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There's something off-putting about Bif Naked, and it's not just the way she looks, which is like a tough, mewling, pierced, angry, tattooed rock chick who'd like to fuck you up. No, it's the fact that she looks like this spitting, scary, motorcycle rock chick who actually plays superpoppy music and sprinkles her CD liner notes with self-drawn doodles of her dogs, Nicklas and Annastasia (who she claims are "pure happiness," and to whom she dedicates her album I Bificus). And in case you're thinking these dogs are pit bulls or rabid mongrels or wolves, they aren't—one's a Maltese, the other's a bichon frisé. Those are dogs you have to get groomed. It's really hard to hate someone who loves her dogs.
And so it is that I can't hate Bif Naked, though I wanted to before I listened to her CD and before I fell in love with her being in love with her dogs. And why did I want to hate her? For the same reason you might hate her—because she had a brief press blitz and has a phony name and has appeared on the WB, which means that even though she looks edgy and tough, she's endorsed by edgy, tough corporate America, which means she's a safe version of edgy-and-tough, which means she must be fairly manufactured, which means she's worth hating if for no other reason than to prove you can defy the WB.
So, yes, I prematurely hated her for bullshit reasons, and now I like her because she likes her dogs. But it's not just because she likes her dogs, it's also because an actual real human being comes across in the motivational, doodle-laden liner notes, which include a self-portrait alongside the advice to "remember the words of Ram Dass: 'Death is like taking off a tight shoe.'" Another doodle says, "We are lucky to have something to eat."
The former Beth Hopkins, Bif Naked clearly has opinions about the way we should live. She's been straight-edge for the past five years (hence the X marks on the back of her hands); she eats only fish, rice and lettuce (but she eats fowl on tour "as sushi is so hard to come by at truck stops"); and she preaches nonviolence. And, of course, it's futile to tell anyone how to live, and—of course—any one person's opinions about how to live are going to be somehow flawed, but at least Bif Naked has the guts (or naiveté) to put her ideas out there and risk being laughed at by jaded people who've heard it all before.
And there are a lot of jaded people out there who've heard it all before. I'm one of them. I bet you're one of them. And that creates an interesting problem for musicians who are either jaded themselves or who fear coming across as naive. The obvious response is to create self-conscious, ironic music that apologizes for its flaws and doesn't say anything except perhaps the inability to say anything. And in some ways, that's honest. But, fuck, if no one says anything ever, and if no one ever commits to an idea for fear of being ridiculed, and all we do is sit around and talk about sitting around and talking about sitting around and talking about . . . wait, what was Isaying?
Which is why it's commendable that Bif Naked leaves herself wide open. Admittedly, part of the reason this seems refreshing is because of the way she looks. If Bif Naked were some mushy-smushy coffeehouse singer, this would never work because vaguely motivational Middle Eastern spirituality is de rigueur among that set. And you can hear a bit of that coterie in Bif Naked's music. It's weird, actually, how many modern female singers you can hear in her music. In concert, she stalks the stage, gesticulating like Gwen Stefani's scary Goth twin sister. Stefani's the singer she's most often compared to, and her strong, brassy vocals make that a passable comparison, but the timbre of her voice is a bit deeper, and the way she bends and throws certain notes around sounds more like fellow Canadian Alanis Morissette.
And, like Jewel, who lived in the back of a traveling VW bus or something, Bif Naked's also got a crazy history. According to her bio, she was born in the Lucknow Mental Hospital in New Delhi, India, where her teenage Canadian mother was sent in order to hide the pregnancy. She was adopted by two American missionaries and grew up all over the states but ended up in Canada for college, which she didn't attend because she was too busy rehearsing with her first punk rock band. Which is even more of a reason to feel that she's a pastiche of things and people you've already heard.
But she loves her dogs, and damn it, sometimes that's enough.
BIF NAKED performs with the relatives and absolute raging maniacs AT THE GALAXY CONCERT THEATRE, 3503 S. HARBOR BLVD., SANTA ANA, (714) 957-0600. THURS., JUNE 29, 8 P.M. $12.50.
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