3 Hrs., 17 Mins.
I'm With the Band: Nasty Cherry November 18, 2019
ob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and the Monkees; Kim Fowley and the Runaways; Prince and Vanity 6; Simon Cowell and One Direction; now Charli XCX, Emmie Lichtenberg, and Nasty Cherry. Throughout music history many a svengali has brought together random assortments of men and women to form music groups. Creative experience not required. If you have the right look and even a semblance of
musical talent, it isn’t impossible to conquer the world.
I’m not exactly sure why Charli and Emmie decided it was necessary to form an all-female rock group called Nasty Cherry in 2019. They've given us a sort of explanation, but I didn’t buy it all that much. In the new Netflix documentary series I’m With the Band: Nasty Cherry, which starts at the band’s formation and ends, four months later, at its first show, Charli says part of the decision had to do with the fact that she wishes she had a band like it to turn to when she was 14. (The Donnas, whom she has cited as an influence and were at their peak when she was that age, be damned, I guess). Later, Charli proclaims that Nasty Cherry are what music needs right now.
In January, 2019, when promotion for the act was getting started, their social-media pages even started proclaiming that it was the best band of the year. Six 30-to-40-minute-ish episodes of I'm With the Band later, I neither am that into Charli’s beliefs nor the hyperbolic claims, since the singles the band has released so far are decent but hardly cutting edge. They sound like diluted Sky Ferreira. But the documentary, which lasts about three hours if you go on a binge, makes you want the band to succeed anyway.
Charli hand-picked each member. Clearly, she doesn’t have a problem with risk-taking, though her ever-evolving discography has already made that evident. Drum duties are given to Debbie Knox-Hewson, a plain-spoken session percussionist who toured with Charli during her pop-punk phase. The guitar is picked up by the rash Chloe Chaidez, who, in her off hours, fronts a band called Kitten. (You wonder why someone in a commercially unsuccessful, decade-strong group would join another one that’s been given its own Netflix documentary and been put together by a chart-topper, but then the question answers itself.) The other selections are wild cards. Gabbriette Bechtel, a pillow-lipped 21-year-old model and former dancer, is chosen as the frontwoman (she looks cool!), and the itinerant Georgia Somary, who is an old friend of Charli’s, is to be the bass player, despite having no musical knowledge.
Believing in Charli’s vision, Debbie and Georgia drop their lives in the United Kingdom, and the girls move into a house together in Los Angeles to bond and make music. The stakes are high not just because the group’s British members have abandoned everything for this but also because Charli, opposed to conventions, introduces the band to the public and starts building hype around them before they’ve played together for the first time. (A Charli fan myself, I hadn’t realized Nasty Cherry had a sort of Little Mix thing going on until watching the show; I’d assumed, whenever the band popped up on my social-media walls, that they were merely friends of Charli being promoted.)
The setup for I'm With the Band has a Big Brother ring to it, and inevitably things come crashing down, though fortunately temporarily. The show, as pointed out by Lauren O’Neill of Vice, has the typical “conflict/resolution” story beats as expected in reality programs. Most of the drama revolves around Chloe. Her bandmates worry that her commitment to Kitten is synonymous with her not being serious about Nasty Cherry. (I don’t think she is either.) In turn, Chloe is paranoid that everyone is talking about her behind her back, and as a result of her bandmates' possible acrimony they're purposely minimizing her contributions. Things come to blows around the fourth episode, when Chloe, feeling underappreciated, leaves the group in a gusty and ultimately juvenile fashion.
Chloe, by then, has proven herself fairly thoughtless. In one episode, she attempts to cancel a session with a producer a mere 20 minutes before the scheduled time, not fully chatting about the decision with her bandmates. The reason she gives Charli is that she and her bandmates would like to work with more women-identifying producers to ensure that the “girl power” ethos of the act is more genuine. Fair enough. But when you’ve been a band for a few months and have such little time before the session is set to begin, why not just go through with it, then offer your svengali some ideas afterward?
Charli snaps at them over the phone, going on about how it isn’t any less empowering to work with male producers and how she’s worked with many male producers herself, so are you trying to insult her? Charli’s anger is justified in the sense that Chloe is indeed being temporally careless, though Chloe’s point about wanting to work with women is valid. Regardless, the guitarist is so impetuous that I wouldn’t be surprised if she again tries to bow out of the group in the next couple of months. I’m concerned, too, about Debbie, whose homesickness recurrently blows up. She hints, in a later episode, that she’s freaked out about Nasty Cherry becoming more concrete, because what if she has to move to America for good?
Except for Chloe, who has an enviable spiritedness to her but is otherwise vexingly solipsistic, these women are likable and easy to root for. I especially took to Georgia. Everyone here has made sacrifices, but she’s left her dream production-assistant job for this because she believes in it, and is more than willing to put in the extra work to become the band’s Kim Gordon, Maya Ford, D’Arcy Wretzky in lieu of not really knowing what she’s doing. “We’ve been given a lucky fucking ticket,” she says in the final episode, and we can tell that she wants to make the most of it.
This declaration also speaks to how everyone else is feeling, and it additionally helps us not get too worked up over the grating truth that connections, truly, can make all the difference in a competitive industry. The band's members understand, like us, that most artists struggle (like Kitten, who have less Spotify streams than Nasty Cherry, for example) sometimes for years, playing tiny venues and contemplating time and time again if seeing their dreams through is financially sustainable. Charli and Emmie are the masterminds behind a too-good-to-be-true experiment it’d be cool to be part of that also sidesteps some of the hustling. It'll be a best-case scenario if Nasty Cherry made it big (I think it’s unlikely), but even if they don’t, how many people get to experience something like this? I’m With the Band: Nasty Cherry captures at least some of the mania and bizarreness of the scenario, though admittedly I'd prefer it if it teetered less into reality-show formulae and instead leaned more into the cockeyedness and implications presented. B+