I’m genuinely exhausted—I don’t really know where to begin in regards to this band and this article, but at this point I’m so far down the rabbit-hole that I can’t not write about what’s going on here.
This week, as I was sitting in the work bathroom with my pants around my ankles and my phone in hand, I started scrolling through Tik Tok (as I’m apt to do) and I ended up coming across a video that changed the course of my week. It was a video of three women, each with their hair dyed specific and identifying colours with exactly the same length natural roots, singing objectively one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. Instantly I was hooked.
While dressed in an outdated punk aesthetic, they pranced around in front of the camera and lip-synced to their own song—the now-infamous “I’d Rather Die”—hoping to get some attention for its release on April 14th. Well, the band did get attention, with that particular Tik Tok getting just under one million likes, but it wasn’t the attention they were looking for, as The Tramp Stamps immediately blew up on social media as a joke, with most people speculating that they’re an industry-plant faux-feminist punk band.
You might be asking why I care; you might be thinking “well, music is subjective, so who’s to say their songs suck?”, or you could be thinking “If they’re not hurting anyone, who cares?” These are pretty valid questions. If The Tramp Stamps were just a normal band that played songs I didn’t like, I would not be crazy about them. The Tramp Stamps are so much more than a crappy band, they’re a crappy band who also happens to be harmfully appropriating punk and feminist culture, taking all the credit, and being racist while doing it.
Who Are The Tramp Stamps?
Who are The Tramp Stamps? That is the million-dollar question. The Tramp Stamps have answered this question themselves in a few different ways, and as their story changes, my interest continues to peak. What I know for sure, is that The Tramp Stamps are an all-girl band made up of three women: singer Marisa Maino, guitarist Caroline “Caro” Baker, and drummer Paige Blue.
The band’s origin story is cloudy. In one Tik Tok video, they suggest that the band started when the three women serendipitously met in a bar and decided to write a song while intoxicated, with a “the rest is history” kind of ending, while in a Q&A video on their YouTube channel, they say they were put together when they were song-writing in Tennessee. The ambiguity and the back and forth on their origin story has led many—including myself—to speculate that their meeting, much like the band itself, was fabricated by a record label and completely inauthentic.
Their Viral Song
The song that introduced me to The Tramp Stamps, the one mentioned in my introduction, is called “I’d Rather Die”. I think that as a song, “I’d Rather Die” really encompasses the theme of The Tramp Stamps and really shows us without bias how much the band missed the mark for what they were trying to accomplish.
“I’d Rather Die” is a lazy and disingenuous attempt at writing a Riot Grrrl style, 1990s feminist punk song. For those who aren’t completely sure what this means: Riot Grrrl was a subculture feminist punk movement in the 90s, where women were encouraged to push musical and gendered boundaries by being loud, unapologetic, and angry. Riot Grrrl punk was and still is very therapeutic and cathartic for women who perform and listen to the style of music. Riot Grrl music tackles issues regarding inequality, sexual assault, misogyny, and the hardships a modern woman might experience.
Primarily, , this song fetishizes men of colour, and suggests that bad sex is a white problem, further perpetuating white women’s fascination with sleeping with men of colour. “I’d Rather Die” is a song written by three white women to disparage white men. The chorus of the song goes “I’d rather die/ than hook up with another straight white guy.” This song is a cheap way for the band to look edgy and marginalized when in reality, all three women are white and are absolving their whiteness by othering white men. Although on their Tik Tok, lead singer Marisa says she’s a gay woman, but drummer Paige Blue is married to a white man!
Secondarily, the second verse of the song promotes rape culture. The lyrics to the second verse go as follows:
“I don’t know how you think we’re gonna fuck
When you can’t get it up
I’m sick of hearing it’s the alcohol”
A very, very basic concept introduced primarily in second and third wave feminism is that people who are intoxicated—regardless of gender—cannot consent. If someone is unable to perform sexually because they’re so inebriated, this is a good sign that they’re too inebriated to consent to sex. Any feminist worth their salt knows this, this is a basic concept that scrapes the bare-minimum of the feminist barrel and The Tramp Stamps haven’t figured that out yet. Coupled with the ending lyrics “I’m just saying/ It’s not fair to/ Leave me hanging like this” give the song the energy that they’re trying to manipulate and guilt men into behaving sexually in their favor. It all leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Thirdly, I’m seeing a pattern in The Tramp Stamps songwriting that shames men for traditionally feminine or vulnerable behavior. In the second half of the second verse of “I’d Rather Die”, they sing:
“And when you’re finally in the mood
It lasts like one or two seconds
And then you’re done and wanna spoon”
While already putting this man’s sexual ability on blast, they top it off with making fun of him for wanting intimacy at the end of the encounter. Many people need the emotional reassurance of cuddling after sex, but traditionally this is seen as a feminine quality, thus undesirable to them, then they have the audacity to consider themselves feminists.
Usually, I would let that last one go and chock it up to a stupid lyric, but in another lyric in a Tik Tok video they say “Maybe if I told them you cry in bed, you’d have a little respect for the pussy you get.” This is another example of them shaming men in their most intimate moments for having feminine qualities like showing emotion.
The Tramp Stamps are already on shaky ground when it comes to the band’s relationship with people of color, as their song “I’d Rather Die” fetishizes black men as superior—specifically in bed—to white men, but this is far from the only thing that they’ve done that can be considered racist or racially insensitive.
