“Cheerleaders were a symbol of all I couldn’t be as a black Puerto Rican teenager”

Mia Berrin of Pom Pom Squad (Photo: Sammy Ray)

Subversions of cheerleader iconography have always been rife in popular music, from Toni Basil’s “Mickey” video to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and My Chemical Romance’s “Teenagers”. But for 23-year-old Mia Berrin, the queer frontman of the self-proclaimed “quiet grrrl” Pom Pom Squad, the loaded symbolism of cheerleaders is closely tied to her sexual, political and artistic awakening.

Berrin tells Yahoo Entertainment / SiriusXM Volume that it was when she was “15 or 16 and started looking around and saying, ‘I don’t really like what I see'” that ‘a rebellious cheerleader made a huge impression on him. “I ended up being bullied in public school when I was in college, so my parents sent me to a private school for grades one through six because they were worried about my. well-being and my safety. And this school looked like a John Hughes movie, ”she recalls. “Cheerleaders would come to school in their uniforms, and the tradition was that on game day, cheerleaders had to cook or bring food for their assigned football player, which is ridiculous. I was friends with one cheerleader in particular who was extremely headstrong and was like, ‘I’m not going to cook for this guy.’ I love this! These cheerleaders were a symbol of all I couldn’t be as a Puerto Rican black teen who wasn’t seen as attractive by anyone in my school when I was younger. I was so fascinated by these girls who seemed to be the most powerful women I had ever met.

“So when I started the band I loved the idea of ​​what it would be like to know that I’m not that kind of girl, but just put on the costume and see what happened. , what part of me came out of it. Because cheerleaders were scary, like superheroes of sorts. It was a morbid fascination – and probably a romantic attraction, because I wasn’t quite aware of the level at which I was interested in women at the time, ”Berrin continues. “So that makes a lot of sense to me. And it really influenced the way I approached my music, aesthetically and otherwise.

Apart from the name of the group and the title of their first album Cheerleader Death, which comes out on June 25 during the last week of the Pride Month release, there’s the clip for the album’s first single, “Head Cheerleader,” which features Berrin’s twisted version of the girl’s trope. popular, as she rests in an Astroturf grave under a ballroom photo booth scalloped with plastic flowers. “This video is in a way the aesthetic heart of the album; I feel the image of being buried under this false landscape as a cheerleader really spoke about what I went through when I was coming out and when I really took ownership of my own sexuality and my choices. – this idea of ​​burying a version of myself that I was. create for others, ”says Berrin. “I lived for the public rather than for myself. “

And then there is the Virgin Suicides– the video inspired and co-directed by Berrin for “Lux” – the “first good song” Berrin ever wrote, in a “light bulb moment”, at the age of 16 – which opens with a recreation of the famous scene from Sofia Coppola’s film in which Lux is abandoned on a soccer field after losing her virginity and falling asleep on the grass. “As a person who grew up with a mental illness, there is just something about watching the movie I really saw myself in, and the scene on the football field was the biggest fear for me. ‘had. [as a teenager], which is being vulnerable with someone and seeing them leave you, ”says Berrin, who has lived with depression for much of his life. “I just really bonded with the kind of glass-box voyeurism of this movie as a young lady – that you feel people make assumptions about who you are, who you are, and don’t really do. effortlessly asking questions to get to know yourself or see if you are okay.

Berrin didn’t officially come out until a little over two years ago, after she “really fell in love with this person and it was a life-changing experience. It was like my whole life had turned upside down on her day. our meeting, like one day it was all one way and the next day it was different. I started to rediscover these experiences that I had had in a romantic, sexual way, and it was just like, ‘Oh, this is what it’s supposed to feel, ”she explains. It was then that she realized that her fear of privacy while attending high school in Orlando, around the time she wrote “Lux”, was due to her confusion over her. emerging sexuality.

