When Melissa Marie first heard Kesha's debut single "Tik Tok," she thought it was her own voice. The squeaky slur of "wake up in the morning feelin' like P Diddy," the trashy lyrics about brushing her teeth with Jack Daniels, the way Kesha moved between speaking and speak-singing like a hangover prevented her from giving more — it'd all become Melissa's signature as part of her three-girl Myspace band Millionaires. Only now that model was being blasted through Top 40 radio, and would eventually catapult Kesha to global pop star status.
"I got messages from people in my high school saying, 'You're on the radio!' And I was like, 'That's fucking not us,'" Melissa says. "I remember being so pissed off. I thought it was myself singing, it was that close."
In the context of 2009 Myspace, the biggest social media platform at the time, the Millionaires had become notorious. Melissa, sister Allison Greene and their close friend Dani Artaud were all internet-famous with hundreds of thousands of combined "friends" (this was before followers), and they joined forces to make an electro-pop trio that began as a joke, but became serious by demand. The earnest emo nerds, screamo misogynists, and leftover indie-rock snobs of Myspace all loved to hate the Millionaires, yet the girls' tracks consistently landed in Myspace Music's top charts. Constant criticism fueled epic numbers online, and so the Millionaires became an early product of the same system of polarizing popularity that fueled the careers of stars like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian.
It was rumored that among the Millionaires' listeners was producer Dr. Luke, who is credited for helping develop Kesha's initial look and sound (and accused of abusing her throughout their professional partnership). "We worked with producers in the [music] industry, so we heard all the gossip," Melissa says, claiming that "Dr. Luke had admitted to someone that he stole our whole persona." It makes sense: mainstream radio of that era was still dominated by the likes of high-fashion auteur Lady Gaga and textbook hitmaker Britney Spears, but the party girl image — messy, low-brow, relatable — had yet to be tapped into. So if the Millionaires could independently cultivate a fanbase for their sex positive, drunken bops, imagine what someone could achieve with a major label's support.
"That should've been us," Melissa says, "and they gave it to [Kesha]. Once I saw her doing our thing — and even Katy Perry was doing the same, just a cleaner version — it was like, Damn, why did they choose those other girls and not the Millionaires? Was it because we were scene and sorta goth-y? It was disappointing, definitely, but that made us try harder — it fueled our fire."
The Millionaires started in late 2007 with a Mac desktop, Garageband, and plenty of Smirnoff Ice (they were all under 21). "We went to a Catholic high school [in California], and my mom had bought us the Mac for Christmas to use for school," Melissa says. "One day we all made a song randomly — drunk, wasted — just screaming and yelling at the computer to record on Garageband." That belligerent recording became "I Like Money," the first official Millionaires demo that they'd later upload to Myspace. Using pre-made Garageband beats, the debut effort knowingly lacked in production value, but the girls' lyrical wit made up for its DIY sound. The verses were biting ("High heels, makeup, fake eyelashes/ Look at you, you're so damn plastic"), and the hook was addictive ("Look over here, and let me see that body rock").
(Left to Right) Dani Artaud, Melissa Marie
(Left to Right) Melissa Marie, Dani Artaud
"The lyrics were easy for us," Melissa says. "They came naturally. You didn't want to get in a fight with us because we were all really good with our words. We could've been wrong, but with all the hate, we were so quick to make someone feel stupid for talking shit."
The Millionaires' early bedroom sessions continued with a lineup of demos that solidified their smart, raunchy approach to making hilarious electro-pop. "In My Bed" saw the trio demanding a boy hop in their bed: "I know you must be shy because I'm just so hot/ But if you will just try, I know you'll hit the spot." On "Hey Rich Boy," the Millionaires offered a sugar baby anthem: "You can tell he's drippin' dollars, so of course I have to holler." They made a track called "Hoe Down," packed with banjos and drags, but the release of "Alcohol" marked when the Millionaires really hit their stride. It became the band's mission statement, with a chorus that everyone on Myspace knew the words to: "Let's get fucked up! Gimme that Alcohol (A-L-C-O-H-O-L)."
