On the First Sweaty Night of July,
Momma Became Rockstars of the New Age
Momma tugs at the desire to be known in a space that is becoming increasingly unknowable.
By layla passman
IMAGES BY EVA SMITTLE
My obsession with female-fronted 90s rock bands can sometimes make me feel like a stalker who wants to wear their victim’s skin as a jacket. My admiration vacillates between inspiration and envy. Why couldn’t I be there, why will I never be like them, and how can I make myself feel one step closer to a world of the past? Seeing Momma for their Household Name album release show at The Broadway made me think that maybe I’m already there.
I have been a listener of Momma for about a year now. They stand out amongst all the other “indie-rockers” of our time. Poppy beats with fuzzy chords, a steady stream of harmonic vocals throughout, and a stunning lack of white men with shoulder-length hair. At the helm of Momma, friends Allegra Whines and Etta Friedman write with my favorite bands in mind. Their influences are clear: The Breeders, Veruca Salt, and Smashing Pumpkins. For those yearning for a rebirth of rock n roll, Momma has generated excitement. It is evident in both their music and in their recent press run that they want to be rockstars. But what is a rockstar in 2022?
This is a question I’ve mulled over as I study rockstars of the past, and as a musician myself. The idea of a rock musician as a true celebrity is nearly obsolete, or at least antiquated. Guitar-based music has been siphoned off and labeled as “indie” or “alternative,” therefore distancing its players from mainstream stardom. Some see this as a good thing—many musicians will still achieve commercial success, tours, and fans but contribute significantly less to the mainstream culture. We rarely see paparazzi pictures of band members or rock musicians as fashion icons like Mick Jagger, Debbie Harry or Courtney Love. For decades, rockstars were rockstars, for lack of a better term. Momma tugs at this desire to be known in a space that is becoming increasingly unknowable. It's hard to put faces and names to bands, and the public seems to crown singular pop performers with fame instead of group acts. This cultural shift has happened over the last 50 years, catalyzed by the invention of the synthesizer, which made the need for a group to play individual instruments totally obsolete, and out went guitar music with it.
As soon as the summer rolls into July, New York becomes a murky sauna of unusual smells and pools of sweat, sending people to socialize outdoors. Instead, on the first night of July, dozens of early twenty-somethings, all attempting to look grunge in sweltering heat, crammed into what is most likely the hottest venue in Brooklyn, and not in the way you’d hope. The Broadway’s famously poor circulation aligned with what was the hottest day of the summer yet to make an almost uninhabitable space for Momma’s surprise album release show. Several of my friends couldn’t bear to drip sweat in a room full of wet strangers for the duration of the show, but I was determined to stay put, no matter how surprised I was to feel sweat drip down my calves. I abandoned the idea of staying cool and dry and began swirling around in the mosh pit with everyone else, indifferent to whose drips were on my body. On stage, the band noted that it was, in fact, very hot. Momma kept it cool with a nonchalant stage presence, but not too cool that they seemed above their adoring audience. In a new wave of rock royalty, the power dynamics between entertainer and fan have seemed to wane. The band resembles the crowd and vice versa. Their performance of the new album was smooth, playing through one song to the next, debuting the new material that I had listened to hours earlier.
Even though it was impossible to know each song, that did not stop people from being enmeshed in Momma’s playing. Mine and others' willingness to not only tolerate but enjoy these conditions for Momma felt telling of what’s to come for them. Maybe, it’s not being a household name that makes you a rockstar—instead, you just need a small section of people who free themselves while you play in front of them. Momma continues their press run, radio spots, and playlist adds, making them one step closer to stardom. Whether they become nationwide sensations is to be determined, but nonetheless, they have their own corner of sweaty stardom.