'Death Of A Cheerleader' is the first feature debut by Brooklyn based group Pom Pom Squad, co-produced by vocalist Mia Berrin and Illuminati Hotties vanguard Sarah Tudzin. Alongside bandmates Shelby Keller on drums, Marie Alé Figman on bass and Alex Mercuri on guitar, Berrin visions the banalities of high school and saturates it in whimsical fantasy. The end result scrapbooks everything from late stage Riot Grrrl and ‘Kerplunk’-era Green Day to Motown and Rita Hayworth’s Hollywood.
Dressed in garish florals and kitschy pastels the album art nods to the aesthetics of a John Waters film, whilst gestating towards the bone-dry satire of that opening scene from Heathers. Berrin might well be Heather Chandler as she blankly propositions you from a shallow grave. And so, ‘Death Of A Cheerleader’ begins, with the gooey opening bells of The Chordettes’ ‘Mr Sandman’ tarnished by cavalcades of static. Then charges lead single ‘Head Cheerleader’, with Berrin asserting "I’m gonna marry the scariest girl on the cheerleading team" as she is the most desirable, queering the stereotypical american adolescent experience.
Within the deliciously self-indulgent ‘Crying’ Berrin encourages her listeners to wallow in misery for its own sheer comfort and pleasure, stating of the track: "The character of this song is basically my ego: the part of myself who doesn’t learn, makes the same mistakes constantly, is flaky, can’t admit she’s wrong, is self-pitying and who wraps it all up in a bow the color of self-deprecation".
This narrative continues with the scalpel sharp lyrics of ‘Lux’, which recounts the main character from Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’, who drinks peach schnapps in a ‘crowded high school dance’ then meets her demise through carbon monoxide poisoning. As one of the more grittier, fast-paced tracks on the album, Berrin’s shrieks give Carrie Brownstein a pom pom thrust for her money, biting ‘I feel naked without taking off any of my clothes’. Hints of shoegaze dip in and out of songs like ‘Drunk Voicemail’, whilst sugary instrumental samples from The Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ on ‘Forever’ bare a yearning for skin-on-skin connection, as Berrin croons ‘I’m your forever baby / tell me you are mine’.
‘Death Of A Cheerleader’ styles itself differently from their previous EP ‘Ow’, as Berrin’s grungey ‘Live Through This’ wails and self-styled ‘quiet grrrl’ vocals evolve through the loaded ‘Death Of A Cheerleader’ motif, as she confronts her queer coming-of-age stories to feel comfortable in her own skin.
Fundamentally, Pom Pom Squad’s strengths lie in their theatrics as they submerge themselves gleefully in their own campiness. It takes a great deal of skill to refine an album so inextricably bound in pop culture references, but Pom Pom Squad seize these influences and DIY them to fit their own Gen-Z aesthetic. In other words, ‘Death Of A Cheerleader’ is a tour-de-force that toasts to all of our own Dumb Bitch Selves. And, in true ‘Heathers’ fashion, you should lick it up baby… Lick. It. Up.
Words: Chloe Waterhouse
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