When the Millionaires uploaded these rough tracks to Myspace, they quickly caught fire, cultivating millions of streams. "No one realized that Myspace was such a great promotional tool at the time," Melissa says. "This was before people really caught on to social media being free publicity." The group almost immediately shifted from being a silly side project into a pursuit that felt like it could become something big. "It happened really fast," she says. "Because our first song did so well and it was so easy to make, we realized we were able to make a lot of songs. And when we realized people wanted us to perform, that's when we had to get a DJ."
They enlisted the help of DJ Hyphy Crunk, who was a friend of Melissa's and a local Los Angeles promoter at the time. "He would let us into clubs, and he was one of the only DJs I knew," Melissa says, recounting their simple, fast solutions to seem more legit to fans. "Hyphy Crunk, spin that shit," became a recognizable sample across Millionaires' early music, and he'd spin their tracks at live shows. "All three of us [in the Millionaires] were classically trained ballet dancers, so that's how we clicked really well [on stage]. A lot of bands, and especially scene kids as you can imagine back then, were super shy but we were the opposite. We loved the stage, and we were drinkers and partiers, so it fit."
Performing their songs live meant the Millionaires needed to rerecord everything they'd already created. "We weren't sound engineers," Melissa admits, so all their demos had been compressed without saving any stems. "We redid a bunch of songs because the recordings sounded so bad, and we only had the one tape. We had to, or else we couldn't perform them live. That's when we started taking it really seriously."
Melissa's high school sweetheart and prom date was Miley Cyrus' older brother Trace. He happened to be a guitarist for the pop-punk band best known for its breakthrough hit "Shake It," Metro Station, which played an indirect role the Millionaires' success. Keyboardist Blake Healy's roommate, Mark Maxwell, was a burgeoning producer and eager to work closely on developing a music project. Having met Melissa through Metro Station, he remixed two of the Millionaires' early demos, and ended up completely transforming their discography.
"When Blake took off with Metro Station, Mark had a feeling of being left out of the action," Melissa says, "and I think he saw an opportunity in us to achieve the same." The producer helped develop the Millionaires' sound into a much fuller fusion of wonky electro synths with radio-pop sensibility. This ultimately led to their first proper release, the five-track Bling Bling Bling! EP, released in 2007. The cover art featured all three girls in American Apparel bikini tops and wearing thick, charcoal eyeliner, surrounded by stacks of hundred dollar bills.
Metro Station was then working with Crush Management, the team responsible for shaping the success of still-massive bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco. "We sought out legit management because we had this one lady who really fucked us over," Dani says. "[Crush] wanted to work with us, and they flew us out to NYC to record more music." With celebrities like Brendon Urie and Pete Wentz under their wing, Crush had the power and momentum to make Melissa, Allison and Dani superstars.
Around this time, the band was invited to perform live on TRL's "On the Radar" — easily their biggest opportunity to date, and a chance to get their music legitimized outside of Myspace. "We randomly got an email [from TRL], and started freaking out," Melissa says. "They made us fly ourselves out, and my mom went into her savings to send all three of us. It was during our first week of tour; I remember we had to play two shows in LA, and then go to NYC three days later. We flew overnight, got to New York at 6 AM, and had to go straight to filming. I'd lost my voice."
The Millionaires on TRL
The girls decided to perform a track called "I Move It," which was their safest lyrically but still overflowing with profanities. "[MTV was] so upset about the song, because they give you one time to practice and we all cussed," Melissa laughs, remembering that producers threatened to cut the performance altogether if they didn't clean it up. "We had to change the lyrics, and we were so stressed," Dani says. "Because if you accidentally slip up, there's hell to pay." Somehow they all managed, and made their mainstream TV debut "looking trashy in tour clothes," with teased jet-black hair and bracelets stacked up their arms, all gifted by fans at different shows. "The minute we did TRL, I think that made [the band] seem really real to us and a lot of people," Dani says.
It also opened up them to a whole new avenue of music-making; the Millionaires were tapped to create theme songs for MTV's hit shows A Double Shot at Love with the Ikki twins and Teen Cribs, and later invited to cover Chic's 1978 hit "Le Freak" for the MTV film Turn the Beat Around. Many of the the girls' existing tracks were also used for the network's shows, including "Alcohol" on Skins. Their quick, rebellious wit was perfect for reality TV's debauchery, and the lyrics immediate enough to have impact in only a few, short seconds of play.
