Wildly talented. And wildly screwed over. This compelling documentary follows the ups and downs of one artist’s wild ride in the music industry and where she is now.
You might remember Kate Nash from the mid-naughties when she burst onto the British music scene with her 2007 debut, Made of Bricks. Nash surfed the perfect wave, finding fame with MySpace in 2005 when going viral on the platform was still a feasible option for emerging artists. As with many lucky breaks, it was both a blessing and a curse, propelling Kate from her working-class roots to international stardom within mere months. (She was working at a fast food restaurant as a teenager when she broke her foot, leaving her bedridden for several weeks. She used the time to “research how to be a musician.” As you do!) 2008 found her winning Best British Female Solo Artist at the Brit Awards. By 2011, she’d been dropped from her label (via text, like a bad boyfriend). After flying high, she was left with the resounding question, “Now what?” The entertainment industry can be a fickle beast and Kate was on course to learn that lesson the hard way. But Nash is a fighter and she’s since answered that question numerous times over with a million creative pivots. Needless to say, you definitely should not underestimate this girl!
The documentary is directed by Amy Goldstein and was filmed over a period of years with a small skeleton crew. Goldstein and Nash hit it off at a hair salon and decided to harness their powers together, assuming their work would document Kate’s comeback after booking a slot in the 2014 lineup of Coachella. But stories, like life, don’t always go as planned and instead they found themselves also capturing Nash’s near bankruptcy when she discovers her manager has committed credit card fraud and stolen an untold amount of money from the singer. (Kate did finally have her day in court with her ex-manager, but it’s not exactly as satisfying as one would hope.)
Kate says she didn’t expect the film to be quite so raw, and there are definitely some tough moments. Especially gut-wrenching is watching Nash have to sell off bags and bags of clothing. (As someone who’s tried to sell clothes at Buffalo Exchange, I know how humiliating this experience can be. Is it in the employee handbook to act as condescending as possible? Asking for a friend.) Kate has exquisite taste, and it had to hurt to part with those gems. You can practically feel her cringe as she operates with the knowledge that the clerks know who she is. It’s one of the many small slights that she handles with grace – and within this film there are many.
One of the most compelling things about this movie is Kate’s fierce belief in women, even if she sometimes wavers in belief of herself. She says of her early years that the industry treated her “like some girl just writing in her diary,” before puffing up and declaring, “There’s nothing silly about being a teenage girl. It’s one of the deepest things in the world.” As she holds onto the ledge, her hand is always behind her, ready to lift others up. She’s here to shine a light for us all – letting us know that we can create, not just under the label of “female,” but simply as “artist.” (She says, “I’m here to eradicate the notion that ‘female’ is a genre. Because it’s not.”)
There’s a lot of great footage here, interspersed with present time, childhood, and, of course, tour, tour, tour! Her shows look phenomenal and her stage presence is fierce. Her aforementioned style is fun and bold, reminding me of a mainstream Bjork. This is a performer wholly unafraid to take chances, and one who has the work ethic and desire to back it all up. So, it’s all the more confusing to untangle what went wrong, and, honestly the film doesn’t really answer the question all that well. There’s the undeniable spate of bad luck, but it still felt like something was left unrevealed. Why wouldn’t an indie label like Nonesuch, Matador, SubPop, or 4AD not jump to snatch her up? What went wrong at the CMJ showcase? It truly is a mystery why she’s remained unrepresented for so long. She should be huge. One hopes she still will be.
Of course, there is no real end to this movie – it only continues offscreen, since Kate is only 33 and has a long way to go before her story is over. In the meantime, stream Netflix’s Glow (Kate landed a surprise callback and stars in the series), put Made of Bricks on repeat, and admire a woman who will not quit.
You’ll love spending time in Kate Nash’s world, marveling at her resilience and talent, while hoping she continues to get her due.
Nuggets – more film thoughts:
* Her last album, 2018’s Yesterday Was Forever, was crowdfunded through Kickstarter, raising over $100,000! She retains a loyal fanbase to this day.
* I’m still astounded her former manager, Gary Marella, didn’t go to jail after funding his wedding with Kate’s credit cards. How is that possible?! (But possible it is. Not only that, he’s now in business with Timbaland.) Oh! And I did a little internet snooping. Click here to see the ritzy wedding that he blew Nash’s money on. Anyone else find the irony in his gambling-themed afterparty?! Gary is nothing if not bold.
* For a million reasons, I can’t wait for us to curb COVID (wear your masks!!!) and return to live music. Anything Kate chooses to perform will be at the top of my list – her shows look seriously fun. In the meantime, check out Save Our Stages for ways to help keep our independent concert venues afloat.