Do you mean sex in terms of the gender of the artist, or sex in terms of erotic appeal? It doesn’t really matter to me if the musician is male or female (though a lot of my favorite bands have included female musicians), and I don’t think either side has a monopoly on quality or socio-political virtues. As for being sexy, that’s pretty subjective — different things work for different people. Of the two artists illustrated, I think Patti Smith is sexier than Lady Gaga, just because she seems more real and organic to me and her onstage persona is more rooted in a reality I recognize. The fact she’s a far better songwriter doesn’t hurt, either.
Mark, I agree. I sometimes am rather vague in phrasing, both for brevity of question and for exploration of thought.
What I was thinking of, however, was the pass that some so-called artists often seem to get due to their sex appeal.
Gaga, to me, seems to be one of them, although what people term entertainment may influence their opinion.
This doesn’t mean that the performers don’t work hard at what they do; whether it be highlighting dance moves or crafting an image, but it seems to me that true artists like Bowie, Jagger, John and Ferry were able to combine all elements and not use headphone sets and stage lip synching to practice their artistry.
Also, it seems to me (sometimes – not always), that a few critics give a pass or ride to a sexy symbol, rather than delve into their work critically.
This, along with some of the more vapid pop being pushed via more mediums than in the past, has been quite oppressive and depressing.
However, for every act I see as overexposed and undertalented, there are at least half a dozen more that encourage and inspire me.
The media certainly seems more drawn to young and good looking people, which goes a long way towards a robust mainstream career. In my humble opinion, if a man who looked like Wayne Knight wrote and recorded music that displayed the same degree of talent and innovation as Lady Gaga, I doubt we’d be hearing much about him. And as much as I love Neko Case’s music, you’d have to be naive to say that the fact she’s beautiful hasn’t hurt her career (though I don’t think she’s selling her looks like many artists, but the indie media often does that dirty work for her). These days, music is enough of a visual medium that people who aren’t considered attractive have far more of an uphill battle to face, and that particular standard gets weighed double if the artist is female.
Funny, my first quick look at the pic of Patti above I thought it was Mick Jagger…
More on topic, a recent example for me is Grace Potter, who seems to be getting the critical raves right now. Her performance on Leno this week made me think of Lita Ford hair-band era lite metal, though.
I’m not sure how much it influences critical opinion, but personally I think sex is a crucial element of most forms of popular music and has been from the beginning. But sexuality, sensuality, eroticism — all that, to me, is essential, particularly to blues-based rock & roll and its dance-music spin-offs. Even the name “rock & roll” refers to sex. All those wonderful early blues titles like “My Man Rocks Me With One Steady Roll,” “Rock and Rolling,” “Rock and Rolling Mama,” etc. The blues was all about sex and sexual innuendo. There are rock subgenres in which it’s not as important: prog-rock, to name one. And much as I loved early punk and later indie rock, one of my biggest problems with that development was the sort of forced, non-organic dismissal or rejection of sexuality among many of its adherents (not Patti Smith, of course) — particularly among a lot of later indie rockers. I understand it — it was sort of a rejection of the commodification of sexuality when rock went big and corporate in the ’70s. The more creative artists, like Patti Smith, simply turned sexuality in on itself and explored other aspects of it.
Sex appeal is another thing, and I agree with Mark: that’s subjective. There’s so many different kinds of sexy or sexual — whether real and organic (Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Kurt Cobain), or as artifice (Lady Gaga, Madonna, David Bowie), and I think both are equally valid expressions of sexuality. I think what trips us up is when sex as artifice overlaps with sex as commodity. That’s when it begins to feel manipulative, and I actually think that, in general, critics are actually the ones who are more likely to point that out than anyone else. Certainly not all critics, because not all critics are very good. But those critics who aren’t very good also aren’t going to see or consider other important elements of an artist’s overall presentation. Ideally, sex should be one factor but not the only factor in assessing an artist’s work, and in a few cases — music that’s more intellectual than sensual — perhaps not a factor at all. So in general, among good critics, I’d say sex probably influences opinion of an artist in just about the way it should.
This isn’t a place for perfection. It’s to exchange thoughts, ideas and feelings. Sometimes they can be raw, simple, or complex, yet to the point. We’re happy to have you participate in discourse at all as we build the site up again. Thanks, Mark!