This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
This review contains mild spoilers for I'm With the Band: Nasty Cherry.
TV shows about pop music can be absolutely magic. There's the singing talent show (Fame Academy, Pop Idol, The Voice, The X Factor), the drama-starring-a-band—remember the S Club TV shows?—and best of all, the behind-the-scenes documentary, ranging from E4’s 2006 offering, Girls Aloud: Off the Record (basically all you need to know is that Sarah Harding crashes a Ferrari), to the BBC’s surprise Christmas 2018 hit Bros: After the Screaming Stops, which garnered such a large cult following that London’s Prince Charles Cinema offered repeat showings throughout 2019.
Music TV is endlessly popular because it has the special lure of giving viewers a look behind the music industry’s tightly pulled curtain, as well as the joy of watching others more musically talented than you. And as with most things that are popular, Netflix is now involved. Building on the success of one-off concert films from Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, the platform recently aired its first music talent show (Rhythm and Flow, which sought a new US rap star, and was judged by Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, and T.I.). On Friday, November 15, its first music documentary series—I’m With the Band: Nasty Cherry—goes live.
Many Netflix users won’t have heard of Nasty Cherry, a four-piece band engineered and primed for world domination by Charli XCX, quite yet. Since March this year, the band have released four singles, with an EP coming this month. For the early part of their time together, Nasty Cherry were also filmed extensively for Netflix's six-part series.
The band members, each hand-picked by Charli, live in an LA house, and are given time to gel as a group, as well as gigs, production sessions, a music video, and photoshoots, plus frequent guidance from the woman herself. This is all very fun to watch but it's far from the usual trajectory for new bands. Though it's reality TV, a sense of realism is lost in the quest to make I’m With the Band an entertaining show. It needs to feel glamorous—and it just wouldn’t if the women were humping gear into vans and playing to crowds of five on Tuesday nights, as is the case for the majority of bands just starting out.
Nasty Cherry themselves acknowledge this in the show. In the last episode, Georgia Somary, who learned bass guitar to be in the band, notes that they’ve “been handed a fucking lucky ticket,” while guitarist Chloe Chaidez and drummer Debbie Knox-Hewson, as more experienced musicians, marvel at their speedy progress (Chaidez is the longtime frontwoman of the alt-pop band Kitten, while Knox-Hewson is part of Charli XCX’s live band.)
This self-awareness is one of I'm With the Band's major strengths. It knows where Nasty Cherry aim to sit within music traditions, soundtracking their journey with women-fronted bands like Dream Wife and CSS. The band's aesthetic—and that of the show—pulls from punk, 90s fashion, and 70s glamour, with especially strong nods to The Runaways. Though the show is sadly light on original music (what we do hear is a hybrid of synth pop and hair metal, all written by the band and fronted by the arrestingly beautiful singer Gabi Bechtel), this visual element helps make up for it. The documentary harks back to a time when rock music was about leather costumes and feathered hair, while also being very specifically feminine.
Guitar music in particular still has masculine overtones, but the show depicts young women in both musician and music management roles, illustrating the practicalities of what these positions involve. Most of the ‘women in music’ commentary the show offers is fairly surface-level for now, but if there’s another season of I’m With the Band, it’d be cool to hear about this in more depth. I want to know how the musicians got into playing their instruments, and how Nasty Cherry’s manager Emmie found her way into the music industry.
In general, I’m With the Band doesn’t gloss over any of Nasty Cherry’s interpersonal issues, and that makes it an engaging watch. The band members are honest about their misgivings over the weird, new situation they find themselves in (and often, each other). While all of the women feel genuine, their problems are ultimately neatly packaged into a six-episode narrative arc, with the sort of ‘conflict/resolution’ story beats we’ve come to expect from most reality TV.
The show is the sort of thing I’d have adored as a teenager (I can imagine my 15-year-old self’s bedroom rapidly becoming a shrine to Chaidez), and while I still found it to be enjoyable to watch—its tough-but-girly, ‘Siri play “Cherry Bomb”’ aesthetic is still enormously appealing to me at 25—the content leaves me wanting slightly. I’m With the Band presented an opportunity to avoid what we expect from reality shows, and to move the nitty-gritty of making music, in all its tedium and moments of glory, to center stage. There are flashes of that, but it deserves to be the lead singer.
I'm With the Band: Nasty Cherry drops on Netflix on Friday, November 15.
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