Bikini Kill: The Singles

Bikini Kill
The Singles
Kill Rock Stars

FOR A BAND whose very mission was to smash gender-role stereotypes, Bikini Kill has itself suffered from a whole lot of misconceptions. As soon as Bikini Kill and the riot grrl movement grew too big to be cool, underground, and subversive, the backlash began. The band was charged with reverse sexism, and even worse, shallowness.

The Singles, a compilation of the band's three 7-inch singles, makes those objections seem silly and downright misinformed. What's great about it is how none of the songs are throwaways; in a sense, this is the band's Greatest Hits album, too. It showcases lead singer/lyricist Kathleen Hanna's most triumphant moments of riot-grrl rebellion, opening with her bellowing, "I'm the little girl at the picnic who won't stop pulling her dress up" on the bombastic "New Radio." This exhibitionistic kid is Hanna's ideal rebel, because she sees punk iconoclasm as an instinctive (and therefore sexual) urge. Songs like "New Radio" (and, by its title alone, "I Like Fucking") make clear that Bikini Kill is so unabashedly pro-sex that it simply can't be anti-male.

"In Accordance to Natural Law" confronts those allegations of reverse sexism head-on--or so it seems. Hanna reads a fanzine screed that claims, "all men are evil except my boyfriend," then anticipates the knee-jerk reaction: We hate men, but oops! We do like a couple, so I guess we're hypocrites. Then she ends the song without bothering to rebut the point, thereby winning the argument by refusing to take the issue seriously.

This kind of irony, which begs for every song to be read as dumb, obvious, and self-contradictory, is what galvanizes Bikini Kill's strongest moments. The band's two LPs Reject All American and Pussy Whipped sound muddled and unfocused in comparison, mainly because on those records, Bikini Kill stretched out its narrow vision at the expense of its intensity and purism. The biggest flaw of those albums is that the songs don't sound the same. Here, they do, unashamedly. And because of it, The Singles turns indoctrination into an empowering sexual thrill.

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