Scarred by online dating, one Parisian woman created her own app. Now she’s bringing it here. Britain needs to change its dating culture, she explains
When I ask Clémentine Lalande why she wants to Frenchify the British dating scene she laughs. Although she admires how “relaxed and practical” we are compared with other nationalities, she says: “I do think this is also sometimes a pity to be so down-to-earth. I would love to bring to the British scene something that has a little bit more magic and a little bit more sparkle and shine to it.”
Sitting in a corner of a south London pub, Lalande, with her blunt Amélie-style fringe and chic black Vanessa Bruno dress, rushes on: “My French friends tell me stories all the time about how British guys bring them to date in the supermarket or just to drink beer, or sometimes just to have dinner with the room-mate. I mean . . . French daters take a little bit more time to make a date unique and romantic!”
Lalande, who grew up in Toulouse and lives in Paris, is an expert on the subject having launched her dating app, Pickable, on both sides of the Channel in November. It has a million active users, of whom 200,000 live in the UK. For reasons personal and professional, she has spent years studying every app on the market and “gathering all these crazy and painful experiences of thousands of women like me who had the impression of being the last piece of meat on a butcher’s stand…’
Emily Hill, 35, is dating Roy, 42. She lives in Battersea, South London. She says:
‘Sex is like money,’ John Updike once said, ‘only too much is enough.’ So pity the poor people — like little old me — who, as this survey shows, find themselves utterly poverty-stricken when it comes to getting any at all.
I’ve spent the better part of this week reclining on a sunlounger half-naked in the Maldives, in a resort seemingly custom-built for amorous encounters, seething with frustration.
I came here with the sexiest man I’ve met in two decades, my new boyfriend, Roy, expecting near constant romance.
But instead he’s spent 50 per cent of his time asleep in the sunshine, 30 per cent glued to his phone or tablet and nearly all the rest indulging in relaxing baths. Not to mention the excruciating evening when he made me watch Manchester United draw 1-1 with Huddersfield Town.
I’ve tried to entice him, even getting into a scented bubble bath with him. (‘Wow!’ he exclaimed, ‘your bottom is so sunburned.’)
He only got worked up once, while trying to get his Apple hub to link to the TV so he could watch the last episode of Line Of Duty.
It’s all come as something of a shock. Certainly, ten years ago, when I was in my mid-20s, all the men I met seemed to be only after one thing. Which was depressing sometimes, but at least dependable. So what is to blame for this sad state of shenanigans?
My verdict is that men are all too busy staring at their smartphones, tablets and laptops to take an interest in the fairer sex.
Far more so than women, in my experience, men tend to consider their gadgets integral to everyday life, finding meaning and purpose in the apps that let them watch shows, message their mates and even deliver an extra frisson to their favourite sports by letting them place real-time bets with the swipe of a hand.
Sadly, the evidence suggests that men like Roy now find such diversions more stimulating than, say, my company.
‘There is a great deal of competition that a sexual relationship has to face,’ postulated Professor Kaye Wellings, who led the research. ‘In the digital age, there are more diversionary stimuli that can take up your spare time… smartphones, Netflix and social media are all likely distractions that may prevent intimacy.’
Essentially, instead of treating us as sex objects, British blokes really do want to ‘Netflix and chill’. This 2019 equivalent of ‘do you want to come in for coffee?’ should be a euphemism for sex, sex and more sex.
Unfortunately, Roy has taken it at face value. To him ‘Netflix and chill’ means: ‘Let’s sit on the sofa and watch the whole of Abducted In Plain Sight.’
Still, I know I am tremendously lucky to have him lying next to me — whether he’s tangling me up in the throes of passion or not.
Most of my beautiful, clever and sexy friends aren’t getting any romance at all, because the men they connect with on apps would rather scroll endlessly through other women’s profiles — or use their iPhones for WhatsApp chats with the lads — than ask them out on dates.
A friend of a friend recently messaged 50 men on the dating app Bumble, and not one could be bothered to write back.
As a nation, it seems, we’re getting much of our sex vicariously — through shows such as Sex Education.
One solution — perhaps — would be for Netflix to formulate a dating app of its own. It could pair up people according to their viewing preferences, and then strategically conk out just before bedtime.
