If you’re on TikTok, chances are you’ve heard at least one Mother Mother audio. If you’re queer and on TikTok, those odds skyrocket. Unlike artists such as girl in red, all five members of the Mother Mother band appear to be cishet, or at least do not market themselves any other way. Nonetheless, saying you listen to their band has become an allusion for questioning your gender in the same way that the singer girl in red or the song “Sweater Weather” are linked to different sexualities… So, how did this happen?
As a non-binary person who loves Mother Mother, I can hardly refute this assumption. However, the band’s new affiliation with trans and gender non-conforming folks has been something of a mystery to me. The Canadian indie rock band has not produced new music since 2018, but several of their songs blew up on TikTok late last year. Currently, “Burning Pile,” “Hayloft,” and “Arms Tonite,” all from the band’s 2008 album O My Heart, are the top three Mother Mother audios. The song “Hayloft” garnered attention after queer creators started using the lead-in instrumentals to the song as background to detailing surprising discoveries about their identity: often, noting ideas or practices that distinguished them from their cisgender peers. This trend is most likely where the impression that trans and non-binary listen to Mother Mother originated, but why their music?
Although it may just be a fluke, many Mother Mother lyrics do challenge conformity and participation in cisnormative societal roles. The song “Verbatim” chronicles a man’s frustration in having his sexuality labeled by the clothing he wears or his interests. The song asks, “What defines a straight man’s straight?” Sexuality is not determined by the way we look or act; rather, “it’s verbatim”: who one is literally into and pursues relationships with. The stereotypical descriptions of masculinity mentioned in the song also contribute to a discussion on the performative and confining nature of gender. The song “Touch Up” features lyrics where the male singer discusses using makeup and skincare as a way of renovating or updating his image— an attitude that is very gender non-conforming. Another song with potential trans themes, as suggested by Redditor Nightfurywitch, is “All Gone.” The lyrics: “I got the government to change my name, yeah/Change it all together/The silly thing, it never had a ring/As though it skipped a letter, letter, letter” reflect the common trans struggle of choosing a representative name and legally adopting it. Finally, the song “Body,” where the singer details a process of casting off limbs and organs because they’ve “grown tired of this body/A cumbersome and heavy body,” is a perfect gender dysphoria anthem. This is my favorite song from the band and I have it added to a dysphoric times Spotify playlist, if that tells you anything.
What does Mother Mother think about all this? In a Rolling Stone article from last year, lead singer Ryan Guldemond theorized that the band’s early music— which “really struggled to fit neatly into the industry standards of either a rock or pop format”— is gaining attention in our current age as music and people increasingly reject the directive to “fit tidily into these binary codes.” When asked how he feels about Mother Mother’s new queer fanbase, Guldemond remarked, “It’s such a high honor and huge compliment whenever it’s suggested that our music might serve as an adequate soundtrack to a courageous journey of self-discovery that often rubs against societal norms… We’re huge cheerleaders for the outcasts and the other.” Mother Mother has even made their own TikTok account, and interact with their followers through sweet duets and comments (see above photo).
Mother Mother might not have scored their new trans listeners through a musical platform based on celebrating nonconformity— but this, and their continued support, is definitely how they’ll keep us!