When Le Tigre announced late last month that its members would reunite on a new “special” song, I was stoked. The feminist electro-punk trio’s last release came more than a decade ago; its members have long moved on to other projects. I didn’t think we’d ever hear from Le Tigre as a unit again.
Looking back, I’m not sure why my hopes were so high. Reunions are never as satisfying as we want them to be, and many suspected that the band’s new release would be an election-themed song. Those are always too earnest and sappy to take seriously as real music.
Indeed, “I’m With Her,” which dropped on Wednesday, is a sorry, deflated version of the Le Tigre that informed my feminist awakening. Some of the band’s hallmarks are still there: the electro-dance beats, the footage from leftie demonstrations, the lo-fi visuals. But there’s little subversive spirit to lines like “I want a listener, a negotiator / A legal scholar, Supreme Court nominator,” and much of the protest footage seems to have come directly from Clinton’s own campaign video, “History Made.” And it looks like “reunite” might have been the wrong verb for the band to use; it’s not clear whether Kathleen Hanna, who’s preparing for an international tour with the Julie Ruin, was ever in the same place as JD Samson and Johanna Fateman when they were filmed bopping around in adorable pantsuits.
Le Tigre’s cynical (or maybe just grown-up?) evolution into a promo band began earlier this year, when it sold “Hot Topic” to Kohl’s for a back-to-school clothing commercial. With no particular evidence at my fingertips, I want to say that it feels like Kohl’s is the least punk department store there is. (I would have been marginally less insulted if the band had convinced the actual Hot Topic to do a mass-market TV spot.)
Now, the band is singing “Who do we want? / We want HRC!” on behalf of a candidate whose progressive bona fides are passable, but certainly not pristine. The group that once noted the unevenness of social progress with lines like “RU486 is we suck your fucking dick” is hawking a mainstream candidate whose presidency would surely be a historic feminist statement, but whose politics would not usher in the radical queered-up matriarchy for which Le Tigre danced and screamed. It’s sad that Clinton’s opposing candidate is so profoundly offensive that he’s spurred a seminal feminist band to record an unenthusiastic election tune that’s just a few notches cooler than that soul-splitting, Glee-ified version of Rachel-Platten’s “Fight Song” the DNC produced against any urges toward decency.
That’s the downside of celebrity appeals and musical performances tied to specific candidates: Campaigns hope that some of the cool person’s coolness will rub off on the candidate, but it’s almost always the other way around. The members of Le Tigre, like many artists, probably want to use their followings and skills to help stop Trump however they can. Unfortunately, that means some of Clinton’s uncoolness is rubbing off on the band. “Le Tigre was born from feminist rage, and feminist rage reunites us after a decade,” Le Tigre posted on Facebook on Wednesday. “‘I’m With Her’ is our song for Hillary Clinton. It’s our plea to voters to join us at the ballot box on November 8th to destroy Donald Trump.” “Destroy Donald Trump” would have made a much better, if less campaign-endorsed, Le Tigre track than “Yay Hillary We Love You.” Punk—even electro-dance punk!—is most comfortably punk when it’s heavy on the nays, sparing with the yays.