This is partly about Sky Ferreira.
I have never heard a Sky Ferreira song and, in fact, I was just made aware of her actual existence about five minutes ago. So I Google imaged her, because, obviously, that’s what any normal person does when they learn of a much buzzed-about new musician.
Oh, wait, it’s not. Or it shouldn’t be. The fact that my first step was to visually evaluate the singer may be a testament to my own superficiality, but I doubt it. It’s testament to the gross beautification and sexualization of the (female) music industry that, until this moment, I thought wasn’t as evil as it really is.
When Miley Cyrus started getting sexy, I didn’t really mind. The girl had long legs and was showing them off—no big deal. She can do whatever she wants, technically, although it shouldn’t go unnoted that “whatever she wants” does seem to effect the psyche of about a bajillion little girls. But baring your legs and being sexy isn’t really an “evil” message, now, is it?
For some reason or another, I found myself on the blog of an old classmate. She’s smart and witty and she’s really, really excited for the Miley Cyrus “Bangerz” tour—not only because of Miley, but because of her awesome “girl power” openers, that is, Icona Pop and Sky Ferreira.
I’d heard Icona Pop, but the latter of the two intrigued me more. Her press photo looked like one of Urban Outfitters edgier campaigns. (I’ll always remember the joy my sister and I took in writing narratives alongside the photos of their fall magazine a few years ago, that featured half naked people looking extremely unhappy in Midwestern diners.) So I Google imaged her. I was not, and am still not, really interested in her music. I’m interested in the fact that she has bleach blonde hair, eyes set to the width of Kate Moss, a sexed-out, breathiness seemingly emitting from her parted lips, and arms and legs that look like they were carved out of pin-needles. In every picture she’s glamorous. She’s beautiful. And she looks like a supermodel. And I find that disturbing.
It was bad enough when women in the acting industry were judged solely on their looks. When icons like Marilyn Monroe had us stuffing our sports bras and Audrey Hepburn had us dieting to, I imagine, mostly unsuccessful results. It was bad enough when magazine campaigns started becoming airbrushed, 4th graders started having body dysmorphia, supermodels reached shockingly unhealthy BMIs, and Megan Fox got plastic surgery. But it was okay: they were actors, actresses, and models. Their job was somehow linked to the visual—and looking good (nay, perfect) was par for the course.
And yet now, music seems to have adopted a similarly soulless approach to publicity. The images I see of Ferreira are awfully similar to the images I see of the less-classy Hollywood actresses: licking a baseball bat (what?), baring her delicate little shoulders under seductive, black gauze. Pouting in red lipstick. Ferreira, unlike Cyrus, was a model before her almost instantaneous music career. (Her family had connections with the Los Angeles scene’s who’s-whos, including Michael Jackson.) Is that what music is about?
Scientifically, humming and singing is supposed to brighten our mood. An international organization, “Girls Rock,” recognizes music’s ability to give little girls an individual agency and help to develop their self-confidence through music – learning, mastering, and expressing.
I can’t help but think: what happens when these girls who love music so much start wanting to become musicians? Start becoming immersed in the popular music culture around them? Are they destined, now, to forever understand musicians as models and vice versa? Will role models of talent become, really, physical symbols of glamour, commoditized sexuality, and idealized beauty? Is no art left sacred?
I realize that glamour and music have gone hand in hand for years, but not to this extent. Aretha Franklin wore makeup, amazing hair-dos, and jewels. But the majority of the public certainly wasn’t calling hers a billboard face. You can bet that no one was researching Maria Callas’ diet secrets, but damn, were they entranced by her portrayal of Tosca. And it certainly wasn’t Janice Joplin’s porcelain skin and doe eyes that made her a rock icon to many, and inspired Leonard Cohen to pen “Chelsea Hotel” about her.
I don’t mean to imply that only unattractive (whatever that means) women are wonderful feminist role models, nor that attractive (whatever that means) women are negative images for women. I think that’s another chain of toxic thinking that wrongly blemishes the public perception of the feminist philosophy. But when almost all of the female role models in the public eye are just fantastically, unattainably beautiful…there’s something wrong.
This is what I ask in this diatribe: With a few key exceptions, where in pop music culture is there a female musician that doesn’t look like a model, or at least isn’t done up to look like one (even gorgeous, glitzy Adele is played as “the exception to the rule” due to her more-than-Victoria’s Secret proportions)? And what is that telling us? Self-expression, even, is gendered and beautified? In order for your voice to be heard, you’ve also got to be runway thin and magazine beautiful?
Given the pseudo-feminist or “girl power” mantras that these women and their fans seem to spout, perhaps the images they provide the public with do not exactly correspond with the message they ultimately want to send. And if an “image” is a necessity in popular music, they might want to think of adopting ones that are a bit more innovative than merely “beautiful.”