Glastonbury basically always seems magical to me - like a summer camp for indie bandsters set in an ethereal forest. This pared back performance of ‘Don’t Save Me’ for BBC Music at Glasto shows off Haim’s unique harmonies and is probably one of my favorite things, ever.
Anytime I’m less than psyched about school, work, or responsibilities, I watch Haim’s performance of ‘Let Me Go’ at Glastonbury 2014. It’s positively breathtaking and the kind of iconic performance I always see middle aged men gasping over when It’s David Bowie or U2 on stage. There’s something about the sheer power of their stage presence, and the way it manifests itself differently in each band member - Este grimacing at the crowd and getting lost in the bass, Danielle defiantly hitting her guitar with a drumstick, and Alana completely abandoning her maracas to go summon her crowd of fans.
I’m not the first to notice how mesmerizing seeing live performance is, or how inherently weird this fixation is. Laura Mulvey’s groundbreaking work on women in cinema, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” asserted that our obsession with watching women’s performances is a way of casting our desires and dreams onto the gender we view as “objects.” This process can have a crapload of negative connotations, and Mulvey pummels them all - the idea that women can be controlled through viewing, and that society’s misogyny is usually filtered and focused through this gaze. But I’ve always seen the way I and other Haim fans - usually younger women - watch these performances as something more inherently empowering and confidence-inspiring, and less objectifying. Yes, we are in a way projecting our own dreams of being on stage and creating something onto these trio of women, but the way they command their performances leads to a completely different type of viewing. Haim’s refusal to acquiesce male generated fantasies of women performers makes their sets exciting and inspiring.
Haim’s live performances challenge the ways in which women entertainers are usually controlled - sexualized for a male audience, not allowed to do anything too masculine or powerful lest it challenge the implicit hold men have on popular culture. Haim toys with these tropes on stage, whether its conscious or not. Take Este’s bassface, for example - her performance style is an aggressive rejection of feminine performance norms. She grimaces and pulls faces that do nothing to appease the male objectifying gaze. They are so exaggerated that it’s almost as if she does them specifically for this purpose - as a brazen response to the notion that she is performing for any man, or anyone but herself, really. This juxtaposition between her classically feminine fashion styling and physical, choreographed movement makes people so uncomfortable because it’s not a performance of straight femininity. Danielle snarls and grimaces as she performs epic guitar riffs, and these bursts of electrifying, powerful music are underscored by her generally quieter and calmer opening words. Alana moves seamlessly between different instruments - keys, maracas, guitars - with the air of someone surveying a stage that is their territory.
There have been a lot of articles about Este’s bassface (exhibit A and B), and more than a few mean tweets about their stage choreography. But for those of us who worship them, the bassface and the shred-face and the maraca-face are exceedingly rad because they fly in the face of what’s expected of women performers - to be glimmering, smiling, always camera primed belters. There’s a subtle rebellion there, and one that turns viewing YouTube videos of Glasto sets into a rebel yell for self-confidence and giving gendered standards the middle finger.