Commentary: Are Good Looks Replacing Musical Talent?
By Nadia Kurtz, Staff Writer
Picture your favorite band or musician. I bet the first thing that came to mind was the way he or she looks, rather than how the artist's music sounds. Although you probably enjoy that musician’s songs, you should consider the possibility that you may listen to some artists for a certain physical appeal they hold rather than the actual instrumental or vocal genius behind the music.
In today’s popular culture, appearance carries a heavy focus. That is the reason why the faces behind mainstream music are always so airbrushed, put together and irresistible to look at. It's difficult to pinpoint the exact reason some artists are so idolized when their music is only mediocre compared to the creative and quirky music of independent artists. Appearance is obviously a very large factor.
Society brainwashes us into having that mindset in a number of different ways. Magazines, commercials and billboards all stimulate the same effect. The main message being portrayed in advertising today is, "If we are better looking, we will be more successful." When do you ever see an unattractive celebrity on the cover of a magazine? If the cover shoot was done without Photoshop and the celebrity did not wear makeup, it is a guarantee that fewer people would be inclined to buy the magazine.
Let us take a look at where the focus on appearance began in the music industry. We have all seen and heard of The King. Yes, the one and only King of Rock n‘ Roll: Elvis Presley. We know Elvis not only because of his deep, husky voice but also his smoldering good looks. The classic Elvis look, with the coiffed hair, tight pants and left-sided grin has been recognized all over the world for over half a century now. That iconic look not only helped turn Elvis into a famous musician, but it gave him his lasting legacy.
Another renowned icon is not a person but a group of four, nearly identical looking musicians. The Beatles are probably one of the first really great all-male rock bands. Although their music was different, controversial and addicting, the band carried a certain appeal. Their clean-cut clothing and hairstyles became a fashion inspiration to many.
The important thing to note about those artists is that they not only have memorable appearances, but their music was also extremely innovative. For them, looks only added to the musical intrigue. Over the last half-century, a plethora of new artists emerged, each having a particular look that people remember long after they ceased to create music. And each of these artists all had a distinct or controversial style of music that went along with his or her unique appearance.
For example, Michael Jackson is probably one of the most recognizable artists of the last 50 years. There is no telling that he is the king of pop for his numerous talents, including a flawless voice, instrumental ingenuity and incredible dancing skills. His greased black hair, tight leather pants and killer dance moves, however, are what make him recognizable today.
Madonna was a rebellious blonde bombshell who raised much controversy over both her music and her image. She has a beautiful voice, but her “bad girl” persona and numerous playboy covers are what defined her as an icon.
But in the last decade, the appearance of musicians seems to have taken a different turn. Instead of using looks to enhance musical ability and foster more attention, physical appearance has taken over almost completely. Artists use attention-grabbing looks to advertise their music even if they lack in talent or creativity.
Lady Gaga is a prime example of an artist using appearance to keep fans interested. There is such an obvious absence of focus on her music and a huge focus on the “Gaga dress code” (or lack thereof). Fans, tabloids and even haters of this chart-topping superstar are constantly tailing her to see what she will wear next. Gaga is quite genius, though, for seeing her fashion sense as being a great marketing opportunity.
“Every time I get on the stage I do something different. I want people to think, ‘Every time I have this bitch nailed down, she does something different,’” Gaga told Mirror.
Lady Gaga’s outfits are incredibly bizarre and unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. For example, wearing a dress made out of meat to the MTV Video Music Awards. And that is just one of her crazy outfits on her ensembles list, which also includes a mummy outfit and a getup made entirely out of foil. At her 2011 Grammy performance, Lady Gaga dressed as a fetus and “hatched out of a giant egg” as her entrance to the stage. That may seem ridiculous, but it is what makes Lady Gaga one of the top superstars today. People buy tickets for her shows to see her stunts and what she'll do next.
It seems as if the most money-making artists these days all take a similar route. Katy Perry is another great attraction in today’s music media. Perry’s biggest staple is oozing sex appeal. Known for frequently changing her hair color and sporting brightly colored leotards on stage, Perry performs in risque outfits and bright makeup. Perry’s look also appears to reflect her music, which has a heavy focus on youth, partying and sex. In addition, everyone has heard of teen pop’s biggest sensation Justin Bieber. Most widely known for his hairstyle and flawless face, Bieber is more of a dream because of his looks rather than his voice or musical talent.
Over the last half a century, the meaning of physical appearance of musicians has changed significantly. The importance factor has always been evident, but in the past, looks only amplified a musician's musical talent while today they seem to replace it.
We also have to take record labels into consideration. Those companies are responsible for the success of almost all popular artists today and are very important for getting artists publicity. Yet, many times they will take an attractive person and turn them into an artist based mostly on looks and not as much talent. The problem with that is that more independent artists seem to get gypped. There are too many talented musicians who don’t get half as much publicity as others because they don’t broadcast their good looks.
As a society, we need to go back to appreciating artists who put effort into their musical ability rather than their looks; however, the future of popular music looks rather bleak in that sense.