Sunday, November 29, 2009

Body Image & Sex in the Music Industry

              Very few topics in our society remain taboo today. The media often discusses and shows once controversial issues such as sex, racism, homosexuality, and rape. Probably the most prevalent of  these issues is sex, and directly related to sex: body image. The facts must be faced, in today's society sex is everywhere; whether it is the hip-swaying image of teenager Miley Cyrus in her music video "Party in the U.S.A, the lyrics to a song about threesomes, or the billboard of an upcoming new music artist, anorexic and scantily dressed posing in a suggestive position. The music industry is particularly sensitive to this type of advertising.
              So, it seems that in order to be successful in the music industry, particularly if you are a woman, one must use sex and one's body as a product before the music itself. Over the last few centuries women of the music industry have been viewed as sex symbols. The most well known sexual icon of music would be the king himself, Elvis Presley. Although there was initially an uproar of horror when he started to gyrate his hips to his music, this eventually boosted his career and led to millions of dollars into the music business as well as Presley's own pocket. Another example is the music artist Madonna, who in the 1980s brought sex to the forefront with her suggestive videos, lyrics, and stage performances. This pattern has continued throughout history, with the outfits becoming smaller and smaller, and the gestures and breasts larger and larger. It has been suggested that this continued objectification is the reason why the music industry has solidified the ideal female artist as having a very specific image: young, thin, sexy, and suggestive. This has carried over into our era where sexuality continues to be the focus of mainstream advertising for female artists today, so much so that the general population truly believes that this is now what is considered "normal."
              Advertising plays such a significant economic role in the music business because it is the path through which those in the industry sell their product, or artist. There are examples of this all over, such as suggestive images in commercials and billboards and less obviously, even the "controversy" about Taylor Swift's newest single being about her relationship with Joe Jonas. Further more, the suggestive lyrics of songs also paint a very particular image of one's body and behavior. Brittney Spears' new song "3" that is a song about having a threesome. Lyrics include "Living in sin/Is the new thing," obviously sending a very specific message to young listeners about the "right" way to behave, and Miley Cyrus's "All I see are stilletos/I guess I never got the memo" which actually calls out society on this expectation yet perpetuates it by the way she dresses in the video and on stage.

    Another example of the prevalence of sex and exploitation of an "ideal" body image in the music industry is through other types of media it takes advantage of such as television and the Internet. Ever since the late 1970s music videos have provided the industry with a new means of advertising and debuting new artists. In these music videos today, you often see artists dancing in very sexual ways, often times covered in mud or chocolate. What does mud or chocolate have to do with the melody, arrangement, or even the particular sound of the music? Nothing. It is purely a way for those in the music industry to lure potential fans toward their artist.
              Recent studies have found that because the music business has created this requirement for females to be sexual, it reinforces in both the artists' and the fans' heads that in order to succeed in the music industry one must rely almost entirely on their sexuality. However, cultural and societal differences do exist in what is considered sexual, mostly in the genres of the music. For instance, contemporary hit radio is now compromised of mainly pop and hip-hop music and it is very difficult to find a pop or hip-hop artist that does not use sexuality to enhance their appeal, often appearing half dressed in videos, or by being surrounded with half dressed dancers. For example, in pop and hip-hop, you often find women singing about sexual desires or secret pleasures such as the hit song "I Kissed a Girl (and I Liked it)" by artist Katy Perry.
              In the genre of country on the other hand, it is more acceptable for female artists to be slightly more conservative. This is because their targeted audience is compromised of mainly conservatives in midwestern states who has more old fashioned views. In fact, 67% of country music advertising contains sexual content, while 81% of contemporary hit radio advertising contains sexual content. It is important to note that in this study sexual content was defined as five things which were nudity, self touch, sexy clothing, sexual body positioning, and seductive facial expressions.
              The suggested reasons of why sex sells music so well goes back to the fact that it has been reinforced in out brains throughout decades. Furthermore, it is the fascination we have with sex because it has generally been considered forbidden and taboo. With men it is especially appealing as they are visually stimulated and become aroused at the image of some personal sexual fantasy whether it is just the image of a half dressed attractive girl or the image of two girls in a sexually suggestive position. Unfortunately, it does not seem that there is anything we can do about the prevalence of sex in the music industry, as well as society. It is the best way to sell everything from cars to burgers, to music.
              I personally chose to focus on music in my analysis of  body image and and sex in media because for me it is very close to home. Everything we have learned in this class so far has gotten me thinking a great deal about my own life. I am in an all girl rock band with my older sister. I play lead guitar and she is the singer. She is hell bent on making it in the music industry and is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. She is not a very musically inclined person, but her marketing skills are very good, which usually makes us a good team. While I am mostly concerned about writing songs with strong melodic structures and uniquely interesting phrasing, she is all about writing songs with suggestive lyrics. For example, one of our songs that was written by her is called "Pretty Boy." The basic message of the song is saying that she sees an attractive male, who when approached is self-involved and not very intelligent, but does not care. Her hormones take over and despite the fact that she knows he is of little worth to her in the long run, she wants to have sex with him, or "wanna jump [him] all the time." Don't get me wrong, i LOOOOOVE our songs, but there is a very thin line between empowerment and exploitation of self.

              I still have the best time of my life performing our music though but now that we are progressing further than I ever thought possible, working with a producer and booking photoshoots, the issue of using sex to sell our music has come up quite often. I understand that to be successful in the music industry requires a certain amount of sexuality, but the amount of emphasis on it, to me, takes away from the integrity of the music. Even though our songs can be sexually suggestive, we use it as a form of feminism in that women can be just as sexual as men and should not be ashamed of it. But our image and stage shows seem to contradict this message because of the overuse of sexuality.

For proof visit our site: (But don't tell my sister!!!) :)

            DISCLAIMER: Only read this part if you are interested. As this is a web blog, I took that fact as permission to rant, but the following is not necessarily related to the assignment: 

I don't want to advertise my band in a completely negative way. One of the techniques we try to use to bypass mainstream expectations is by hiding a deeper message within the seemingly superficial lyrics. For example, we have a song entitled "Let's Fight," that my sister introduces on stage as "The best part about fighting?! THE MAKE UP SEX!" The bridge is especially deceptive in this manner and personally makes me smirk everytime we perform it. The bridge is where the true emotion of the song comes into play, discussing insecurities about one's self and about how the person being sung about has helped the singer overcome them.

"You stripped down this tough girl armor/I'm naked/And I like it"

West, Diana. All That Trash, Public Interest. Washington:Summer 2004. Iss. 156, p. 131-135 (5 pp.)

Selling Sex to Radio Program Directors: A Content Analysis of Radio & Records Magazine
Emily E. Tanner-SmithDamian T. WilliamsDenise Nichols. Sex Roles. New York:May 2006. Vol. 54, Iss. 9-10, p. 675-686

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