Stank Face

I don’t watch much television, unless it’s reruns of Seinfeld or Law & Order (original flavor only please, and preferably the Adam Schiff era or earlier). So sometimes it’s a revelation to me when I finally see shows that everyone’s been talking about. Or shows that are knock-offs of shows that everyone’s been talking about, like the show that isn’t So You Think You Can Dance but sort of like it with the blond judge who behaves as though she’s taking hits of nitrous oxide during commercial breaks.

So I was watching part of Not So You Think You Can Dance the other night and this hip-hop dancer was talking about her approach to the style, which I enjoyed watching immensely and, judging from what I saw on this show, looks to have gotten a bad rap from too many hip-hoppers and rappers whose main dance “move” is to stomp around the stage pseudo-menacingly and make that downward-pointing handgun motion with their free arm.

Anyway, during her interview, my hip-hop girl made reference to putting on the stank face, which – I learned – describes a common facial expression in hip-hop that looks like the stank-faced person has just smelled something really … well, stanky.

What a great phrase: the stank face. And then I recalled a billboard I’d seen a while back in the suburbs of St. Louis advertising one of these hip new churches that are all the rage now. The sign was simply a black-and-white image of three or four twentysomethings standing shoulder to shoulder in stank face. Well, mild Christian stank face anyway.

I’d thought alot about this ad before but hadn’t been able to pithily describe it to myself until I got hold of “stank-face.” It’s a perfect descriptor for a look that’s not just for rappers anymore. It comes in many variations … expressions ranging from the mildly irritated look of concentration that an unpleasant but bearable odor can provoke, to full-on open-sewer revulsion.

Milder forms of stank-face are not at all uncommon in contemporary Christian entertainment and it’s even seeping into Southern Gospel (I recall some press photos for Driven or Everyday Driven or Second Mile or some version of those groups that included some stank-face shots and a couple of the Crabb Revivalists are a few smirks away from stank facing it in their latest album art). Like breathy singing, which we discussed a while back, stank face is a way for Christian entertainers to complicate or texturize their image without ranging into the explicitly heretical.

Though I think that billboard I saw verged on ridiculous (who would want to go to a church full of people as humorless as those billboard models?), I don’t really mind some version of stank-face on an album cover. The unrelenting cheeriness of so much gospel album cover art can not only be monotonous but also a little emotionally untrue to the music. Sure, southern gospel almost always ends up reaffirming hopefulness and eternal life, but a lot of what happens along the way is far from anything to smile about.

Of course stank face won’t work for everybody. LordSong, maybe. McKameys? Heheheh. Mike and Kelly Bowling, perhaps. Inspirations? Not so much. Well, actually, I take that back. When Archie Watkins strays into that upper register where he not only shaves pitches but nasalizes them into a sound that could easily be used as a theft deterrent, he strains and struggles in a contorted look that could be described as stank face. At least I know that’s how I feel in these moments.

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  1. Jim2 wrote:

    Thanks Doug,
    I lost my “stank face” reading your post!

  2. gina wrote:

    I know you meant to be comical referencing the McKameys here, but seriously, have you seen Roger F onstage? He just might be the poster boy! ;-)

  3. Realistic wrote:

    My sense is the more progressive an SG group is, the more likely we are to see the ubiquitous “stank face” on the cover — for example, Austin’s Bridge, Crossway, etc. Smiling must be for old school amateurs, not genre-crossing professionals.

    Related, and yet still a rabbit trail:

    Anyone else notice that Kim Hopper favors a non-smiling pose on the (very similar) covers of her solo CDs?

  4. Ron F wrote:

    Hey Gina, you are soooo right Roger F is a Stank Face. Even while you are talking to him he is a Stank Face. He must hate what he does.

  5. Trent wrote:

    Les Beasley had stank face a lot.

  6. Trent wrote:

    And then there’s former Kingsmen & Palmetto State pianist Andrew Ishee who could have used a healthy dose of stank face to dilute his ham bone act on the piano.

  7. burt wrote:

    I knew there would be an Inspirations knock in there somewhere.

  8. Leebob wrote:

    “stank face” - I thought was the resulting facial expression from sniffing “stank bate”.

  9. Steve wrote:

    Doug, I’d really like to know your background in Southern Gospel Music. While others may be of the opinion that you’re an authoritative “voice” in the industry, it really sounds to me like you have a lot of axes to grind. Could it be that you never made it in SG, so you want to belittle everyone else? Just wondering …

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