That the contemporary music business is cruel to young women may not be news; recent publicity about Fiona Apple’s experiences in light of her new, self-released album“Fetch the Bolt Cutters read like a horror film. Now comes Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl, director Amy Goldstein’s engrossing, entertaining gut punch of a behind-the-music tale. Singer/songwriter Nash is the creative young woman at the center who struggles mightily against misogyny and exploration at every turn. For those not familiar with the British Nash, she became a pop star with a huge fan base of mostly young women after her 2007 smash hit Foundations.
The familiar story of industry pressures and abuse followed, including vicious comments on her looks and weight in the tabloids. Nash comes across as a free spirited, opinionated true artist who wants to stretch herself in a business hostile to anyone, but particularly young women, who want creative freedom. After making lots of money for lots of people, her label drops her when she wants to make music that’s more punk than pop. So she tours for venues filled with screaming (mostly female) fans on her own dime and struggles to make the rent in LA. The need to make money drives her sell her unique clothing and to hawk goth merchandise on a QVC-type show. Meanwhile, her new manager steals money from her — a young female record exec tells us that the music business often rewards the bad guys — and Nash must return briefly to her family in working class London.
But Nash’s sincerity, resiliency and optimism despite the bad breaks make this a cautionary tale with a heroine worth rooting for. She nails an audition tape for a role on the Netflix series Glow or belts out a song in concert that’s inspired by Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot. There are parallels: Nash and Pussy Riot, along with The Dixie Chicks and others, are punished by their industry for saying and doing things that their male counterparts are championed for by a business that wants girls to just “shut up and sing,” in the pitch perfect title for Barbara Kopple’s great 2006 Dixie Chicks documentary. Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl is an engrossing portrait of an artist determined to succeed on her own terms, in spite of the worst in the entertainment business.