In the John Peel lecture at Rad Fest ’13, guest speaker and singer-songwriter Charlotte Church opened up about chauvinism in the ‘male dominated’ music industry.
While some were quick to dismiss Church’s articulate argument as a feminist outburst; it remains that the former child-star highlighted something unsettling about the representation of women in music-related media today.
“The irony behind [the hyper-sexualisation of female pop-stars] is that the women generally filling these roles are very young, often previous child stars or Disney-tweens, who are simply interested in getting along in an industry glamourised to be the most desirable career for young women.”
‘Women in music’ is evidently a hot topic at the moment,what with the likes of Miley Cyrus who has recently caused controversy as a result of her overtly provocative performances. Church suggested in her talk that the ‘empowered and sexually liberated’ stars that these performers claim to be, are actually money making machines for the ‘middle-aged men’ who force them to relinquish their autonomy.
“When I was 19 or 20, I found myself being pressured into wearing more and more revealing outfits. I felt deeply uncomfortable about the whole thing, but was often reminded by record label executives just whose money was being spent.”
Church argued that the idea of women having to ‘be’ something other than their selves when it comes to the world of pop, could be traced back to the iconic Madonna.
“By changing her image regularly, putting her sexuality in the heart of her videos and live performance – the statement she was making was – I am in control of ME and my sexuality. This idea has had its corners rounded off over the years and has become “take your clothes off, show you’re an adult.”
Consequently, success in the mainstream for young female singers has equated to flaunting one’s sexuality. Church is not alone in her criticism of singers like Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna and Cyrus; who arguably are perpetuating the myth that sex (as it appeals to the male gaze), is the only thing that will sell records. With Sinead O’Connor and Annie Lennox recently weighing in on the ‘pop-becoming-porn’ debate, it is clear that many are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the boundaries being tested by female singers today.
However, the following question should be posed. Are these up-and-coming pop stars actually selling their image because their music isn’t strong enough to stand on its own?
Controversial though it may be, perhaps the sexism in the industry derives from selling singers as sex symbols, if the quality of their music isn’t up to scratch. After all, artists like Adele have obliterated the competition in album charts worldwide without the need to strap a teddy bear to her back and ‘twerk’ all over the shop. Perhaps the female ‘pop-star’ never has been about the music, focusing instead on the façade of a feminine character; be it infantilised, victimised or sexualised, as Charlotte Church suggests.
With raunchy outfits and standing in wind-machines now deemed passé, it seems that the only thing left to get those YouTube hits is to strip. These young women that this debate concerns are not seen by their management as musicians. They are marketing tools and they need to wise up; because the men aren’t being made to grind on Robin Thicke, and they’re still selling records. Something remains amiss.
Written by India Thomas