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Faster, Pussycats! Shill! Shill!

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Sex kittens of the moment, the Pussycat Dolls paw-paw-pawed their way into New York City on January 22, and judging from all the salivating, bomber-jacketed bubs who crammed their Dockers into Irving Plaza that night, you’d have thought they were giving away star dancer Carmen Electra as a door prize. The Dolls, if you haven’t heard, are L.A.’s latest club craze — a bunch of scantily clad female ectomorphs who look like they’ve stepped off the set of an Aerosmith video. During their stage shows, they bounce around in lacy underwear, sing cabaret songs and arouse a mostly male, mostly horny crowd. Occasionally they’re joined by a celebrity sex bomb like Christina Aguilera, Charlize Theron, Christina Applegate or Gwen Stefani. That’s why the Dolls are jamming the Roxy on the Sunset Strip and attracting attention from magazines and MTV; it’s why they packed the house at $50 a pop on a cold night for their Next Big Thing debut.
    The Dolls mean well. Sexy and cute, they’re not here to antagonize or politicize or make anyone consider the essays of Joyce Carol Oates or the economic impacts of an Iraqi invasion. They’re light, fluffy and feathered, and they’re here to strip half-naked and shake their moneymakers. Shortly after 10 p.m., that’s exactly what they did, strutting onstage to (what else?)Dorothy Fields’ "Big Spender." ("Wouldn’t you like to have fun, fun, fun?/ How’s about a few laughs, laughs?")
    "Welcome to the Pussycat Lounge!" the evening’s emcee cried. "A million miles from nowhere, and right next door to your heart."
    What that means, I can’t tell you. The crowd didn’t ponder it much. Soon, they were having fun, fun, fun as Jaime Pressly stepped onstage in next to nothing to sing Peggy Lee’s "Fever." You may remember Pressly as Violet in Poison Ivy: the New Seduction or from her turn in the WB series Jack & Jill. She’s also gotten some attention recently for bussing Tiffani "Don’t Call Me Amber" Theissen on the lips in a save-us-from-cancellation lesbian kiss on Fox’s Fastlane
    Well, Pressly wasn’t exactly Charlize Theron or Gwen Stefani. She wasn’t even Yasmine Bleeth. But Jaime, God bless her, sang her little B-movie lungs out to "Fever," surrounded by beefy sailor-suited dancers (including a pink-cheeked fellow named Cris Judd, who used to be married to an actress-singer named Jennifer Lopez). And although Pressly wasn’t going to make anyone forget Peggy Lee or Aretha Franklin — or a particularly songful Airedale Terrier — it didn’t matter much. The testosteroned crowd went bonkers. It felt like a U.S.O. night. U.S.O. for Morgan Stanley traders.
    I guess this was bound to happen. After frat rock, frat swing, frat lounge, even frat blues, it was only a matter of time before a group like the Pussycat Dolls gave us . . . frat burlesque. Clear-skinned, lithe and almost totally devoid of camp, the Dolls are — you pick it — a straight man’s gay old time, a drag show without the drag, Bob Fosse meets Scores.
    Which is to say they’re also a little dull. The Dolls work hard for their money, but there’s a flatness and emotional disconnect to their performance that makes it feel more like an ATM transaction than a sweaty, randy blast. Part of the problem is the Dolls themselves: these delicate girls, dedicated all, look like they should be in made-for-MTV movies, or at least swinging around on steel poles to Sir Mix-a-Lot, not belting out gritty nightclub numbers like a bunch of seen-it-all chanteuses. They’re too hot and too scripted (their routines are choreographed tighter than N’SYNC’s), and despite their comely smiles, they never develop much of a bond with the audience. Theirs is an act that says, Hello, sailor . . . don’t touch me
    Of course, it’s precisely this sort of frosty, through-a-store-window sexiness that’s all the rage right now, whether in Ashanti videos, Abercrombie & Fitch catalogues or the cold sex bible,Maxim magazine. Maxim — and, by, extension, Maxim culture — is popular as hell because, unlike a lot of cultural movements, it knows what it is: hot chicks! It’s pleasingly unpretentious and straightforward, but amid all the fratty jokes and silicone and celebrity crotch shots, there’s a certain depressing emptiness. Though Maxim couches its objectification in cheeky cleverness, it uses women as products and sex as cynically as Penthouse ever did. 
    And the Pussycat Dolls feel like a lot like Maxim: the Musical. In fact, they practically are Maxim: the Musical: Electra and Applegate fronted the magazine’s December cover in Pussycat garb. It’s a perfect pairing, really: like the magazine, the Dolls have a calculated, airbrushed sheen; you find yourself staring at them more than enjoying them. 
    Maybe I’m taking things too seriously by asking to be moved. Maybe ten gazillion Maxim readers prove me wrong. But selling a memorable live performance is different than selling a magazine, or selling hype. It’s supposed to build some sort of emotional connection, to stimulate more than just the lower extremities, particularly for $50 per. Sure, I left the Pussycat Dolls briefly entertained and amused and probably a little riled up. But call me a romantic — I wanted more.