Go glam or go home

An article asks whether a woman needs to look like a model to achieve pop singer success.

Published May 21, 2007 9:29PM (EDT)

Think your daughter might have what it takes to become a pop star? If so, she'd better be model material. At least, that's according to a recent article on CNN.com about the increasing requirement that women pop stars also be bombshells.

The article points out that long gone are the days when singers like the "pudgy" Janis Joplin, the "curvy" Aretha Franklin or Barbra Streisand and her "protruding nose" could find a home on the charts, their likes having been replaced by stars in the tanned and toned template of Gwen Stefani, Shakira and Beyoncé (above). The article also notes that even those successful singers who don't project an overtly sexual image -- Alicia Keys, Corinne Bailey Rae, Norah Jones -- tend to be total hotties.

So why have perfect-10 looks become mandatory for singing stardom? The article gives two reasons. The first is voiced by EMI executive Jody Gerson, who pinpoints an increased emphasis on visuals as the problem: "In the days of Aretha Franklin, people saw Aretha maybe a couple of times a year," Gerson tells CNN, "but you listened to a record without a visual. You didn't watch it. Everything today, you watch it."

The other reason, according to the article, has to do with the sorry financial state of the music biz. Declining profits have forced record labels to try to squeeze every last nickel out of their artists by tying record contracts to "clothing deals, cosmetics contracts, movie roles and modeling gigs." Obviously, it's a lot easier for someone who looks like Beyoncé to get ahead in an environment like that than it is for someone like Lucinda Williams.

But isn't it the same for men? Yes and no. Though it's hard to imagine someone who looks like Phil Collins breaking through today, men still have avenues to music stardom open to them that are mostly closed to women. Hard rock and metal acts (e.g., Linkin Park, Nickelback) as well as rappers (Jay-Z, Ludacris) are able to sell an image that doesn't require them to be otherworldly attractive. Other than Amy Lee of the Goth-metal band Evanescence and Kelly Clarkson -- who earned her record deal by winning "American Idol" -- it's hard to think of one female pop star who isn't, at least in part, selling sex appeal.

Is the trend likely to continue? With formerly progressive pop stars like Avril Lavigne and Courtney Love glamming up in recent years, there's little reason to be optimistic for a return to the heady days of the early to mid-'90s, when next-door types like the Breeders, Juliana Hatfield and Veruca Salt were able to notch pop hits. Pining for return of the grunge era? That's how bad things have become.

-- David Marchese

By Salon Staff

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