Smile is the furious, guttural snarl of the woman perpetually looked at and touched. At times, it is the battle cry of the malice that results when one is mistreated in romantic relationships or at the day job.
Smile is Glad Rags’ first full-length release and one of the most cohesive albums I’ve heard in a while. The band has one volume and that’s loud. The drums are fast, the bass, chugging, the vocals are screams. Each song is fast and short. I listened to this album for the first time while getting ready to go out dancing and my makeup has never been more on fleek.
The first track “Popsicles,” which begins with the bold give-no-fucks statement: “We’re in this bitch” and ends in the lyric “It’s okay / It’s alright / You’re gonna die,” opens the listener to the world of Glad Rags. For others who have experienced misogyny, the album gives voice to almost every irritating aspect of patriarchal living, from body shaming to assumed incompetence. The lyrics center around the everyday violences a misogynistic culture wreaks on women, and for Glad Rags, this violence seems to hit the psyche hardest. Tracks like “5HTP” (named for the antidepressant amino acid supplement) and “Anorexia” discuss the mental heaviness that accompanies social pressures to appear happy, to be nice, to be in control of one’s life and one’s body. “Something in the air / Makes her wanna be / A little less herself” sings Taylor on “Anorexia.” The song “Bullshit” invokes the idea of the “bullshit meter,” the intuitive knowledge that someone is lying, that manipulation is occurring. This gives way to Glad Rags fighting against the gaslighting-induced feelings of craziness that lead to self-doubt, and, ultimately, compliance with the status quo. The band calls bullshit.
It’s hard to talk about Smile without acknowledging Glad Rags’ roots as a Hole and Bikini Kill cover band. Koop and Taylor’s combined vocal power recalls the projectile volatility of the emerging Kathleen Hanna and Courtney Love. Crammed with the rage of generations, their anger just waiting to be unleashed. Glad Rags approach to punk with modern a feminist sensability, which is the acknowledgement of vulnerability and that emotional pain can be the root of female rage. In “My mind” the lyrics “Gotta slam the bedroom door to my mind” repeat like an anxious mantra, a chant that wards off thoughts of a beloved who won’t say the right things or provide the necessary care. The subtle revelation is that tough girls get their hearts broken, too.
As I listened to the album for the second time and applied a final coat of lip chap before leaving the house, I was reminded of actress Charlize Theron’s advice for how to walk like a queen: “Just think ‘murder,’ and walk.” I would augment this suggestion: just listen to Smile.