Without sexiness, can she sell?

 It’s funny how things many of us know to be true, aren’t so widely known among widely respected media sources—take for example CNN.

Last Thursday, an AP story appeared on CNN with the headline If You’re a Female Singer, You’d Better Be Sexy.”

Um…duh? Where was this AP writ‘niqueer when the song “Video Killed the Radio Star” came out? (Or for that matter, the creation of MTV.)

The article continues to point out that women like Melinda Doolittle from “American Idol” could not possibly be successful due to her “matronly” appearance. On the other hand, women such as (and I quote) “‘America’s Top Model’ Avril Lavigne” and “blonde stunner Carrie Underwood” among others are going to be more successful. 

Again—where is anything in this article new? Exposé’s are supposed to expose something unknown, not ‘expose’ something that is obvious.

But seriously, this article isn’t all bad. On a positive note, it does remind us that our culture is one where sex sells. And yes, women with figures like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera are unquestionably going to be seen as more desirable as well as talented (though some of these appealing women may have little actual talent…cue The Spice Girls…and more recently, The Pussy Cat Dolls. Really, it isn’t the music that made these groups popular).

The article continued to be very negative towards the idea that women lead singers could be anything but attractive. They asked country star Gretchen Wilson if a frontwoman with so-so looks and sex appeal could get a record deal and she replied, “they can’t.”

While the negative attitude is understandable, it’s not the way things have to be. Those of us who listen to music, buy CDs/songs on iTunes and have an interest in what music we hear are active consumers. We have agency and an ability to act on our interests. For us to take what the media empire gives us and not question what we’re getting is unacceptable.

And despite the fact that the modern front woman still looks—for the most part—thin and sexy, there are beautiful exceptions.

One needs look no further than Beth Ditto.
The Gossip

Ditto isn’t your average front woman. Not only does she not fit into the image set by tight-short-wearing Shakira, she’s also an out lesbian. And she’s outspoken. Her songs aren’t about sweet summer romances—they’ve got a message that comes straight from her political viewpoints.

Though The Gossip is US based, they weren’t really embraced in the “land of the free” ‘till Britain found them.

Love her or hate her, Ditto is the antithesis of the “only hot women can be successful in music” idea. Ditto is attractive—in a way that suits her. She commands power and does thing her way. And I’m positive she isn’t the only one.

If you’re sick of perpetuating the idea that ‘only the hot survive’ look for artists who defy the conventional beauty standards. Look for women who are what they are and do what they want despite what’s ‘expected.’ The search can start from your local music scene. Or it could branch out into the bigger indie/underground music scene. But keep looking. And remember to ask the question–who’s defining ‘sexy’ anyway? 😉

And keep the music alive! Remember it’s about the music—not the image.

P.S. I final note–Kelly Clarkson also of “Idol” fame, spoke out recently about her experience with sexism within the music industry. And her new video from the upcoming album isn’t half bad. I judged her too quickly (I judge everyone on “American Idol” too quickly….I don’t like the show…).
At any rate, Yay Kelly! 🙂

and p.p.s.–what’s with the cheating kick Hollywood is on? Justin Timberlake, Carrie Underwood and Kelly….wtf?

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2 thoughts on “Without sexiness, can she sell?

  1. Bec May 25, 2007 / 11:19 am

    Yeah! I totally see where you’re coming from with this. I’d like to add Katie Noonan to the list of anti-typical frontwomen – she and her band George were really huge in Australia recently, and she’s a bigger, less ‘sex in yr face’ girl.
    Being in the music industry myself and being fairly (I suppose) conventionally attractive, I get a lot of men…even the ones I work closely with…telling me how successful I will/could be because of my ‘sex appeal’. And it really shits me to tears. I don’t want to market myself on my looks, it’s not even about that, I just love music. I’m worried I will be marketed that way and really want to make sure that I don’t. But there’s lots of other awesome role models too..Ani Di Franco…Fiona Apple…hmm okay, they aren’t ogres, but they aren’t beauty queens either..There’s hope for us female musos.

  2. Jessika May 27, 2007 / 3:49 pm

    Joan Jett was on Henry Rollin’s show (on IFC) a couple of weeks ago, and she talked about how women are seen as threatening when they play rock & roll. She was told before to “lose the guitar”, but she believed what her parents told her; that she could do anything she wanted to. She believes there is sexism and misogynism going on in rock & roll.

    It’s all part of our bigger culture that women are still seen as sex objects.

    And finally, although to a lot of us, that CNN article was a big “duh!”, it’s still good that a mainstream news site did it. Maybe it opened up at least one person’s mind.

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