There’s a New Queen of Rock

todayMarch 7, 2023 106 14 5

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By Lane Dent
Music Journalist

Taylor Momsen. You might recognize her as Cindy Lou Who from How the Grinch Stole Christmas or Jenny Humphrey from Gossip Girl, but at 15 years old, Momsen left Hollywood in an attempt to pursue her life’s dream – becoming a rock star.

In 2009, 16-year-old Momsen and producer Kato Khandwala formed the rock band now known as The Pretty Reckless. Since 2010, the band consists of Ben Phillips on lead, Jamie Perkins on drums, Mark Damon on bass and Momsen on rhythm and vocals. Instantly perfecting their instrumental chemistry, they were eager to play for the world. Using the fame from Momsen’s previous career as a teen film star, they soared to success early on, but the band was left wondering if the fans were there for Momsen or their music.

Four band members walking on the street: (left to right) two dark-haired men, a light-haired woman, and then a dark-haired man. They are all wearing leather jackets and the photo is in black and white.
American Rock Metal Band The Pretty Reckless. | Samuel J. Rodrigues, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

With inspiration from classic rock, their sound was impeccably original, yet reminiscent of legends like Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell and Joan Jett. 2010 debut album Light Me Up caught the attention of big bands like Evanescence and Guns & Roses, both of whom invited TPR to open for their world tours. The exposure helped immensely, but they were already thriving with the help of online platforms like MySpace. Light Me Up garnered so much popularity that two worldwide headlining tours came from it, creating a fanbase and revival that was foreign to most 21st-century female rock bands; Momsen was only 18 years old when she shocked the world with her talent.

Momsen quickly became associated with her edgy style. Whether it was during live events or on the streets of New York City, the gothic, rocker-chic look was easily hers. She described it herself as “extremist fashion,” featuring feminine pieces like pleaser heels and sheer, lacey corsets in combination with leather jackets and studded accessories. On magazine covers or paparazzi articles, it was hard to ignore her platinum blonde mane and panda smokey eyes.

A blonde haired woman is by a microphone stand, an electric guitar around her shoulder, looking down at it.
Taylor Momsen Early Style. | Chicks With Guns Magazine, CC BY-SA 2.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

It became 2013, with only the EP Hit Me Like A Man to satiate hungry fans. As their fame started to level off, people wanted more. They released their second LP Going To Hell and it crushed expectations, with a heavier classic metal sound added to their post-grunge, hard-rock concepts. Their tone evolved with lower guitar tuning, faster tempos and a more mature voice from Momsen. The song “Sweet Things” deals with the traumatizing reality of being a child in the film industry, exposing more raw messages. Despite the heavy topics and even heavier sound, this album birthed their largest hit to this date: “Heaven Knows.” The classic rock elements are unquestionably present in the stomp-clap percussion, children’s choir and growling belts, yet the song has a fresh, modern feel. It’s almost impossible not to compare this to Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘N Roll;” it’s practically a homage to Momsen’s legendary role model.

As her rebellious rock and roll attitude grew, the controversy around Momsen followed. Her cockiness and wild child look got the attention of negative media outlets, pasting her name on tabloids next to captions that badmouthed her reputation and her band. Momsen has outright admitted that looking back, she was rude and antagonistic toward the press, but it came from a place of revenge. It was retribution for being controlled by the TV industry and judged for her questionable antics. The media attacked her for flashing audiences at concerts, dealing with Satanic imagery and lyrics and being an arrogant know-it-all when interviewed. They eventually rejected her wild self and featured her less and less.

But she was a free adult when 2016 rolled around, and her youthful rebellion was coming to a close. Fans were now supporting her for the music, not her previous film fame. TPR were finally starting to become a band about their music, and their third album proved just that. Who You Selling For changed the band’s direction, yet failed commercially. Deeply rooted in classic rock and blues, it’s surprising that it wasn’t picked up by another music community. “Wild City” feels like a groovy night in NYC and “Mad Love” is a lively, mature beat. Their third album was vital to the blues rock scene; it kept the classic rock foundation alive. But more importantly, it was a woman leading the movement.

: A rough pencil sketch of a long-haired human with their head hung low over yellow and orange paint-smudged background.
Who You Selling For. | The Pretty Reckless

With her life starting so quickly and early, Momsen decided to slow things down for a little while, focusing on songwriting and spending time with the band. Her revered role model Cornell of Soundgarden died in 2017, and then close friend and producer, Khandwala, passed in a motorcycle crash the next year. With this loss, Momsen channeled her pain into art, releasing the fourth studio album Death By Rock and Roll in 2021. In the title track, you can hear the recorded footsteps of Khandwala walking, and “Rock and Roll Heaven” and “Harley Darling” are direct tributes to him. With features from Tom Morello and Matt Cameron, and with her newly empowered aura, this fourth and most recent album from TPR does neo-classic rock justice. “25” sounds like it was straight out of a James Bond movie, and “My Bones” uses stomp percussion once again, referential to her past and the genre’s past. DXRNR is a rebirth for Momsen and the band – a reminder of where they are now and who got them there.

TPR just finished their 2022 DXRNR tour, where I had the pleasure of seeing Momsen and the boys front and center in Houston at the House of Blues. The grueling nine-hour wait for the front row was completely worth it when Momsen pointed directly at me, locked eyes and sang the lyrics to “Make Me Wanna Die.” That evening, I left the barricade clutching their wrinkled setlist, ingrained with her platform boot-print.

Her style, voice and persona have now matured into a rockstar who has lived a life of wild partying and vital experience, yet the band (and fans) can say that they are ready to settle down and do what they enjoy the most – creating rock and roll.

Featured Image from Chicks With Guns Magazine, CC BY-SA 2.0 

Written by: Amaya Lewis

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