WWhat came first: the music or the misery? In The last dinner partyIn this case, the puzzle goes more in an online direction: was it the music or was it the discourse? The all-female quintet have only released one single, the melodic anthem ‘Nothing Matters’, but many articles have been written about them and many of them have used the patient-intensive word ‘buzzy’. This feverish hype was inevitably followed by intense cynicism. Scroll through Twitter and you’ll see all sorts of suggestions. These are “industrial plants”. They are “Nepo Babies”. Once they flushed Sam Fender’s head down the toilet. (OK, I made that last one up.)
This was a band, the over-the-top early profiles told us, that’s been struggling on the gig scene for the past 12 months, building a fan base organically rather than foisting itself on us via an algorithm overlord. But The Last Dinner Party are signed to major label Island Records and managed by QPrime, which counts Metallica, muse And Foal among its customers, so some consider this disingenuous. Some argue that these resources have given them a soft landing in an industry notoriously difficult to break into and a profile that doesn’t equate to a band that’s only released one song. Whether their music is actually good seemed almost beside the point, and a debate about privilege, fairness and opportunity threatened to overshadow the band’s momentum. But are they really villains? Or is the criticism they face actually a signal that women can never win in music?
If you’ve never heard of “The Last Dinner Party” or hear anyone argue about it, then they’ve been compared in a variety of ways to Kate Bush, Sparks, Florence and the Machine, Queen, and Abba. They dress like extras from pride and prejudice (the 2005 version), who in their music video roam the countryside in flowing white dresses, they feel like a band made for crowded basement gigs with sticky floors and sweaty dancing. I came across the discourse before the hype, which was confusing, but when I actually listened to “Nothing Matters” my judgment was quick: total banger. “It just sounds like Abba,” my friend said before telling me to stop playing it so often. (In fairness, I felt awkward singing a refrain that went, “And I’ll fuck you ’till nothing counts,” within earshot of my nice neighbors.)
I’m not a “musician” and this has confused me about my tastes in the past. I’ll never forget the moment a man taunted me for wearing a band t-shirt to a gig (I was glad I was there!) and imagine how I felt when I was aged 12 years old learned that Avril Lavigne was “a poseur”? Complicated, As a matter of fact. I even hesitated for a while to admit that I really liked The Last Dinner Party’s song. Am I, I thought, just cheesy, awkward, and plain? Yes, but what I’m trying to say is that the music world’s snobbery about “authenticity” can be just as depressing as the PR hype about hot young things that bothers them so much. But not only does it make people – often women – feel that the things they love should be viewed with contempt, it regularly leads to something more depressing: female artists have to defend themselves.
The Last Dinner Party has already addressed allegations that they were put together by a label, declaring on Twitter that “that’s just a nasty lie.” We weren’t put together like a K-pop girl group, we know each other since we were 18 when we met freshman week, there’s videos of us playing live as an unsigned band all last year and we got signed by them.” For whatever reason always – the overwhelming sight of, I don’t know, women leaving the house late at night and playing musical instruments? – It’s women artists who are most often accused of not really being successful on their own or of not mastering their own creativity. ‘Wet Leg’ has faced similar criticism as ‘The Last Dinner Party’, while last year Scandinavian pop star Sigrid admitted questions about her veracity angered her. “It feels like I’m being discredited, both for my talent and for all the damn hours I’ve put in at the piano to work,” she said.
What’s even more frustrating about “The Last Dinner Party’s” rejection, though, is that it undermines recent – justifiable – outrage over the continuing lack of women getting headlining slots at festivals. That and the fact that the Brits didn’t have any female artists nominated for the Female Artist of the Year award this year. Many agreed that the problem was structural – not that women weren’t good enough, but that the industry wasn’t doing enough to bring them up to the level of their male counterparts. Still, The Last Dinner Party was supported and that’s not seen as a positive.
However, no amount of slick, shiny PR campaign or media hype can really get people to like something. I’ve seen enough heavily drawn “Voice of a Generation!” Debut novels go unnoticed because you know you’re bringing the public to your heavily advertised product, but you can’t get them to buy it. Whether the second song from The Last Dinner Party is as good as the first, we’ll have to wait and see. But a young, talented female band who have to justify their existence in a landscape where female artists already have a hard time being heard? Nothing matters, they say – but I think maybe it does.