For the girls

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Mat Osman: Very early on there was a Britpop club on Oxford Street, and the fliers had all the bands who were played, Oasis and stuff, and at the bottom it had this little thing saying ‘sorry girls, no Suede’. I always remember that with real pride, and I always liked the idea that that we might be a girls’ band.

Suede are the first band that I can remember loving really, truly, intensely as my own. I got their first album for Christmas in 1993, on cassette, parcelled with a Walkman (I was 12): they suited that kind of heady, private devotion. I was the only kid in school to like them, which was a bit inconvenient when everyone else was chirruping about the genius of the Levellers, but which also suited me fine.

They stood for all sorts of things that I dimly understood to belong under the rubric of the adulthood I wasn’t yet part of: dissipation and escape, but also (especially) sex. The sight of Brett Anderson, belly out and leering, on the cover of Q magazine seemed excitingly, frighteningly dirty. Looking it up again now, I see that my preteen judgement was not wrong: young Anderson looks like he’d toss you off in a car park for a packet of fags. Not even expensive fags – Rothmans would do.

I didn’t explicitly get the girlishness Osman talks about at the time, because I had nothing to compare it to really. Britpop hadn’t become a thing in 1993, and the braying insistence that girls were something you looked at (the parp-parp-titties video to Country House) hadn’t squatted decisively over musical culture yet. Suede were cast as the anti-Nirvana by the music press (I was fine with that, I hadn’t allied myself with grunge), but like Nirvana, they were strikingly open to femininity: writing songs in women’s voices, collaborating with women musicians.

The fact that both seemed so much of an advance on the lad/frat musical norm while still being comprised solely of men tells you how distant that norm was from actual women. But it was a thrill, still, to hear songs that wanted to get inside female protagonists rather than just grope them (Still Life on Dog Man Star is the perfection of this approach). Even when Brett was playing the frustrated admirer on Metal Mickey (“Oh dad, she’s/Driving me mad/Come see-e-e…”), there was no sense that he wanted to break this distant object of desire: he was ecstatic just to look and be ravished by looking.

Photo © Suede