World loves a junkie. Keith Richards, Cat Marnell, Robert Downey Jr., ‘90s Drew Barrymore — these were addicts whose drug abuse quickly defined them, fueled their interviews (Barrymore’s infamous David Letterman table dance), secured book deals (Marnell’s $500k Simon & Schuster advance), and provided endless fodder for tabloids (Downey Jr. flying down the PCH—naked, on drugs, in a Porsche). If they could smoke it, shoot it, snort it, they did, and we sat there on the sidelines, watching feverishly from the padded walls of our work cubicles while someone else played Russian roulette with their life.
What are these people to us?
In the last year, the fashion world’s obsession with Sky Ferreira has reached a fever pitch – remarkable, considering that as early back as 2010 Ferreira had about as much musical cool cred as a B-rate Britney Spears. Her look and her sound suffered from what was a confused, unfocused marketing strategy on the part of her record label. The result was five dogged years of piecemeal recording — a single here, an E.P. there, some web buzz and magazine features, half-assed videos like this one.
Socially, however, Ferreira was hitting all the right notes, showing up at parties and being shot by The Cobra Snake, flaunting her crybaby/vampire finger tats to Terry Richardson, appearing on Katy Perry’s Instagram feed, sporting ripped tights and a bottle of vodka between her legs. She might have not been crafting an album, but she was certainly crafting an image. In 2011, the drug-addled, wild-haired, rebellious teen persona attracted the attention of Calvin Klein, the perpetual House of Heroin Chic, who cast Ferreira for not one, but two CK fragrance campaigns.
Then came the bleach, the better clothes, praise from people like Givenchy’s Ricardo Tisci. Ferreira was swiftly evolving from a proverbial nobody to a fashion somebody. Still, her music hadn’t quite caught up.
Finally, in 2012, Ferreira teamed with Devonte Hynes of Blood Orange for the indie hit “Everything is Embarrassing” and her potential as a legitimate musical talent became more apparent. Fashion had crafted her the right look and Hynes had given her the right sound. The new Ferreira was unleashed into the world, setting the stage for what would eventually culminate in the critical success of her recently released debut album, Night Time, My Time.
Bleached blonde, with bedroom eyes and a crimson pout, Ferreira perfectly fit the bill for the ‘90s resurgence re-popularized by street style and glamorized by Hedi Slimane, who, infamously obsessed with youth and the rock culture, quickly found a muse in Ferreira. Her look was strung out, unclean, fresh in its utter unfreshness. After years of over-produced, cookie-cutter pop stars – the mold of which her own label tried unsuccessfully to cram her into – Ferreira came across as having that DIY, fuck you irreverence that the cultural pendulum was swinging towards. No one wanted slick, shiny, hyper-commercialized, over-commoditized garbage anymore. They didn’t want Pepsi contracts and perfume bottles. They wanted something real. They wanted a girl like Ferreira, who doesn’t just sing about Molly like Miley Cyrus, but gets arrested for it, along with 42 decks of heroin, a rock and roll boyfriend, and a stolen car. They wanted unsalvageable grit, damage, a screaming voice for these silent times.
I’m not saying Ferreira is the voice of our generation in that, as an artist, she’s really saying anything. While her look might appear to be anti-establishment, disdainfully fringe, her music – even more so in Night Time, My Time – is unabashed cotton-candy pop. But she’s an archetype, a representation of the state of things. Watching Terry Richardson’s video for her 2012 track “Red Lips,” I couldn’t help but think that Ferreira – staring at the camera with this craven desire to be saved, while simultaneously acknowledging its futility — somehow epitomized this sort of cultural victimhood we’re going through right now. Ergo the grunge resurgence.
Between gridlock in Congress, drones in the Middle East, the Keystone Pipeline, ecological disasters, fracking, Fukushima, Edward Snowden, the NSA, the massively ignored effects of global warming, Libor and every other bank trying to drive the world economy into the ground just so the 1%-ers can keep flying private, we are constantly made aware of global atrocities perceived to be beyond our control.
To understand Ferreira’s evolution and her subsequent success, you have to look at her within a broader social context. Why do we love her now? Why are we drawn to the bleached hair, the insomniac pallor? Why is heroin chic back in vogue? Drug abuse, like fashion, often mirrors the times, a collective desire for particular uppers and downers that comes in waves, a craving for a particular internal stimulus to combat external events.
Ours is a time of sad resignation, a blithe acceptance of the sorry state of things. Instead of fighting back, we have checked out. Ferreira, wearing a uniform of ‘90s anti-establishment grunge coated in 2013 apathy, represents the latter. Whether she’ll cop to being a drug addict or not, it doesn’t matter. She looks the part. She’s the junkie we need right now.