In an interview with Rolling Stone in September 2013, twenty-year-old Taylor Momsen insisted that “Rock & roll needs to make a resurgence… It needs to come back in a big way and take over again.”
As the lead vocalist of the band The Pretty Reckless, Momsen hopes that their music will do just that. On Monday, the band snagged the award for “Best Hard Rock Artist” at the Alternative Press Music Awards, which means they are well on their way to reviving the Hard Rock genre.
Momsen accepted the award with a brief, yet heartfelt, speech:
“Thank you. We’re the Pretty Reckless. Thank you guys so much. We’d love to thank AP for having us and for the award, but honestly, we’d like to thank the fans because without you, we wouldn’t be here right now. Thank you guys so much.”
If you look closely, you might be able to recognize little Cindy Lou Who from “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” or little J from the hit TV show, “Gossip Girl,” but Momsen has done a pretty good job of shedding her image as cutesy blonde actress and replacing it with thick black eyeliner and a sultry rock ‘n’ roll voice.
The Pretty Reckless, led by Momsen, formed in 2009; by 2010 they were signed with Interscope Records. They released their first album “Light Me Up” to mild success. According to one reviewer: “If the band had explored their bluesy leanings more, ‘Light Me Up’ could have been a small-scale revolution, but even as it stands now, it’s still a wicked good record.”
In 2013, the band released their second album “Going to Hell.” Another reviewer argues: “it’s hard to think of this as music that belongs to 2014 — it’s rooted in the ’90s and doesn’t want to move beyond it — but there’s nevertheless a twitchy teen rebellion that fuels the whole enterprise, and that’s why ‘Going to Hell’ works: the group may be following a blueprint, but they believe they’re following their own course, and that conviction is convincing.”
Momsen certainly follows this conviction as she boldly stated that their band was “really trying to come to something unique and different.” The question remains whether The Pretty Reckless is just following a path that’s already been done before, or whether their post-grunge sound is reviving and transforming Hard Rock just when it was beginning to slip from the mainstream.
In addition to reviving the hard rock genre, The Pretty Reckless also strives for a certain level of shock value as demonstrated by the cover of their 2014 album, “Going to Hell.” Momsen poses nude with a goth-y cross and arrow symbol painted on her back. The concept was inspired by a classic rock poster.
She admits to Rolling Stone it was directly derived from Pink Floyd: “You know that photograph of the women sitting by a pool, nude, with all the record covers painted on their backs? That’s one of my favorite posters, so I stole the idea.” It’s refreshing to see that unlike many other contemporary artists who “borrow” from their predecessors, Momsen is very upfront and conscious of the fact that she is re-using and reinventing past Rock achievements.
This self-awareness is also translates into the band’s music, a key example being “Going to Hell’s” second single “Heaven Knows.” The song was the band’s first single to top the Billboard chart as well as their first entry into the Mainstream Rock Songs chart.
In a sense, this song has realized Momsen’s dream of taking the classics of Hard Rock into the mainstream. Praised as an “upbeat, beat-wise humor that hard rock has suppressed ever since grunge” with “full-on glam stops about troubled teens,” and three years later this single still has staying power.
The success of the band spurred Momsen to release the third studio album in 2016, aptly titled, “Who You Selling For”. Much like her predecessors, Momsen seems to question her identity in the face of her success, and this album faces these issues head on.
As the band continues to evolve, the rawness of their sound and their emotionally powered lyrics remain the same. Consider “Going to Hell” to be the teenager, while “Who You Selling For” is the young adult- slightly more mature but with a lot of room to grow.