Building upon this organic momentum, their Just Got Paid, Let's Get Laid EP (off Decaydance Records), showed signs that the Millionaires could become America's next big girl group. They strategically included their biggest tracks, "Alcohol" and "I Like Money," and unveiled several new songs written after that first boozy but brilliant recording session. "Talk Shit" was an aggressive message to the haters, staking their ground with fists ready to fight: "Money, diamonds, gold and ice/ Yeah, talk shit you'll pay the price/ Shut up cunt, I'll cut your tongue/ Back down, bitch, you're fucking done." On "I Move It," the Millionaires continued carving out space as DGAF sex symbols, while the title track was a massive party bus banger that poked fun at the criticism they received online: "We live the life you wish, bitch don't say shit/ No talent, just lucky, but they still wanna fuck me."
In their "Just Got Paid, Let's Get Laid" video, the Millionaires featured a girl dressed up as fellow Myspace scene queen Audrey Kitching, who'd previously insulted the bands' music online. Twirling her pastel pink hair with a septum piercing and matching moles, Kitching's look-alike said the Millionaires were "like totally ruining music." The real Kitching eventually addressed the mockery on Twitter: "I'm embarrassed for you guys," she wrote. "Getting '****** up'? Degrading to all girls" — a criticism that would erupt in backlash today. Ever ahead of their time, the Millionaires couldn't care less as they walked men on leashes, feeding them bowls of champagne like thirsty kittens and tossing cash at half-naked strippers in the video. "You think you'll get famous taking pictures for free? Think again, bitch, maybe you should do it like me," growled Dani on the track.
Being an A-List Myspace group and working with Crush Management, the Millionaires became closely associated with all the emo bands dominating music at the time. They were the Paris, Nicky and Nicole of scene culture, and therefore joining Warped Tour seemed unavoidable to keep the band's momentum going. Consistent with punk's historic misogyny, the summer-long festival was always stacked with male musicians, putting the Millionaires in front of rockist crowds that vocally — and sometimes violently — hated their music.
They shared a tour bus with a group called Brokencyde, which incorporated hip-hop beats with screamo vocals and was similarly loathed by the Warped Tour audience for the ways they modernized punk music. On the first day of tour, Melissa says someone threw an entire water bottle of cum on Brokencyde's brand new stage backdrop, completely destroying it. "I remember joking that Target should sponsor us and put their logo on our bus, so people could throw stuff at that instead," she says. "No one else would tour with us, it was so dangerous. Jeffree [Star] had his own bus for that reason too, because he didn't trust anybody. It was like lunchtime in high school: [the Millionaires], Brokencyde and Jeffree all sitting at a table. It got to a point where no one would talk to us."
"Looking back now, what we were doing was really feminist and badass."
Throughout the summer, the Millionaires were forced to move stages several times because the bands before them would rile up the audience by openly insulting the trio. "We were always sandwiched between the two hardest, heavy metal bands because of the layouts of the stages," Melissa says. "That was really dangerous cause people in the audience would throw stuff." Dani remembers being hit in the head with shoes, water bottles and full bags of fruit; Melissa says she was once sexually violated. "People couldn't handle us, especially men," Dani says. "Our sets would infuriate them." As the Millionaires rapped about hooking up and downing shots, they did full choreography, sometimes simulating sex acts with each other. It was a completely different vibe and message from the ferocious, guitar-driven bands that they performed alongside.
At one Tennessee Warped Tour date, the Millionaires were booked to perform with A Day To Remember, a band whose sound was critically referred to as "pop-mosh." The girls begged not to do it ("They're going to eat us alive"), but were forced into playing the show by management. As expected, the response to their music was riotous: dollar bills were tossed about as if they were strippers, girlfriends in the crowd didn't like that their boyfriends were watching ("that was always a big issue for us"), and insults were freely flung at the stage. "They had to stop our set because it was getting so crazy," Dani says. "Even the sound guy was talking shit to us. I remember yelling at this guy, who was calling us 'sluts.' It was really intense, and we were always just trying to have fun and make fun songs. Looking back now, what we were doing was really feminist and badass."
