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Molly Soda on Net Art and the Pop Culture She Grew Up With

By Arts & Culture, Multimedia

Molly Soda is an Internet ingénue. Her video and web art are peppered with a sense of nostalgia for the early 2000s and the earnestness of a teenage girl. It reminds one of the precision required to set the perfect A.I.M (AOL Instant Messenger) away message and the ease with which gel pens can smudge. Her art sparkles, literally. Upon entering her website visitors are bombarded with a cascade of glittery margarita GIFs and invited to browse a collection of zines and videos with titles like “it’s not you, it’s spring break.”

Molly recently visited the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) to sing karaoke and talk about feelings in conjunction with the Eye and Ear Clinic, a free public screening and exhibition program run by graduate students in the Film, Video, New Media, and Animation department at SAIC. F Newsmagazine caught up with Molly during her sound check to discuss zines in online spaces, women in the media, and the mystery of Taylor Swift.

Rosie Accola: How would you describe “glitch art” to someone who’s never heard of it?

Molly Soda: I don’t know if I necessarily make “glitch art,” but in general computer-based art or net art is made with the tools that you have access to. Instead of using a nice camera perhaps you would use a webcam. It’s less about quality than what you have access to and making work that way.

RA: A lot of your work deals with popular culture. What are your three biggest pop culture fixations right now?

MS: It fluctuates a lot, but currently I like teenage dramas or romantic comedies. I’ve been re-watching Gilmore Girls for like the fifth time. A lot of what I choose to look at is comforting to me in a certain way, or nostalgic or romantic, like a safety blanket, so I tend to re-watch a lot of shows instead of starting new things.

I tend to be more interested in things that I was obsessed with in fifth or sixth grade. I read a lot of J14 and tween magazines to get a sense of that frame of mind and how younger girls are marketed to and the kind of pop culture things they’re looking at.

RA: People are so dismissive of teenage girls when they like things that are marketed toward them. What do you think of that dynamic?

MS: The girls that are mostly interested in the things marketed toward them are younger. I think older teenage girls are a little more subversive. There’s a barrier that you hit where you think it’s uncool to like certain things. Obviously, not every teenage girl is like that, but I know I definitely felt that way. I wanted to like alternative things … whatever indie band that was going on in 2004.

8th grade was the turning point for me because I always felt different, so when more popular girls started to like Avril Lavigne, I was like “Avril Lavigne doesn’t speak to me anymore” … because her music’s not subversive. I think younger girls tend to care less the older they get about music and movies that are marketed toward them.

RA: There’s a definite shift in high school…

MS: Even in elementary school when it’s not cool to like Power Rangers anymore. It definitely has to do with your peers, too. They’re not buying it, so you’re not buying it.

RA: Describe your dream aesthetic. If you had a Molly Soda Barbie doll, what would she have?

MS: I think when you think of Molly Soda, if you’re familiar with me in any capacity, you assume I look, act, and dress a certain way, and that’s not quite true. Aesthetically, people think of my work as very feminine, very glittery, with a lot of sensory overload. It’s very busy and a little nostalgic for the late 1990s and early 2000s.

When I first started on the Internet, people were mostly talking about how I dressed instead of the art that I made. They didn’t know whether I was an artist or a blogger.

RA: What’s it like doing a live performance versus making a video?

MS: I haven’t done a lot of live performances, and if I do it’s usually something I’m asked to do. I like putting things online because they’re more tangible for me in a way. I like the way in general that women perform for their webcams. It’s never very intimate because your computer is a barrier. There’s always this little bit of self-consciousness because you’re aware that you’re going to put it online, so it’s kind of controlled. In real life you either give in to self-consciousness, and it totally cripples you, or you figure out a way to get through it to perform.

RA: A lot of your work deals with perceptions of femininity. Does that influence the overall perception of your work?

MS: People will always comment, especially on a woman who’s putting her face and her body out there on the Internet. They will always tell you what they think about how you look, how you portray yourself, what a woman is supposed to do. You get good stuff, and you get bad stuff. I’m 98% unfazed by any of what I see or hear anymore.

RA: Was it different when you were just starting to get noticed on the Internet?

MS: I used to make it a point to respond to my messages, especially on Tumblr. I’d been active on Livejournal and Xanga, but no one was as critical then as they are now. I don’t respond to 90% of my messages now, even if they’re nice ones.

