Music

Beth Ditto: This Is Hardcore

Music

Beth Ditto: This Is Hardcore

Purses: Miu Miu
Hat: Dolce & Gabbana, Bodysuit: Beth's own.
Mask: Alexis Bittar, Cuffs: Roberto Cavalli, Lace: B&J Fabrics, Bodysuit: Beth's own.
Hat: Dolce & Gabbana.
Bodysuit and ring Beth's own.
Purses: Miu Miu
Shoe and earrings: Prada.
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Left to her own devices, a teenage Ditto began singing in bands. But being an inked-up punk rocker in the buckle of the Bible belt wasn’t ideal. Eventually, she, along with Howdeshell and then-drummer Kathy Mendonca (who left the band in 2004 to pursue a career as a midwife), moved to Olympia, Washington, and formed the Gossip, a lo-fi, bluesy band with punk-rock inflections. The Gossip built a name for themselves locally by playing house parties and releasing a self-titled EP in 1999, but their secret weapon was always Ditto’s acrobatic voice, which had the power of a wrecking ball, the soul of an inner-city church choir, and the swagger of a rock star.

Back at the MTV taping, Ditto steers the conversation from the new album’s inspiration (“I listened to ABBA obsessively”) to frozen chicken pot pies at her aunt Pam’s house to a floating pair of Twizzler lips that doubled as her imaginary best friend (“Shout out to Lips!”). When that’s done, she and her bandmates head to their record label’s headquarters in the Sony building. There, A Joyful Noise and its lead single, “Perfect World,” is on everyone’s minds, including Steve Barnett, the British music-biz Svengali and chairman of Columbia records, who released Gossip’s last album, 2009’s Music for Men, and is releasing A Joyful Noise. “Beth, darling,” he says as he engulfs Ditto in a tight hug. “The record is on absolute fire. It’s going to kill.” But despite the confidence Ditto unleashes onstage, there are chinks in her armor. In an executive’s office walled with framed mementos of her band’s success, she confides that she still has trouble grasping the heights she’s reached. “When the chairman of Columbia Records tells me, ‘Your record’s going to be big, babe,’ all I can think is, Please don’t jinx us. I’m really superstitious about that kind of stuff. All of this is still so surreal.”

Even more surreal for Ditto is the way she’s been courted by European fashion’s ruling class. After Kate Moss attended a Gossip show, the two of them stayed up all night talking. “Kate reminds me of my sister, and my sister and I are tight,” she says. The ravenous British press descended on the unlikely friendship between England’s most famous skinny person and her new, overweight best friend. As it tends to do, fashion’s elite followed in Moss’ footsteps, inviting Ditto into its exclusive and eccentric world. At first, she resisted. “As far as fashion goes, I made everything myself and only bought things out of absolute necessity. One, because there’s not that much cool shit for people my size, and two, because I didn’t have money,” she says. Plus, she had her punk purity to safeguard. Punks “glorify sleeping on the floor,” Ditto says—not sitting front row at a Jean Paul Gaultier show. But then Ditto had a revelation. “I realized that I feel way more at home in the fashion industry than I do in the music industry, because there are more weird, gay eccentrics in fashion. There are more people like me. You meet so many buck-ass wild, super-creative people who, during their whole childhoods, never fit in and went through hell.”

Some Gossip fans questioned Ditto’s embrace of a community that measures itself in inches and pounds. Others hailed her as a trailblazer, a rubric at which she balks. “I don’t really feel like a trailblazer, because I know so many people who are exactly like me,” she says. “My close friends are the same people they were back in the day, weird activists and stuff. Those people are trailblazers.” One of those people is her longtime friend Kristin. They always bore feelings for each other, a fact complicated by Ditto’s nine-year relationship with girlfriend Freddie Fagula. “She called me one day and said, ‘What are you going to do? I’m tired of waiting.’”

Six years after “Standing in the Way of Control” urged Gossip fans to “live your lives by the only way that you know,” Ditto is following her own advice. Next June, after three years of domestic bliss in Portland, Oregon, she’ll marry Kristin in Hawaii. “Ain’t it purrrrty?” she asks, deepening her drawl and flashing her ring. “It was Valentine’s Day, and she was really nervous,” says Ditto of the proposal. “She went to the mall and got a T-shirt airbrushed to read, ‘Will you marry me?’ I just started crying.” It’s hard to imagine Ditto, who’s built a career by dismantling beauty and gender conventions, as a sucker for a Hallmark marriage proposal. “No way, man. I need chivalry. I am a lady, after all.”