Before she became known as the growling feminist frontwoman of the punk-inflected rock band Gossip, Beth Ditto was a misfit in rural Arkansas, with a crew of queer outsider friends, a fertile imagination, and dreams of being a star. At age 18, in 1999, she set out for the Northwest, cut her teeth in the riot grrrl scene of Olympia, Washington, and within a few months was one-third of a group that projected a message of acceptance, body positivity, and, yes, soulful, sweaty dancing.
Seventeen years later, and with five albums under their belt, the members of Gossip have now gone their separate ways. In the five years since the release of the band’s last album, A Joyful Noise, Ditto, 36, has settled down with her wife and two cats in Portland, Oregon, and—in addition to writing Coal to Diamonds: A Memoir and launching an eponymous plus-size fashion line—has been at work on her debut solo LP, Fake Sugar. Out tomorrow via Virgin Records, the new songs, which address themes such as married life and compromise, expose Ditto’s softer side; albeit with echoes of her trademark grit.
Here, in what Ditto describes as the fulfillment of a “lifelong childhood dream,” she speaks to another dazzling diva who loves to hog the spotlight: the singular, sensational Miss Piggy.
MISS PIGGY: Beth, I adore you! You’re fabulous in every possible way. We simply must work together.
BETH DITTO: Oh, Miss Piggy! I cannot tell you what a dream it is for me to be speaking to you. As a little girl, I karate-chopped many siblings while wearing a winter glove and with a hair bauble around my ring finger pretending to be you. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without such a positive role model. “Miss Piggy” was one of the many things I was lovingly called by my family growing up. You speak French, you know karate, you make assertiveness chic, you’ve been the editor of Vogue Paris. Is there anything you can’t do?
MISS PIGGY: I “can’t” do dishes, but you probably already guessed that.
DITTO: It will be very difficult to make this interview about moi, as I have so many questions and want to hear all about your incredible life and career.
MISS PIGGY: Well, don’t vous worry, Beth. I have a way of turning any interview or conversation into a discussion about moi. Let’s get started, shall we? I want to begin with our common background—you grew up in Arkansas, and I, too, hail from rural origins. How do you think your upbringing shaped your life and your art?
DITTO: It is so difficult to imagine you, Miss Piggy, anywhere but the most metropolitan of cities.
MISS PIGGY: Hard to believe, but true. Moi once lived a totally unaccessorized life.
DITTO: I would imagine you and I had similar experiences. Coming from Arkansas, having six brothers and sisters, my mother working so hard—there wasn’t always enough money, attention, or time to go around. I learned early on to be loud so that I didn’t blend in with the background noise. I learned to be resourceful in a way only poverty can teach. I can easily entertain myself, and I’m good with my hands. I learned to sew, crochet, and embroider. I was independent and strong-willed because I had to learn life wasn’t fair at a young age.
MISS PIGGY: You can discover an inner strength when faced with that kind of childhood. You learn how to pull yourself out of the mud, sometimes literally.
DITTO: As a teenager, Arkansas didn’t have a lot of options for fun, so we made our own fun. This was the mid-’90s, and a Christian university controlled the county where I grew up and made it nearly impossible to get MTV, and certain magazines weren’t carried, or if it was, say, a gay magazine, like Out or The Advocate, you would have to ask for them behind the counter. We were a small group of weirdos and baby punks and gays and free spirits who had to use our imaginations a lot. We only saw pictures and read zines, so we could only interpret the aesthetic and message of punk scenes around the world. We were basically the duck-billed platypuses of punk.
MISS PIGGY: That’s very similar to what happened to me—I ended up with a “small group of weirdos” called the Muppets. No duck-billed platypuses, but lots of frogs, bears, and whatevers. I got off the farm as soon as I could. Same for you?
DITTO: Of course—I jumped off that turnip truck!
MISS PIGGY: When you decided to leave the past behind and become the vous we all know and love, who was your biggest inspiration?
DITTO: Miss Piggy, you planted the seed in my head to dare to be myself, to be proud of my body and loud voice. And to embrace it! I wish I could open a piece of my brain and you could see into my memories, all the times I dressed up to be just like you. I also loved Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex, Melanie, Aretha Franklin, Mama Cass, Divine, and John Waters.
MISS PIGGY: A veritable pantheon of fabulosity! I love it. Now, I have to ask, after many years with Gossip, you’ve gone solo. How has that changed your life?
DITTO: Well, it’s changed my life in a few ways. I was with Gossip for about 17 years. It was my longest relationship and longest job, so leaving was very sad. There was no real drama. Just sad. Being with Nathan [Howdeshell, founding guitarist] was, I’d imagine, like being with Gonzo all the time. Funny. And weird. An out-of-this-world character I love very much. We were kids together, grew up together, and toured the world together. But we had a good run. Going solo is different because you really have to learn to trust yourself. There isn’t a committee with whom to share and discuss, and that is the most difficult part: trusting yourself.
MISS PIGGY: I’ve been with the Muppets for years. What do you think—should I go solo?
DITTO: Oh, Piggy! May I call you Piggy? Too informal?
MISS PIGGY: Sister, the way you’re slinging compliments my way, you can call me anything you want.
DITTO: By the way, I so enjoyed your workout album, Miss Piggy’s Aerobique. It really gets me going in the gym. I think people underestimate your singing talents. It’s all looks, looks, looks, but you’re not just a pretty face.
