Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
One of my pet peeves is unambitious rock stars. If you are a person who chooses to get on a stage night after night — whether it’s at an arena or a dive bar — you want people to pay attention to you. You want them to listen. You want them to care. I’m not saying there aren’t some legit downsides to fame. (Stalkers. Journalists. Difficult fourth albums.) But when I get that line from some rock boy or girl about how they would write these songs for themselves in their bedrooms even if no one were listening I’m like, okay really? Go do that, then. I want my musical heroes to want it. And to say so out loud. And to not fall for the false conceit that saying so out loud compromises them. A person who is trying is always so much more interesting than a person who is not trying or, worse, pretending they’re not trying but actually trying really really hard.
“[Tegan & Sara] have an uncanny way of neutralizing potentially melodramatic storylines about themselves by validating them.”
Tegan and Sara have never hesitated to express their opinions about basically anything. There are numerous Tumblers devoted to memorializing their priceless onstage banter. And then there are the songs. Lots of times you hear how some indie band is underappreciated and deserves a bigger level of mainstream success. Almost the opposite is true with Tegan and Sara. They’ve sold hundreds of thousands of albums, practically soundtracked entire seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, and inspired an entire White Stripes EP (Walking With A Ghost, 2005). But there’s still this sense that T&S are a niche band. This may have something to do with the fact that they are, you know, lesbian identical twins. You don’t see that every day in a rock star. And in some people’s perception, their unusual bio both sets them apart and limits them. But what’s rad about the Quin sisters is that instead of insisting the gay twin thing doesn’t matter, they just kind of acknowledge it and move on. They have an uncanny way of neutralizing potentially melodramatic storylines about themselves by validating them. They’re basically like, yeah, we’re gay and it matters. Yeah, we’re twins and that shapes our lives. And oh yeah, by the way, we want to be giant rock stars and we’re going to go ahead and do that now.
It’s that last bit that is news to me. Anyone who is into Tegan and Sara’s music knows they’ve been writing hugely accessible pop tunes for more than a decade. (The fact that Sara recently co-wrote a tune for Carly Rae Jepsen didn’t seem like much of a reach). When I loaded my stream of the new album, Heartthrob, I wasn’t shocked to hear a proper synth pop record emerge from my speakers. I mean, yeah, the totally unabashedly Billboard Hot 100-ness of the songs was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, but not in a bad way. This makes sense, I thought. This is right. What surprised me (though it shouldn’t have) is how unabashed the pair has been in discussing the motivation behind this album and the aspirations they have for it. “We feel like it’s time to try to crack into the mainstream,” Tegan told me. “We don’t want to be relegated to the obscure, or unknown, or indie scene because we are women or queer or alternative so we pushed ourselves to make music that could be embraced by the mainstream.”
Maybe it’s because I got the record around the same time as the Golden Globes or the fact that the girls were madly and hilariously tweeting during the award show broadcast but I found myself thinking about Tegan and Sara’s approach to fame in the aftermath of Jodi Foster’s controversially noncommittal coming out speech. As has been pointed out by many, there was something deeply sad about this legendary actresses’ excruciating non-confession. Many have wondered why she chose to put herself through this display if she felt as insecure and unresolved as she seemed about public perception of her private life. Vampire Weekend visionary (and adept social commentator) Rostam Batmanglij nailed it when he tweeted “Regardless of the words she may or may not have used, I couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling that she seemed ashamed, and that’s a shame.”
I want to send Jodi Foster a copy of Heartthrob. “We want to achieve more success but mainly we want to change the face of mainstream pop music,” Tegan said with quintessential brazenness. If you’re not wasting energy on false humility or downplaying your ambition or feeling ashamed of who you are, it leaves a whole lot of mojo left to bring big dreams well within reach.
Stream Tegan & Sara’s Heartthrob below. MTV Hive is streaming the duo’s Boston show on Sunday, January 27. Read all the details here.