There’s been a bit of uproar on TikTok about a band called “Tramp Stamps”, a new “riot grrrl” band who make music about “the kind of stuff women talk about all the time with their friends, but no one’s ever put it to this kind of music before.” They’ve kicked up a lot of ruckus on social media for a number of reasons, but primarily that they’re “obviously industry plants” because of their production value and the members’ history in the music industry, as a few TikTok videos which went semi-viral claim.
An “industry plant” can simply be described as an artist who has a major industry label backing them while claiming to be independent to give off a more authentic/indie brand image (especially in the rap/hip-hop scene)[ref 1] [ref 2]. Industry plants are normally reactionary and exist to capitalize on a trend or target demographic, and the reason they’re normally considered “bad” is because they have an unfair advantage when it comes to security and support since they get that from a big company who can afford to risk losing a little money. It also takes attention away from “true home grown/indie” artists since they likely don’t have the marketing budget to compete in the same spaces at the same scale. In reality there’s nothing inherently wrong with having the backing from the biggest in the business, but it does make your project/brand feel less ‘authentic’ if your brand story is “yeah everything just worked out for me”.
So the reason that people were suspicious in the first place is because two of the bands members, Caroline Baker and Marisa Maino have successful solo projects with the same record label, Prescription Songs, and the third member, Paige Blue has been writing and producing pop songs for a very long time[ref 1]. The band members previous works have nearly nothing in common with each other or the work that they would create under Tramp Stamp.
- Here’s Baker’s most popular song pre-Tramp Stamps: “i don’t miss u” On Spotify
- Here’s Maino’s most Tramp Stamp-esque song: “LOVE SUX” On Spotify (NSFW)
Their public Instagram accounts can be divided cleanly into pre and post Tramp Stamps by when they collectively transitioned from shopping at River Island to shopping at DollsKill.
They clearly have affiliations with major labels, but with their experience in the music industry they’re clearly capable of making the music on their own, and they likely have the industry links to get their website professionally made and have professional marketing, which means that they are likely doing it without a “big label”, but they’re using their industry connections, which is fair enough.
Personally I don’t think they’re ‘insidious industry plants’, not that that is even that bad in the first place, I think this project is completely their idea but they just didn’t do enough research on the audience they’re targeting.
The first thing they got wrong was the target audience (or the genre, depending on your outlook). Punk and alternative rock fans are generally not the “popular kids”, and they’re not normally casual music listeners, when they listen to a band they want to get invested into the personalities and lyrical content of the music. So when you try to make a band full of girls who’s entire online presence up until this point has been trying to project the “popular girl” energy, you’ve immediately just alienated the target audience out of the gate. But even with that aside they still fail at the execution.
As we’ve already established, all of the band members previous work is bubblegum/lovey-dovey pop, and by their own accord, all of their influences are from pop music, which makes it seem like the members themselves have never been interested in alternative music, and also goes to show a lack of interest in the scene that they’re trying to engage with.
They also don’t recognize some of the most popular alternative music of all time, and while my (and others’ who are bringing this up) intent isn’t to gate-keep punk/alternative music, in the video where you’re supposed to be showing how emo/alt they are, they don’t recognize Evanescence’s Bring Me To Life, a song that I’m pretty sure even my nan would recognize. It’s one of the most popular songs of all time, especially on the internet where the song has become a recurring meme since it’s release because of its popularity.
(The video that used to be here has been removed)
Punk is also a genre with incredibly deep cultural roots, and as I understand it, punk fans care about those roots, because punk was meant to a tool to call out flaws in ‘the system’, it has a social purpose, rather than just an aesthetic one.
