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Archive for the ‘Pop Music’ Category

Examining Double Standards in the Music Industry- Fat Ladies Edition

I’m sure that it’s no surprise to anyone that compared to men, women who are musicians must first gain widespread cultural approval for their physical appearance before they are even evaluated based on their artistic merit. This difference in media perspective represents a double standard, with males in the music industry judged first as artists and women primarily on their appearance and sexuality. Fat women, specifically, are routinely disparaged in mediums such as social media and through Internet memes, regardless of their professional achievements. Men are usually spared such ridicule in the media. Media and public criticisms of Adele, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Gaga, Susan Boyle, and more serve to exemplify this double standard, as they have been shamed and subjected to pressure to change because of their appearance, despite phenomenal accomplishments as incredibly popular and commercially successful musicians. I’d like to point out that I am a fat woman who is also a musician, so keep in mind my perspective tempers my opinion on this subject.
So here’s a super brief history of western beauty culture, giving some background on why a woman’s appearance might be relevant to her career prospects. From “ancient” times when lighter skin reflected social status, through to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when beauty was understood as to be a manifestation of inner, moral qualities the narrative continues through to the beginning of the 20th Century which saw a huge boom in the business of “man-made beauty”. It became (and continues to be) a very important social marker for women to show their status, health, femininity, and desirability through their physical appearance.
In her book “Fat!So?” Marilyn Wann looks at a similar story throughout time with the history of diet products, discussing how fat and beautiful have come to be mutually exclusive to one another in popular discourse. She chronicles the burgeoning market from the end of the 19th century to now being a 60 billion dollar a year industry, all in the name of beauty, and women literally trying to fit in to an unrealistic standard. It should be noted that among the myriad of roadblocks that women face,(in general and as musicians), racism is an incredibly huge problem that contributes greatly to the same double standard I am speaking about here. Many women have come to define themselves in relation to the way men evaluate their bodies, for fat women and women of colour this is greatly magnified. This evaluation becomes especially relevant when a woman’s body becomes easily accessible for ostensibly male consumption through wide media exposure. This type of exposure is typical of the music industry.

Robin James (check out her blog) argues that Western popular music is grounded in misogyny and racism, having been built in the context of colonialism, and since women are usually in the role of singer that they rarely are able to be the “macho” guitar players or other male associated roles. Women often appear to be relegated to fulfill certain tropes when it comes to being the “singer” or otherwise, as the subject matter of many, many pop songs. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the advent of MTV and music videos pushed women’s appearance further into the spotlight. I think it’s pretty safe to say that everyone agrees that women in music are held to much higher standards than men when it comes to attractiveness and sexuality, and are more likely to be sexually objectified. It is still significantly more challenging for female artists to become “legendary” than their male counterparts pop music culture.
As seen from the feminist perspective, the role of women in the music industry is incredibly restrictive and unwelcoming. For women who do not meet the arbitrary standards of sexual attractiveness, such as disabled women, older women, and the focus of this post, fat women, it is all but impossible to forge a career in this field.

