Poor Missy Suicide, a.k.a. Selena Mooney, is not feeling well when we speak over the phone about Blackheart Burlesque, the long-running Suicide Girls burlesque show coming to The Pressroom on April 15. The 39-year-old Los Angeles resident (via Portland, Oregon) has a nasty cough, but soldiers on like a show business trouper as we talk about the cultural phenomenon she started in 2001 called Suicide Girls.
The 16-year-old website has spawned books, films, and stage shows all based around the beauty and empowerment of, how shall we say, nontraditional women. SuicideGirls.com has been an extremely successful venture for Mooney; the website's press page boasts there are more than 5 million unique visitors a month. If even 1 percent of those visitors plunk down the $12 a month membership fee for access to naked pictures and videos of a variety of tattooed contributors, as well as their blogs, Suicide Girls-related discussion boards, and all manner of pin-up themed merchandise, then that's a pretty nice little chunk of change.
But the unassuming Mooney doesn't come off like someone who is strictly in this business for the money.
New Times caught up with Mooney, who had recently returned to LA after a trip to the Grand Canyon, about her long-running burlesque show and performing for George RR Martin.
New Times: So, tell me about the new show?
Missy Suicide: I'm really excited for the show. It's all pop culture themed. They are leaning toward television-inspired themes. TV has just been so great lately. Shows like Westworld and Stranger Things and Game Of Thrones. There is just tons of great shows.
Do you reach out to the shows at all and say, "Hey, we're going to do this"?
No, but we did get the greatest honor last year. We performed at George RR Martin's theater in New Mexico. That was incredible. He came to the show and met all the girls. He was a fan. He saw our Game Of Thrones number and that was pretty exciting. Typically, we don' t have much contact with the shows or their creators.
That's very cool. Are you a fan of Martin's writing?
Yes, I am. He's an amazing writer. To get to perform our take on his creation for him was pretty surreal. He has a way of hooking you into his beautiful prose.
In terms of putting the show together, were there any subjects or shows you wanted to try that you had a hard time making it work?
We've tried Spice Girls a few times and it just doesn't hit the way most numbers do. Typically Comic-Con is our show that is our testing ground. That is sort of our litmus test to see if the fans will like things or not. Sometimes they like things we aren't too sure about, and sometimes they don't like things we think are going to go over well. We've tried a lot of numbers over the years.
What are you watching for to see if things are working or not? Are you backstage or out in the crowd?
I tend to vacillate between being backstage or being in the middle of the crowd. What I'm looking for is the energy of the crowd. When I see jaws dropping and faces lighting up, then I know we've got a hit. The energy is unmistakable.
Are you able to walk around the crowd at Comic-Con without getting noticed?
Sometimes I can. Sometimes I do get noticed and people want to pose for pictures, and people say, "Hey, who is that? What's going on? Sometimes I go out incognito (laughs) and wear a hat and glasses.
That's probably what half the audience is wearing. So, Blackheart Burlesque is making a return?
We had it going from 2002 to 2007. It was pretty popular. It was mostly punk rock-based burlesque. We opened for Courtney Love and Guns N' Roses. It was a lot of fun, but we put it on the back burner for a little bit. In 2012, we put out a coffee-table book and we sent two girls up and down the West Coast signing books at comic book stores, and by the time the girls got to Santa Cruz, there was 500 people waiting outside to get their autographs, so we decided to put the burlesque show back en route.
In the meantime, people had upped their game. Performers like Lady Gaga. For example, we're putting on big productions. We decided we would merge the cosplay with the pop culture numbers and paired it with a crazy kick-ass soundtrack. We put it all together and it has taken off. This is the fourth or fifth year since we came back. We re-branded it Blackheart Burlesque.
Do you have a live band that travels with you?
It's all recorded tracks, but there is some singing, including a "Black Hole Sun"/Westworld number that is amazing. There was that really slowed down, jazzy take on "Black Hole Sun" from the show. We have our take on that.
Did you think Suicide Girls would last 16 years?
[Laughs] No. When I started this, I'd never had a job that lasted more than six months. I would have laughed at you if you would have told me I'd be doing something for 15 or 16 years. I'm always inspired by the women's reactions to the message that confidence is sexy and their reaction to them being celebrated as beautiful on the site.
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How do you react to people saying Suicide Girls is pornography?
If you go into any art museum in the world, you're going to see far more nudity than what is available on Suicide Girls. Suicide Girls is a celebration of beauty and women's bodies are the single most celebrated image in art history. I've got nothing on [Robert] Mapplethorpe [laughs].
I guess there is that word, "tasteful" that gets thrown around ... Have you noticed a shift in culture of there being more acceptance of folks with tattoos and body modifications?
Yes. I feel like the world has gotten much more complacent. I feel like we are exposed more in the media. We are kind of inundated with it and I feel like what is accepted as sexy and beautiful has broadened. The photos on Suicide Girls are trying to showcase how each girl feels sexy about herself. Female empowerment ... it's okay to be pretty and feel beautiful and be confident, even if you don't look like the limited vision of beauty that is often reflected back at you from TV or movies or billboards. It is definitely a growing movement.
What advice do you have for young (or older) ladies who want to feel more comfortable in their own skin?
There is no one else like you. There is no else who can contribute the way you can in your voice. You have so much to share and so much to give to the world that is unique. The more that you love your body, the more other people will love it. Confidence is the sexiest attribute you can have. The more that you feel beautiful, the more other people will see the same. If there is something about yourself that you don't like, you should try celebrating it. Turn it into something beautiful. I used to hate my legs, and then I tattooed them, and now I love them.