Before last night, I did not know Penn Badgley. And now I do.
If I were a real music journalist, this statement would probably be true, because it would mean that maybe I had interviewed him and now knew him as a person – his favorite breakfast foods, his secret nerdy interests, and his career inspirations. But I am not a music journalist, and I did not interview Penn Badgley, and I do not know him. The accurate thing is to say, “before last night, I did not know who Penn Badgley was. And now I do.”
For some months now, a friend of mine has been sending periodic emails trying to get people to join her in seeing MOTHXR (pronounced “mother”), a local band she really likes that is fronted by one Penn Badgley. I asked who that was, and was told that he starred in Gossip Girl, which I have never seen. (I welcome you all to join me under this rock. It’s very cozy.)
I love checking out new bands, and I found the prospect of seeing a celebrity exciting – even if I had no idea who that person was – so I wanted to go. I got a chance to see MOTHXR last night, and as we waited for their set to start, it was apparent from all the fangirl conversations around me that people were clearly there to see Penn Badgley and not necessarily to see MOTHXR. It was all woowoo girls and a few unfortunate boyfriends.
As far as I can tell, MOTHXR is a band that has a softer, pop vibe and a lot of soothing, droning synth notes that go on for days. And it has matching vocals to boot, as many songs were not complete without at least one extended “ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” from Badgley’s surprisingly versatile voice. As I listened to them, I couldn’t help but think of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” for some reason, and I strongly believe that MOTHXR would have fit right in in the 80s. The fact that one of MOTHXR’s main songs is called “Centerfold” didn’t help deter this train of thought for me, despite the fact that the name is really the only commonality between the MOTHXR version and the J. Geils Band version from 1981. Even though “Centerfold” is a little [insert synonym for “droning” here since I already used that word] for my tastes, it has probably my favorite vocals from MOTHXR’s 45 minute set because I found Badgley’s voice the most unique and intriguing when in the lower register.
As a lead singer, Badgley’s stage presence is…well, uncomfortable. When I used to watch “Making the Band” on MTV (you watched it too, I know you did), I remember the women of Danity Kane getting some coaching on how to work with the microphone and how to generally improve their stage presence. I’m not sure if this happens in real life, but if it does, and MOTHXR becomes a lot more successful, I imagine there’d be some stage presence training happening there.
The bro next to me at the show put it best when he said not-at-all-quietly to his friends, “He’s trying to be sexual but it’s not working.”
Badgley, in his white jeans and white t-shirt that he clearly had just chopped the sleeves off of (Stars – they’re just like us! Altering their clothing with scissors!), fit right in in the Lower East Side venue with his mop of off-center curly hair, but his slow hip movements seemed awkward and his completely expressionless face runs counter to everything society has come to expect from lead singers.
Either way, the fangirls loved it, just like I imagine I would if I saw a band fronted by, say, Chris Pratt.
I like 80s music as much as most people today do – which is to say, it serves a purpose for nostalgia and also as a great party theme, but it’s not on heavy rotation in my day-to-day listening. As such, I probably wouldn’t make a trip to see MOTHXR again, though I’m told that their opening band, Reputante, with whom they share a band member, is always excellent. So we’ll see.