By Vivien Goldman
No pop star has ever flipped the script as utterly as the Gossip's Beth Ditto. The voluptuous Lurex lezzie shatters stereotypes as blithely as she does the top notes on her antiwar hit 'Standing in the Way of Control.' With her sexy, hard-won sense of entitlement, Ditto, 28, is extra, extra large in several ways. Her bouncy personality has more stretch than her imminent fashion line and right now, Ditto is busting out.
Having quit their indie roots at the legendary radical label Kill Rock Stars in 2008, Ditto, guitarist Brace Paine, and drummer Hannah Blilie hightailed it to the major label Columbia, which is set to release their forthcoming album, Music for Men, in August. Why the quizzical title? 'A girlfriend and I were at a show where we were the only two females in the audience,' says Ditto. 'The guys in the audience were really into it, and I thought, This is music for men, and the notion of gender-pleasing sounds just stuck with me.' Whether it will please men or anyone else on the gender spectrum is a question that fascinates fans of the Gossip. Reportedly sprinkled with more of that Europop-disco sound that has served Kylie Minogue so well, will it turn off Ditto's current crop of raging ravers without gathering a new crew? It's a risk, but Ditto has faced more daunting ones.
How much of the Ditto Effect is about the music is hard to say, so effectively has her persona seduced at least the British media. Musically -- in that rangy, tense, raw-trio way -- you can hear why the Gossip appeal to Rick Rubin, who has produced artists like the Beastie Boys and Johnny Cash. Their stark sound hovers somewhere between Lee Dorsey and the White Stripes, and Ditto's voice -- often compared to Janis Joplin's -- can howl like a hurricane or caress like a breeze.
But part of her appeal is the sense that Ditto is a real new deal. She won't be ground down by the disapproval of the industry or society or suckered into doubting her magnificence. I ask her if she thinks of Joplin. 'All the time,' she answers. 'I'd have been a good friend to her.'
Ditto understands the stresses that can make the most successful singer throw a wobbler. Call her the anti'Britney Spears because they're both basically small-town Southern girls, escapees from the Bible Belt. While Spears looks like the 'after' pic in a liposuction ad and rocks luxuriant extensions, Ditto, with lurid but sensible hair, celebrates her every crevice and fold in stretch outfits normally reserved for biker mamas and hot dance-hall hoochies at parties in Kingston, Jamaica; Brooklyn; and the Bronx.
And her confidence is catching on. An unconventional fashion muse, Ditto was the belle of the ball at Paris Fashion Week in March, partying and posing with the likes of pals Lily Allen and Kate Moss and 'ber-designer Karl Lagerfeld. And let's face it: Before Ditto, Lagerfeld hadn't been photographed with anyone over a size 4.
Right now, her bold fashion sense is rising to a cool challenge. She is designing a plus-size line for the European clothing chain Evans, which could definitely do with Ditto's glam injection.
Between attending the Paris shows of Stella McCartney and Chanel and playing a private party for Fendi, Ditto phoned Out.
Out: Where are you now?
Beth Ditto: I'm in Paris in this fucking ridiculous hotel suite. I feel like Dolly Parton. I partied last night, and it was so hilarious. I take a really long nap in the middle of the day, every day. I'm really having the best time ever.
Where did you get your musical talent?
My mom is really cool. She sings all the time and loves Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath. My family in Judsonia, Ark., was amazingly musical. When he was 16, my brother played the drums for my cousin who played with Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis in the '80s on the casino circuit.
Your mother was supportive when you were coming out at home in your early teens, but what about your Bible Belt community?
I just came out slowly but surely. I was brought up to always put yourself in other people's shoes. You never want them to feel bad about who they are for whatever reason. My mom was this incredible island surrounded by redneck conservative America. She taught me what it must be like to be a flaming homo and bullied walking down the hallway at school. My other brothers and sisters were brought up like that too, and they treated me normally.