Pom Pom Squad's Mia Berrin: Five Essential Albums
As WFUV honors Women's History Month, we're also heralding a handful of "Ascending Women" musicians who are making their own history with outstanding new music. Some are making comebacks; others are at the very start of their careers. We've asked these artists to write about the Five Essential Albums that shaped their own path.
Carried by singles "LUX," a punk meteorite, and grungy rocker "Head Cheerleader," Mia Berrin and her Pom Pom Squad bandmates delivered exhilarating ferocity on their 2021 debut album, Death of a Cheerleader. What began as singer and guitarist Berrin's solo project in 2015, gradually expanded to a full band that now includes drummer Shelby Keller and guitarist Alex Mercuri. For Death of a Cheerleader, Berrin co-produced along with producer Sarah Tudzin of Illuminati Hotties. The result? An album that extends from a family tree of rock 'n' roll godmothers like Ronnie Spector, Kathleen Hanna, and Bam Bam's Tina Bell.
Berrin's perspective as a queer musician of color, weary of patriarchal confines, was very much a starting place for Death of a Cheerleader, as were cultural touchstones like Lux Lisbon, a character in the film and novel The Virgin Suicides.
"I’ve had a lot of women come out to me as trans, or young girls come out to me as gay, and talk about this kind of thing they hear in my music that validated them in their girlhood or womanhood or queerness," Berrin told AV Club in 2021. "And I feel like it’s kind of the same sensation that validated me in my girlhood and queerness, watching The Virgin Suicides. It’s like, this idea of looking on these girls from a romantic perspective but also looking at them from a completely empathetic and understanding perspective at the same time."
In December 2021, Pom Pom Squad released a faithful cover of Nada Surf's "Popular" with that band's Matthew Caws on backing vocals — so faithful that it recreated, frame by frame, the original video. That kind of playfulness, an excavation of savage teenage woe and female fury — and Berrin's innate acting chops in videos like "Crying" — all add up to Pom Pom Squad's intense live performances. They're touring North America and Europe in 2022, including a hometown gig at Bowery Ballroom on May 21.
Berrin pointed to some beloved favorites for her FUV "Five Essential Albums," from Courtney Love and Hole to underappreciated singer-songwriter Connie Converse.
Mia Berrin: Five Essential Albums:
Hole, Live Through This
This record is obviously an essential influence on the whole PPS cinematic universe. I could write an essay about this album, but for now I’ll just say it taught me a lot about self-expression and showed me that there is beauty and value in feminine rage.
FKA twigs, Magdalene
I found out about FKA twigs in high school. Seeing another multiracial/black woman create a project so boundless, beautiful, and genre-defying was and has continued to be a North Star. This album in particular ticks every box for me: sonically, aesthetically, and emotionally.
Connie Converse, How Sad, How Lovely
The title of this album is perfect in that it tells you exactly what you’re getting into, but with the added context of Connie’s real life story, How Sad, How Lovely takes on a new and especially poignant meaning. If you’re not sure what I mean, it’s certainly worth the Google search. The lyrics are simple, elegant, smart, occasionally funny, and leave you wanting more in the way all good mysteries do.
This album has been an essential part of my collection and certainly a musical foundation for me in many ways. At age 14, I was scandalized and thrilled by its brashness; at 19 I hailed it a "problematic fave;" at 24 I have a lot of different feelings about it. Maybe that’s part of the reason I keep coming back to it — the staying power it’s had in my life. I think at 24, I appreciate its humanity. It’s intimate in the same way watching someone you love throw up all over themselves in a drunken stupor is. It’s embarrassing and ugly but it’s the truest kind of vulnerability — allowing yourself to be seen by someone even in your worst state. I don’t know, I guess I just like the idea of getting a peek behind the curtains at someone else’s individual panic.
Jonathan Richman, I, Jonathan
A lesson in not taking yourself too seriously. I listen to this album when I need to be reminded why I love music. It’s impossible not to smile listening to songs like “Parties in the USA” and “Tandem Jump." Even the moments on the album that are earnest or melancholy (i.e. “That Summer Feeling”) still feel joyful — and joy has been more than necessary these days
- Mia Berrin