Sex and the Music Industry

When searching for almost any female popstar from the last ten, or even twenty years, Google helpfully suggests that you may want to specifically search for “up-skirt”, “topless” or even “sex tape” based information about the artist in question. This is of course, a horrible objectification of female performers, but before anyone starts criticising the way the public view female musicians, it’s important to consider the images which they are projecting to the general public in order to sell their music.


Let’s think back a whole eleven years for a moment, when Russian singing duo t.A.T.u hit the headlines for their single All The Things She Said which was accompanied with a video of the two young girls making out in the rain. The girls were demonised by the British press for unashamedly using sex appeal to shift singles, but to this day that song is the biggest selling single by a Russian artist in history, it also happens to be remembered by every young person allowed near a TV in the early 2000s.

These days there is hardly any uproar when sex is so obviously used to sell music, probably because it happens so often that hardly anyone notices it anymore. Katy Perry shot to fame on the back of her suggestive-of-lesbian-tendencies-but-straight-enough-to-appeal-to-a-male-audience single I Kissed A Girl (And I Liked It), whilst even the seemingly beyond famous Madonna had to repeatedly flash her over-fifty year old boobies during her world tour to get the press interested.

Although this trend may seem a lot more of a problem now, it’s been going on for as long as there has been a popular music scene, and it’s never been a case of just women being guilty of it. Elvis, the Beatles and even the very young and straight at the time Cliff Richard made teen girls swoon with cheeky camera glances and songs about girls before One Direction’s parents were even born. Even bands as pioneering and “rock’n’roll” as The Rolling Stones undoubtedly knew that they’d shift a few more records because of Mick Jagger’s pouting and hip wiggling.

It’s even arguable that at this moment the music industry is coming full circle and focusing back on the original talent of artists. After too many years of songs about sex and boiz and music videos full of almost aggressive booty shaking, the public were overjoyed when Adele came onto the scene, an artist who dresses like any girl her age, and lets her voice do the attention grabbing rather than her body. Her music and sound was and is deemed iconic, perhaps due to the stark contrast between the whole Adele package to the manufactured popstar package that we’d just come to expect over the years.

The sad truth that comes with using sexual attractiveness as a selling point for music, is that musicians are earning themselves fame with a clear expiry date on it. We only have to look at the Madonna boob flash or whatever on earth Lil’ Kim has paid to have done to her face to see that aging popstars cling to their sex appeal to try and reassure themselves of staying famous – it’s a sad, sad thing to witness, even more so when more and more artists appear every year only to disappear down the popstar plughole.

Saying that we should focus on talent rather than looks may be the most outdated argument to possibly make, but believe it or not, it’s still relevant to the way musicians are received by the public. For instance, is anyone ever going to ask Carly Rae Jepsen to do the soundtrack for a James Bond Film? Will Ke$ha ever win an award for lyrical content? Is anyone going to see One Direction once they’re middle-aged and married? Who can say, but if the patterns set since the early 2000’s are anything to go by, probably not.


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August 2021
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