So… why are they making edgy “feminist rock”? It’s likely because that’s kind of a trend on social media! TikTok has become a space for lots of frustrated women to voice their negative experiences with men, some productive, some not so much. There’s an entire subculture of women and queer people posting videos with “ugh I hate men, all men suck” vibe (and plenty who don’t), which for a throwaway story-esque video is fine, that’s what the platform is for, and if you don’t like it then you can just scroll away and the app will prefer that content less and you’ll move to a different corner of the TikTok-o-sphere. Adding to this, more traditional/established female punk bands have had songs go viral on TikTok, like Le Tigre’s song Deceptacon (link to Spotify). TikTok has also become a place for indie artists to share their music and have a greater chance of going viral, lots of old and new indie songs have gotten attention, from the chill vibes of In Love With A Ghost’s home-made soundscapes(link to Spotify), to Ashnikko’s ‘Daisy’(link to Spotify (NSFW)) because of TikTok. So if anything it was inevitable that someone would notice a potential gap in the market and fill it.
And because it is relevant here, I also want to mention that their content could be considered queer-baiting (and they seem to do it on purpose)! Their hair colours are purposefully the bisexual pride flag, they’ve addressed it on their social media, and yes they sing exclusively about hating men (which implies wlw but they’re all straight or in straight & non-queer relationships), and they occasionally “transition” to passing male alter egos, except none of them are publicly trans or gender non-conforming, and the video I just linked blew up on TikTok in the trans masculine & bi TikTok communities because of how well they ‘pass’.
My theory is that the lead, Marisa Marino, sees a lot of TikTok videos from queer subcultures, and decided to just dive in the deep end trying to appeal to this audience.
Let’s get onto the music itself then before I go onto the visuals & aesthetic design. They came out swinging with their debut single ‘Sex With Me’ (link to Spotify (NSFW)). The song is actually probably their best, and hits closest to the vibe that I think they’re shooting for. It’s pretty poppy with punk undertones, lots of auto-tune, short and sweet, I can actually imagine people enjoying this, some of the lyrics are kind of weird like the repeated bridge: “maybe if I told them that you cry in bed you’d have a little respect for the pussy you get”, which I don’t think gives off the “haha owned” vibe they think it does. It’s a little to blunt, but I can see it working.
Their second song, ‘1-800-miss-ur-guts’ (link to Spotify (NSFW)) is where things get a little weird, the song is about high school and prom, except all of the band members are fully grown adults of at least 24 years old, that’s a solid 6 years since their prom, and their songwriter Paige Blue, is a little older. A bit weird, but I guess they’re trying to relate to what they think TikTok’s audience is, although from what I’ve seen of queer TikTok, it’s mostly adults, so this may again just be Tramp Stamps misjudging their audience (or they just wanted to make a song about prom, which is also fair enough, but if that’s the case I wish it was from their current perspective, rather than the perspective of someone at prom).
Their last song however, is where the concept just dies and any shred of authenticity is lost. ‘I’d Rather Die’(link to Spotify (NSFW)) is a song about how the band would rather die than sleep ‘with another straight white guy’. The funny thing about this is that the songwriter, Paige, is married to a straight white guy (I like to think they’ve had arguments about the song), and the entire band is heterosexual, apart from Marisa Maino, who is pansexual (but refuses to say it, so again, authenticity is in question). Again, this songs concept likely comes from the trend on TikTok where bisexual women in relationships with heterosexual men will half-complain about how they wish they were in a relationship with a woman instead. This song also has a verse about questionable consent where the guy is “too drunk to get it up because of the alcohol”, the next line then implies that he didn’t want sex with “when you are in the mood”. Again, even I’ve seen videos on my TikTok feed about how ‘bad men generally are at sex’, normally videos made by lesbians/bisexuals and how sex lasts longer for them, so I have no doubt that this is the inspiration behind this lyric too. Again, that content is fine for a throwaway 30 second story video that only your in-group will see, but the ideas should be more refined for a full 3 minute pop song.
