Music Article

Sells Like Teen Spirit

What alt-rocker is behaving like an Avril wannabe? Thirty-six-year-old Liz Phair's fans aren't liking that she's trying to act like a pop star

Liz Phair | VANITY PHAIR Liz tells EW why she doesn't want to go belly up in this business
Image credit: Liz Phair: Photographed by Matt Jones
VANITY PHAIR Liz tells EW why she doesn't want to go belly up in this business

The aspiring pop starlet knows what she wants, and like most aspiring pop starlets, she's got a plan for how to get it. First of all, she wants to be famous. That's a given. To do this, she's tapped the Matrix -- the production trio behind Avril Lavigne -- who've come through with roll-down-the-windows sing-alongs that are begging to get blasted out of the car stereo all summer long.

Right now, however, what she most wants is lunch at the Santa Monica annex of the Ivy, L.A.'s famous celebrity dining establishment. She knows how to get that, too. ''How's your expense limit?'' she asks. Reassured that her aspiring-pop-starlet needs will be met, she hops into her BMW and heads toward a plate of poached salmon and -- so the plan goes -- multiplatinum superstardom.

Nothing unusual about this picture, right? After all, those chirpy teen-poppers panting on your radio -- What were their names again? -- occupied the same starting gate not long ago. But this aspiring pop starlet, well, she's different. For one, she's a 36-year-old mother. She's been making music for over a decade. And she's responsible for one of the most celebrated documents of female empowerment and indie-rock songcraft ever recorded: 1993's ''Exile in Guyville.'' So what the hell is Liz Phair thinking?

Quite a bit, it turns out. ''I didn't want to be some '90s act that was great in my 20s and never did anything else,'' says Phair, tackling an appetizer of crab claws. ''People are like, 'Don't be commercial, then. Just be...Wilco.' And that's one way to live. But even when I made ''Guyville,'' I was hating indie then. The whole album was about how much I hated indie. I was sick to f---ing death of that snobbery. You know, I liked radio hits my whole life, including when I was cool. When Shakira goes [sings] 'Underneath your clothes...,' that works on me. So here's your question in life: Do you acknowledge who you are even if people don't like you for it? Even if people say, 'That's so lame'? Should I pretend to be cool so that you will approve of me? After I had my kid, the revelation I had was, Life is incredibly short. I like who I am. And I'm just gonna like what I like and go for what I want to go for. It's simple.''

The result of this epiphany is the brazenly glossy Liz Phair (due out June 24), a naked bid for mainstream airplay that's such a radical departure from her previous albums -- ''Guyville'' and its slightly less raw follow-ups, ''Whip-Smart'' (1994) and ''whitechocolatespaceegg'' (1998) -- that it's guaranteed to alienate a large chunk of her fan base. ''I think it's better to be talked about and hated and embraced -- because a lot of people do love [the new album]. I like to be noticed. I don't like to be boring. So it's better to have people up in arms about it. I don't like not being liked, but...I really like my record.''

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