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Boo-hoo, Looks Are Important!
There's a silly piece on CNN.com bemoaning how hard it is to be a girl who's a plain or homely aspiring rock star. (Like there are now, or have ever been, a whole lot of ugly movie stars who got in on the fantastic actress plan.)

Life works a lot like junior high. Deal with it. If you have a face like a shoe, consider singing jingles. On the other hand, if you're a gorgeous pop star, and you can't sing, I won't buy your music.

Here's an excerpt from the CNN piece:

(music executive Jody) Gerson says the way female artists look reflects our society, where women are constantly judged on their appearance and oversexualized. But she also says it reflects the way we listen to music these days -- or don't listen.

"They have to look hot and sexy in these videos," says Gerson, who is credited with helping discover Alicia Keys, among others, and is now executive vice president of the U.S. Creative division of EMI Music Publishing.

"In the days of Aretha Franklin, people saw Aretha maybe a couple of times a year," she said, "but you listened to a record without a visual. You didn't watch it. Everything today, you watch it."

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."

And that notion, according to Wilson, "totally sucks."

"My favorite singers in the world were Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, and Patsy was a large woman, and Loretta -- she was never some kind of a supermodel, but they were the greatest female voices in country music, and they changed lives and they made a difference," says Wilson, who, although considered sexy, feels she doesn't fit today's beauty standards.

Where are the Patsy Clines of today? More often than not on smaller, underground labels, which put more of a premium on talent. And with the devolution of today's music industry, Gerson says, small labels may be the best path to success for a woman who doesn't look like a mold of a Barbie doll.

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.

"As far as we've come as women," Gerson asked, "where are we really?"

Oh, please. Nobody has a right to be a pop star. "Where are we really?" Maybe making as much of our looks as we can while working within reality.

Posted by aalkon at May 19, 2007 11:20 AM

Comments

And yet they can't understand why music sales are down.

Posted by: brian at May 19, 2007 4:23 AM

You're completely right about this. And it's kind of a problem, because as Zappa put it, music is the only religion that delivers the goods. So it's hurtful to see people acting so ignobly in the sanctuary.

Cline and Lynn may have been brilliant talents, but that's a judgment call. And when you consider how many of their neighbors in the region were never heard to sing because of the color of their skin, it's silly to speak as though they won a righteous sweepstakes. In their marketplace, just being young and fertile and white made them beautiful women.

That market now rewards Beyonce because it wants women to be almost obscenely beautiful to the eye as it listens to them sing witless melodies. Nobody likes music enough to listen to it for its own sake. The audience has to cluster about fifteen other social needs and fantasies into the package before a tune's worthing giving any time to. Being a "talented singer" means being young and sexable. It never had a lot to do with people's ears, but now, it's all about the eveningwear.

There's more musical education and information than ever before, and the tools of music have never been cheap. No one who wants to give their life to music is going to be stopped. But y'know, these people are too young to have put much work into anything. The "talents" themselves are too confused about their needs to pursue music thoughtfully. They want to be loved (and rewarded like royalty) for being cute... Music ain't the problem.

Theodore Dayrymple can be sort of grumpy but he's right about this: "Entertainment" is the cause of a lot of unhappiness. I think he means that the science by which commercial entertainment is delivered is so powerful and refined that when you click off the screen or close the magazine, nothing in your real life will seem sufficiently zesty.

Posted by: Crid at May 19, 2007 8:26 AM

WHoops, never been cheaper...etc

Posted by: Crid at May 19, 2007 8:29 AM

There are a lot of people out there who've been dealt a really shitty hand of cards. Stephen Hawking, for example. If you're not that pretty, you have to work a little harder.

And thanks, Crid, always grateful when you remind me I haven't read Dalrymple for a while...although I always have to look up the spelling.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 19, 2007 9:04 AM

This may indicate that I've lived a sheltered life, and I know this wasn't the main point of the article...but has anyone ever met a woman who is both overweight AND flat-chested? Because that looks like sloppy writing to me. Something like, "horse-faced, overweight..." would have been better.

