Kittie: Leopard Print, Dog Collars, and Feminine Fury

"Their style intrigued me, for they managed to look so fabulous yet so harsh; with their spiked chokers, chains, and jewelry reading words like “devil” and “f*ck you,”" image from Kittie's Facebook

Content Warning: lyrics and topics pertaining to misogyny, grooming, SA, and harassment.

“I want a piece of your soul…I want to know what you’re all about!” – Morgan Lander, Spit in Your Eye
Live DVD

“Brackish” by Kittie is one of my favorite music videos of all time. In all its nu-metal glory, you look into the smudged, shimmery eyes of four girls as the shaky camera foreshadows the brutal riff that’s quick to commence. Their namesake is propped up in bold, glittery letters, while each member of the band is pierced, glamorous, and badass. With animal print guitar straps and leopard patterned tank tops, the performers are almost calm with their movements while still demanding your attention with their stage presence and undeniable talent. The packed crowd goes into an absolute frenzy as the drum and bass track highlights their melodic vocals and vicious screams. Flashing lights, optical glitches, and chaotic angles pair well with the iconic
song it was made to showcase.

Within the Kittie: Origins/Evolutions documentary, we learn that the heavy metal band began all the way back in 1996, when drummer Mercedes Lander and guitarist Fallon Bowman befriended each other after finding common ground when it came to their interests in music. With older sister Morgan Lander on guitar and vocals and classmate Tanya Candler on bass, the 12–14 year-old girls began creating their band. After brainstorming the cute yet misleading group name Kittie, the eager adolescents were ready to perform for the first time at a Battle of the Bands in their hometown of London, Ontario, Canada. The novice musicians had originally tried to perform at their school’s talent show, but were kicked off and ridiculed by the adult staff for the music they played and the leather dog collars they wore. Though they did not win the battle and were far from being professionals, they had the type of raw passion and attitude that inevitably drew attention to their art. Before these ladies knew it, they were swiftly on their way to a record label deal after performing at Canadian Music Week, where they caught the eye of an NG Records representative. The album (that was remarkably almost named “Strap-on”) would be called “Spit” after the first song in the tracklist. However, due to personal reasons, Tanya was later replaced by local friend Talena Attfield, consequently creating the “original” lineup that the band is well-known for to this day. Though the album was originally released in 1999, it was later re-released after the addition of the new bassist. Little did these youngsters know that their music would blow up to be bigger than many of them could realistically handle.

The lady’s rapid shot to stardom naturally came with its downsides. Despite the fact that their debut album was barely a year old, Kittie was booked and ready to co-headline the second stage at OzzFest 2000. Alongside huge names like Soulfly and Disturbed, the online media magazine Loudwire states that they were the very first female band booked in the music festival’s history. In the same interview, the Lander sisters dive into the feminist aspect of their music that they once  denied due to their frustrations of always being questioned about being a “female metal band”. The young women wanted to be treated the same as other heavy metal artists and hated being labeled due to their gender; however, they were eventually very adamant about how important feminism was as a theme in their music. As their careers continued to progress, the band would be met with overwhelming amounts of sexism, coupled with accusations, assault, and even death threats. Many listeners doubted that the girls were even capable of actually writing music or even playing their instruments, regardless of their countless live performances. Throughout various clips, one can witness how concertgoers would push equipment and throw themselves on stage while the musicians would frantically look around and mouth “calm down” to their fans. One man in the crowd was even able to land a punch on our front woman’s face. Speaking of these concerts, it got to a point where Morgan could not crowd-surf due to a written stabbing threat, in addition to the audience members that were already attempting to intimately touch her/remove her clothes. Keep in mind that these band members were scarcely of legal adult age during the peak of their popularity, however were still subjected to so much negativity. The track list on their very first album couldn’t have been any more perfect in reference to the adversity they were all going through. The majority of their tunes would touch upon topics of misogyny, grooming, and harassment; such serious themes for girls who were barely into high school. The leading song “Spit” has one of the best ending lines I have ever encountered in metal music, calling out men for their inappropriate, vulgar behaviors. These cowardly “swine” believe that “d*ck is the answer,” but they couldn’t be more wrong. The words throughout are blunt and harsh, perfectly exhibiting the frustrations that come with the female experience. The fifth song on the album, “Do You Think I’m a Whore,” begs for recognition with just the title alone. Throughout the lyrics, the listener can take in Morgan’s pain and anguish as she contemplates her self-image and how she is perceived by simply just being a young woman. This is evident through her repetition of the phrase “I’m a whore, further highlighting her self-loathing. The eleventh track, “Choke,” is the most serious yet commanding song off the entire album. Fallon takes the lead vocals on this one, as she describes a relationship with an obviously older, manipulative man. She perfectly paints the picture of how the perpetrator used his charm to win the girl over, to only use her, lie, and leave her behind while he put himself on a pedestal. The diction used throughout exemplifies the feelings of a broken young woman, as she sarcastically calls him “king” while repeatedly asking if she was “not good enough”. Eventually, the lyrics would flat out call this person both a “hypocrite” and “pedophile,” solidifying the heart-wrenching reality that many teens regrettably go through. Being the second to last song on the list also emphasizes the importance of this track as a closing statement. The final song, “Immortal,” is the instrumental that concludes their striking lyricism.

Kittie was the first band that let me know that girls could be metal too. I had only been familiar with the masculine cries of bands like Slipknot while my closest idea of a female rock star was Hannah Montana. Therefore, I was naturally both shocked and intoxicated by the gutturals that were coming out of Morgan Lander and Fallon Bowman’s mouths. Their style intrigued me, for they managed to look so fabulous yet so harsh; with their spiked chokers, chains, and jewelry reading words like “devil” and “f*ck you,” they perfected the classic early 2000’s mall goth look that I eventually adopted. In fact, a vast amount of this alternative Y2K aesthetic has been circulating once more. During their Spit era, Kittie mastered the exhilarating nu-metal sound that was so popular in those days, while still incorporating their own individuality both vocally and instrumentally. With age, I began to appreciate these tunes even further since I could better understand their lyricism. Through my own unfortunate experiences, I could finally tell where all their anger came from, and with that better understand my own inner turmoil that I had yet to decode. Moreover, one can claim that Kittie’s musical legacy is relevant to modern audiences, for the issues of abuse and misogyny are still extremely prevalent to the women of today. Our music industry is one of the biggest culprits since there has YET to be a fem-led band that is held to the same caliber as other alternative/metal bands. Some honorable mentions include fantastic groups like In This Moment, Nightwish, and New Years Day; but none of these names are listed when you google “top metal bands of all time”. Musicians like Kittie remind us of the true power one can hold, and with my own found attitude and feminist passion, I can stand up for myself against the testosterone-riddled world many of us are forced to face. Even though this beloved band has yet to experience the same notability of their early years, they still made an impact on the women/femme individuals like me who found solace in their work. Thanks to metal women like them, I will gladly SPIT in the eyes of the oppressors that try to put me down, while preaching for the equality we all deserve.

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