I loved the Dresden Dolls in high school. Hey, I’m also a Masshole, who loves feminism and that Goth aesthetic. I love the movie Cabaret, but the Dresden Dolls appropriated the aesthetic of that movie for their “Brechtian punk cabaret” look. I sang alto in my high school chorus/choir and theater! Palmer’s songs were great for my lower register.
There are so many trigger warnings here that to make it easier to read, I’ve divided them into sections. I thought this was easier than compiling a huge Twitter thread.
I have cerebral palsy, so let’s address Palmer’s ableism first.
I LOVED the Dresden Dolls in high school-early college. (I graduated from high school and started college in 2007.) I reviewed their first album for my college magazine. Then Amanda Palmer had this project called Evelyn Evelyn, fictional conjoined twins in a freak show. One song had the twins singing, “Have you seen my sister Evelyn?” (They’re conjoined?) The ableism! She lost me as a fan for life.
In 2011, Palmer published a “grotesque” graphic novel about her fictional Evelyn Evelyn conjoined twins with a double cover. “Evelyn Evelyn is an elegant set of two hardbound volumes nestled within a single slipcover — a perfect gift for any lover of the exquisite, the eccentric, and the grotesque.” The entire description, format, and concept of the book mocks, appropriates, fetishizes, and Others disability — specifically conjoined twins. I wrote about the Uncanny and objectifying disability here, for just one example of many.
Also, take this lyric from the Dresden Dolls song “The Time Has Come:”
“(All of my blind ambition left me deaf with perfect vision).”
Did SOME people not know this was ableist 10–15 years ago? Sure, but I was a disabled kid and her fan, and I knew. This type of casual ableism hurts and angers fans on a very personal, visceral level.
The 2008 Dresden Dolls song “The Kill” uses the r-word to describe “a party nobody came to but you.” This slang meaning implies that anything uncool or for losers is like or for disabled people, especially people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This is how ableist bullies have always spoken and written.
TW CSA, sex
Also, there’s her Dresden Dolls song “First Orgasm,” where the singer is masturbating and thinks that kids outside might have seen her from her window.
Pedophilia? Not necessarily.
Making light of it and of a sexual predator exposing themselves to children? Yes.
“Slide” also describes a child’s body from a pedophile’s perspective. In “Missed Me,” a little girl tries to “seduce” an adult. This is impossible but exactly how abuse apologists misread characters like Lolita.
See what I mean about how “feminism,” disrespect, and pretentious shock value really DON’T mix well?
TW racism, genocide
Also, there’s the DD song “Backstabber,” in which Palmer sings derisively, “You’re down with the Japanese!” This is ambiguous. Does it mean, “You think you’re cool loving anime, etc.” or “You’re as bad as Japanese people?” I’d hope a “feminist” could clarify, but no. From the same song: “Rotten like a crack whore/Begging out the back door.”
But the worst of all: “Jeep Song,” horrible, anti-Native racism. Palmer jokes about seeing her ex’s car, a Jeep Cherokee, and yes, there’s a Trail of Tears pun.
Anyone who shares their abortion story is being brave and vulnerable.
BUT see her songs “Oasis” and “Mandy Goes to Med School,” which arguably use abortion for shock value/dark humor. She can use her own experiences, sure. But it’s not automatically feminist or activism.
The song “Sex Changes” is very transmisic. The lyrics are vague, but they conflate a hypothetical trans person “regretting” transition with anyone feeling “changed” by sex (meaning here, first having sexual intercourse). The opening lines apparently mock the idea of gender-neutral titles/pronouns.
There’s also the DD song “Mrs. O,” which combines references to the S and M erotica novel The Story of O with a story of a kindergarten teacher who brings up the Holocaust to her students but DENIES IT.
Edgelord city. Shock value.
TW victim blaming/abuse, more ableism, sexism
I can’t forget about the song “Delilah,” about a frustrated “friend” who blames a victim for being abused and then calls her a mental illness slur: “You’re an un-rescue-able (slur). . .Or else, you’re on the rag! You slurs never learn!” So, now she must be emotional because she can menstruate?! And: “If you take him home, you get what you deserve!” I’m careful not to assume songs are autobiographical, but the narrator here is named “Amanda.”
When questioned about the song “Bad Habit,” which clearly, explicitly describes violent self-harm, Palmer was deceptive, saying that it’s about habits like biting/picking one’s nails.