MISS PIGGY: Isn’t it frustrating? But when you look as incredible as we do, it’s tough for people to overcome being awestruck by our beauty and appreciate our other talents. But, back to my question—do you think I should go solo?
DITTO: You don’t have to leave the Muppets forever. You can always come back. But, yes, I’d be very interested in maybe a covers album? Some dance tracks? Do you know Skrillex?
MISS PIGGY: I’m going to have moi‘s people look into this ASAP. Speaking of albums, let’s talk about your new album, Fake Sugar. Tell me everything about it. This is your chance to plug away, sweetie.
DITTO: Well, it’s a very uncool record in my opinion. There’s nothing hip about it. And I think that is why I feel so proud of it. It embraces my upbringing and my voice in a way I’m not sure I’ve done before, so I am very excited to tour with it.
MISS PIGGY: If you put your heart and soul into it, and it reflects who you are, that’s the ultimate in “cool.” And if anybody tells you different, let me at ’em! As a singer, you’ve been compared to Etta James, Janis Joplin, and Tina Turner. Who is your greatest influence as a performer?
DITTO: Honestly, you and my mother.
MISS PIGGY: Oh, Beth! I’m so happy I’m crying and my mascara is running, which is odd because it’s painted on. Where was I? Oh yes, on your song “Fire,” you sing: “Get up, up, up, up, up, up, up if you want my love.” When it comes to romance, have you always been that aggressive?
DITTO: [laughs] I know what I want! And I just go for it.
MISS PIGGY: I understand you recently got married to your best friend. How’s that working out?
DITTO: I love being married. There are always challenges, a lot of communicating and checking in. It’s all about talking, talking, and listening, listening, listening. And putting those words into action. True love is about being able to accept raw emotions, no matter how difficult.
MISS PIGGY: As you know, I also dated my best friend for years. And now, pffft… Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying the freedom. But can loving relationships truly last?
DITTO: I think so. But sometimes love can mean letting go and loving each other from a distance. Maybe that’s what you’re feeling? People always assume that you, Miss Piggy, were the diva. Were we wrong this whole time? Maybe it was Kermit.
MISS PIGGY: So true, but I’ve tried to get past the blame and the regrets. I’m happy for what was, and I’m hopeful about what will be. Let’s get serious for a moment—you’re very outspoken on gender issues, but I don’t know where you stand on species issues? Do you think it’s okay for me to date outside my species?
DITTO: Your relationships have taught me that happiness is about celebrating and embracing differences. I support love any healthy way you can get it.
MISS PIGGY: Let’s talk about your fabulous look. I have always said: “Style comes in all shapes and sizes. Therefore, the bigger you are, the more style you have.”
DITTO: Miss Piggy, what a dream it is to hear you say such words to me. What an incredible message. And, yes, I completely agree.
MISS PIGGY: You have your own clothing line. That is so exciting! What’s your philosophy? And can I get samples?
DITTO: I had my own clothing line. The most recent collection was the last for a while. It was a great labor of love, and I was so happy to do it, but my heart is in music. Wearing clothes is more fun than making them, for me anyway. As for samples: send your measurements to my people, dahling.
MISS PIGGY: Why didn’t Interview let me interview you sooner! I understand you’ve also modeled and done the catwalk for Marc Jacobs and Jean Paul Gaultier. Did they inspire your line?
DITTO: Big people really inspired me to work on a collection. Disco and punk were two of the moods I was going for and, of course, the movie 9 to 5, where Dolly Parton really takes on a Miss Piggy look. Would you agree?
MISS PIGGY: Absolutely. Dolly and moi are besties. You once said, “When I try for an idea and don’t succeed, it usually ends up better.” On the other hand, when I try for an idea and it doesn’t succeed, I blame others. How did you become so reasonable?
DITTO: The way I see it, I’m like cheddar: Yes, other cheeses are more ooh la la, but I’m strong, mature, and oh so delicious.
MISS PIGGY: Cheese. Interesting. I have no idea what that means, but I like it and I’ll be using that answer the next time I’m on a red carpet. Speaking of red carpets, your voice appeared in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. Are you interested in pursuing an acting career, and can you get me in any Oscar-worthy films?
DITTO: I was going to ask you to introduce me to some high-ups in the business. But I do know someone who can get you a good deal on a ’98 Mazda Miata.
MISS PIGGY: “’98 Mazda Miata”? That’s a very hip name for a movie. Who’s directing? John Singleton? Tim Burton? Sofia Coppola? Michael Bay? Tarantino? Marty? Let’s talk. By the way, you have two cats: Tofu and Butters. And I have a dog: Foo-Foo. Any chance we can get them together for a play date? Foo-Foo loves shopping and dining out. Will that work for Tofu and Butters?
DITTO: Tofu is shy, but after a few cocktails—shrimp—he can really come out of his shell. Butters will eat anything. And shopping, they love it. I have to keep the remote control away or it’s QVC all day. Don’t get me started!
MISS PIGGY: Then it’s a cat and dog, double-diva play date. Kissy, kissy!
MISS PIGGY WAS FIRST INTRODUCED TO AUDIENCES ON JIM HENSON’S THE MUPPETS SHOW IN 1976. SINCE 2000 SHE HAS BEEN PERFORMED BY ERIC JACOBSON.