“Reality rises up within the spectacle, and the spectacle is real.”
–GUY DEBORD, THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE
Miami performance artist Tara Long is apologizing to a man behind the counter of La Casa de Los Trucos, a shop in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood that gets particularly busy this time of year … for it’s the month of Halloween. “I don’t want to make you bend over again,” she tells the big man in an Angry birds T-shirt. Long is sincere in her apology, but she is also on a mission to find the right masks for her dancers during her upcoming Saturday performance at III Points as Poorgrrrl. As she tried on a variety of masks for quick tests, one can’t help but think of this meta representation of her life, which is incredibly aware of persona, be it on stage or in that more complicated and threatening space of real life.
She mentions “the Goddess” often to her friends, Monica de Miguel and Madhavi Ghiotti, who have come along for advice. But how a goddess figures into the personage of her downtrodden alter ego remains a mystery … for now. All this writer knows is that this so-called goddess may grace the stage donning horns.
Long traffics in irony. Her personal life is rich with it, so it’s no wonder she reveals that Guy Debord’s 1967 tome of the situationist movement, The Society of the Spectacle, is essential to understanding what she is doing as Poorgrrrl.
“That’s part of my whole conceptual basis,” she says of Debord’s writing. “It’s all about the spectacle that’s presented to us every day in visual culture and American life, especially, and how we’re all caught up looking at it, and that’s what I’m against. I’m anti-spectacle. I want to activate a viewer, so that’s why I like when people get pissed off. I like it when they’re like, ‘This is garbage,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah? Tell me about it!’” she adds with a laugh.
At a very young age, Long followed an innate drive to be an artist, but she never thought she would become better known as a musician who sings and raps in a style she calls “Broken Word” as Poorgrrrl, a dilettante rapper who dresses provocatively, dances vulgarly and strings together fragmented phrases with basic but vivid words in simple couplets.
“It was a joke on celebrity life and making this celebrity that was like the opposite of what celebrities are,” she says about the idea of Poorgrrrl. “She’s just fucking ugly. She’s sad all the time. It’s kinda like where Amy Winehouse went after she got famous … just starting there. Let’s just start at the end.”
Long grew up in the South Miami magnet school program focusing on art from elementary to high school. However, she calls herself a hack who grifted her way into the program as an 8-year-old kid. “I actually didn’t get into the art [program] in elementary school, so I like, lied,” she admits.
Though she wasn’t accepted into the art program, her best friend made it. “She was like, ‘Oh, I got in!’ And she had the letter, and I was like, ‘Gimme that letter!’” Long says with a laugh, “and I went, and I sat in the class, and they were like, ‘Your name’s not here,’ and I was like, ‘I got the letter!’ I was a big liar when I was very young. And they were like, ‘You got the letter?’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, here it is: congratulations, you got in,’ and I swear to God, I think they were like, ‘Just put her on the list,’” she says, cracking up.
And now here sits Long, eating a fat croqueta at a market off Calle Ocho, 31 years of age, still “grifting” to this day. Even though she doesn’t think she’s a musician, Poorgrrrl, which is also a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist and producer Andrew Byrd (aka DJ Buddy Boy and Byrdipop), was offered a recording contract a few months ago by a label in Milan called Parachute Records. Now, they’re about to put out her debut EP “Pittiparti,” which she initially released on bandcamp, as a vinyl record. “It makes sense now that I think about it,” she admits about the recording contract, “but no, never thought about it. It was never an option, which is pretty crazy.”
“In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.”
–Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
Long’s virtual entire adult life has involved either art or theater, even during a period when she swore she would never become the center of attention. After graduating from Parsons in New York in 2013, she only saw herself working behind the scenes in theater. “I was super not gonna perform, anti-performance,” she admits. “It’s not entertainment. I’m not here to entertain you, lalalalalala. I worked in a theater for a long time, and I was running spot. These people were dancing, and I was like,” she deepens her voice to grumble, “Ugh! I’m so glad I’m behind the scenes!”
But a project during her studies called Jit Real gave her a taste for performance. The trio, which also featured friend Yamil Rodriguez on electronics and beats and dancer/fellow Parsons student Jarrod Kentrell (who is now trans and known as IMMA/MESS), performed in small gallery spaces in New York.
“For a year we did this crazy shit,” says Long. “We like pretended to be rich and famous, so we would go out like celebrities, and we got booked to play in all these spaces and had no idea what we were doing, but we would make a whole set off the dome, like two days before this shit and go like fucking freestyle, improv, blast off, and it was like highly, highly, high energy.”
