Pom Pom Squad’s debut album, Death of a Cheerleader, moves through moods like a camera panning across an expertly collaged bedroom wall: a Ronettes drum beat here (“Head Cheerleader”), a Doris Day nod there (“This Couldn’t Happen”), the impossible romance of swelling strings (“Crying”) collapsing into guitar thrash (“Drunk Voicemail”). Here, too, are all the overlapping, contradictory tenets of 21st-century young womanhood—the carnality and the vulnerability, the sugar and the defiance. On “Head Cheerleader,” antsy and anthemic, Mia Berrin promises us that “my worst decisions are the ones I like the best” before she heads under the bleachers, even as she acknowledges moments later that “my feelings always make a fucking fool of me”; on the breathless, punky “Lux” (named for the Virgin Suicides heroine, of course), she boasts feeling “naked without taking off any of my clothes,” and it’s as much a come-on as it is an admission of terrifying exposure, couched in Berrin’s dare-laden drawl.
This tension—between baring oneself and crafting delicious, tongue-in-cheek art—is what drives so much of the foundational queer media to which Death of a Cheerleader pays homage (not in the least its film namesake, But I’m a Cheerleader). On “Second That,” a tumbling acoustic waltz built around a Smokey Robinson quote, Berrin steps out for a moment from behind the elaborate curtain of references she’s constructed with an admission—“I’m sad, I’m just fucking sad,” her voice on the edge of breaking—but then, moments later, she’s back in the anti-bourgeoisie upswing of “Cake,” playfully demanding her fair share. It’s a reminder of the self-affirming power of artifice, of glam, lipstick drawn on in blood. With Death of a Cheerleader, Pom Pom Squad offer a fresh and decidedly queer take on picking up the pieces—from heartbreak, from injustice—and creating yourself anew.