On their Tumblr account, The Tramp Stamps said something along the lines of “we don’t listen to white cis boys”, when someone replied “miss girl all of u are cis and white….” they replied “Marisa is literally Italian.” Objectively, this is very funny and almost feels like satire, but of course, it is harmful. Italians are white; Marisa Maino is clearly white and distancing herself from other white people as “Italian” is incredibly tone-deaf to the white privilege they hold as very white women. Comments that The Tramp Stamps make that are along these lines make their goal of appropriating marginalized culture while still keeping their privilege as white women so transparent.
The band has also been seen in “punk” attire collected mainly from the retailer Dolls Kill, a notoriously racist brand of alternative clothing. Dolls Kill famously sided with the police over Black Lives Matter activists, released a clothing line that read “Goth is White”, and has historically stolen designs from black artists.
Arguably the worst of all, however, is the since-deleted Tweets that were corroborated by their apology where lead singer Marisa said the N-word several times. Blatant racial slurs are inarguable, unacceptable, and racist.
Appropriating Punk Feminist Culture
Listen, I know that industry plants happen all the time. I know people are chosen because of their looks, their social status, and their connections to be famous singers more often than I’d like to think about; and I’m honestly not super bothered by it. Musical genres like pop that are always looking for the next big thing, the new cool girl, the new teen heartthrob use the industry to fabricate very polished people and performers. This works with pop music because mostly the songs are pretty graspable, fun, and surface level.
The reason it isn’t working here is that with punk, and especially feminist punk, there needs to be a level of authenticity and realness with your audience that can’t be replicated with a manufactured band—it’s also just simply not a good idea to start a relationship with your fan base built on deception.
The Tramp Stamps also take credit for feminist punk, completely disregarding and disrespecting the women in punk that paved the way for Riot Grrrl style music. In their About section on their website, it says: “All our songs start with us going on rants about stuff that pisses us off, shit we wish were different, stories that have happened to us involving fucked-up guys,” […] “It’s the kind of stuff women talk about all the time with their friends, but no one’s ever put it to this kind of music before.” Traditional punk and feminist punk were built on the backs of marginalized people: people of color, women, and poor people. For these women to come out of seemingly nowhere and suggest that no one has done Riot Grrrl music before? It’s offensive, and it’s tone-deaf. Maybe no one has done Riot Grrrl music as poorly as them before, but that’s really the only credit they’ll get from me. The Tramp Stamps are a great example of capitalists poorly adapting and appropriating counter-culture in an attempt to sell it back to the communities who made the culture in the first place.
Since that Tik Tok clip featuring them singing to their song “I’d Rather Die” was posted on April 9th, The Tramp Stamps have had to issue two separate public apologies. For a brand new band, two apologies in less than ten days is pretty extreme, and beyond that, these “apologies” are perhaps better being called statements, because there was no accountability there whatsoever.
The first statement came on Tik Tok very soon after the infamous “I’d Rather Die” video, and it was a reply to a comment that said “Y’all brought race into this for what?”. Their reply was a very typical forced apology, where the three band members sat in front of the camera and said they hear and understand the criticism, but their intention was never to fetishize men of colour. This is a major red-flag apology, in my opinion, I think they addressed what they absolutely had to and then quickly absolved themselves of any guilt by brushing off the criticism as invalid as they didn’t intend to do what they’re being accused of. This is obviously an issue because regardless of if it was intentional, they did effectively fetishize men of colour and they did attempt to distance themselves from their whiteness in this song, and on social media.
The second statement came on their other social media platforms and if I were going to write a how-to manual on making yourself look like the most arrogant jerks on the planet, this statement would be on the first page. The statement in question is a mix between an apology for their lead singer’s racism (kind of) and a “fuck you” to everyone who has had any kind of criticism toward them. If you’re genuinely sorry for racist tweets in your past, you wouldn’t put the apology in the body paragraph of a crappy statement that starts with “hey fuckers!”.
It’s the kind of statement that you’d expect from someone who is incredibly immature who has been called out on their toxic behavior, they attack critics, news publications who’ve reported on them, people who’ve questioned the legitimacy of their operation, and near the end of the statement they briefly say “Now let’s talk about the tweets: Marisa tweeted out language when she was fifteen that she’s deeply ashamed of. This language is not true to the person she is today, nor does the band condone that language. In 8 years, people grow up and change.”
Nowhere in that statement are the words “I’m sorry”, or “we’re sorry”, nor was the statement given the legitimacy of being on its own, they hid it in the ending body paragraph of a bigger issue. They also immediately absolve themselves of guilt by playing the “people change” card in the same sentence that they’re supposed to be apologizing for their conduct in. They basically pulled the “sorry for the racism but that was a long time ago so…” card.
Many people like myself who’ve been following The Tramp Stamps and everything they’re up to for the past week or so, were pretty disappointed by the statement. There were so many issues that they did not address regarding racism, their clothing from Dolls Kill, acknowledgment of the bands and women who inspired them, as well as the fact that the label they’re working under—Prescription Songs—is in affiliation with Dr. Luke, the producer who abused artist Kesha for years.
Basically, as we end off my gloried rant, I hope you understand why I said this band ruined my week. The past seven days of my life have been absolutely engulfed in the endless rabbit hole that is The Tramp Stamps. I started out looking into them because I thought their music was embarrassing, outdated, and simply anti-feminist, and then every time I learned one thing about them, I was greeted with seven more leads to fascinating nonsense that The Tramp Stamps seem to ooze out of their very pores.
If you’re looking for bands with front women who sing authentically about the feminine experience, this is who I’d suggest you look into before even considering The Tramp Stamps:
- Bikini Kill
- The Slits
- Bad Crush