So I open my web browser tonight, and it goes automatically to Yahoo!, where the front page news item that greets me is "Is sexiness a must for today's female singers?" This question addresses a few issues that interest me, namely pop music, societal expectations, and sexy women, so I decide to click through and read the article. It took me exactly two paragraphs to be angered:
She was an "amazing talent," a young singer with a wonderful voice who wrote beautiful songs. But she was no beauty, plus flat-chested and overweight to boot.
Remembering the aspiring star, music executive Jody Gerson still feels terrible about thinking: "She's never going to get signed, even though she's fabulous."
Yes, Jody Gerson, that is a terrible injustice. Talented women making good music that don't make it because some people might not think they're hot enough. If only we knew of someone who felt the same way, who believed that the public really does know the difference between good music and crap with pretty plastic packaging, and were in a position to do something about it. Oh well, I guess we can dream.
The next two paragraphs simply state the author's inspiration for this article: her favorite singer on American Idol was voted off. We really don't need to visit them. The two after that, however, are plenty disturbing:
A quick check of the Billboard Top 40 turns up a list of candidates for "America's Top Model": Avril Lavigne, blonde stunner Carrie Underwood; tomboyish but sexy Ciara, fashionista Gwen Stefani and hip-swiveling Shakira (on a song featuring bootylicious Beyonce).
The only two in the Top 40 who might not be considered perfect 10s: Pink, who is still svelte and appealing; and multiplatinum Grammy-winner Kelly Clarkson, who got her break only through winning the democratically elected "American Idol."
I have admittedly quirky tastes when it comes to beauty. That said, Gwen Stefani is not really very attractive. In fact, I would say that if she weren't a famous singer, she would not be particularly noticeable. Also, Carrie Underwood looks like every other blonde girl on the planet, which is not particularly stunning. But they're both still good-looking, so I'll let it slide, because I don't want to overlook the "Let's pick two attractive female singers off of the list, tell our readers that they are in actuality NOT attractive, and use that as evidence that even the unattractive female singers are still attractive" argument. That's a bit of logical genius, right there. Also, why is it worth mentioning that the apparent hideous freakshow that is Kelly Clarkson only got her start through American Idol, but the fact that the stunning Carrie Underwood also only got her start through American Idol irrelevant?
But what is not said is that the real common thread of these singers is that they suck a lot of bootylicious ass (except for maybe that sexy tomboy Ciara, who still might suck. I've never actually heard of her before this article), and all of them are marketed solely because of their looks and not because of their sound. Hillary Duff, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan all have music albums, and while I haven't heard any of them, I'm 100% sure that they did not get them based on their musical ability.
About 8 zillion paragraphs later, during which we talk about the good old days when only MOST female singers were required to be hot, we finally get to the point of the article:
Gerson also agrees with Wilson about the marketing factor. With dwindling profits and budgets, record labels try to maximize artist exposure with clothing deals, cosmetic contracts, movie roles and modeling gigs.
"How many endorsements does Beyonce have? Do you think it's because she's the most talented person on earth or do you think it's because she's gorgeous? I think she's talented but she's also gorgeous," Gerson says. "I think you need the whole package."
Now then, I was a foolish grasshopper liberal arts major in college rather than a practical ant business major, but I'm thinking the music industry might not be facing such dwindling profits and budgets if they focused on signing good artists rather than clothing deals, cosmetic contracts, movie roles, and modeling gigs. Because when I buy a CD, I don't really care what sort of clothes the singer is wearing on the cover. I don't care about the make-up. In fact, I don't really care what the singer looks like at all, because if I really feel the need to be aroused, I get about 50 emails a day that promise me free pornography that would probably work better than a pretty headshot on a CD cover. As for the movie roles, I can safely say that my enjoyment of Full Moon Fever didn't substantially increase after I saw Tom Petty's appearance in The Postman. Perhaps if the industry would work more on producing music and less on producing clothing endorsements, I might buy more recent cds rather than sifting through the used CD bin for "The Best of Motown" or the likes.
Also, while I was reflecting on the current female singers I tentatively like, I realized that I don't even know what KT Tunstall or Anna Nalick look like. And, while I find Sarah McLachlan attractive, I really don't remember ever hearing that she was. Then I made a quick laundry list of singers I heard a lot about how attractive they were: Madonna, Brittany Spears, Christina Aguilera, the aforementioned actor/socialite/singers, and quickly realized that "sexy" is another word for "sucks" when it comes to singers.
And thus, my deep-rooted prejudice against stereotypically "sexy" women comes into focus. Any time I see a mainstream sexy woman, I automatically assume she is incompetent and got where she is by her looks. And I blame the music industry for that. Thanks a lot, jerks.
Now, I'd like to leave this article at that, but we can't without one more bit of condescension...
So how would Gerson advise the flat-chested, overweight, amazingly talented singer to chase her dream? Put out her own music and promote herself on the Web.
(Translation: "Live in poverty, blow all of your meager savings, and squander your life striving for a goal we'll never let you reach! That way, no one ever has to look upon your hideous visage. I mean, we can't have TWO singers that are as unsightly as Kelly Clarkson.")
...and a bit of soulful self-reflection:
"As far as we've come as women," Gerson asked, "where are we really?"
Well, I can't speak for Women in general, but I think Ms. Gerson specifically is squarely in service of The Man.