For whatever reason, the size and, ostensibly, health of fat musicians is increasingly an indication of success. If a fat woman becomes successful in popular music, they must be constantly shamed by media and the population at large to change. For example, Adele (who is one of the most highly successful musicians in the world) has countless internet detractors all dedicated to pointing out just how fat she is, as well as the commentary of several public figures remarking negatively on her size, including Joan Rivers and Karl Lagerfeld.
The most scathing internet meme of Adele shows her in a black and white, classy headshot accompanied by a quote of hers remarking on how it is more important for her to be a good musician than to be beautiful. It is compared to an unflattering photo of her bending over, with the commentary; “This is how fat people see themselves; and this is what fat people actually are: FAT!” untitled
Implying that no matter her other accomplishments or attributes, the only quality about her worth remarking on is her size. This is obviously an extreme example that serves to discount Adele’s original quote, in which she attempts to put the importance of her professional accomplishments above being beautiful. The commentary of the anonymous Internet critic takes her daring proclamation and turns it on its head, saying in essence, that for women, it is in fact more important to be beautiful and thin first, and only once that is accomplished can her other attributes (like professional skill, for example) be evaluated. This single, ignorant critic does not represent the minority but rather a large and vocal part of the music industry, and society at large.
Adele is not the only woman making music who has been berated for her size. Other examples of fat women who were subject to unparalleled amounts of criticism include Mamma Cass of the Mammas and the Pappas, Kelly Osbourne, Ann Wilson from Heart, Carnie Wilson from Wilson and Phillips, and more. While the criticism and derision do not detract from their skills as performers, it is problematic for many reasons. It is symptomatic of a larger problem, where women are valued primarily for their appearance and sexual viability, rather than for their tangible contributions to society and culture. The attitude makes it more difficult for any woman that does not fit the beauty standards to pursue a career in music, and make record labels less likely to take a risk on someone who may be genuinely talented but not look like a typical pop star.
An interesting and depressing side effect of the attention paid to a female musician’s size, is that if fat musicians lose weight, they are hailed as inspirational and lauded for their efforts, continuing to highlight the fact that the “accomplishment” of their beauty is more important than their careers. An example of this includes Jennifer Hudson, who lost a significant amount of weight through Weight Watchers after she already won an Academy Award and was considered very successful. Her original commercial included her saying, “Before Weight Watchers, my whole world was no” again reinforcing the notion that women’s accomplishments are worthless if they are not also beautiful, which is what really has value. Two further examples come from the pop singer Kelly Osbourne, who lost weight and triumphantly began calling other singers fat as revenge, and Carnie Wilson, from the band Wilson and Phillips, who had two weight loss surgeries; the first of which was streamed live on the Internet. Similar examples for male musicians cannot be found, even though there are inordinately more men in the industry than there are women. This double standard is incredibly harmful. Although I should add, it would still be harmful if it also applied to men. If anyone knows any male examples please note in the comments (the trend of “bringing men down”, btw, is not a good thing for anyone, and that is not what I- or any feminists, presumably- want)
The fact that Adele, Queen Latifah, Beth Ditto and other fat women have been able to forge successful careers in pop music is a heartening step in the right direction for all women, and indeed everyone that is interested in the integrity of music. The opportunity for self publishing and utilizing the internet is also a great tool that can be used to ensure all women have equal opportunities. While the double standard of valuing women on their appearance above all else persists, it is increasingly affecting public perception more than it is commercial success, which is positive.

** if this seems like a crappy college essay, that is because it is indeed a slightly reworked version of my first ever college essay. sorry :D**

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Albums That Have Stayed with Me

This is from a facebook post I was tagged in, requesting to Name 12 albums that have stuck with you over the years. This is a tough question, and 12 is not very many, so I have made a list of 15 in no particular order.

the Immaculate Collection by Madonna
A Night at the opera by Queen
untitled

Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Please Please Me by the Beatles
The White Album by the Beatles
The Wall by Pink Floyd
Chronicle by CCR
Clumsy by Our Lady Peace
Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morrisette
Middle of Nowhere by Hanson
Elton John’s Greates Hits
Only What I Feel by Patty Loveless
What’s the Story Morning Glory by Oasis
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill

What are some albums, or even songs that have stuck with you since before you can remember?

on how awesome Kpop is…

I live in South Korea right now, and therefore I am constantly barraged with K-pop.  For those of you who are not familiar with this fun, goofy music, it is truly awesome.  I am a foreigner here, and so I am part of a kind-of foreigner community, and let me tell you, all foreigners hate K-pop.  I actually have no idea why.  I mean I have heard people say that they don’t like pop music, but I’m going to go out on a  limb and say that they’re lying.   Pop music is designed to be easy to listen to, catchy and fun.  Maybe it’s not your favorite, or it doesn’t move you, but you don’t like it?  That’s virtually impossible! And saying you don’t like any “genre” of music is a pretty wild over-generalization.  And K-pop is just like, 80’s pop music.  It’s catchy, its fun, and it’s really easy to listen to.  Yes it can be silly and some is bad, but 95% of anything is crap, and pop music isn’t designed to push boundaries or be extreme.  It’s there for pure visceral enjoyment and aural pleasure.  And it’s actually relatively complex in comparison to a lot of Western pop music.  A lot of snobs or whatever will complain that pop music, especially K-pop is vapid and shallow, and just repetitive.  And while some songs use 2 chords, a 3 note melody repeated over and over again, and a bunch of crazy sound effects, most do not.  We’ve got catchy and inventive melodies, some great harmony a lot of the time, and chord progressions ranging from relatively simple to surprisingly complex.  Modulations, polyphony, polyrhythms, and more!  Even the typical pop song structure takes the occasional creative leap. Sure it’s usually in common time, the subjects have all been done before, and it is all wrapped up in a nice shiny bubbly package. But that doesn’t make it shallow!  (to be quite honest, many pop songs all over the world fit this description too).  And throwing Konglish in there is so cool, and creates such a neat effect.  Having so much that you don’t need to try to understanding is really refreshing (that is, the Korean), and when the English makes a little cameo, you’re like, “hey i know you! awesome, rock on!”.

