Women and their bodies are a battleground, subject to extreme criticism, especially in rock music. Last Tuesday night at In This Moment‘s show at Theatre of Living Arts, it became clear front-woman Maria Brink has engaged herself as the subject of that ideological warfare of sexuality.
Outwardly, the stage was dressed up as a sinister circus, complete with a distinctive red tent, golden arches, gratuitous lighting, wind-machines, blacklight makeup, and demon backup dancers, perfect for the band’s new concept album Black Widow–a slick, rage-fueled compilation featuring the strong and sensual femme fatale titular character revealing herself as a beacon of beautiful destruction, asserting herself against criticism and repulsion. That fantasy came to fruition when Brink launched onto stage in full Black Widow garb–a wide-brimmed black hat and loosely-open cloak, gyrating and clicking Freddy Krueger talons to the tune of the tracks “The Infection” and “Sick Like Me.” Halfway through “Sick Like Me,” Brink’s masked assistant pulled back the cloak and later the hat, revealing a sexy, white-and-black bodysuit and her flowing platinum locks blowing in the wind, the first of many costume changes like many pop stars before her, yet nary a metal front-woman of equal caliber.
Unlike the few female singers of the metal genre, whose sexuality is regulated to just pretty faces, operatic voices and corseted midriffs with voluminous Gothic skirts, Maria Brink possesses none of those things aside from her looks. Her voice is beautifully seductive yet snarling, and she most certainly does not shy away from horror or her own sexuality, choosing revealing outfits typically seen on the ilk of Britney Spears. Unlike a typical pop star, however, the talented Brink knows full well she has a choice rather than a crutch to sell albums: she can play down her sexuality or, she can revel in and celebrate her body and talent by making herself a desirable yet derisive object.
What makes Brink and her performance groundbreaking and sexually-empowering is that she embodies the hardness and iconicism needed in the front person of a metal band as well as a refreshing, feminine tenderness that is not lost to each other but expressed equally and simultaneously. There is something wrong with our perception, when Brink feels the need to address not ‘belonging’ in the genre because of her overt sexuality and not living up to typical expectations. Specifically, in the hip-hop metal track “Sex Metal Barbie” when she raps: “Low class, white trash, I’m so obscene/You know, I heard that I should be ashamed/Still they hold their fists in the air, screaming my name, COME ON!” as well as in the song “Dirty Pretty,” where she questions, again, the expectations she faces as to be an idealized, overtly-feminine version of herself knowing full well she is so much more than that.
Metal as a genre is rage, sex, and violence, and many female-fronted metal bands are left to be covered up and essentially sexless, operatic and feminine rather than angry and powerful like their male counterparts. Essentially, this means metal is still suffering under the Madonna/Whore complex, where sexuality must be sacrificed for the good of a supposed wealth of character and tenderness. Where does it end? What would it mean if the genre were more diversified to include anything other than the norm?
What are your thoughts on this? Is Brink empowering or causing something more problematic with her sex metal image? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!