Die New Yorker Indie-Punk-Band Pom Pom Squad veröffentlichen mit „Death Of The Head Cheerleader“ ihr grandioses Debütalbum. Im Wortwechsel hat Mastermind Mia Berrin mit Anna über ihre High School-Zeit, das Diversity-Problem der Punk-Szene sowie das queere Freiheitsgefühl gesprochen und erklärt, wie Tumblr ihre Zukunft voraus gesagt hat.
I’m so excited about your album! I love this whole aesthetic, I think that has to do with my slight obsession with all these high school dramas/mysteries/comedies, because that’s all I know about high school life. Tell me about your time there.
Mia Berrin: I went to high school in Orlando, Florida and was very lonely. I moved around a lot as a kid so I was born in New York, on Long Island, and then moved to the Midwest, Detroit, Michigan, and then ended up in Florida for kind of the key period of my adolescence probably from like age 13 to graduating high school. I was a pretty quiet kid growing up – I’m very introverted, generally in my life, but I think high school was where I started to get in touch with feeling angry and feeling angsty.
When I was a teenager, I journaled a lot, really kept to myself and spent a lot of time on the internet, sort of cultivating my personality and world building. I was just trying to find a space for myself to exist outside of my high school which was predominantly like white straight people.
I can relate to that a lot. I always felt like I didn’t really fit in into this school life and everyone was so perfect and rich, or they were the geeks and I was like always the in-between.
Mia: I was sort of the same way. Probably my freshman year of high school I felt a need to assimilate, I dyed my hair light brown and drew freckles on – I really wanted to be the girl next door. Kind of the ideal girl, the girl in the high school movie… I wanted to be the Mary Sue, so that also meant erasing any shred of personality that I had. It was obviously false. When I would assimilate into friend groups as that girl, I ended up in these situations of having to be passive in moments, especially in terms of people being racist, homophobic or misogynistic. But the Mary Sue doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t do anything.
So eventually, I ended up being very low and alone. Much later after I graduated, I found out that people thought I was cool. In my adult life I can confidently say I feel good about myself, and I feel cool. But back then, I did not feel it. I just felt this need to figure out what I was and thought about it very consciously, that self discovery was really effortful.
I had to become what I wanted to see.
Totally! I wish I had someone like me today to look up to when I was younger – but there wasn’t really a role model.
Mia: I think it’s part of the reason I started the band. One of the first things that helped me in my self discovery to come more into my anger and political interests, was Riot Grrrl’s music. It was my intro to feminism and punk. As I got older, I started to realize that there were no women of color in my Riot Grrrl. It really failed us. I was watching this interview with Kathleen Hanna (Lead singer Bikini Kill), where she talked about how in some of the earliest Riot Grrrl meetings, there were white women coming in and reading their zines about how guilty they felt about their covert, inherent racism.
I get that maybe they needed to need the space to express that guilt, but being a person who has been in those situations where I’m the sole person of color and somebody expects me to be the entire voice of a marginalized demographic, it’s uncomfortable, difficult, and depressing. I had to become what I wanted to see.
When I was a senior, I started kind of picking out the freshmen girls who I thought were cool and giving them Riot Grrrl zines, making them playlists and just slowly trying to radicalize freshmen at my school. Some of them I’m still really great friends with. Narcissistically or not, I took on the role of wanting to be somebody else’s representation or to see the person that I needed.
When there’s nobody else that embodies this role, you have to create it yourself. But nobody tells you that you have to do this and you just figure it out afterwards and be like: „“ow, okay, I stood up there for myself and it was good, but it’s also very hard.“
Mia: Yeah, it’s actually one of the best of pieces of advice my mom ever gave me. My mom is very very badass. She grew up on New Wave, so when I was a kid, she was listening to The Smiths, The Cure and Blondie, she just always had really an incredible music taste. She’s this black Puerto Rican woman going to these shows, I imagine sort of a similar place to me now.
