Big In Japan
24. Lil’ Kim (Marc Jacobs) (2005)
In 2005 I had a bumper run of writing jobs in New York. I must’ve visited four or five times that year. I can’t remember which particular job I was on when I wandered into the Marc Jacobs store on Mercer Street and saw a $20 Lil’ Kim t-shirt he’d designed for charity. But I remember loving it on first sight.
By this time I’d got to know the city so well I would’ve tagged three or four extra days on the end of the trip, booked a room in Hotel 17 for $75 a pop and picked up an extra job to recompense the privilege. I spent most of my night-time in New York that year at The Cock, the spit and sawdust gay bar which was then three blocks down from the hotel on the corner of 14th Street and Avenue A. Jason from Scissor Sisters lived a few doors down, with a picture of Mariah Carey ripped from Heat taped to his bedroom wall.
The mid ’00s were an incredible time for gay music in New York, something that the mainstream British media never quite identified as a scene. The Dutch countercultural fashion/porn magazine Butt documented it all in casually forensic detail, forming the one valuable record of the time.
It was all there for the taking. Rufus Wainwright and Antony Hegarty were becoming major alternative marquee names. Casey Spooner was making important gestures in the exchange between art and pop that were not always successful but were always riveting. The hilarious raconteur Larry Tee was still curating the back-end of electroclash from Williamsburg. A Touch of Class threw awesome parties in reclaimed L.E.S. Laundromats. Whispers of Andy Butler making music with the boys at DFA started trickling through, later taking shelf-life as Hercules & Love Affair. Nico Muhly emerged to artfully orchestrate a massive strand of paranoid arena rock. Even Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste covered an unlikely gay wing of the nascent, bearded neo-folk thing in Brooklyn. Scissor Sisters were smashing it in Europe, mostly to their own surprise, paving the way later for the crasser touches of Gaga, a woman who makes loud and not entirely plausible claims to having been culturally incubated throughout that period.
Basically, being gay in New York in 2005 felt really cool. Its gay stars were becoming significant enough to warrant regular commissions in the city and record label budgets were ample enough, pre-recession, to satisfy them. For a season I even considered moving there, before remembering how parochial a lot of the work I do is. You can’t really write about Coronation Street from the East Village.
The New York Bear scene was super-hot. The old Chelsea leather dives The Eagle and The Rawhide were having a revisionist hour in the sun. Everyone seemed to be aging well, in a manner that was sexy and still fascinating. The Deitsch Projects in Soho was exhibiting brilliant art. Ryan McGinley was becoming an important photographer and cultural presence. John Cameron Mitchell’s films made a new gay New York sensibility intensely cinematic. I wrote a story on the brilliantly-named, now defunct Bear Arts festival Bearapolooza for a magazine with next to no budget and stayed in an art dealer’s loft in Tribeca that is still the most opulent postal address I’ve ever asked a taxi driver to drop me off at.
Good times, all. Wearing a Lil’ Kim t-shirt designed by the most important gay New Yorker of the day, Marc Jacobs, to any of these low level/high influence cultural touchstones seemed absolutely appropriate. I bought five of them from the Mercer Street store, thinking they would make for perfect birthday presents and thus donating $100 to The Door, a charity Marc patronised. The shop assistant looked at me as if I was mad.
I still think that Lil’ Kim is a deeply underrated artist. Hard Core is one of my favourite debut albums ever. An old boyfriend of mine who worked at Factory Records in the ’90s called her ‘The Shakespeare of Porn’, a title I’ve nicked on many occasions. Gay men implicitly understand Kimberley. She was doing accidental Slutwalks almost two decades before they became politically motivated. The Steven Klein shoot for her i-D cover and Bethan Cole’s accompanying interview are amongst my favourite pieces of youthful style and music journalism ever. The layout was killer. My boyfriend now, a brilliant DJ who colonised the decks at The Hacienda’s gay night, Flesh, back in the day still drops Lighters Up into the middle of new disco or house sets. The break of pace and resilience of Kim’s delivery always causes a little dance-floor moment.
Lil’ Kim is a pop star I care deeply about. Because of Jacobs’ detailing – his design eye puts the portrait in the bottom right hand corner of the fabric, breaking the artless band t-shirt convention of slapping the visual bang central – it’s ridiculously affordable price point, its heartfelt intentions, an association with an exceptional, unsung moment of recent New York history and… simply because of Kim herself, this t-shirt is probably my favourite piece of pop merchandise ever.
The opening ceremony of LIFE BALL VIENNA 2011.
I appear around 1 hour 10 minutes 50 seconds into the proceedings and sing The Power Of Love , arrangement from the 1999 Soulstream album by HJ
Russia (when they lift the ban on HIV Positive Visitors)
|—||Eve Ensler (via thepetshopboy)|