“Thank you so much to whoever pissed these girls off,” reads the top YouTube comment on Dream Wife’s “FUU” video. FUU stands, of course, for “fuck you up.” The song—a turbulent, semi-improvised, ever-changing staple of the three-piece band’s live sets—includes a spoken word riff on the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” and culminates with lead singer Rakel Mjöll Leifsdóttir, and guest rapper Fever Dream, shouting: “I spy with my little eye: bad bitches!”
“I’m very lucky to be in an amazing creative environment with lots of women focussing on the arts,” says Rakel, the lone Icelander in the all-girl London outfit, who’ve been taking the UK by storm with their self-described “poolside pop with a bite.” Rakel met her bandmates Alice and Bella at art school in Brighton, where she studied performance and video art. Dream Wife’s arts background is easy to spot in their colourful visual style, their electric live performances, and their new “Somebody” video, which is already making waves ahead of their recently completed debut album. It’s set for a fall release—2017 is going to a busy year for Dream Wife.
In fact, it already has been. Rakel is just back from a tour of the UK and the US that included shows at top US industry festival South by Southwest. “We played nine shows in Texas in a week, and then toured California with the Kills, one of our favorite bands,” Rakel reflects. “Austin is an amazing city, a cowboy town. Everyone’s friendly… even if they’re carrying a gun.”
“I am not my body, I am somebody,” Rakel sings in the new single’s chorus, in her trademark staccato style. The inspiration for “Somebody” comes from the SlutWalk, the grassroots protest march that calls for an end to rape culture. The first Reykjavík rally took place in 2011 and it’s been an annual event since, spawning multiple social media insurgencies. “I was in London, but it was all over social media,” says Rakel. “Families, every table in every café, everyone discussing these personal stories. My friends in London noticed it, including my bandmates. In Iceland it’s becoming normal to talk about sexism that you face, but not so much in England. Icelandic girls are incredibly brave.”
The opening lyrics are based on Rakel’s own experience of sharing a distressing story of sexual assault with a friend, the day after it took place. The now-former friend replied: “You were a cute girl standing backstage, it was bound to happen.” This victim-blaming and glib dismissal left Rakel numb—then angry. “The song just came out in one solid motion in the studio,” Rakel explains. “We never wrote a song like this before. It’s not a hush-hush subject anymore. ‘Somebody’ is about reclaiming the female body.”
The band’s glamorous-sounding name is in itself commentary on the objectification of women. “The idea is this 1950s, Mad Men stereotype, the dream wife that comes with the dream house, the dream job and the dream car,” says Rakel. “But humans don’t have just one side to them. The dream wife never existed and never will. We are incredibly many things as human beings.”
Flipping the script
Dream Wife’s philosophy further translates to their raucous live performances. “We like playing with people’s expectations,” Rakel explains. “Walking on stage, three girls, seeming sweet and nice, then we drop ‘Fuck You Up.’ The crowd expects one thing and then we flip the script. We enjoy showing the different faces of a woman.”
Dream Wife did exactly that at last November’s Iceland Airwaves festival. “We’re a London band, but I’ve got strong roots back home,” says Rakel, who comes from a family of artists that includes her uncle Ragnar Kjartansson—the famed performance artist from whom she draws inspiration. “Playing Harpa and Gamla Bíó was great,” says Rakel, “performing for friends and family. And the girls love Iceland too. Bella’s even been to Vestmannaeyjar, for a month, working in fish processing! When she tells people, they don’t believe her.”
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