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Feminism, toxic masculinity and space travel: Princess comes to 21c

Art-pop duo Princess will be performing at 21c Museum and Hotel Durham on Sept. 28. Photo courtesy of Alexis Gideon.

Audiences will be treated to a psychedelic journey through time, space and toxic masculinity during a performance by the art-pop duo Princess at the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. 

Princess, a collaborative partnership between Alexis Gideon and Michael O’Neill, will be showcasing a live narrative of its album "Out There," featuring music by TEEN and JD Samson, as well as visual art by Jennifer Myers. 

Princess combines elements of rap, hip hop and rock to explore a wide range of styles within its storytelling. O'Neill said the duo got its name after a dance featuring only music by Prince. Combined with their love of the band Queen, after that night, Princess was born.

The Chief Curator at 21c, Alice Gray Stites, said the venue is thrilled to have Princess perform and share its narrative.

“Princess is creating some of the most innovative, multi-disciplinary performances today,” Stites said. “Weaving together music, art, technology and choreography, their work is both dazzling and thought-provoking, engaging audiences in immersive explorations of current issues, such as the evolution of gender and identity.”

O’Neill described "Out There" as a stop-motion, animated, science-fiction story around the concept of feminism and what men can do to further assist the movement. The narrative focuses on a fictionalized version of Princess, where they are traversing the universe to end misogyny, only to come to the conclusion that their own masculinity is getting in the way. 

“We get consumed with our own egos and how we’re going to be the ones to save the day,” O’Neill said. 

Masculinity and the space that men take up in an artistic sphere are some of the main themes that Gideon and O’Neill seek to explore in "Out There." However, Gideon acknowledged the tour's central irony —  the duo is telling a story about men taking up less space all while performing at shows all around the country.

“That’s a little bit at odds with itself,” Gideon said. “Part of the narrative pokes fun at us and our follies of trying to address these issues and that we can’t escape some of the inherent societal, patriarchal problems even within ourselves.”

"Out There" is one-of-a-kind in terms of storytelling because of its unique nature as performance art. O'Neill described this album as a concept video album. For him, creating an album like this served as a means to intentionally shift away from traditional modes of music and storytelling.

“One of the reasons why we made a concept video album is because, in this age of waning attention spans, we wanted to make a full album that someone could actually digest all the way through,” O'Neill said. “And we’re living in such a visual culture that it kind of makes sense for us to make it not only a music album, but also a video album.” 

Both men were keen to avoid spoiling the show for their audience, but O’Neill said that his favorite part of performing live is the ending, which focuses on Princess understanding the importance of sitting back and not monopolizing space. 

Gideon added that although the piece is fun, with lots of color and psychedelics, it also seeks to discomfit its audience and make them consider their own perspectives.

“The piece is loose enough that people are going to bring their own experiences and their own ideas to it, and the piece is solid enough for them to have a personal response that makes them think about their own lives,” Gideon said.

He also stressed the importance of experiencing "Out There" with other people, saying that there was a reason for creating the album in a way that it could be performed live. The experience, he said, is different at every place they perform.

“The people there are different. The room is different,” Gideon said. “It becomes an experience that we — as a small slice of society at whichever performance it is — share.”


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