For now, though, my plan is to slip into my negligee, chuck the remote in the plunge pool and sabotage the wifi connection.
The things we do for love, eh?
Emily Hill is the author of Bad Romance (Unbound, £12.99)
In the early 80s, operatic singer Klaus Nomi was at the crest of New York’s club scene. However, his untimely death from Aids in 1983 cut him off in his prime, before the world truly had the chance to appreciate his vibrant and bizarre performance art.
It probably makes sense to begin with someone who witnessed it because it has to be one of those definitive “you had to be there’ moments. For an all too brief time at the dawn of the 1980s, a peculiar phenomenon had New York under its spell. At its focal point was a small thin man who would stand in a pool of light, clad in anything from a painted wooden ballgown on wheels to a cellophane cape which twinkled under the half light or to an outsized, triangular tuxedo made from vinyl by Bowie’s American tailor. And out of this figure’s mouth, came the blistering sound of a soprano or a short-circuited tenor backed by synths and ambient noise to deliver, quite perfectly, anything from a mockery of the disco hit “I Feel Love (I Feel Sick) to an aria from Samson and Delilah to “Ding Dong (the Witch is Dead)” from The Wizard of Oz.
The audience had to be reminded that this extraordinary voice was not recorded. Despite its artificiality, lip-synching was not part of the act: the Indian demigod arm choreography, the twirling hypnotic umbrellas, the robot dancers and smoke bombs were just the unreal accoutrements. The head and the voice were the one constant: lips painted black and brows plucked into a Dietrich-style glamour gone wrong, the hair wrenched up into three peaks above a white, elfin face. As Alan Platt described for 80s cut magazine Adix: It would take many visits to the downtown venues on the punk, circuit to grasp how utterly bizarre is the sight of hundreds of snotty little drunks standing around in silence listening to this classic piece of High Romance delivered by someone from last week’s Star Trek. It’s the skill of the illusionist. Hypnotism by pure weirdness, out-bluffing their sense of the bizarre, and yet singing so beautifully with the recorded sound of a 50-piece orchestra swelling around the room, few are not moved by the pure musical experience. It’s Nomi’s big coup. Set them up with weirdness, knock them down with art.”
These epic performances began in New York’s East Village where an old Polish wedding hall had been converted into the New Wave Vaudeville theatre. When everyone else was having a joke and throwing together the most obscenely bad taste acts they could possibly conceive, it was pretty clear from the start that something much more important was going on in Nomi’s performances. Like everything else, it was thrown together from clip lights, grease paint, plastic wrap, bed sheets, tat and bric-a-brac, but Nomi’s sense of theatrical illusion transcended what might otherwise have been just high-jinks camp. His influences were as stark as they were wide-ranging, from Bauhaus expressionism and comic books to 50s sci-fi films. His name was an anagram of the sci-fi magazine OMNI, and the idea that he was an alien who had “descended from outer space to save the human race” was central to Nomi’s persona. He would arrive at shows, perform and then leave immediately, maintaining the allure of a visitor arriving and disappearing into outer space. He had arrived in America an outsider; he left America with the memory of the bizarre.
Born Klaus Sperber in 1944, Nomi grew up in the Bavarian Alps, the only child of a single mother. His peculiar blend of pop, rock and opera can be traced back to his childhood when he stole money from his mother to buy Elvis’s King Creole, only for his mother to discover the album, march with it back to the shop and exchange it for a Maria Callas record. Both equally pleased the young Klaus. After studying at the Berlin Music School and working for some years as an usher at the Opera House, Klaus emigrated to New York in 1972 where for five years, he had a succession of badly paid jobs, before eventually honing quite a talent as a pastry chef and hosting a small cookery slot on a cable network. He developed the tenor and soprano ranges of his voice with vocal coach Ira Siff and in 1977, he appeared in Charles Ludlum’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company Wagner offshoot.
This, along with his electric stage performances led to his appearance in Anders Grafstom’s influential underground film The Long Island Four which caught the attention of David Bowie whom Nomi subsequently met at one of his New York gigs. An invitation to appear with Bowie on Saturday Night Live in December 1979 followed, with Nomi performing as a backing dancer trundling about a stuffed poodle on wheels and singing the accompaniment on The Man Who Sold The World. Such was the pull of Bowie at the time, that fame seemed certain as Nomi’s gigs in New York and across America gained momentum and a dedicated following. Nomi’s own backing acts included such New Wave luminaries as Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Joey Arias and, as legend has it, Madonna. His stark fashion sense and his fusion of peculiarly eclectic music almost made it inevitable that the French would adore him. And they duly obliged, his records selling out within days of issue.
