Q&A Interview With Missy Suicide (A Suicide Girls Blackheart Burlesque Preview - Saturday, June 3, 2017 At Park West)

Q&A Interview With Missy Suicide (A Suicide Girls Blackheart Burlesque Preview - Saturday, June 3, 2017 At Park West)

As the Suicide Girls live "Blackheart Burlesque" tour rolls into Chicago for an appearance Saturday night at Park West, I spoke with Suicide Girls founder Missy Suicide about the natural relationship between music and the Suicide Girls live show, their current tribute to Prince and David Bowie, creating an online community that predates the explosion of social media and shifting cultural attitudes toward sexuality in America... 

Putting a contemporary spin on pin-up culture, the launch of the Suicide Girls website in 2001 actually built an online community that predated the coming explosion of social media, and early examples of it, like Friendster in 2002 and MySpace in 2003.

In the nearly fifteen years that have followed, what started as a website has crossed over into the mainstream influencing general popular culture through a series of themed comic books and films as well as placement in nationally televised sitcoms like CSI.

Traditionally, rock and roll has been best described by the attitudes that identify it, not the sounds. Unpredictability and the embrace of sexuality are two ideas that have come to define rock, making the relationship between the music and the Suicide Girls a natural one. Musicians like Mike Doughty and Dave Navarro have each photographed models for the site and opening appearances by Suicide Girls on tours by artists like Guns N' Roses and Courtney Love, as well as a recent collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age, have further cemented the bond.

Since 2003, Suicide Girls have taken their show on the road, developing a constantly evolving live revue that combines burlesque with music, pop culture and cult classics. At a time in America when attitudes toward women and sexuality seem to be shifting, Suicide Girls are taking their message to more Americans than ever before, with a tour that stops in sixty U.S. cities.

Encouraging and celebrating individuality, Suicide Girls, like Prince and David Bowie before them, have challenged what society considers normal, the ways in which people view sexuality and have helped redefine the idea of beauty in the process.

I spoke with Suicide Girls founder Missy Suicide about the Suicide Girls embrace of music and cult favorites in their live show, the idea of helping women take control of the way in which their sexuality is depicted and more. A lightly edited transcript of that phone conversation follows below...

Q. Well, I know you haven’t been out on the road every day but this is the biggest Suicide Girls tour yet. How has everything gone so far?

Missy Suicide: Everything’s going remarkably well. So far.

This is the first tour that we’ve booked ourselves. The tour manager and the entire crew are Suicide Girls. It’s the first time that we’ve had all Suicide Girls doing every step of the process. It’s all going pretty smoothly.

I'm actually going to come out for [the Park West] show. I haven't been out to Chicago in a couple of years so it'll be awesome to come to that show.

Q. Over the years, you’ve kind of included in the live routine choreographed numbers that draw from cult favorites like Star Wars and Rocky Horror Picture Show. That continues on the new tour with the inclusion of numbers based on Westworld and Stranger Things amongst others. How do you go about picking that kind of stuff?

MS: We have an ongoing list. Everybody has access to it. So whenever anybody is watching like a TV show or picking up a new comic book, we’ll just add it to the list. “Wouldn’t it be great to do Stranger Things?” “Wouldn’t it be awesome to do Doctor Who?” “Pokémon?” Or whatever it is. We’ll just leave all the ideas there.

And before the tour starts, I go through and try to match up the theme with a song. Then I talk to our choreographer and try to figure out if it’s going to work – if we can come up with something where, costume wise and dance wise, the song and everything hits. Then she choreographs a number to it and we see how it all comes out.

We see how the audience reacts. There’s audience participation and it’s really just something that you can’t reproduce online. You just have to feel the energy in the audience.

Q. Rock and roll has long been defined not just by a particular sound but by a spirit of unpredictability and unbridled sexuality. Especially in your live show, how natural is that marriage of music and a Suicide Girls performance?

MS: It’s just such a fun show. It’s impossible to leave without a smile. We blend pop culture with the sexy spirit of classic burlesque and use music in a way that is fun and unique. It’s a spectacle that’s awesome.

