The Curious Case of Esthero
The love affair started with lyrics that were desperately sexy, haunting and vulnerable:
I could give you
The most delicious kisses on your face
You see I need you to be addicted to me
I am calm now in the corners of his mouth
I am still now, I will not live without
I am pure now, safe inside my final home
Accompanying a beat best described as sci fi apocalypse-n-bass—from the maestro DJ Krush—“Final Home” introduced me to the wonder that is Esthero. The previous year (1998) I’d heard Breath From Another, and thought that it was a great, if somewhat uneven album. Esthero’s voice was dynamic, but some of the beat choices undermined the vocals to the point where I almost wrote her off. Fast-forward ten or so months, and then I hear “Final Home”. It was one of five songs that made me cry. The other four are “Mississippi Goddamn” by Nina Simone, “Little Wing” by Jimmy Hendrix, “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode, and “Georgia” by Ray Charles. I played the song many times in a row and was hooked.
There was something so beautiful and sinister about the song that it stayed with me like the first kiss from a great lover, or the pain of a break up with your first love. For me, Esthero was like the sun breaking through a cloudy weekend. I’ve been listening to, and following her career for nearly eleven years and there is one thing I cannot figure out: Why isn’t she a mega-star?
Is it because she has integrity? Doesn’t show her ass or sexually humiliate and belittle herself on the altar of limited public taste and understanding?
I’m so sick and tired
Of the shit on the radio
And MTV they only play the same thing
No matter where I go
I see Ashanti on the video
I want something more
“We R In Need Of A Musical ReVoLuTIoN” from the album, Wikked Lil’ Grrrls was a battle cry against the stagnant and talentless pop-morass that the public accepts as legitimate music. She took shots at R. Kelly and Britney Spears, way before it was fashionable to do so—and she did it with a ridiculous amount of bravery and dignified anger. But still nothing. She made one good album, one phenomenal album, written a song for Kanye West, and every single guest appearance (from the Black Eyed Peas to Saul Williams, to Nelly Furtado, to Blue Man Group)—she smashes consistently. Never once uttering a false note. So why isn’t she more popular?
Musical success is not a meritocracy. For women, it is an ass and titocracy. The more you show and wiggle, the more you are warmly received by the public. Fergie gets to be popular by being an attractive woman with the voice of a can opener, but Esthero (who is quite beautiful and can sing) is relegated to guest appearance after guest appearance, never getting her just due. I cannot fully understand this. Also, you can’t become too powerful a woman in the music biz.
I think that the public is just as shook as the record industry. Not since Lauren Hill has there been a female singer that was so forwardly, challengingly powerful. Mary J. Blige is powerful, but in an anthemic way. Mary is lifting you up with her. Beyoncé wants to be your cool friend—the one that wants to please everyone and not make any waves. Esthero is heading up and beyond the stratosphere, daring you to try and catch her. And if you do catch her—you’d better be ready because, as she says, she’s an O.G. Bitch and she’s the girl that you just won’t admit you adore. Suckas.