A Field Guide to Female Singers: Amanda Palmer

First up, we have the envelope-pushing, piano-pounding Amanda Effin’ Palmer. Her eccentricities prompt some to call her the Lady Gaga of the underground music scene, but that title belies her mind-boggling stylistic and vocal range. From her audience’s vantage point, Palmer seems to be eternally chasing after a creative impulse she can’t contain, epitomizing prolific virtuosity. She paints on her eyebrows, walks the fine line between artsy and crazy, and still manages to make records that my dad likes.

Palmer is distinctive, but far from predictable or monotonous: she has recorded and performed as a member of multiple bands, as a solo artist, and in numerous collaborations, each of which has its own recognizable sound and aesthetic while still remaining identifiably Palmer-esque. From The Dresden Dolls to The Grand Theft Orchestra to Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele, AFP retains an inimitable mix of theatricality, irreverence, and verisimilitude.

If you want to identify Palmer’s music by ear, just listen for raucous piano and a brazen alto voice, half vibrant splinters of mahogany and half time-worn gravel from icy stream beds. She’ll tell you heartbreaking stories with a wink and a smile, “seamlessly floating with grace between eras and genres,” before tricking you into profound thought through a focus on the mundane and material.

But her musical style is just a cross-section of her talent and the soul behind it. Unlike some celebrity blogs, Palmer’s is more than a tool for self-promotion, but a vessel for free-verse poetry and thoughtful, philosophical journal entries. She recently reviewed the newest novel by her husband (the illustrious Neil Gaiman), and in so doing managed to tease apart the artist’s self and the artist’s work, two concepts so tightly intertwined that it’s hard to remember they were separate entities to begin with. Palmer writes openly about the ups and downs of life, on both specific and general scales, and through this, offers her audience an invitation to create a bond of trust. The series of entries she wrote in the aftermath of the Marathon Bombings, particularly poignant coming from someone so vocally attached to the Boston area, revealed a deeply felt impulse toward human collaboration and unity through eloquent, raw, and sometimes controversial prose.

Palmer’s brand of artistry is built on deftly balanced paradoxes: her ostentation is not a mask, but a tool that allows for transparency. Her irreverence works alongside humility, and her bluntness creates space for constructive conversation. Amanda Palmer may be a theatre kid through and through, but you don’t have to strip away the stage makeup to see that she’s a person, not a persona.

P.S. You’ll be seeing more of her philosophical musings around here soon enough, but for now, I encourage you all to check out her ingenious TED Talk. 


4 thoughts on “A Field Guide to Female Singers: Amanda Palmer

  1. I just watched the TED talk, and I am now filled with a burning desire to be a street performer. Mer, let’s be the next SPG, let’s be the next AFP, let’s talk to awesome people and sing them songs or do standup comedy or paint our faces and smile at them. And then Thai food, after.

    • Um how did you know what I’ve been daydreaming about for the past 48 hours?!?! Get outta my head you beautiful psychic artiste! YES, a thousand times yes! 😀

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