Punk rock is nothing if not socially aware though, and this lyric just shows that Tramp Stamp just aren’t. Even the most explicit hypersexual pop songs never cross the line of consent and belittling others (other than Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams but that’s a different story). Hypersexual female-centric pop has also been a trend of the last year or two, with the release of W.A.P., the rise of Doja Cat, Billie Eilish and Ashnikko, except none of those artists messaging is intended to come across as excluding anyone, even men, especially as more nuanced conversations about feminism, misandry, toxic-masculinity general visibility of transgender men has improved. Instead those artists focus of what’s great about sex and feeling good about yourself/feeling powerful in bed, rather than putting someone else down.
As a result of these controversies, they removed ‘I’d Rather Die’ from TikTok (but not any platforms where they’d make any money from like Spotify).
There are many other possible influences that explain Tramp Stamps, one of which is artist Poppy, who recently made drastic stylistic changes in her music to great applause from fans and critics. Poppy’s older music could described as ‘socially aware bubble-gum pop’, but she started experimenting with a metal aesthetic in subsequent albums resulting in a transition completely to a kawaii-metal/pop-metal-fusion style on her most recent next album ‘I Disagree’ - the execution of which is perfect, in my opinion Links to Spotify (NSFW). Another potential influence is 100 gecs and Death Grips, who are both popular due to social media, and both have hyper-pop/hip-hop aesthetics, with extremely distorted guitars and synths, and similar over the top auto-tune as Tramp Stamps music.
It’s possible they saw Poppy’s transition to kawaii-metal and they maybe thought they could do something similar. The difference is that when Poppy transitioned to a new genre, she got metal producers to work with her (I believe she was working with Marilyn Manson and their producers for some songs), those producers bring experienced eyes and ears to the project, they know through trial and error what audiences like and don’t like, what’s cliché and what isn’t. Poppy also brought something new to the metal genre, since there are few female voices in the scene to begin with, but the style that was created for Poppy is completely unique sounding regardless. Tramp Stamps on the other hand claim to be writing and producing their music completely alone, in a genre which they have little experience in and seemingly little interest in outside of social media trends. And while they claim that nobody has done what they’re doing, they’re just proving how little they know about the genre they’re trying to work within, plenty of rebellious all female bands have and will continue to exist, just browsing the “Riot Grrrl” playlist on Spotify I found a band called Dream Nails who make very loud politically charged songs about current feminist issues, except they do it in a way thats… well… productive and working for actual societal change, unlike Tramp Stamps who seem to exclusively talk about their sex with white men.
To summarize, the main downfall of the concept behind Tramp Stamps though, is that they’re directly translating TikTok trends to music rather than using them as a starting point for their own creative output.
Compared to other all female punk/alt bands whose lyrics don’t entirely focus on men, Tramp Stamps sound like children in a playground.
Anthony Fantano has a good explanation of this from a more music industry oriented view:
“Where Tramp Stamps have messed up is in the marketing”, so lets go there.
There’s only a few references to any kind of visual designers during the entire project’s history, and that is photographers and the project’s (and Marino’s) ‘creative director’, Natalie Sakstrup, who’s only credited officially on one Instagram post, but she’s the one who designs the bands album covers, and directs the bands videos, and created their website. The videos are fine and show lots of technical skill, though they suffer from the same issues as the still images in that they’re not that interesting and purely borrow from punk aesthetic and doesn’t add and flavour or personality other than “female”, which in of itself is a cliché. At times the visuals just miss the mark and feel closer to Diary of a Wimpy kid than a revolutionary punk-rock band.
- Album art for ‘1-800-miss-ur-guts’ by Natalie Sakstrup.
- Cover for Diary of a Wimpy Kid Old School, by Jeff Kinney
- TRAMP STAMPS website header, by Natalie Sakstrup
They’ve also done the cliché Sex Pistols rip-off/pastiche for half of their covers, except my boyfriend told me I’m giving them too much credit, they have no clue about other punk bands they only know about the Mean Girls’ Burn Book.
