February 27th, 2008


De venustas Emmy quantum

1. The learned Lucretius wrote De Rerum Natura; a treatise on the nature of things. I wish to write, today, De Venustas Emmy Quantum; a treatise on the hotness of Emmy the Great. There was a picture of, and a passing textual reference to Emmy on Monday, but all we said there was that she doesn't have a beard (insert Chaucerian ribaldry here), and I think she deserves something slightly deeper.

2. Since a lovely woman is like a tree in the full splendour of pre-aestival blossom, this might become a regular series. We've already had a De Venustas Lovefoxxx ("concerning the hotness of Lovefoxxx, Inca-Lycra queen of the 00s"). Like Lovefoxxx, Emmy the Great (née Emma-Lee Moss) is partly Asian; she was brought up in Hong Kong, but lives in London, where, apart from singing folk songs, she's a rollerskate waitress at Viva Cake, a "rock 'n' roll tea dance" held once a month at the St Aloysius Social Club, near Euston.

3. I don't plan to talk about Emmy's music here at all; that's not the point of the De Venustas series; here we are concerned only with venustasity and its manifold mysteries. For those who complain that this is "objectification", check out Emmy's blog of "stuff I've written for other people... you'll notice I talk about Graham Coxon a little more than is appropriate. I don't know why."

4. Ah, Graham Coxon. "I see Graham Coxon in Camden so often that I dream about him sometimes," Emmy confided to Sweeping the Nation. "I'm worried one day I'll walk up to him and start talking." May I make this observation, and be done with it; all the girls I've loved have had a thing for Graham. I asked Hisae why this morning, and she said "He's just so perfect. Nerdy, but in a good way." Considering what an ugly man I am I haven't done badly at all, but if I were Coxon I could have shaken the beautiful blossom tree and been showered with petals.

5. When, on Monday, our room was filled up with Emmy's warbling as I watched video after video of her on YouTube, Hisae asked "Why are you listening to that terrible music?" I explained that it was because of the hotness of Emmy the Great. Hisae watched for a while, but couldn't see it. Attempting to explain, I said something about bare legs and early Joan Baez, but found that the only explanation that worked was "She looks a bit like you!" (It's true, and I'm a lucky man.)

6. Hotness buttons: girls in floral dresses, girls with legs and feet tucked neatly under them, sitting on their beds, literate and literary girls, girls lying in their bedrooms with pencils and pens and other stationery, sketching and doodling and drawing, nice middle class girls thinking of going to Goldsmiths College to study English Literature or Fine Art, girls blowing on folk instruments and inflating balloons and thinking of putting them down their dresses, wholesome ingenue girls reading books and sipping milk. How could they put all these signifiers in one video? They did:

7. Sipping milk "as if butter wouldn't melt in your mouth" is an ingenue staple; a previous Click Opera De Venustas, Kumi Okamoto of Konki Duet, sips milk in a short film she made for her film class. Milk is an unashamedly mammalian, mammary, mama-like drink, a drink symbolising the wholesomeness of femininity.

8. In every-man-for-himself vigilante-style Western culture, milk is obviously a drink for girls, and even girls should be men and drink harder stuff in their videos. Shameless milk-drinking is more likely to feature in Asian videos, and to me Emmy's provocatively feminine style (she looks great in Eley Kishimoto!) relates to that Asian context.

9. Emmy's room looks like a Hong Kong room. Something about its comfortable, cute, floral kitsch style reminds me of the Notes by Naive blog, or HK friends Sunshine and Lik, or the style of singer Dejay Choi from HK band Pancakes, or the early films of girlcentric HK director Wong Kar Wai, or generic romantic HK comedies where being cute, twee, floral and feminine isn't a class signifier or a sign of weakness, but something winning, and where the conservative vanity of girls who can play this card to win is winning too. Oh, and I've just remembered that Milk is the name of the main Hong Kong style magazine!

10. In Hong Kong there's a strength and even a sort of Hello Kitty stridency to the milk aesthetic, a sort of pinky glare of girliness under harsh fluorescent lights. In Japan things are a bit different; you wouldn't be quite so arrogant and in-your-face sexy with your winsome tweeness. For instance, Hisae found Emmy's name immodest: to call yourself "the Great" just wouldn't do in Japan's more collectivist culture. (We have a friend in Berlin -- let's call him Ben -- who DJs under a name we'll call "Bentastic", and Hisae is always laughing at how dasai this is.) But anyway, the Japanese can be more aggressive and more eccentric -- think of OOIOO, and the primal womanliness of the bands I've clustered under the rubrik of Matsuri-kei. If China is a down-to-earth, family-oriented culture -- hence the power of milk -- Japan has more matriarchal roots, and more female deities (including, of course, the sun goddess).

11. However, it would be a mistake to see Emmy as too wholesome. Although this interview starts with her telling us how she and a bunch of friends "decided we'd like to put aprons on and bake cakes", it continues with "I like to talk about pee and poo... I won't talk to people unless they talk about poo and pee, that's it". On her Flickr page Emmy snaps a porn free news kiosk and titles it "free porn", or entertains us with Hong Kong shop signs saying "Willy Convenient Supermarket", "Gaylord" and "Bogey". And in her Black Cab Session she does the song that talks about "when love was just a feeling that ran out between my legs onto the back of my dress, onto the clothes that I was wearing".

12. And then there's "City Song", with its line about "they pulled a human from my waist, it had your mouth, it had your face, I would have kept it if I'd stayed". Ah, I said I wasn't going to talk about the songs, but I am. Emmy would have been sensational -- just the way nature made her -- even if all she did was bake cakes. But the songs are where she really earns the epithet "Great".