Politics You Can Dance To: Teen and Seth Bogart

Two new records that play with the past.

“You, so troubled, so shy, you couldn’t be that kind of guy,” Teen sing in unison on “All About Us.” The song, vocalist Teen Lieberson has explained, is about “the quiet misogyny that women experience too often.” It’s a track for all those nice feminist #ally boys who are actually total creeps. “Blame it all on me, your lack of confidence and sexuality,” the group sings sarcastically, the punchy synth-pop track sounding like Freedom of Choice–era Devo.

Over their past two records, the Brooklyn band has toyed with different sounds: retro garage rock, arty R&B. But on their latest, Love Yes, the band settles on ‘80s New Wave, filled with fun, squelchy synths and classic girl-group vocal harmonies that at times can bring to mind the danceable pop of groups like Bananarama and Tom Tom Club. They’ve even got the perfect press photo to accompany their newfound sound, in which all four members look like they’re playing the part of Sue Ellen Crandell in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. And underneath all the genre and nostalgia, Teen songs have clear messages -- both playful and serious -- about their lives as women, and how they see and experience the world.

On the energetic “Free Time,” the group seems to be playing bored housewives as it relays its schedule, which includes drinking on the hour. “I’ll be home pretending you are happy, I never had a second of my own time,” the group laments in a cheerful singsong. The group’s harmonies candy-coat “Tokyo,” a pointed song about older men objectifying young women, singing, “fooling the Madonna, chasing after youthful skin, watching your own age drip, softening your trying limbs.” Over calamitous, pots-and-pans percussion in "Gone for Good," Lieberson describes how “the night wasn’t given to us” as she relays a breakup. “Love wasn’t designed for our trust,” she concludes. After two albums of trying out different musical identities, Teen have landed with a sound and vision that fits them. Love Yes is referential but personal; familiar, feminist, and forthright. Teen have finally made a Teen record.

Seth Bogart’s self-titled solo record mines the same synthy era of New Wave as Teen but throws it into campy, high relief. An alum of the queerpunk group Gravy Train!!!, Bogart also spent time as frontman of the girl-group revivalists Hunx and His Punx. On Seth Bogart, the singer pairs his Ronettes-wannabe shtick with papier-mâché and synthesizers, embracing DIY aesthetics to make a fantastically weird record about beauty and celebrity culture.

“Eating Makeup,” a collaboration with singer Kathleen Hanna, preaches the joys of eating lipstick, complete with a wacky video featuring a giant talking compact, while “Supermarket Supermodel” tells the story of a former supermodel who now works the aisles of a grocery store. “It’s not fair that you’re stuck in here, but you always look so fine,” Bogart sings, rather dramatically. Throughout the album, Bogart embraces trashy sounds -- cheap-sounding keyboards, over-the-top autotune -- to underscore the themes of manufactured celebrity and fakeness that he sings about. It’s a record that was recorded just using “a laptop, guitar, microphone, and a $50 keyboard” yet lives for bright, shiny materialism and loves artifice. Bogart’s album puts kitsch and queerness at the fore. “Don’t you wanna get lubed?” Bogart sings, with longing and sincerity, like he’s asking you to prom.

Bogart’s style pulls from the work of camp icons like filmmaker John Waters and The B-52’s, artists who mined and then subverted the square, heterosexual suburban ideals of 1950s America. But both Bogart and Teen are also pulling from electroclash bands of the early 2000s, like Peaches and Le Tigre, that pushed sexual boundaries and agendas in their music. “I want to make something that's totally pleasurable and political too.” Both Love Yes and Seth Bogart embrace off-kilter pop music, and their aesthetics and sounds for delivering their sexual politics come not from a place of masculine, punk aggression but instead from vintage girl-group sounds and dance music. For both artists, the personal is political, and the political can definitely feel like a party.