The Millionaires on Warped Tour
The musical landscape at the time was overwhelmingly patriarchal, with all-male (and usually all-white) bands taking up the most space: All Time Low, Forever the Sickest Kids, We The Kings, The Maine, Cartel, Mayday Parade, The Cab, Cute Is What We Aim For, Boys Like Girls... the list is endless, meaning the majority of lyrics were penned through a male gaze: melodramatic love songs written about women, by men. While A Day To Remember, for example, was singing earnestly about romance and, in many cases, monogamy ("I just feel complete when you're by my side"), the Millionaires were destroying the standard by independently owning their sexuality, batting men around like toys, and setting it all to trashy club beats: "In the Millionaire world shit's turned around/ It's the boys that drop their knees to the ground," they declare on "Just Got Paid, Let's Get Laid" — a much-needed role reversal in the age of emo masculinity.
When the Millionaires got offered to sign to UK record label B-Unique in 2009, it was both the height of the band's career and the final nail in its coffin. They were slated to release a debut, full-length studio album, complete with new material that would push them further into the world of more accessible dance-pop. In a feature on The Guardian's "New Band of the Week," the UK publication profiled the Millionaires and asked the question, "Trash-pop or pop that's trash?" The hate the group experienced on and offline was reaching new, unbearable extremes — especially for Dani, who remembers battling an ongoing cocktail of depression, mental breakdowns and frequent panic attacks.
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"It was hard on me in particular," Dani says. "I didn't realize at the time how much it was affecting me. I didn't know what the term 'empath' was, but now I do and I realize I'm totally one. Negative energies affect me in a crazy way, so it was really difficult being on stage." She also didn't want to stay in the UK, arguing that the people who booked the group's shows consistently put them in "weird situations where the audience wasn't receptive. They didn't know exactly where to put us or what to do with us."
So Dani decided to quit the band for good and return to the US. "It was so hard being away from home," she admits. This, however, meant the Millionaires lost their UK record deal and had to scrap their full-length project as the original trio. "I was happy to come back to the US, because things were not going well [overseas]," Dani says. "We were all trying to make it work, but I was like, I can't go back on stage. It was too much for me; I was relieved to not go back, but at the same time it was sad. There were a lot of fun times, and [Melissa and Allison] were like sisters to me. It took a while to come to terms with everything, but I think it was best for me at the time."
Shortly after Dani's announcement in 2010, Melissa and Allison released their Cash Only EP as the Millionaires, which featured some of the group's strongest, most sexual work to date. It offered five new songs, many of which the girls recorded in New York City while they were still together. All three sang more than ever on the project, attempting to compete with their peers in a post-Kesha pop landscape.
"Middle finger in the air if you're pussy's tight," Melissa and Allison demanded on track one, "Party Like a Millionaire" — the first Millionaires track without Dani's involvement. On "Prom Dress," recorded before her departure, the girls took on the challenge of writing a high school party bop, complete with cheerleader cries and an explosive power-pop chorus: "Get me off like a prom dress/ I can feel you deep inside," they sang in unison. "Take Your Shirt Off" continued in this playfully erotic vein, while "Microphone" was their attempt at reclaiming the groupie narrative: "After the show/ No one will ever know/ I want to touch your microphone."
Nothing was as promising as "Stay the Night," a single that had just enough sex appeal to feel like they weren't selling out, while still leaning into a safer, more radio-friendly lane. With retro guitar-pop production, the Millionaires' lyrics were PG-13, if not intentionally innocent: "Let's get naughty, cause I want you to stay the night," they sang on the chorus — a bright, bubbly climax that could've easily passed the standards of TRL's buttoned-up producers a few years prior. In the music video, the girls choose three lovers from a house full of men, handing the chosen ones a message in a bottle that read, "Stay the night with me."
"I love 'Stay the Night,'" Melissa says. "That one was kind of cleaner for us, but we really wanted to go that route. We recorded it in Europe, and it was going to do really well there."
The scrapped full-length album from Melissa, Allison and Dani meant losing a sea of impeccable, unreleased tracks that'd been circulating online. "Up in My Bubble" was a perfectly bitchy bop, featuring vocals by hitmaker Sarah Hudson (of Ultraviolet Sound); "Painted Whore" took shots at girls in too much makeup ("put more on you fuckin' clown"); Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" got sampled on "The One" — a tender track about true love and dependency, much like another slept-on standout, "Martinis and Mixed Feelings." While they never saw a proper release, all these songs exist today as lo-fi rips on YouTube and Soundcloud pages curated by dedicated fans who recognize the Millionaires as internet relics demanding preservation.