When it works, when it hits, you’re like, “Of course! That’s perfect!” It just flows in a way that is natural. The Black Keys and sexy girls – of course it works! Or Disclosure and The Simpsons. Planet of the Apes. It all goes together, you know?

It’s really a fun process to be involved in.

Q. There’s a tribute to David Bowie and Prince in the routine right now. Both of them meant so much more than just their music with their impact on fashion, culture, etc. Plus, they both kind of seem to stick with that core Suicide Girls mission of helping people take control of the manner in which their sexuality is being depicted. They really changed people’s perceptions of sexuality and what was deemed culturally “acceptable.” What’s your current tribute like?

MS: It’s pretty much all of what you just said. They were iconic artists and they definitely pushed the boundaries of sexuality. We try to honor that.

I started [Suicide Girls] because I didn’t see a reflection of myself anywhere in mainstream media. And I wanted to use a platform that I thought could connect me to people that thought similarly to the way I did

Q. You launched the Suicide Girls website in 2001 hoping to give women control over how their sexuality is depicted. Fifteen years later, it's still a struggle. How do you go about trying to accomplish that?

MS: If you look at 99.9% of photographs, they’re taken to depict how the photographer frames out the world. It might be slightly different now that there’s selfies. But the photos up of the Suicide Girls, they’re designed to showcase how a model feels sexy about herself.

It’s really a collaborative process that depicts the girl’s vision of how she wants to be portrayed. We really try to honor that sexy spirit to make it a unique experience. Because so much of sexuality is through the lens of another person.

We really want to honor the fact that our bodies are such an intrinsic part of ourselves and our being – a reflection of our personalities and our identities.

We just really try to highlight our personal style and unique individuality.

Q. When you started this fifteen years ago, did you ever imagine it would come to influence pop culture the way it has now across so many different platforms and mediums?

MS: No. I really didn’t have an idea that it would resonate so strongly with people. But it is something that people feel so attached to. It speaks to them.

I started it because I didn’t see a reflection of myself anywhere in mainstream media. And I wanted to use a platform that I thought could connect me to people that thought similarly to the way I did. Because there’s something that’s so powerful about connection – connectivity. I was willing to forge through the dangers of the internet in 2001 to put myself out there online. And it turns out that people do like to use the internet to connect with one another and to share their thoughts and feelings with the world – in ways that I could’ve never imagined fifteen years ago.

The technology wasn’t what it is today. Most of the original girls had to use the library to update their profiles on the website because they didn’t have computers at home – much less in their pocket and available at any time.

The world was quite different back then. But it’s been an amazing ride.

Q. I'm fascinated by the fact that Suicide Girls created an online community that predates the explosion of social media. Looking ahead, where do you hope to see all of this go next?

MS: I hope that we can expand the brand through messaging to more products and people – books, TV, movies – ways that people can consume our message and be inspired by it.

Q. America is in an interesting place right now. In terms of general, cultural acceptance of sexuality, I'd argue that we seem to be moving backwards in a lot of ways. Generally speaking, does that change what you’re looking to accomplish now fifteen years in? Does it make it that much more important to utilize the strength your voice carries now that Suicide Girls has crossed over to popular culture the way it has?

MS: I think you have to move backwards to move forwards a little bit: two steps forward, one step back. We’ve made a lot of progress in the previous eight years. This will be, hopefully, a four year blip that we can overcome.

But I think it’s important to stay true to our initial ideals. Being true to yourself and not trying to fit into any sort of mold or Stepford Wives sort of platform is so important. I feel like celebrating the individual is a message that hopefully we’ll receive even more. Especially over the next four years. And then we’ll see.

We’ve been doing this since the second Bush – the first term of the second Bush. We’ve been doing it for a while. We faced adversity at the beginning and weathered that storm.

So, hopefully, this will be just a temporary blip on the radar and we can move forward even stronger than before.

- Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )

(Details on Saturday's Suicide Girls "Blackheart Burlesque" live show at Park West below)

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Suicide Girls Live - Blackheart Burlesque
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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Park West

Doors open at 8PM
Show starts at 9PM
18 and over

Tickets: $20 - $65

Click HERE to purchase tickets
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