When I was younger, Riot Grrrl DIY bands in New York were celebrities to me, and I always told myself: „When I go to college in New York, I’m going to meet these people and I’m finally going to have friends, I’m finally going to fit in somewhere„. And then I met these people. That was not the case and it was heartbreaking.
I remember calling her and being like: „What do I do?“ I always thought the second that I moved to New York and met these musicians and all these people that I’ve been admiring, I would finally feel seen or represented. And she was like: „Stop trying to be friends with them and start just trying to be them„. She said: „Any space you want in the world you’re going to have to make“ – and it’s always been true. The older I get, I always have some kind of „kill your idols“-experience. It just feels like every couple years that piece of advice comes back around.
Growing up in the Internet era, I don’t think I realized how big a part of my life having kind of a private internet persona was.
We have a lot of similar experiences. And like you, at one point I realized I was queer, and I’m just at the beginning of just really embracing it and really loving it, and I’m changing so much. I wondered if this was the same case for you.
Mia: I think I’ve always known that I was queer, but didn’t really have the language to express it well. I was. So when I realized that romantically I’m interested in women and non-cis men specifically, it felt like I shed a skin. It feels like one day I woke up and I just realized I was living someone else’s life. The way that I would wear my hair, my makeup and trying to embody this girl that I thought that I had to be, the girl next door, that kind of standard of being attractive.
I realized I was just dressing for other people, I didn’t actually like the way that I dressed or the way that I spoke. I just woke up one day and realized: Wow, I don’t have to wear that I don’t have to always wonder if I look attractive. I can dress to entertain myself and interest myself to my own tastes. I remember especially people that I was dating having really specific opinions about my clothes and always being a source of insecurity. And so I think for me having an interest in fashion and clothing has been a huge kind of form of self expression for me in owning my queerness.
There’s definitely just a moment where it felt like I just stepped into my own life, and I started making decisions that were difficult, but were mine, and were distinctly for the comfort of myself, rather than for what everybody would think of me.
Growing up in the Internet era, I don’t think I realized how big a part of my life having kind of a private internet persona was. Which is also how Pom Pom Squad is an ethos began. I felt privately like I knew all of these things, I just couldn’t incorporate them into the world outside of me. So it was very fresh and exciting to share these songs and that part of myself and not be as afraid of who it was.
I remember the way that girls used to treat me because of my hair, I felt so self conscious about not being the Seventeen magazine standard of pretty.
That’s beautiful. Yeah, I totally agree with this fake life we were living. It’s a bit like The Truman Show for me when I suddenly realized that there was world behind it, so big and full of possibilities. There’s so much more and but media didn’t told me that when I was growing up.
Mia: You have to seek out such specific resources. I remember I was reading Seventeen magazine for most of my life, that was some of the most toxic, formative and unnecessary shit. Oh my goodness, it was for a lifestyle with no possible option for me.
I started to kind of realize my relationship with my hair as a mixed race woman and as a black woman. There weren’t any guides for how to deal with my kind of hair. I had to rely on what had been passed down to me from my mother, which was relaxing her hair from a young age. This happens with a lot of black women and men. You’re just taught to do whatever is easiest with it. I remember the way that girls used to treat me because of my hair, I felt so self conscious about not being the Seventeen magazine standard of pretty. Or what to do when you have feelings for other girls. For me it was Rookie magazine and Tumblr.
I miss Tumblr so much! I found all of my best friends there and we’re still best friends today.
Mia: Same! My best friend in high school, and still my best friend today, she and I had our little Tumblr blogs. We kind of knew everything about each other through all the movies and the music we would share and whatever jokes we found funny and whatever clothes we liked.
It’s funny because I went to look back my old Tumblr recently and it’s like a manifestation board for my life. It was a picture of a store that I lived across the street from for a couple years, clothing that I’ve always wanted to wear and parties that I’ve since been invited to and venues I played.
It was just so eerie, to the point of when I used to work in a perfume store, there was a girl who I worked with and I was like: „I don’t know why she looks so familiar?“ And I went back on my old Tumblr blog and she’s a model and she was in a runway show that I had shared. Just like such oddly specific things that are such intimate parts of my life.
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