It makes you really notice that the individual words are not so important as the sounds, the phonemes, and that is a startlingly exciting thing to listen to.  When you don’t worry about the words, you begin to really hear the poetry in the sound, and it is a whole different listening experience.  If you listen to lieder art songs in other languages, you get the same effect, but not really in opera where you can follow along the libretto for the English translation.

Everyone in Korea is encouraged to become good at something, so there are way more people that are brilliant singers, pianists, cellists, guitar players etc. than in Canada anyways.  That creates a huge pool of amazing talent to choose from.  So all of these pop stars are supremely talented, no autotune and dubstep and other distractions.  Yes they are all super hot too, but that doesn’t take away from anything at all, especially if you are just listening to it.  And because music education is an actual thing here, pop musicians are drawing their inspirations from a much wider array of music than say, Justin Bieber is.   So not only are they influenced by Western pop music, Japanese pop music, and European pop music, they also get the benefit of Bach and Mozart and Tchaikovsky (etc…).  And on top of that, Korean traditional music and instruments play a part (albeit a small one).

It’s easy to ignore K-pop as being silly just because it is fun, but it’s really worth listening to.  Here are a few of my faves. 🙂

on Why Music Shouldn’t Be Free

Everybody loves free music, or rather, free stuff in general.  Paying for stuff kinda sucks, it is true.  And it is soooo easy to steal music today, that it is really difficult to not do it.  It takes a pretty concerted effort to avoid ripping musicians off.  And most people really love it.  It’s exciting to “stick it to the man” or whatever, and hey, free stuff.  We look at the douchecanoes in Metallica and think, “why do they even need more money?”

Maybe because things just aren’t free?  Do you go to Tiffany’s and complain that the company has so much money that they should start leaving their diamonds out for any passers-by? I doubt it.  Metallica doesn’t owe us anything.  If you like someone’s music, why can’t you buy it?

Now that everything is available online, it is a pain in the ass to buy a CD, not to mention relatively expensive.  This sucks if you still want to buy music this way, but all this money is not just going to the artist, in fact very little of it is.   Tons of money goes to the producers, lawyers, accountants, album art designers, songwriters, and of course the record companies.  For those people that think that music being easily accessible to everyone and being widespread is a good thing, this is (or was) super necessary.  There are a lot of bad things about record companies, but if they didn’t exist, music wouldn’t be able to reach more than their underground audiences most of the time.

Of course now that is changing because of musicians marketing themselves on the internet, BUT there has not yet been any musician that has launched a successful career on the internet alone.  So as of right now, record companies and all their entourage are a necessary part of the music business.  Even for selling music on Itunes.  And they need to be paid, you know, to eat and stuff.

There is also a huge faction of people who think that pop music being so widespread is the worst thing to ever happen to music, and I’m sure that the fall of the record company empires would be cause for great celebration.  But in that case, garage bands and independent artists need our money even more so.

Do you know how much it costs to record an album? Well it depends on what genre it is, and what kind of quality you’re going for, but between $1000 and $100,000.  So like, a lot of money.  And not free in any case.  Unless you just want a recording on your cell phone, it will cost something.

But people should just be performing, or writing, or producing for the love of the art, you say.  Well, that’s pure idiocy, I say.  Sure someone can be a good artist without any practice or spending money on it, and it is possible that someone can be financially comfortable and still have time to pursue music, but its not common!

Some people may be born talented and not need lessons or anything, but if nobody learned anything or practiced music then there would not be much progression.  And music instruction is expensive.  Lessons can be 60$ an hour, and you need years of training.  Buying an instrument is not cheap, even ukeleles.   Being a singer is no cheaper.  A good mic can set you back 100 bucks, and you need a mic stand on top of that.  Mixing boards, amps, and so many wires and cords= a lot of money.

Performing anywhere other than your garage? Well gas ain’t cheap!  Especially not if you’re loaded up with heavy equipment.  Trying to do a tour to promote your band and spread your music? As noted, gas ain’t cheap.  And nor is food.  Hotels.  Laundry machines.  The list goes on.

And on top of all this, the most expensive commodity a musician need: time.  You can’t become good at something if you are too busy at your day job.  That’s not saying that a musician can only be good if they don’t have a day job, but obviously the more time you devote to developing a craft, the better you become at it.  There may be lawyers who can play the guitar, and don’t mind doing a free show on the weekend, but I’ve never met one.

If you want music to be good and varied, it can’t be free.  So if a band you love is using kickstarter to raise money to go on tour, I suggest chipping in instead of complaining about how entitled they are.