But there was a darker, personal side to Nomi’s early isolation in America and it seems that his astonishing creativity was in part compensatory for an intense inner loneliness. Without long-term lovers or boyfriends, Nomi sought sexual companionship in the most hazardous places, eventually contracting an illness so rare at the time that it was unidentified. The last track on his last album contains Dido’s death aria from Dido and Aeneas, “Remember me, but ah, forget my fate” but a few years ago, RCA’s London press office could provide no more information about their star than that he was one of the first celebrity casualties of the Aids virus. At the beginning of 1983, Nomi began to look very ill.
Joey Arias, a close friend since the opening of the New Wave Vaudeville, described the sad deterioration in his health: “He was always thin but I remember him walking into a party looking like a skeleton. He was complaining of flu and exhaustion and the doctors couldn’t diagnose what was wrong with him. Later, he had breathing difficulties, collapsed and was taken to hospital. He’d sit in his apartment watching videos and looking at photos of himself, saying ‘look at this, this is what I did – now it’s all gone.’ He went on a macrobiotic diet, which puffed him up like a rat, but nothing helped.” Klaus died that August, at the height of his success, and just before the boom in music television which might have made his idiosyncratic synth-drenched avant-garde opera-pop a worldwide force to be reckoned with.
Today, as in the early 80s, Nomi’s fame is celebrated among small collectives of music lovers who go wild over him. JP Bommel, head of RCA in France said on first hearing Klaus’ work: “We listened to that tape and we were all looking at each other, you know, thinking ‘this is wild, we had never heard anything like it. The record company didn’t have a clue.” The success he achieved in France wasn’t “the media machine working, it was not the star system. It was just a bunch of music lovers who pulled out all the stops and made it happen.” Once a music lover falls under Nomi’s spell, the results may be radical. Another fan – the artist Pat Keck – built a life-size fully articulated doll of Klaus out of wood which was laid out on a sarcophagus. decorated with lyrics from the The Cold Song. If a pedal was pushed, Nomi would rise eerily from the dead, jerking his body to one side, moving his arms. It’s a pattern mirrored by his posthumous reputation – he rises slowly, gaining a steady momentum and, suddenly, when a receptive soul is introduced to him, they jerk about, tell all their friends and another Klaus colony springs into being.
Nomi’s resurrection began when his contribution to the cult bad taste new wave classic rock documentary Urgh! A Music War – a live performance of his song Total Eclipse – became essential underground viewing during the late 80s. At the beginning of the 90s, flyers began appearing once more, all over the East Village, showing Nomi with captions reading “Do You Nomi?” and “Never Mind the Bollocks, here’s Klaus.” Website paying homage to Nomi began to spring up, his albums were re-released, the new interest in him culminating in The Nomi Song, a documentary by Andrew Horn, which is becoming somewhat of a cult classic itself. Now, closet Nomi fans are emerging and in the strangest places. He has his own corner of MySpace, where musicians as diverse as Italian lounge acts, New York indie bands, New Waves acts and countless electronic outfits, hip hop kids and ukulele players all testify to his enduring influence on the underground scene, his angular originality transcending all traditional boundaries.
Morrissey plays Nomi songs before his gigs and made Nomi’s Death the concluding track to his Under the Influence compilation and Antony and the Johnsons are also acknowledged devotees. The effect of Nomi’s music, Antony explains, lies in not just the strange fusion of pop and opera, the weird disco component or the high camp artistry “but in the other element – the almost apocalyptic element. It was like he was able to predict the future” which, it seems likely, is precisely how a man who claimed to have “descended from outer space to save the human race” would have liked to be remembered: ahead of his time, and relished after.
On Wednesday 24th April 2019, I will be speaking (Bad Romance-related) themes at the Tortoise ThinkIn in London alongside editor Merope Mills and bestselling author Nir Eyal. Limited tickets are still available on Eventbrite!
