There's a good reason Taylor Momsen is getting fed up with the media. Yet it's equally understandable why the tabloids stick to Momsen like gum to a sneaker.
She's young, attractive, and irreverent. She doesn't believe in boundaries, either visually or sonically -- and on the second album by her band the Pretty Reckless, "Going to Hell" (out March 18), she relies on visually graphic metaphors to communicate themes of temptation, corruption, and sin.
Sometimes that means the 20-year-old former actress (best known for CW's "Gossip Girl") shows a little (or a lot of) skin. The cover of "Going to Hell" depicts Momsen naked from the back, her body decorated with a giant cross, the bottom of which points in an arrow to her exposed buttocks. The video for the first single, "Heaven Knows," includes a quick full-frontal shot of Momsen with the same cross from the album cover, except this one stretches horizontally from breast to breast with the shaft pointing downward, ending in a devil's tail over her nether regions.
Still, Momsen insists her artistic aspirations are more than skin deep.
"The intent was to create art, not provoke controversy," Momsen told Yahoo Music. "As you watch the video, there's so much metaphor involved. Every shot is specific and carefully set up. The shot everyone refers to wasn't even meant to be shocking. It was meant to be a live-action version of the album cover; it’s not the focus of the video. That's why it goes by so quickly."
Although she has picked a thorny path to success, Momsen has always wanted to be taken seriously as a musician, even at 16 when she was emulating Wendy O. Williams by putting electric tape over her nipples, lifting her top, and seductively dancing with women onstage. With "Going to Hell," she has actually decided to tone down her act.
”I used to wear custom corsets and what I call my 'Light Me Up' stage outfits," she said. "I was a teenager, confused about sexuality, and going through changes and becoming a woman. Now I’m 20, and I feel like I have discovered myself a little bit more. So my stage wear has changed. I have a lot more covered up because I really want everything to be about the music."
Ah yes, the music. If the Pretty Reckless wrote repetitive garage rock or one-dimensional heavy metal, they'd be easy to write off as disposable heroes for sex-starved teenage. But "Going to Hell" is a hyper-charged, multifaceted expression of youthful angst; it's also composed of strong songwriting that reveals an abundance of musical influences that span the history of rock from the late '60s to the present. From song to song, whiffs of Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, T. Rex, Black Sabbath, Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, Garbage, Blondie, and Alice in Chains filter through the brazen riffs and caustic vocals without being blatantly derivative.
"I went into the writing process with the idea of having no parameters whatsoever," Momsen said. "I wasn't writing for radio, the industry, the fans, the listener, journalists, anybody. I really wanted to write for myself and see where it took me. And what we ended up with was a record that is meant to be listened to from beginning to end."
For now, Momsen is dedicated to touring the world with the Pretty Reckless and writing more albums (she already has material for half of the band’s next record). While she spent the bulk of her life between 2002 and 2012 acting in movies and on TV, she's in no hurry to return to Hollywood.
"I'm not pursuing any acting parts by any means," she said. "But then again, I'm only 20 and if something perfect came along, maybe I'd consider it. Like if Josh Whedon called and said he wanted me to be in the next 'Avengers' movie, I probably wouldn't say no -- not because it’s f***ing huge, but because I love Josh Whedon and I love the Avengers and I wanna be Thor.”