Brash sexuality has always had a place in popular music, but every so often an act ups the ante in a way nobody might predict. At the turn of millennium, DIY electro-punk artist Peaches delivered her now classic single ‘Fuck the Pain Away’, and did just that.
Taken from her debut album as Peaches, The Teaches of Peaches (she’d previously released an album under her real name Merril Nisker), the song sparked the career of an alternative music icon. A minimal but insistent electro-track, it was a key part of the emerging electro-clash trend of the early noughties, and a frank, sexually explicit anthem in the making.
Originally released in 2000, The Teaches of Peaches began a word-of-mouth climb to indie music fame thanks largely to the power of the ‘Fuck The Pain Away’. The song was equal part a come-on and a cry for help, its gleeful mix of come-hither, clubready sexuality and nihilism proving an excellent introduction to Peaches.
“I could write a thousand-page book on people’s stories about ‘Fuck the Pain Away’: them conceiving children to it, giving birth, ﬁguring out who they are – be it a trans, gay, rocket scientist, whatever,” Peaches told Out magazine this year.
Coming in at No. 4 in The Fader’s Top 100 Songs About Sex, the song is described as “a monumental ‘fuck you’ to heteronormative, patriarchal, and plain sappy songs about sex.”
A Canadian-born former school teacher and folk singer, Peaches found her sound while living in Berlin at the turn of millenium and soon wound up reading the moods of both the underground music world and mainstream pop culture. Sony attempted to sign her, but after one video release was too raunchy for their tastes, the offer was taken off the table. Instead she signed with legendary indie-music label XL Recordings.
The mainstream may not have taken to Peaches, but the queer world certainly did, with the track becoming an anthem at alternative nights across the world. It was reportedly Madonna’s favorite workout song, and she featured it in her London play, Up For Grabs. In a 2003 interview with The Guardian, Peaches divulged that she sent Madonna and Guy Ritchie some autographed panties as thanks. “I wrote, ‘Dear Guy, fuck ya later, love Peaches,’ and for Madonna I wrote, ‘Dear Madonna, fuck ya now, love Peaches.’ It’s cool,” she said.
Also in 2003, Pink recruited Peaches for a track on her album Try This, while Christina Aguilera would perform with Peaches and Le Tigre for a track on her 2012 album Bionic.
“When Christina Aguilera was writing ‘Dirrty’, she would listen to ‘Fuck the Pain Away’,” Peaches told Lenny Letter. “P!nk always came to my shows, and Kesha and Lady Gaga came to my shows. I know they are inﬂuenced by what I did because they reached out or there are obvious inﬂuences.”
Peaches’ brash confrontational sexuality on stage is unhibited and unconcerned with packaging female sexuality in a way that it was usually presented.
“It’s so dull, this idea that sexy is blonde hair and big tits. Everyone is sexual, everybody has sex.” she told The Guardian in 2003. Her approach to sexuality may have been transgressive but she didn’t shy away from raw emotions either. In a 2015 interview with Pitchfork she confessed that the Teaches of Peaches album and ‘Fuck the Pain Away’ were reactions to traumas in her life.
“Right before that album, I found out I had thyroid cancer,” she said. “It fucked with my head. But I didn’t want to say those things when making the album or in interviews. I didn’t want to be a victim. I didn’t want that to be the focus.
“And then I wrote ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ and that’s totally where that comes from.”
‘Fuck the Pain Away’ has managed to worm its way into popular culture despite it’s distinctly uncommercial approach. It’s featured in the Sophia Coppola ﬁlm, Lost In Translation, Jackass II, and was even Liz Lemon’s ringtone on 30 Rock. Referencing the song’s ubuiqity Peaches told GCN in 2013: “I am regularly introduced to new people who will reply, ‘You mean Jackass Peaches?’ or Lost in Translation Peaches?’ Everyone has their own connection to the track.”
Now Taylor Swift drops a single like ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ that sounds more than a little Peaches in it’s production value, Lady Gaga enjoys pop icon status with songs that owe a debt to Peaches, and M.I.A, who got her start documenting Peaches’ ﬁrst big tour, is now a musical force in her own right.
With a career spanning nearly 20 years, Peaches makes a compelling case for women owning their sexuality through an unapolgetically queer lens. Originally written off as a hypersexual novelty act, she has endured by being unafraid to mix creative risks with a frank look at how we really feel about sex.
In 2015, still being asked about ‘Fuck The Pain Away’, Peaches told I-D magazine: “It’s an anthem for becoming yourself and realising your total freedom.” As such it was an song that not only underpins her own artistic career, but one that ﬁts in the pantheon of the very best queer anthems.
“I could write a thousand-page book on people’s stories about ‘Fuck the Pain Away’.
Kelela’s debut, a hidden gem of 2017
The mixtape queen beloved of music critics, having appeared on Solange’s critically acclaimed album A Seat At The Table last year, has ﬁnally delivererd a full-length album of her own that displays just why she’s an artist worth being excited about.
Take Me Apart is a bold, futuristic R’n’B collection that plays with electronic music and pop music textures to create something truly unique. The interplay of vulnerability, strength and sexual assertiveness makes for an album that skillyfully explores various themes.
The title track oozes heady sensuality, ‘LMK’ could easily have been a hit for Janet Jackson at her ’90s peak, while ‘Blue Light’ is an intricately produced and memorable moment. It would be easy to compare this album to work by the likes of the aforementioned Jackson or Lauryn Hill, but its mix of well-worn R’n’B grooves and of-the-now production (courtesy of buzzed-about producers like Arca and Jam City) creates an intoxicating blend that is utterly original.
It’s a thrilling debut from an artist that has already impressed and will deﬁnitley go on to do even more.