Yesterday, I was over at Yahoo! Music looking for a Hum video. (Ever since I saw the Cadillac commercial featuring Hum’s song “Stars” this weekend, I’ve had an urge to listen to them.) I didn’t find any Hum videos, but what I did find was this – Nissan Livesets, featuring PJ Harvey. Considering my only-a-little-less-than-rabid obssession with Miss PeeJ, I was incredibly stoked, and immediately immersed myself in the video clips of one of her recent performances here in the States.
I didn’t think she looked well. Now look, I’m not one of those “girls have to be glam” people; I can support a little tee-shirts-and-sweatpants action. And Polly has always been on the thin side, so that wasn’t my concern. But really, look at these stills from the video:
Maybe it’s just me, but I think she looks a little ill – disheveled, slightly sallow, a bit clammy.
I know Polly likes to reinvent herself with every other album or so – for Dry and Rid of Me, she was a no-nonsense rock-chick, and by all appearances was dead set on defying traditional notions of beauty. For To Bring You My Love, Polly camped it up with very theatrical makeup and wardrobes – big, false eyelashes; bright creamy eyeshadows and lipsticks; carefully coiffed hair. She seemed more like a college girl during the Is This Desire? tour, when she appeared less theatrical and more withdrawn (rumors of a nervous breakdown followed her), and then she went all glamour-puss during the tours for Stories from the City and Uh Huh Her. So it’s no surprise that she’s got a very different look here.
I suppose, though, that I am surprised at how lackluster she looks now. Even in the early days, when her photographs were stark and challenging (like the album cover for Rid of Me), Polly still seemed somehow conscious of her appearance, like she was purposely putting an image out there. Now it seems more like she’s just rolled out of bed, thrown on whatever garment happens to be nearby, and hasn’t even managed to successfully pull back her hair into a ponytail – if you watch the video clips, you’ll see one side of her hair is fastened back in a weird bumpy thing with pins, while the rest sort of limps down the side of her face.
And too, that dress!
I know Polly wears some weird shit, but this dress is decidedly frumpy for her, especially considering that this is the woman who has consistently stripped down to her skivvies during shows, opting to perform in her underwear.
I’m certainly not one to deny Polly’s right to present herself in any way she chooses. I just wonder about this particular transition. Consider the album, White Chalk, that she’s just released: it’s heavily driven by piano, and the songs seem down-tempo, sad, again withdrawn – like the songs from Is This Desire? There’s a pervasive atmosphere of depressive emotion created here, at least judging by the songs I’ve heard so far (I don’t yet have the album, so I could be reaching here). Despite Polly’s insistence that her music is rarely autobiographical, I think we can safely assume that whatever is happening in her life plays a part in the music she creates – I think it’s true for all artists. Couple that with the image transition, and I wonder: is she depressed? Are there more breakdown rumors to come?
I hope not. Polly is bright, talented, and skilled at creating entire worlds within a song. Too often, I think, artists find themselves experiencing the world differently from everyone else, and end up feeling isolated. I hope Polly’s managed to escape that this time around.
And for the record, I still find her to be an incredibly beautiful woman.