Why Do Women Singers Have to Look Like Barbie?
The album title is Fearless but the message is be flawless. So what if you can sing. Are you drop-dead gorgeous, model thin and loved by the camera?
When young female vocalists are over-styled to sell, something serious gets lost in the packaging: Raw talent.
I remember back in the day when that talent came in a very simple, green package. Contained within, the songstress: Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Roberta Flack, Holly Near, Cris Williamson, Jennifer Warnes and Carol King.
These icons of my generation were sensual, real women, clad in ribbed sweaters and peasant blouses. When they sang Tapestry, Heart Like a Wheel and Blue, we focused entirely on their voices, instruments, lyrics and message – in other words, the music.
Does anyone else out there miss the music? As I kid, I wanted to emulate these women, so I learned to play the guitar and focused on being a natural woman. Isn’t that the thrust of our evolution to eco?
Cut to Taylor Swift’s ubiquitous Romeo and Juliet Love Story video, in which the singer is cast as the skinny blond Disney princess – sewn into a fitted, medieval gown, tresses swept into an updo of ringlets, face airbrushed like a porcelain doll’s. Who notices the voice when the supermodel image is so captivating?
The message is clear: This is the fairy tale love story that can come with perfection. Not fight the war, protect the migrant worker, sit in a park in Paris, France, read the news and find yourself.
Not to single out Swift. Other popular videos bundle the entire hot Barbie brand: The boyish bod, the doll face, the air-brushed make-up, the expert hip hop dance moves, the skanky get-up, the seductive rubbing up against the back-up dancers, the mediocre voice.
And you better have it all, baby, if you want to go far – you know, selling product lines of phat made-in-China clothes, cruel platform shoes and your very own sickly-sweet scent at Macy’s. Ka-ching!
Of course the package sells but sadly the takers are young, impressionable teens, who croon about their lovely lady humps the same way we harmonized to Leaving on a Jet Plane.
My own over-exposed, naturally beautiful 13-year-old daughter won’t leave the house until she has molded her likeness to the popular culture ideal: Hair flat-ironed, blemishes concealed, skinny jeans tight and hitting the Converse high-tops just right, Lash Blast and eye liner caking the wide-eyed peepers and all body hair erased.
Recently, a shallow girl who was visiting our home played dress-up with my daughter on a weekday afternoon and opined, “You look super gorgeous, Sydney, except for your freckles, which are really ugly.”
After the put down, my daughter suggested she have her adorable freckles removed by laser. Teen fans are not conditioned to see freckles or other imperfections on those 20-something, supermodel pop stars. It might make them look, well, real.
My daughter is convinced flaws aren’t part of the package. She never sampled Carol King’s unruly hair or Joni Mitchell’s sexy overbite. She doesn’t know from icons who can actually sing, write, compose and perform without the bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors, butt pads, hair extensions and boob jobs.
Recently, Fabsugar asked readers to vote which pop star would they like to be, emphasizing which look appeals most to wanna-be singers (glamor of Christina, punk style of Pink, sleek R&B or Indie)?
I love one of the 55 responses: “I like to live a bit of a glam life but not too much…Christina’s way too much for me (plus the hair, the make-up and constant need of showing some cleavage, no really). I went with Natasha Bedingfield without hesitating: fresh, young and stylish. All I’m missing is that small detail: talent. Hmmm, where I can get some of that?”
Fergie and Christina certainly have talent but all that plastic and glitter conceals the woman behind the microphone.
The men behind the music, same as the Hollywood suits behind films, play down the talent and play up the packaging because it fools the audience in a plasticized society trained to see the fabulous sugar coating rather than the true ingredients.
Honestly, would a Linda Ronstadt even make it today? Can you picture a young Bonnie Raitt strumming those slide blues guitar licks on American Idol? Misogynistic Simon Cowell wouldn’t know what to make of little Bonnie’s intense, bottleneck style of jamming. Run, run, run, run, run away.
For the sake of my own daughters, I wish we could keep the great dance music but return to a day when female vocalists ruled with a good set of pipes and an inspirational message. Even if the message is the universal notion that love hurts, it is vastly more believable when sung by a flag burning, guitar strumming, globally-connected messenger with unruly hair, an overbite, and yes, even freckles.