Though Poorgrrrl would not first appear on stage until October 2015, at last year’s III Points, Long considers Jit Real an early version of Poorgrrrl. There was an instance in 2012 where they played Miami, making an epic appearance at Miami’s Bardot during Art Basel Miami Beach. Vanessa Turi, a visual artist now living in New Jersey, who was also a fellow student at Parsons, captured the entire gonzo performance on a NSFW video.
Inevitably, music called, and there was a time Long took it sincerely, experimenting with different producers, which resulted in work she wasn’t happy with. “Oh my God, I’ll never show anybody. Holy shit,” she admits. But she found her comfort zone working with Byrd.
“Separated from his product, man himself produces all the details of his world with ever increasing power, and thus finds himself ever more separated from his world.”
–Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
At the Cuban-American market, over her flan, Ghiotti, who acted as stylist for Poorgrrrl’s most recent video for the down tempo closer of “Pittiparti,” “The BluézZz… rn,” shares a personal Instagram video she made during the shoot. It’s a wide-angle shot of a living room recorded over Long’s shoulder as she stares at her phone, dropping her jaw to let out a plaintive wail. “You can’t hear it in the video, but she’s freaking out about a boy’s Instagram post,” Ghiotti reveals of the performance.
In this video, in the solitude of a living room, Poorgrrrl, or “la pobre,” as Ghiotti calls her in Spanish, cries over an alternate reality through the filter of the internet. It’s another notion of persona that fascinates Long: an interconnectedness that never reveals much more than what one projects onto it.
“That’s our generation,” says Long. “I’m just being real about it. Once you’re all caught up on that, you’re doing your research in all the wrong areas. You’re wasting your time on some shit on your phone. Like, it’s crazy. Everyone’s living in an alternate reality.”
For Long, Poorgrrrl is a representation of this sort of irrational attraction to drama. It can be a destructive force, a sort of innate romantic desire to find suffering no matter what kind of success one might have. “To have the sad clown of celebrity and for her to be this female self-inflicted victim. Like … la pobre, bro,” she says echoing Ghiotti. “She tied herself to the tracks, and she’s like …” She switches to a childish whiny voice, “I can’t get up! Please help me!” before continuing, “so there’s this whole vibe I’m trying to present because I see it a lot, and a lot of women — look, I’m not going to lie — a lot of light-skinned women, we have a thing, and I’m just putting it out there,” she adds with a laugh, “because I see it, and it’s real.”
“The agent of the spectacle placed on stage as a star is the opposite of the individual, the enemy of the individual in himself as well as in others.”
–Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
And she seems to be getting the right reaction. She points to a Reddit forum she is quite amused by called “Delusional Female ‘Rapper’” because it became a spontaneous byproduct of her first video, “Triptic,” composed of a dissonant ambient noise intro and the first two tracks off the EP, “Errrrrrrrrrrrrror” and “We Trashy,” shot against a bacchanal of over-the-top hipster types in tacky dress (you might recognize some Borscht members). Some of the comments are dismissive and hateful, but Long loves it, and she uses it for fuel to sharpen that reaction. “I can look at the reaction and understand what I’m communicating so that I can then take that and better communicate what I’m trying to communicate and understand, myself, what I’m trying to communicate by what they’re experiencing,” she explains.
Long says she’s digging into herself with Poorgrrrl but also using this persona as a mirror to the audience while revolting against the thing that she represents. Some of what the manifestation of Poorgrrrl points to is that escape and distraction has its own dark side. “That escapism shit is so fucking real, and this time, now and society and America and shit and spectacle,” she pauses for a moment to think, “that is what we are doing. We are either just escaping, and that’s with the weed and all this, and we’re just checking out. To be real, honestly, I’m not into it, and that part of me that is into that, I worry about, and I’m trying to figure that out, but it’s there, and it’s really challenging to not escape.”
Long is a restless artist eager to move on to new projects and is currently resisting an urge to kill off Poorgrrrl already and just do something else. Though she is quick to admit she is getting tired of the Poorgrrrl persona, she has seen enough rewards to feel curious about where else Poorgrrrl might take the artist. Still, at the end of our chat, wrapping up her second fat croqueta to go, she wonders, “Maybe she should kill herself at the end of the show? To be or not to be superficial. That is the question.”
Poorgrrrl performs at III Points, Saturday, Oct. 8, at 6:30 p.m. on the Main Frame stage.