It’s one thing to be the first transgender performer ever nominated for an Academy Award. It’s another thing to receive a personal stamp of approval from Lou Reed himself. It’s yet another to receive that same level of approval from the Hollywood Foreign Press. This week’s Girl’s Room artist has all three, and the voice to prove it.
Anohni, believe it or not, has been around for more than 15 years now, though her moniker started out a little differently. Formerly known as Antony Hegarty, she’s been a performer for the better part of her life, starting out as far back as 1990, when she formed a drag theater-troupe with a bunch of her college friends. A couple years later, Anohni started to collaborate with other musicians and released songs under the group name, Antony and the Johnsons. Their second album, I Am A Bird Now, won the UK’s Mercury Prize in 2005, and she’s been a critically acclaimed artist ever since.
The accolades explain themselves though when hearing even seconds of Anohni’s voice. Her singing is evocative, and her tones are unlike any other singer’s in the past decades. Silky, broad, and somber, the voice attached to her is simultaneously powerful and tender enough to incite a spectrum of emotions from anyone who is listening.
Oscar-winning director Louie Psihoyos probably knew of the force behind Anohni’s voice; he enlisted her to sing a song called “Manta Ray” for his documentary Racing Extinction, and it’s this quietly poignant song (co-written with J. Ralph) that got Anohni her Oscar nod. Or, it could be Anohni’s incredibly strong viewpoints that got Psihoyos’ attention – because her politics, too, carry just as heavy of a weight as her artistry. Recently, they’ve even fueled her creative expressions.
“4 Degrees” is Anohni’s latest release, and with it came a significant message:
In solidarity with the climate conference in Paris,
giving myself a good hard look,
not my aspirations but my behaviors,
revealing my insidious complicity.
It’s a whole new world.
Let’s be brave and tell the truth as much as we can.
“Telling the truth” is as blatant a description of what you get from Anohni these days, though what she’s saying reflects more than just her personal truth. Her thoughts on the environment, identity, politics, commercialism and the continuation of transgender discrimination go way beyond the scope of what most artists are willing to share, giving fans and recent converts alike a glimpse into an artist whose platform transcends their own music and image. Just this week, she shared yet another critical essay about her snub from the Oscars (at which she was NOT asked to perform despite the historic nature of her nomination, a decision which she found “degrading” considering that the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl was asked to play despite not even being nominated).
In a letter posted online, she wrote, “Everyone told me that I still ought to attend, that a walk down the red carpet would still be ‘good for my career’. Last night I tried to force myself to get on the plane to fly to LA for all the nominee events, but the feelings of embarrassment and anger knocked me back … There I was, feeling a sting of shame that reminded me of America’s earliest affirmations of my inadequacy as a trans person. I turned around … and went back home … It is not one isolated event, but a series of events that occur over years to create a system that has sought to undermine me, at first as a feminine child, and later as an androgynous trans woman. It is a system of social oppression and diminished opportunities for trans people … As a transgendered artist, I have always occupied a place outside of the mainstream. I have gladly paid a price for speaking my truth in the face of loathing and idiocy.”
Girl makes a point. What’s the point of making a groundbreaking nomination if you’re not even going to honor the nominee? The way the Oscar committee treated her, they might as well not have nominated her at all.
“They are going to try to convince us that they have our best interests at heart by waving flags for identity politics and fake moral issues,” she continued. “But don’t forget that many of these celebrities are the trophies of billionaire corporations whose only intention it is to manipulate you into giving them your consent and the last of your money. They have been paid to do a little tap dance to occupy you while Rome burns.”
And it’s exactly that kind of brilliantly articulated social critique that explains why we should listen not only to what Anohni sings, but what she says.
So, no. You won’t see her performing at any award shows anytime soon, and America gets all the more bleak for that fact (Australia’s got it figured out though – she will be headlining at the Sydney Opera House for four nights in May). It’s okay. Maybe we don’t deserve someone as resilient and strong-willed as Anohni. Or maybe her debut solo album, the Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never-produced Hopelessness, will continue to give her international success. It’s allegedly a different sound, leaning heavily on electronic elements than the chamber pop that found her fame. Either way, it’s guaranteed to pack a punch, one that moves the emotional and physical with equal aplomb.
Can your Skrillex do that?