- Sex Pistols - God Save The Queen, cover by Jamie Reid
- Tramp Stamps - Sex With Me, cover by Natalie Sakstrup
- The Burn Book, from Mean Girls (2004), dir. Mark Walters, w. Tina Fey
There’s not much to really say here other than it is an incredibly obvious album cover, and most established punk-y bands haven’t bothered with the ransom-note aesthetic for years because it’s so incredibly overdone. For example, look at Rise Records’ discography, they’re one of the biggest American rock labels, they release tons of pop-punk, punk-rock and heavy metal artists and there’s not a paper cut-out in sight. It just further shows a lack of understanding of the genre and what came before them.
Their cover for ‘I’d Rather Die’ feels more original from an album design perspective, but I’m sure that they don’t have permission to use Bratz’ IP and the execution feels amateur in a way where it feels out of place from Sakstrup’s other work. Also the type makes my skin crawl so let’s talk about that.
‘Pieces NFI’ by Norfok is one face used, Norfok are best known for designing the type on ‘Friday the 13th’ (1980) and ‘The Shining’ (1980) posters but nowadays get by making cheap blood-dripping fonts like above and posting them to ‘free font’ websites, I found this one on 1001fonts.com and on it’s own would probably be fine. The other two fonts I found scrolling through the “horror” section on dafont.com, Eat The Meat by AfterThemStudio and Malignant by FontMonger both of which on their own would also be fine to use. Being on ‘free font’ websites means they all have ‘free for personal use’ license, so I hope that Sakstrup payed their dues (most people assume that if a font is freely accessible then it’s free for commercial use, when thats not true, these type designers deserve to be payed for their work, please support them c: ). I can excuse the use of this class of fonts since the point is to look cheap/trashy along with the rest of the Y2K aesthetic, but the display fonts that Sakstrup uses simply don’t compliment each other and the spacing is overly monotonous to a point where they look less like words and more like they’re extensions of the dismembered doll limbs below, which would be clever if the display font was something like ‘Zombie Party’ by Enrique Pedrosa (another font I found scrolling through dafonts), but they didn’t do that. The mish-mash of more than 2 fonts is also normally a bad move, generally you want to stick to as few families as possible, and I’ve been taught that 2 families is the maximum you’ll ever really need since more than that generally just leads to confusion It seems that problem gets magnified when you use multiple display fonts in the same sentence/phrase, which confuses your brain even more since the structure of these fonts are too drastically different from one another, you need to kind of sit there and decode the message a bit.
The concept of the album cover is still drenched in social media trends, unfortunately. Y2K is the event where people were speculating that the date transition from 1999 to 2000 would break many computer systems causing worldwide chaos, the theory was that many poorly designed systems would be designed to only use 2 digits, the 99, and not the whole date, meaning when they added 1 to make the three digit 100, they wouldn’t be anticipating it and they’ll crash. That’s not how computers tell time, but it’s a fun theory. Nowadays, Y2K is more known as a social media/fashion trend which encapsulates the feeling of the late 1990s to early 2000s, low rise jeans, bootlegs, butterflies, lacey crop-tops, you know the drill. Like other popular movements, such as the current cyberpunk wave, there’s the celebration of what was previously considered trashy. Bratz is obviously a huge part of that, and there’s tons of TikTok videos reminiscing about this time in recent history…
- A TikTok with the hashtag #y2k
And hilariously, while I was looking around #y2k, one popular video was about bringing back the tattoo style that is ‘tramp stamps’
I would laugh so hard if they decided on that name because of a TikTok, they didn’t, but my god would that be hilarious.
So yeah, unfortunately it seems like the entirety of Tramp Stamp’s band/brand identity is trend chasing without understanding the trends they’re chasing. And this is the main take-away that I want to take away from this case study, you absolutely need to stand behind a message that you actually believe in for any creative project, or at the very least do your damn research. TikTok should be the inspiration to do do further research, TikTok should not be the research!!