Ordinarily, I love books that answer questions I never asked but Simon May’s baffling book has blown my mind. The self-deprecator in me wants to tell you I’m too stupid to understand a word of it. The rest of me suspects this is a sneaking yet sparkling satire on what a university will get you (£50,000 of debt and the capacity to pronounce a penguin cuter than a mermaid.)
I like the visiting professor of philosophy at King’s College London very much. ‘What is a bear with the head of a wolf?’ he demands. ‘Who is a human with cat’s eyes? What is the inner world of a sphinx “really”?’ He writes brilliantly and cites exuberantly. The problem is his subject. Early on he explains his approach to ‘Cute’ was inspired by Susan Sontag’s Notes On “Camp” and Harry Frankfurt’s essay On Bullshit. But the former was so of its moment and the latter so enduring, by comparison, The Power of Cute seems at best esoteric and at worst outdated. Most of the cultural artefacts of ‘Cute’ exhibited to us – E.T., Mickey Mouse, Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dogs, Cabbage Patch Kids – are twenty years old, at least.
Cute can’t be defined. Despite copious footnotes and a seven-page bibliography, it proves to be pindownable only in its ‘unpindownability’ and we are told this several times. But still, May makes bold claims for it. Cute, he reckons, was invented by the Japanese as a preserve against nuclear attack. ‘It’s a big jump in self-conception from Samurai to Cute, but it perfectly suits Japan’s historical position after the disaster of militarism,’ he argues. ‘Where, today, Germany does remorse Japan does Cute… a spirit which can magically make vanish everything about Japan that is aggressive and threatening.’
This may be a compelling idea to flaunt at dinner parties (I wouldn’t know- no one ever invites me.) But, much like the theory that the EU is what stands between European countries and all-out war, it’s a distraction from fact. What’s preventing another nuclear attack is what happened the last time there were nuclear attacks. It’s not that Cute has been unleashed ’as a Weapon of Mass Seduction’ nor that the Japanese army has included ‘doe-eyed anime waifs’ in its recruitment posters.
After connecting more random dots than exist in a Yayoi Kusama painting, May turns his attention to Cuteness as it exists in famous people. Initially, this seems like a fun game to play during a power cut or if you’re trapped for hours in a stuck lift. A whole chapter is devoted to it. Roosevelt, Churchill, George W. Bush, Golda Meir and Bill Clinton? Cute. Thatcher, De Gaulle, George Bush Sr. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? Not cute. Madonna – he tells us – is borderline. Or Borderline. I’m never sure how ironic he’s intending to be.
One hopes a lot because his analysis of the relative cuteness of dictators is either perplexing or offensive. Stalin and Kim Jong-il are cute. Saddam Hussein is not cute. ‘There is nothing, but nothing, cute about terrorist groups like Islamic State or Al-Qaeda.’ Why is one murderous entity Cute and the other not? Because the Cute are ‘careful not to be seen, or known, to kill people by their own hand.’ Hitler isn’t mentioned – one imagines because with his natty moustache and habit of saluting (as Hello Kitty does) with a whole arm he’d be ‘Cute.’ Sure, he massacred six million Jews. But Stalin would win on death count in Top Trumps, so…
Where is this tending? Towards Donald Trump, of course. Cuteness ‘is key to understanding’ him. Here’s how:
‘In a superb analysis of the grotesque in nineteenth century fiction, Thierry Goater says of Thomas Hardy that it is no wonder he can baffle those who read him. For he “outrageously distorts reality and crudely combines genres and modes… to reveal and give form to the ever-changing… world, a world threatened by meaninglessness.” His aim is to evoke “the fragmentation of the world and of the subject, the inhuman, the abject, madness and death,” thus allowing his devotees “to experience chaos from a distance while sensing the threat involved” and, indirectly to posit a different and new existence.’
‘In short,’ May concludes, ‘the formula of Donald Trump.’ (!?!?!?!)
This is all very annoying because right at the end of The Power of Cute there’s a banger of a chapter about ‘the Cult of Sincerity’ which I’d love a brain like May’s to pick apart from me. ‘Publicly parading one’s tastes and feelings, one’s likes and dislikes,’ he writes, ‘all this owes an indelible debt to Rousseau.’
‘Bloody great,’ I thought, he’s going to explain why anyone, ever, Instagrams anything. But then the book ends. I hope he will write another one.