Pop Culture

Pussycat Dolls: More than a novelty act?

It’s hard to know what to make of the Pussycat Dolls — even when they’re lounging in front of you wearing very little.

How do you categorize a sextet that preaches self-empowerment while dressing like they just stepped out of a bordello? What do you call a pop group apparently formed largely on the basis of how hot each member is?

The answer: Just chill out and enjoy the show.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says Nicole Scherzinger, the Dolls’ lead vocalist. “I don’t think we’re trying to be anything that we’re not. We’re not, like, trying to reinvent the wheel or anything.”

The Dolls, who trace their heritage to a naughty revue on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, are currently riding high with the ballad “Stickwitu,” the second single from their debut CD “PCD.”

‘We’re sassy but classy’The disc has already produced the late-summer smash single “Don’t Cha,” which not-so-coyly asks, “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me? Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?”

That song’s infectious mix of pure pop and rap — courtesy of Busta Rhymes — is only enhanced by the video, which features the six members vamping in buttock-grazing miniskirts and bare midriffs.

“We always say we’re sassy but classy,” says member Kimberly Wyatt. “We would never want ourselves to be interpreted badly. If we’re sexy, we’re lucky.”

With Scherzinger, a former member of Eden’s Crush, handling virtually all vocals, it is easy to be catty about the rest of the Dolls’ musical chops. The CD also heavily relies on collaborators like Cee-Lo Green, the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am and producer Timbaland.

The album — like the Dolls — offers something for everyone, from raunchy hip-hop to remakes of Donna Summer’s disco “Hot Stuff” and even Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.”

“It’s a fun, affirmative, female-empowerment tour-de-force of musical styles that embraces pop music and urban music,” says A&M Records President Ron Fair, who helped produce the album.

A merchandising juggernautBut music is only part of what can only be described as a Dolls merchandising juggernaut: There are plans for a Dolls perfume, a line of clothing and lingerie, a make-up line and even a reality-style TV project.

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There’s even a Pussycat Dolls Lounge in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, featuring another group of attractive women dancing and singing. All this is part of what the group calls “the Pussycat Dolls movement.”

“We like to say that there’s a Pussycat Doll inside every girl,” says group member Ashley Roberts. “I think we’re just out there inspiring all these young girls, older girls, grandmas, to find that confidence and that Pussycat Doll within them.”

And their message? “Just to live life to the fullest,” she says.

As for the Dolls themselves, they seem to have stepped out of an adolescent boy’s fantasy. They are a collection of women leaving nothing to chance looks-wise — virtually every race and hair color is represented.

There’s sultry Scherzinger, who is of Hawaiian-Russian-Filipino descent; Roberts, a blonde who has appeared in commercials and a Counting Crows video; and Wyatt, a tomboy trained by the Joffrey Ballet.

There’s also Carmit Bachar, a redhead who placed fifth in the Olympic rhythmic gymnastics trials in 1992; Melody Thornton, a former backup singer who is of Mexican and African-American descent; and Jessica Sutta, a brunette who was once a Miami Heat dancer.

“We all fit like pieces of a puzzle,” says Thornton. “Everybody’s input and their journeys and where they’ve been help put that puzzle together.”

From fishnets to hip-hopThat puzzle was originally put together a decade ago by L.A.-based dancer and choreographer Robin Antin. The idea was for a wink-wink cabaret act that mixed Bob Fosse and a lingerie-filled Hugh Hefner dreamscape.

After years at Johnny Depp’s club The Viper Room, the Dolls were reconceived as a pop band. The line-up changed and their ranks were thinned from 12 to six because, says Fair, there were “too many to keep track of.”

“A lot of time we didn’t know where we were going or how it was going to transition from fishnets into hip-hop,” says Scherzinger. “But it’s worked out. We believe in what we do and I think people get that.”

Fair envisions the Dolls eventually becoming a sort of right-of-passage for young talent, with girls graduating from the group to become stars in their own right and others filling in the void.

“The rule book was thrown out with this thing,” he says.

Their music, looks and trashy heritage have led some critics to lambast the Dolls as an American version of the Spice Girls, but the six are determined to remain positive.

“We’re just doing our thing,” says Thornton. “We don’t try to overthink it because then you’re trying to please everybody and you can’t please everybody. You just do what you do best.”

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