Amanda Palmer: Naked, but far from vulnerable

The performance artist has taken on the Daily Mail and music industry of late

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Until very recently, I had not been familiar with the oeuvre of the American musician and performance artist, Amanda Palmer. One half of the band Dresden Dolls, her style could best be described as part-punk, part-cabaret, part-agitprop. She's an anti-celebrity celebrity, a musician who's found notoriety by circumventing the music industry, and a commentator on modern mores who wants to be taken seriously.

She's certainly not to everyone's taste: an attention-seeking controversialist who styles herself as “Amanda ****ing Palmer” and who challenges the established order in a combative and full-frontal way. Sometimes literally. During a recent gig at London's Roundhouse, she performed a protest song about the Daily Mail totally naked, and it is her assault on arguably Britain's most powerful newspaper that has brought her to wider notice.

What upset Palmer was the Mail's coverage of her appearance at Glastonbury this year: not the critical appreciation of her work, but the scrutiny paid to the inadvertent exposure of one of her breasts during her performance. The massively popular online version of the Mail focused on what has become known, in that arch phrase, as “a wardrobe malfunction”. It wouldn't have taken much research to discover that Ms Palmer's wardrobe has had questionable functionality for some time.

In 2009, she posted 25 nude pictures of herself on her Twitter page, she's performed naked - save for a ukelele - at a festival, and has often used her unclothed body to make a political statement. So the fact that one of her boobs fell out at Glastonbury was hardly the stuff of breaking news. And her reaction to this coverage was to write a protest song about the Mail which, appropriately enough for someone who is an example of how the Internet can be a liberating and sustaining force for an artist, has become a huge hit on YouTube.

In it, she includes the lines: “But a rag is a rag, and far be it from me/To go censoring anyone - oh, no/It appears that my entire body is currently/Trying to escape this kimono”. At which point, the kimono drops to the floor, and she performs the rest of the song completely starkers. It's a stunt, all right, but it was enough to get her an earnest interview on Newsnight.

Ms Palmer is the poster child for a new paradigm in the music industry: upset by her record company's excision of a shot from her video because they said (according to her) that she looked “too fat”, Ms Palmer has raised more than a million dollars on crowdfunding sites on the Internet, and if groups of fans get together and raise enough money, she'll perform live for them. So she has a reputation for doing things differently.

We don't all have access to a microphone and an audience, but you have to admire Ms Palmer's decision to take to the stage rather go through the courts to battle it out with a newspaper. I must point out, however, that she's not exactly a pioneer in this respect. Radiohead wrote a song about the Daily Mail, and the last word on newspaper hypocrisy must go to the Bard of Salford, John Cooper Clarke: “You'll find all kinds of hideous excess/But you'll never see a nipple in the Daily Express”.

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