Once Dani left, Melissa says she and Allison were able to focus more on their potential as sisters, and continued forward with the Millionaires, now a two-person band. "We just decided to move on," she says, admittedly writing a Dani takedown called "Not Everyone Is a Millionaire," and then shelving it ("It was too mean.") The pair worked hard to keep up with music trends in order to be taken seriously. "The 'Kesha thing' was so popular, and we felt we could still compete with that as a duo. We were trying to find our own way in, and started to pull from our Asian [heritage]. Still to this day, the only [Asian-American] group that ever made it to Billboard was Far East Movement [of 'Like a G6' fame]."
Their 2012 single, "Drinks On Me," attempted to build upon the success of "Alcohol" by adding trendy, EDM motifs and sounds to their original party animal formula: "Give me that Andre/ 4 Loko erday / Give me that UV/ Cheap alcohol, please." This led to Melissa and Allison's debut mixtape Your Girl Does Party the same year — a 16-track effort stacked with cameos from hip-hop artists including Kreayshawn,Trina and Shanell — as well as their official full-length album, Tonight (produced by Khris Lorenz), in 2013.
While their tipsy, carefree attitude was disruptive in 2007, it'd become commonplace five years later. Between "Crazy Kids" and "C'Mon," any song off Kesha's Warrior could've easily been a Millionaires track; "Bass Down Low," DEV's The Cataracts-assisted hit sounded like a major label version of anything off Just Got Paid, Let's Get Laid. The Guardian had previously referred to the Millionaires as "Kesha to the max," when at least chronologically, it was the other way around.
Meanwhile, Dani began slowly stepping back into music through a collaborative project with Asia Whiteacre, who's now signed to Warner Chappell and notably co-wrote Hailee Steinfeld's Zedd-produced smash "Starving." Dani and Asia's indie band, Mr. Downstairs, was starkly different from the Millionaires, with completely sung-through, self-serious songs, more personal subject matter and guitar-led, bedroom-pop production. The duo acquired a small but engaged following and created a few music videos to cultish acclaim. They even dropped a 2012 EP called Superhero Heart, but the timing wasn't right for them to keep things going.
"I didn't have the resources," Dani says. "At the time, I was moving out on my own. We were paying for a practice space, but neither of us could afford it. We didn't have a manager anymore, so I was like, Shit, I don't know what to do."
She adds, "People still ask me, 'What ever happened to Mr. Downstairs?'" But all that is in the past, as now she's focused on an entirely new project she created with a clear head, fresh sound and newfound independence. SnowBlood is Dani's first solo effort, which she's been quietly developing for years in California. She released her self-titled album as SnowBlood in 2017, and dropped a spacey, electro-pop cover of Bananarama's "Venus" last year. This summer, she'll be going on tour in support of Mystery Skulls — her first time ever performing a full set alone. "Somebody the other day was sending me videos of Millionaires on Warped Tour," Dani says, "And that was literally 10 years ago. So 10 years later, I'm finally playing as a solo artist. I'm so stoked."
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Capitalizing on her understanding of the internet, Melissa — now based in Arizona — has become something of a social media expert in the cannabis industry and is working on her own solo music. "I know what works and I know what sells," she says. "Even if don't know what the product is, I know how to sell it. I already know how to sell a band, because [the Millionaires] always toured with excellent musicians. That's where a lot of the hate came from — the fact that were were screaming at computers, and still able to be successful."
She and Allison have continued to work together, starring briefly on the Oxygen network's unscripted Bad Girls Club and making appearances at nostalgia-fueled emo-themed parties. Melissa's been married (and divorced), while Allison is settling into life as a newlywed in Las Vegas with her partner of 10 years. Their lives have slowed down, but their legacies live on: "Still to this day, if I go into a Hot Topic or a grocery store, people will still see me as a Millionaire," Melissa says — a testament to the cultural impact of a band whose star shined bright, despite never reaching supernova.
Warped Tour/TRL photos courtesy of Getty / Photobooth photos courtesy of Dani Artaud