Queens of England

Why the British love the Scissor Sisters more than we do

There are 3,700 Scissor Sisters fans, and they are all screaming. The New York City quintet are playing the Manhattan Center's Grand Ballroom on this late October night as part of the first round of U.S. dates to support Ta-Dah, their sophomore record. The front row, populated by hip, young gay men and their straight girlfriends, explodes when the house lights go down, and everyone howls at the top of their lungs when the Sisters finally arrive and break into "Take Your Mama." A perfect introduction to the band—with an incessant hook and an upbeat sound reminiscent of 1970s pop, yet instantly fresh and new—the song may as well not have existed in the United States, never making a dent in the U.S. market despite peaking in the U.K. Top 20.

These hometown fans are typical of an American Scissor Sisters crowd—fringy, urban, hip twentysomethings who love dance music, a nearly absent genre on American radio. The Ballroom masses sing along to every catchy lyric and melody, climactically exploding with glee during the band's hyperactive disco remake of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb."

"Comfortably Numb" was the Sisters' first major U.K. hit. They have six or so.

Scissor Sisters
photo: Tricia Romano
Scissor Sisters

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    Four weeks later and 3,000 miles away, there are 11,000-plus Scissor Sisters fans gathered at London's famed Wembley Arena, and they are all screaming. It's the first show in a three-day Thanksgiving weekend stand, and instead of East Village hipsters with spiky hair and jaunty scarves, these U.K. fans range from fairly chaste pre-teen girls who idolize Ana Matronic (Ana Lynch, the Sisters' glittery pop princess and sole female member) to middle-aged-mom types happily cheering on a guy named Babydaddy (Scott Hoffman, multi-instrumentalist and co-songwriter) to thuggish guys who look like they'd be just as comfortable at a football match as they are watching Jake Shears (Jason Sellards, the band's flamboyant frontman and Babydaddy's songwriting partner) cavort around in shiny little boy shorts. This assorted mix of devotees all push toward the stage, wearing their requisite feather boas and bright pink bunny ears while clutching their inflated Scissor Sisters logos—a pair of scissors suspiciously resembling splayed legs clad in high heels.

    Four hours before the show starts, I meet 50-year-old Mary Butler and 28-year-old Chris Bettin, who both took the day off work to come to their first Scissor Sisters concert. She works in shipping, and he's a warehouse manager. In America, they'd look more appropriate at a Bruce Springsteen gig. Mary explains why she loves the Sisters: "Their music just makes us smile all the time." Chris adds, "If we're really down, we listen to their music and start bouncing around."

    Perhaps it's this sort of cheeriness that spurred Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher to deride the Sisters as "music for squares, man," as he did that weekend in Spin—a quote immediately pounced upon by the British press. Even the group's friend Beth Ditto, frontwoman for Northwestern indie-rock band the Gossip, complained more recently in Mixmag that touring with the Sisters was "a soul-sucking experience" thanks to crowds of "soccer moms wanting chart hits." "It wasn't gigs," she opined. "It was 'concerts,' you know, like when you're nine and New Kids on the Block come to town and you camp outside the mall all day to get your ticket."

    It's a conundrum that any big band deals with—the bigger you get, the more watered-down your audience becomes. "The problem with playing places this size is you've really got people that aren't necessarily the most loyal fans," Shears says later over tea. "Just people that have heard a couple of your singles on the radio, and they want a night out, and they want to surprise their wife with tickets. You're still having to sell the show."

    He didn't have to sell it to twentysomething front-row diehards like Celina Fowler, Nikki Cowles, and their gay boyfriend Max Sycamore, all already tipsy at 6 p.m., all wearing bright pink shirts, red and pink feather boas, and cowboy hats they bought right before the show. They like Ana ("Girl power!" Celina shouts), but Jake is their favorite. "He's sexy, he's gay, but he's got something for everyone," Celina says. "I absolutely love him," Nikki adds. "I'd eat him alive."

    Max, silent for most of the conversation, suddenly blurts out a request should I see Shears backstage: "Ask him, 'Will you marry me?' "

    Everyone in the arena loves Jake Shears, and no one cares a whit that he's gay. "We relate to camp—we've never had a problem with it," says longtime U.K. music journalist Craig McLean, who writes for the Observer. "There's a long tradition of bands being out and proud."

    "I think that's sort of a testament to the British public," Ana Matronic says. "They don't give a shit who you are as long as you make good music."


    Every American article written about the Scissor Sisters—the band also includes drummer Paddy Boom (Patrick Seacor) and guitarist Del Marquis (Derek Gruen)—mentions three things: Three of the five Sisters (Shears, Babydaddy, and Marquis) are openly gay, the music sounds like a cross between Elton John and the Bee Gees, and they are "famous in Europe"—that universal backhanded compliment. But the Scissor Sisters are not just famous in Europe. Their first single from Ta-Dah, "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'," hit the Top 10 in eight different countries, and they are touring Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Essentially, they are famous everywhere but here.

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