About the main matter at hand, I got nuthin', aside from agreeing with both Crid and Amy on certain points. Life is unfair, boo hoo; today's music semi-sucks. But hey, watching a pretty girl with a shaky voice rise to stardom, marry poorly, churn out two babies and then self-destruct at least passes the time. If the music industry were to change, we might not have any more Britney Spears, and then I might have to, y'know, concern myself with politics and other weighty matters. And wouldn't that be horrible?

Posted by: marion at May 19, 2007 9:52 AM

> watching a pretty girl with a shaky
> voice rise to stardom, marry poorly,
> churn out two babies and then self-
> destruct at least passes the time.

I think that's really important, it helps counteract the unhappiness that entertainment generates.

Posted by: Crid at May 19, 2007 12:07 PM

In my music collection, where there is a dominant personality, it is probably 90% male. Mostly old black men who I could care less what they look like- BB King, Buddy Guy, Howlin Wolf... even Zappa. My wife's music collection is probably 90% female- Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchel, etc. Most men gravitate towards male singers, most women to women singers. So like with fashion, for this phenomenon, we heterosexual males are not to blame.

If I want to see a Pussycat Dolls video, I just turn the sound off.

Posted by: eric at May 19, 2007 1:00 PM

PS- just occurred to me. My favorite female singer / songwriter of all time is Patti Smith, but I'm not about to set a picture of her on my mantle.

Posted by: eric at May 19, 2007 1:05 PM

In Peru it seemed to be a common theme for me to find overweight, flat chested, no ass women.

I think most women are attractive, it's just some demand we find them as good as Adriana Lima. Then they complain that people only want sex symbols. The only diffrence between the past and now is that sex is too in your face to the point where it's annoying.

Posted by: PurplePen at May 19, 2007 1:09 PM

Patti Smith is maybe not beautiful in the doe-ish sweet young thing mode, but I'd put a picture of her up in a second...where I'd never be interested in putting up a picture of some famous person normally. Her intensity and apparent complexity and sensitivity show and make her beautiful. To me, anyway. And I'm not a huge fan of her music.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 19, 2007 1:32 PM

See, that's it. I don't want to have to worry that people who make music are insufficiently 'sensitive', or that their 'complexity' isn't 'apparent'. All I want from musicians is the tunes... If you can make that happen, you can dress however you want.

There was this article once about the Modern Jazz Quartet, a successful American performing and recording group for decades. They'd split touring responsibilities something like this: The piano guy handled the bookings, the bass player did the transportation, the vibes player arranged the hotels, and the drummer managed the tuxedos.

And now Pat Metheny (active 1975-) comes to mind. He's had the same long haircut since he was 17, and has worn the same bargain-basement sportswear whether playing at summer beach festivals or royal palaces. The look that seemed simply and endearingly youthful saved him a lot of trouble over the years... To hell with the tuxedos! Now he's paunchy and middle aged, and he looks more like a mad scientist than an unruly teenager. But he's been a spotlessly reliable and tremendously experimental performer for his whole career. Not every record has worked for everyone's taste, because sometimes you get Disney ballads and sometimes you get dissonance.... but no one's ever complained that they went to a bad Metheny concert. Beyonce he ain't.

The world needs more Methenys.

Street cred: Days after Carter's election I torched up with Patti in this building:

http://tinyurl.com/2xlff7

Compensatory truth: I've never heard a note of her music. But she'd be OK with that, because the fact is her career is about other things. In important respects, she's more like Beyonce than Metheny.

Posted by: Crid at May 19, 2007 2:46 PM

Actually, I do have a portrait of Patti in in my Annie Leibovitz book "Women". My poorly worded point is I don't care what she looks like.

Posted by: eric at May 19, 2007 4:24 PM

I think you miss the point.

Posted by: Laura June at May 19, 2007 10:38 PM

"As far as we've come as women," Gerson asked, "where are we really?"

She askes this question while ignoring the larger one, if she really finds it so offensive why is she still working there and doing nothing to affect change?

When self appointed womens equality avocates berate supermodels and actresses for not giving some homless crack addict the same opportunity to get in their pants as weath and succsesful men I'll start to take their "Its not fair pretty people get more attention than I do" rants.

Posted by: lujlp at May 19, 2007 11:18 PM

In which way, Laura June? Or were you just trying to direct people to your blog? (Which you did as badly as you comment.)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 20, 2007 1:15 AM

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