For a certain kind of woman who was a teenager in the early noughties, the sound of Amanda Palmer’s piano keys elicits a very specific response. You hear her left hand hammer out a rhythm and you know that, whatever comes next, it’s going to rattle something inside of you. She’ll reach into your throat and claw out the truth, drawing out your poorly defined pain with an ivory riot. She’s written songs about Trump (“Small Hands, Small Heart”) and the Daily Mail (“There’s this thing called a search engine: use it! / If you'd googled my tits in advance you'd have found that your / photos are hardly exclusive”), and so it seemed inevitable, to fans at least, that she would touch upon the #MeToo movement.
And so, with Mr Weinstein Will See You Now, I feel the same rattling circus that pulled into town when I first bought a The Dresden Dolls record, over a decade ago.
It’s not a subtle title. It’s not a subtle song. There’s none of Palmer’s trademark pithy humour or cabaret cheekiness, but rather a crashing black wave of sound. The song, written and performed by Palmer with Welsh songwriter Jasmine Power, doesn’t aim to describe what it’s like to be raped, but is more of a keyhole view into how it feels. Voices swim and layer on top of one another as you hear a woman arguing with herself. She weighs up the pain and humiliation of the hotel room with the opportunities she’s trading her dignity for. Play or lose? Red pill or blue pill? Open casket or open casting? “Every velvet rope that opens / every time the robe unfurls.”
It’s a song about choices. Or, rather, it’s a song about the illusion of choice. Your choice is to have a wonderful career and be sexually abused by your betters, or to starve and preserve your dignity. You can choose to be angry, or you can choose to numb yourself and wait until he’s finished. The house always wins in the end, so you might as well make the smart-girl choice. And, after all, you came up here, didn’t you? You took the elevator. “You’ve got / a lot of nerve / walking in here on your own,” sings Palmer. “So come and get it.”
We’re about to enter a whole new phase of female art about female abuse. Songs about the women who stayed in the hotel rooms, books about the women who never got invited
“I don’t know if most people will even understand this song,” writes Palmer. “And I don’t care. The women we wrote it for will understand.”
Every movement has its phases. With #MeToo, we’ve already seen a few of them. First came the confessions; then the public scorning of the perpetrators; then, the backlash, the discussion over whether things are “that bad, really”. Currently, we linger in a media landscape that’s looking for the Next Big Outrage, reading about how male violence is the direct result of female snobbery. #MeToo and Time’s Up are sparks attempting to illuminate a much bigger, much darker room, and they risk being snuffed out unless something keeps them burning.
And that’s where art comes in. That’s what art’s job is. There are too many injustices in the world to keep them all alive using academic thought alone, so instead of telling people how they should think about victims, we use songs and movies and books to communicate how it feels to be a victim. It’s why, decades after the first early deaths from AIDS, people still use the film Philadelphia to talk about it. The Color Purple to talk about slavery. Hell, even Gangsta’s Paradise – as cheesy as Coolio’s hit now seems, 23 years later – has a relevance and a resonance, delivering a message of gang violence and poverty to suburban households all over the world. We keep our empathy sharp with good art and, aside from Christina Aguilera and Demi Lovato’s release of Fall In Line last week, Mr Weinstein Will See You Now is one of the first mainstream offerings to #MeToo’s altar.
We’re about to enter a whole new phase of female art about female abuse. Songs about the women who stayed in the hotel rooms, books about the women who never got invited. Films about the heroes, the victims, the saviours. Amanda Palmer’s song is a cathartic, gripping listen, but it’s just the beginning.