A week ago, Tori Amos released her newest album, American Doll Posse. For the album, Amos has created five distinct personalities- Santa, Clyde, Isabel, Tori, and Pip. Each song is written and sung by a different personality, with a few exceptions that are intended as “duets” (for the complete concept, see her official site).
As Josh Love notes in this article, from The News & Observer, Amos is playing on the successful image of The Pussycat Dolls. Love theorizes that the similarity of titles might be accidental, but I hardly believe that’s possible. As he realizes, American Doll Posse “can be heard as an attack on PCD’s one-dimensional cartoonishness.” Instead of many women whose images are pretty indistinguishable, Amos presents herself as many women in one.
What Love doesn’t quite pick up on is the way Amos draws on the tradition of other girl groups, particularly the Spice Girls, who played up the different personalities of their members. While the categorization of “types” is problematic by itself, the acknowledgement of difference is important. In a group like The Pussycat Dolls, difference is erased so that individual subjectivity is suppressed (see this post on PCD). With the suppression of individual subjectivity, individual choice also disappears. Amos renews individual choice by representing each member as a creative, generating force of her fictional “posse.”
As Love writes, Amos operates in “the space shared by feminism and femininity,” combining social satire with political criticism. Like Alanis Morrissette’s take on Fergie and “My Humps” (see this post), Amos engages in a musical dialogue with pop culture for the purpose of critique. For her, it is an explicitly political message. As Matt Mazur writes in this review, “American Doll Posse is a record that wants to know why we are at war, and what we are going to do to clean up our mess.” The first song, “Yo George,” sung by the Warhol-esque Isabel, is a direct apostrophe to Mr. Bush. Amos irreverently sings, “I salute you, commander, and I sneeze/because I have now an allergy to your policies it seems.” Of course, the message ostensibly directed to “Dubya” is meant to address American popular culture as a whole. Just as Isabel holds the camera up to the potential viewer of the cover art, Amos turns the scrutiny back on the viewing public, drawing attention to the production of its images.
What remains to be seen is whether pop culture (and its fans) will get the message.