“For example, you are a teenager and everyone around you starts to kiss boys. This process started for me… and I kind of pretended to be in it, because it’s pattern recognition and you just mimic the people around you until you understand what you are doing. really feel and think. I didn’t really understand or identify the way people interacted with each other, especially the girls around me, because all was about male attention. And I didn’t know it at the time, but it was actually something that didn’t interest me at all. So I was starting to have my first experiences where boys were interested in me and wanted more for myself than I wanted with them, and I felt my whole body tighten up – that feeling of when someone tries to touch you. and grimace, almost, ”Berrin recalls. “And I started to feel the anger of the men who heard the word ‘no’. The problem was this good girl mentality where you accept something because you feel you have to, not because you really want it. The only way I could express that was with anger, and I think ‘Lux’ was the perfect outlet to have that angry song about this sweet character.

Mia Berrin of Pom Pom Squad (Photo: Michelle LoBianco)

Berrin clarifies: “This is what drew me to the grrrl riot and punk, when I discovered that there were women who were openly angry and openly contesting the standards of what women can. do or say or be – women like Kathleen Hanna who dressed super feminine on stage. Or Courtney Love, who became my icon because she spilled a femininity trope the same way I wanted to. It’s a bit of the perfect paradox in the sense that she was criticizing the pretty girl, but she wanted to be the pretty girl at the same time. I bonded with that. You know, I wanted to be seen as attractive. I wanted to be seen as desirable. I didn’t know yet who I wanted to be seen as desirable by. But it’s a human need and it’s a cultural need, of course, and it really influenced a lot of my upbringing. I saw myself in the context of these tropes and then I discovered that there is obtained be a better way. There is another way.

Berrin admits that she had a “self-imposed limit” on her sexuality at first. “I knew there was nothing wrong with gay people, but I was like, ‘It’s okay for everyone to be gay except me. I am not allowed to do this, but everyone is allowed to do it, ”she said. “I kind of held onto my last piece of social [acceptance]. It’s like I’m already like a mixed race girl who’s Jewish and grew up in a mixed household, and I’m just like, ‘Oh my gosh I must have Something it keeps me in the mainstream! ‘ So, I identified myself as bi or pansexual, but I mostly dated men. But there was only one day when I suddenly looked at all the clothes in my closet and looked at myself in the mirror and thought to myself, “Why am I dressing like I?” do? Why do I wear makeup the way I am? Why am I walking like this? Why don’t I speak in class? ‘ And everything started to change from there. I think the band was a catalyst for that. This is what triggered my transition to independence as a young adult. But fully defining my identity was kind of the last straw, and I think that period is the subject of the album.

Pom Pom Squad's debut album,

Pom Pom Squad’s debut album, “Death of a Cheerleader” (Photo: City Slang Records)

Berrin’s unique cinematic aesthetic, which is “awash in high school imagery,” is not only influenced by The suicide virgins, the John Hughes movies that she repeatedly watched on cable TV as a child, and Jennifer’s body, but also by Paris is on fire. She describes recently watching the 1990 documentary on the ballroom stage in New York City with her mother supporting and accepting her as “a truly transformative experience.” Just seeing a depiction of black culture, this idea of ​​reality and opulence and dressing being almost like a survival mechanism, there was something about it that I really identified with. And it helped me explore my own relationship with growing my identity. And then I started to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race about the pandemic, and I had never felt so seen in my life! Berrin now even jokingly refers to Pom Pom Squad as his “drag character,” but more seriously realizes with amazement that Pom Pom Squad’s music can serve the same purpose for “a lot of black and brunette girls” and members of the Pom Pom Squad. the LGBTQ + community in general.

“There have been people who have come to me and told me that my music has helped them accept whether they are trans or not. There was a girl who made me cry; like, i had a complete blackout. It’s just ridiculous that this is something I have the power to do, that I haven’t even intentionally done, ”Berrin marvels. “It’s like I didn’t go to that person’s door and said, ‘Hey, do you want to talk about this? But they heard something in my music and they heard something through my life changing experiences. It’s crazy. I don’t think I can ever feel jaded about it. “

This interview above is taken from Mia Berrin’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “West Volume. “The full audio of this conversation is available through the SiriusXM app.

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