Get What You Want - JJAMZ
They were basically best friends, Z explained, they used to go out all the time, singing karaoke and drinking their way through LA’s bars. “And one time we were out, and we were at a bar with karaoke, and the line was too long for us to sing, and no girls were talking to us.” So they went home, wrote a song, and made a band.
JJAMZ is the initials of the people who make it up: James Valentine, from Maroon 5, Jason Boesel, from Rilo Kiley & Conor Oberst’s backing bands, Alex Greenwald, from Phantom Planet, Michael Runion, a solo artist, and Z. The origin story is, all on its own, pretty sexy in the imagery it conjures up: the gang of lads, prowling around the bars, trying to sing, annoyed that “there were no skirts to chase”, and Z the bad boy in the centre. It’s an image she quietly lines up for herself when it comes to JJAMZ - gone is the furious wronged woman of Release Me, and in her place Z has deep red lipstick, a longer, sea-tousled hairstyle, and an unapologetically sexual (and possessive) approach.
JJAMZ has a sexy vibe, not a sleazy one, but Z alone in the band sometimes walks the line. JJAMZ itself is, she says repeatedly, the mistress, versus the committed relationships they were all in with the rest of their bands. And “you always like your mistress more than you like your wife,” Z says, smiling. “She’ll do everything that your wife won’t do.”
It’s interesting that it’s playing in a band of boys that Z seems more determined to become some sort of romantic hero. Not in the sense of being nice, but rather being the sexual and subversive centre of the group, the one who has the banter with the audience, the one who becomes the focal point of interviews and performances alike. In JJAMZ, Z uses sex appeal in a way that is similar to male performers like Mick Jagger or even David Bowie, where the allure lies not so much in what you can do to them, but what they’re going to do to you. It’s an aggressive, demanding sort of flirtation that is very obviously about being the centre of attention in a room, and Z forms very clear targets.
Not just in the “Never Enough” video, not only in the stories of chasing skirts or the deliberate inclusion of herself amongst her (presumably) heterosexual male bandmates, not just in the sexual language in which Z talks about JJAMZ. There’s an aspect of queerness in the way Z operates within JJAMZ that wasn’t so present within The Like, a new element that is there in several small aspects: the way she focuses more on her own drinking, her own ‘laddish’ behaviour, the slow increase of profanity she uses (from professing that cunt is her favourite swear word to the delighted declaration that behind their bands backs, JJAMZ are all just “fucking the shit out of the mistress”), and particularly her stage persona.
And, notably, most of this energy, whether it be flirtatious or furiously pissed off, is focused on girls: “I’m glad it’s all girls in the front row, since I know you can probably see up my skirt,” she announces at one show; at another, when an idiot was tweeting about Z’s skirts being too short and how maybe there was a “guess what colour” contest for her underwear, Z snapped back, “they’re black”. In another interview, she demands, “When are people going to start throwing roses and panties, is my question? … I want people to throw them at us so badly… and bras." It’s not enough to have fans - Z seems to want the devoted, obsessed, and implicitly female attention that male rockstars in their peak get.
It’s a pretty clear move that Z makes; having firmly centred the spotlight on herself in the days of The Like, she is now able to shift within it and take on the attitudes of male sexual aggression that make up an implicit part of the frontman’s appeal.
Importantly, though, Z does it without once rescinding her femininity. She is often heard to boast that she doesn’t even own a pair of pants, and she openly obsesses over mini-dresses and heels. She doesn’t ever fall into the ‘one of the boys’ trap, and is openly dismissive and disdainful of men rather than trying to join the team: “The big differences [to The Like] are that guys really just talk about balls all day. All day. I had no idea.”
There’s obviously a lot more to JJAMZ and to Z’s presence within it beside this shift, and certainly you could argue that I’m deliberately seeing my own narrative here (in which case, yeah, maybe, but I think the signs are there and the clues Z leaves are what I find so fascinating about her as an artist). It’s a newly collaborative project for her, with interesting insights into her artistic approach; it also signals a new aesthetic not just fashion-wise, but with a definite change in location. The Like, while made up of Californian girls and based in LA, was centred more in a time than a place, but JJAMZ is in love in and with LA. The video for “Never Enough” is “LA as fuck”, and though Z has never been shy about her love for the city she grew up in, JJAMZ gives her a vehicle for showcasing and publicly adoring her city in a way that is compelling and richly detailed.
But this is what I want to focus on, as we start to think about JJAMZ: Z putting her guitar away, for now, taking up the microphone to prowl around on stage, saunter her way up to her bandmates, and then grin down at the crowd, holding them in the palm of her hand. Speculating, interested. Smiling.