RA: Do you feel like you still rely on those Internet spaces as an artistic outlet?

MS: I think I’m going through the motions sometimes, but I still get a lot of inspiration from Tumblr. My desktop is cluttered with things I saw there that I want to use or remix. Or I use it as a promotional tool, which is how I use all of my social media. But I also use social media to talk about my selfies, my insecurities, or just to cure boredom. There are still weeks where I’m constantly scrolling on Tumblr.

MollySoda

An announcemen from Molly’s visit at SAIC

RA: What’s your favorite song to sing at karaoke?

MS: I was actually thinking about this today. I like doing pop-punk songs because they’re usually pretty well received, so any Blink 182 or My Chemical Romance.

RA: Speaking of pop-punk (because who doesn’t love it?) what’s your favorite pop-punk band?

MS: Taking Back Sunday or Saves the Day or Paramore. Paramore definitely counts as pop-punk. I love Hayley Williams because she’s the only major female personality in the male dominated world of pop punk.

RA: Music in general always has a semi-misogynistic slant. Who are some of your favorite female musical artists?

MS: I love Fiona Apple and Frankie Cosmos. I love Taylor Swift.

RA: What do you think of her new album?

MS: I like most of it. I don’t like that “Welcome to New York” song. “Style” is like the sexiest song ever.

RA: It is! You can so see her evolution as an artist because it’s like “I’ve got that good girl thing in a tight little skirt,” and it’s so much less slut shame-y than “You Belong with Me.”

MS: We’re the same age, so I’ve liked watching her evolve. I liked her more country stuff too. I’m not 100% on all her songs but I never really am, so it’s fine.

RA: What do you think of how the media treats her?

MS: I think people are always going to do that with any female celebrity. Taylor Swift is kind of untouchable so she’s never going to look that bad when she does something fucked up. She almost doesn’t seem like a real person with flaws, but her songs make her seem flawed, which was actually one of the problems I had with her because a lot of her songs are about her victimizing herself.

RA: What do you like about the intersection between zines and online spaces?

MS: I started making zines because I wanted to have something physical to show people, because I wanted to make myself more accessible. My zines just take everything that I like on the Internet and put it on paper. I like looking at moving images when they’re still … that sort of intersection of space. The original people who got me into making zines were Grace Miceli and Girls Get Busy on Tumblr. They were forerunners of reinstating the Riot Grrrl movement on Tumblr. Miceli and Arvida Bystrom were the first people really doing it. Now I really like zines that are comics because I don’t do comics, so I appreciate it. I love funny zines, too.

RA: I think that about covers it… unless you want to hear all my dumb pop culture questions?

MS: Sure, why not?

RA: Okay, what’s your fave episode of Gilmore Girls?

MS: Definitely the “Dance Marathon.”

RA: Fuck Marry Kill: Luke, Jess, Dean, and Taylor.

MS: Okay… Fuck Luke. Kill Dean, well Kill Taylor. I guess I don’t do anything with Dean… and marry Jess. I actually don’t like Dean at all.

RA: Dean annoys me. Jess is so sulky and dumb, I love it.

MS: I know, you have to feel bad for him in a way. It kind of is complicated because Jess is such a shit-head, but every girl kind of wants to date a Jess. I’m realizing now how unhealthy that relationship is.

RA: Do you have any other early 2000s teen dramas that are close to your heart?

MS: The O.C. is good in the first two seasons, but then it sucks.

RA: Did you ever watch Degrassi when Drake was on it?

MS: Yeah, I actually caught up with the new season of Degrassi a couple years ago. It never ends. I watched more TV when I was growing up. Daria was a big influence on me, and Lizzie McGuire was big for me.

Overall, Molly Soda is a 2004 teen dream come true. Later that night, she happily lead SAIC through several rounds of karaoke and swapped secrets about her MySpace profile and her art practice. It was less like an artist talk than like a slumber party in an auditorium. You can follow Molly on Twitter @Mollysoda.

To find out more about the Eye and Ear Clinic, visit eye-and-ear-clinic.tumblr.com or “like” them on Facebook.

One Response to Molly Soda on Net Art and the Pop Culture She Grew Up With

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