With her impenetrable helmet haircut, bangs draped low to the eyeline, her smeared makeup and outlandish, colourful clothes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O cut a striking, sexually androgynous figure.
On stage, she was driven by primal instincts and her caught between adolescence and womanhood demeanour made her a thrilling attraction amongst the crop of bands emerging in the early 2000s.
She claims to have been a shy, well behaved child but with exhibitionist tendencies. She shared a vivid experience with Electronic Beats magazine in 2014.
“There was one particular event that happened when I was in the fifth grade,” she said. “There was a talent show. I lip-synced to ‘Twist and Shout’, or something like that."
“But I wore these really dark sunglasses. I was around 11 at the time, and the sunglasses were so dark that I couldn’t see the audience – basically my young peers and teachers and stuff. They could see me, but I couldn’t see them, and I just went insane, I went crazy."
“I remember my teacher being totally shocked to see that side of me. So that performer was there. I just took it all the way, it was always kind of what I wanted to do. I was not a tame performer.”
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Backed by the searing, angular strokes of goth child Nick Zinner and straight-man, Millhouse lookalike Brian Chase, aesthetically, they possessed a curious perfection as a trio. Their creative dynamism was also firmly in place.
“My onstage persona is something that sorta appeared the very first time I hit the stage with this band,” Karen O said during their Live In Central Park interview in 2004. “It was there organically. As soon as my foot hit the stage in the context of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, there I was, Karen O.”
From the opening declarations of ‘I’m rich, like a hot noise… So stuck up, I wish you’d stick it to me…’, you know there’s heaving intensity and sleazy obsessions ahead. Tracks like ‘Pin’, ‘Man’, ‘Tick’ and ‘Date With The Night’ were all adorned with Orzolek’s howls, yelps and breathy shrieks. The first half of Fever To Tell charges by faster than a back alley hook up.
And while they were up for all the fun and games, Yeah Yeah Yeahs also showed they weren’t afraid to expose their vulnerabilities through the shimmering beauty of album standout ‘Maps.’
“We definitely want everybody in the universe to hear [it], it’s definitely our baby,” Karen O said in the Central Park interview. “Initially when me and Nick wrote it, it’s one of those experiences in songwriting where, instantly, as soon as it goes down on tape, it just took on a life of its own.
“It’s a song that really stands alone on our album and I think we get a really strong reaction and sense of connection when we play it.”
Over a decade on and you can hear the influence of this song in many other tracks. Even less need to argue the fact when Beyoncé gives your song her royal nod (‘Hold Up’ from last year’s Lemonade features her interpolation of ‘Maps’).
In 2003 though Yeah Yeah Yeahs was a band very focused on live performance for the sake of promoting a sense of communality and fierce individuality. Frontwoman Karen O stated her intentions.
“I’m definitely trying to send a message out there,” she said in the Central Park interview. “Not like ‘be like me’, but sort of ‘don’t give a shit’. Just like ‘be what you want’ and if you feel like this is a pathway to doing that then take it.”
Though there was a parallel and broader mission playing out too.
“At a rock show, what’s ideal is for the crowd not to feel self-conscious and to absorb them and suck them into your own world."
“My outfits help me become a certain character and fill that out for myself. Hopefully they’re so ridiculous that they just suck the crowd right into it and make them feel a little less self-conscious about standing next to people, hanging out and bobbing their heads or something like that."
“They should just let loose, cause that’s what we want, we want them to let loose.”
Listening to the 11 tracks on Fever To Tell reminds you there’s little hope of resisting its energised, spiky, hot blooded charms.