On any given day, perusing the event listings at a favorite music venue will result in the usual genre-spanning mix of musicians, whether up-and-coming or well-traveled, as well as DJ gigs and dance nights. As the world grapples with the latest wave of the pandemic, cancellations and postponements are more common than ever.
Apart from these coronavirus-caused disappointments, calendars are increasingly filled with dance nights dedicated to the present or not-so-distant past of pop music, pitting artists’ discographies against each other: Madonna vs. Gaga vs. Britney; One Direction vs. the Jonas Brothers; Taylor Swift vs. Miley Cyrus, Olivia Rodrigo or just herself.
Serena Deeb calls herself the Woman of a Thousand Holds and the Professor of Professional Wrestling because she’s especially adept at the form’s muscle-mangling maneuvers, which she’s mastered after more than 16 years in the business. Like almost all wrestling’s biggest names, she’s spent time with industry standard-bearer World Wrestling Entertainment, and even though she was hired and fired by the company twice, she takes it in stride.
“Honestly, I consider both of my releases from WWE two of the best things that have ever happened to me,” Deeb says.
In her new music video for “Read My Mind,” Rebecca Black and collaborator Slayyyter portray bored convenience store employees with bad dye-jobs and worse attitudes who serve a parade of juggalos and rednecks before a chance encounter with a motocross star leaves them “yassified” — a 2021 trend that turned regular objects into extremely beautiful and queer-coded ones — into cartoonish dolls with big blonde wigs and too-big, muppet-like breasts.
The video’s grotesque-but-make-it-cute vibe matches the song, an irresistible pop jam that does the opposite of Coco Chanel’s most quoted wisdom and keeps adding one more thing: saccharine synths on top of pop-punk riffs on top of double-time breakbeats on top of an undeniable pop melody.
Pro wrestling boomed around the turn of the millennium, when Trish Adora was in elementary school. Her memories of the era are of a smoky ring and a team of female dancers; screams, curses and fans throwing chairs; and women tearing off each others’ evening gowns.
“It was interesting trying to process that as a kid,” she recalls.
Despite the chaos and controversy, the young Adora was drawn to wrestling by the larger-than-life pageantry, the characters and the showmanship. Specifically, she remembers things clicking when she saw female wrestlers including Jacqueline, a WWE Hall of Famer who was the company’s first African American women’s champion.
“She was very strong, and just seeing a Black woman being taken seriously and being strong and still beautiful — and not being stripped of that femininity — was so important for me to see. I couldn’t even believe it,” says Adora, who was born Patrice McNair, raised in Southeast D.C. and still lives in Anacostia.
“When everybody was picking their favorites, you gravitate to somebody that looks like you, and I finally had somebody that looked like me,” she says. “I had my superhero.”
These days, Adora, 32, is becoming a superhero for a new generation of wrestling fans, making waves in the independent wrestling scene and quickly becoming a performer to watch. Perhaps most impressively, she’s done it as a Black woman in an industry that has often been tough on women and talent of color, during a pandemic that threatened the industry’s very existence.
“There is a reason for everything,” Adora says. “I just don’t view much as an accident as far as my wrestling career.”
On “Total Restraint,” the debut album by D.C. quartet Tosser, lyrics like “Staring at a wall and I can see my breath / You see my mind’s a mess” and “Heal myself with another excuse / Can’t taste what I smell” seem to speak to the malaise and psychosomaticism of life in the time of coronavirus. Similarly, the band’s guitar-powered songs sound like audio attacks aimed at breaking down the walls of homebound claustrophobia.
Yet “Total Restraint” was released about three weeks before the pandemic fully took hold in the U.S., making the album less predictive of what was to come and more descriptive of underlying issues that would soon be exposed and exacerbated by the virus.
For most musicians, the pandemic brought their life’s work to a crashing halt, with concerts canceled or converted into live-streamed facsimiles, inspiration sapped, and opportunities to play and record music limited.
For D.C. multihyphenate Rick Irby — who performs and produces as Jau Ocean, drums for D.C. acts Den-Mate and Wanted Man, and serves as production manager at H Street NE venue Pie Shop — the stay-at-home orders presented an opportunity to reset.
Amid the incalculable losses of the pandemic, live music might seem trivial to some. But at their largest — with thousands of young people, pure of heart and purpose, screaming and stomping, mobilizing air and shaking concrete — concerts can shock, awe and inspire. On Saturday night at the Capital One Arena, a capacity crowd broke its 18-month fast and returned to the collective communion of a live concert, thanks to Harry Styles.
In 1993, the iconoclastic alternative act Morphine reached its apex with the album “Cure for Pain.” And while the Boston-born trio doled out narcotized, low-end-heavy rockers, the band took its name not from the opiate, but from “Morpheus,” the Greek god of sleep and dreams.
Nearly 30 years later, “Cure for Pain” has inspired a range of local musicians to interpret Morphine’s cult-favorite record as they seek deeper, personal meanings by covering the album, song-by-song. On Sept. 10, DMV-based label Growroom Productions will release the covers as its first volume of “Growroom Interpretations.”
“When it comes to music, I mostly try to avoid nostalgia. The majority of my musical consumption — whether listening at home or in concert, as the subject of my writing or content of the occasional DJ set — is focused on what’s new and next. Even as anniversary tours have become the de rigueur way for bands with more than two albums to push tickets, I’ve rarely indulged.”