Chicago's SUPERCHIC[K] may make catchy teen pop but there is a serious message of sexual purity in their music, as Tony Cummings reports.
Superchic[k] have an intoxicating second album out though one might wonder why the personnel has changed so much from their debut. Of the eight members pictured on the band's first release, 'Karaoke Superstars', half no longer tour with the group. But they haven't necessarily quit. At concerts, the number of musicians on stage has varied anywhere from five to nine. To compound the issue, Superchic[k] have loose definitions of who is actually part of the band. "We are more a movement than a band, really," founder Max Hsu says. "The onstage line up changes all the time."
Hsu has a fascinating musical background. With Ian Eskelin (later to form All Star United), he co-produced one of the earliest Christian dance albums under the name Zero while also contributing tracks for N.Soul Records delights like the Raving Loonatics. In 1994 he formed a band which fused dancefloor rhythms, rap and Britpop, Church Of Rhythm, who were briefly very popular in the States winning two Dove Awards for their debut album.
Hsu's original concept for Superchic[k] was to represent the band with animated characters so that the focus would be not on the performers but on the message! (Anyone for sanctified Archies?!) Thankfully, studio whiz Hsu decided instead to operate Superchic[k] as a collective. As an article in Christianity Today explained: "Some members appear on stage; others make musical, technical or conceptual contributions behind the scenes."
When Hsu was on the road with Church Of Rhythm he was consistently meeting teens, particularly girls, who had issues that weighed on his heart. He decided to start a band fronted by females. Tricia and Melissa Brock weren't necessarily sold on the idea. "I didn't think I could sing pop music and I really didn't even want to," says Tricia. "It seemed like the opposite of my personality. It was another test of my faith because I had to believe that if this was where God called me, he'd give me the ability to do what I needed to do. I had to trust him."
The original name of the band was Superchic11 - the screen name of a fan who wrote to Hsu during his time with Church Of Rhythm. It changed when he realised people were pronouncing it super-sheek. They regard the band's name as a gender-neutral term, representing a person who is secure and seeks the approval of only God. And even though the band has seen much success, the members of Superchic[k] do not view themselves as anything but ordinary people doing God's work. In fact, they recorded both of their albums in the basement of a house in the suburbs of Chicago.
The band's debut album, 'Karaoke Superstars', was a surprise hit. Their effervescent sound, which the band call pop-punk, hip-hop, disco-funk," sounded great on radio. But there was a serious intent behind it. Comments Melissa Brock, "When you first record, you don't know if somebody will really get fully what you are trying to say. But they really do understand it. Girls come up and tell us all the time, 'I didn't think anyone understood how I wanted to live.'"
The band's song most embraced by fans, "Barlow Girls", is based on real life sisters the band met three years ago at Wisconsin's Life Fest. Members were impressed with the Barlows' outlook on themselves, purity and dating. It can be tempting for teenagers to look for self-worth in the attention of the opposite sex, the song says, but the Barlows concentrate on discovering who God wants them to be. The girls don't date because they want to see who they will become. "Girls are clinging to the term 'Barlow Girls'," Tricia says. "They wanted someone to say it was cool to be pure. And now they have a name for it. Those girls are proud of living this way."
Now with the release of 'Last One Picked' the band seem likely to build on their initial success. One of the catchiest songs on the album is "One And Lonely": "It's not like they meant to hurt me/Watching TV, checking Britney, televised, my guys checking out her thighs/And I roll my eyes and sigh/It's not like I even need to be competing with unreality TV, fantasy/Not for a smart girl like me." The song, like most of Superchic[k]'s, was written by Hsu through the eyes of Tricia and Melissa. They came to him with strong feelings about members of the opposite sex who say they are Christians and say they want a godly woman to marry some day, yet they'll sit and gawk at a Spears video. "I want to find a guy who proves he wants to seek purity in his life," says Tricia, "that he'll walk away from the TV when she's on it. He may not realise it, but it hurts us girls." Though Tricia says the lyrics were inspired by friends who have worshipped Spears, lead guitarist Justin Sharbono says, "I think that if that song was written about any person in the band, it would be me. It's difficult because I really like Britney's music."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.