chahal was one half of Shit Girlfriend. Along with Laura-Mary Carter of Blood Red Shoes Chahal developed a sound of garage rock with a feminist focus. Here the bite is sharper, somehow stronger for indulging the Miss World persona. It’s a grand claim, but perhaps the sound is even trashier, and the production values have become more brittle.
Feminist issues continue to ring, but there are also aspects of life that Chahal offers up as hurdles, not least the corroded attention span. Our brains are victims of speed-scrolling social media feeds. Viewing the world through a prism of social media posts Miss World has removed herself from one reality, and entered another. Here things are less certain, and while impulses may feel more magical there’s a sense that we are devouring too many empty calories. “What’s a calorie, anyway?” is the lyrical cornerstone of ‘Carb Your Enthusiasm’.
Track titles are populated with commands, and the drawing of expectation. ‘Buy Me Dinner’, and ‘Put Me In A Movie’, are two of the most explicit swipes seeking approval from men / the establishment. Lyrics bounce off the face of things, and by taking lots of little bites Miss World consumes the entire issue. There are too many angles, too many ‘types of feminism’ when common sense, or at least common decency should be enough.
“Buy me dinner, and I love you…” harks back to outmoded chivalry. But as the track unfolds the breezy garage-surf chorus of “Baby I love you” loses its lightness, and a darker awareness is made clear. “You can pay my rent, and I’ll give you a thrill” And things get darker still as the hunted-hunter explains that the text messages from from her lover’s wife don’t need to be hidden. Everyone is fucking everyone over. It’s survival. Later – ‘Oh Honey’ nails it; “I don’t care about how you treat, anyone else but me.”
Runtime of tracks is short. Chahal knows how to measure a punch. The rapid sequence of blows is smart. Too long with this level of density and the fizz of the subject would sound like a wallowing dispatch of a ‘wronged woman’. We must never think that Miss World is a victim. Her cunning, conveyed here with clever production from Tony Price, is like a fox. She tears through the trash, she steals what she needs, turns garbage into treasure, and moves on.
We should pause on ‘It could be us but U playin”. Chahal’s awareness of meme-culture, and the hooks that sink deepest into the insecurities and humor of a situation are best displayed here. The glam-rock strut mashes perfectly into the meta, and the results are oddly sing-along. The ‘whoo-hoo-wo-oh-hiiiiii’ is a delight. Later, ‘Lip Job’ is a definition of promise, reward and exactly what the pain is worth. However, for those listeners still not getting it – closing track ‘Modelling-Actressing’ at just thirty-two seconds long will unlock the code.
With Miss World Chahal has created a persona inspired by media platforms, and the contemporary desire to project accomplishment from nowhere. She toys with, and explores her audience’s fear of missing out. She points to the synthesized contents of desire. Cravings, disposable culture, and lack of substance are toyed with, but she also shares the rewards of living in the now, and keeping in perspective the pleasures of dropping pretense. Smart, sharp, and delivering more than her license permits, Miss World has taken the one-dimensional and detuned to the greatest effect.
HURRY – BUY – MISS WORLD MUSIC
PHOTOGRAPH BY AURORA SHIELDS