The Hodgepodge: Why is the Music Industry Image Obsessed?

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It’s no secret that the music industry puts importance on the looks of an artist. Be it adhering to a certain style, or maintaining a certain body figure, the industry’s obsession with the image of a singer sometimes trumps the music. The executives and producers at major labels treat their artists as products to sell, and the product simply isn’t music. It’s an entire brand: a clothing style that would be appealing to the target demographic, accessories or fashion that matches the singer’s constructed persona (outlaw, blue-collar, family oriented, etc.), and keeping the singer’s weight and physical features within the realm of a socially constructed standard of beauty.

If you kept up with Farce the Music earlier this week, you know that the website shed some light on Jason Aldean’s congratulatory ad (above) in the recent Country Aircheck. Taking a closer look at Aldean’s features, it appears that someone probably doctored the photograph to make Aldean appear skinnier than in real life. This isn’t the first time a singer has been photoshopped before appearing in an ad or on a magazine cover, and it certainly won’t be the last time. It’s more or less become a standard when appearing in “print” media.

But this all begs the question as to why is image held in such a high regard when music is auditory? By all means, let’s make sure Jason Aldean looks like a healthy, attractive male for the female audience, but who cares that his radio singles sound like they were written and produced by bored 16 year olds. Why is the brand and look taken more seriously than the sound quality?

It’s a societal issue more than a music industry issue, I’d argue. Since the dawn of advertising, we’ve seen attractive males and females as the face and spokesperson for almost every product. The entire retail world is built upon selling something that’s visually appealing first. But why do major labels market the look first and not the song? If anything, the music industry could easily be different from the rest of the advertising world, but that’s not the case. They follow the same suits as other products.

What did Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, and Miranda Lambert have in common back when they were the only females on the charts in the early part of the decade? What do Carrie Underwood and Kelsea Ballerini have in common nowadays? Blonde hair. Blonde, the socially constructed ideal hair color for a beautiful woman; the most appealing color for men. I’m not saying that’s the only reason those artists are as successful as they are, but I’d also argue it certainly didn’t hinder their careers. Carrie Underwood’s music is great, and she’s an artist worthy of all the respect and accolades she has earned since winning American Idol. She has great pop country songs, and even her more poppy songs are way more tolerable than almost all other pop songs on country radio. But I believe it would be naive to think that Carrie’s blonde hair and attractiveness hasn’t played some sort of role in her marketability to music fans and success in the industry. I wouldn’t be surprised if in some alternate universe, a brunette Carrie Underwood, singing the same songs, is not quite as successful as the real life Carrie Underwood.

You could make the same argument for males as well. Luke Bryan is an attractive male for target female audience. He knows it, his label knows it, and they play into that look and charm when it comes to selling him. I guarantee you Luke Bryan wouldn’t be the country music superstar he is today if he was an overweight man with crooked teeth who couldn’t sway his hips smoothly. Mainstream labels sell these artists to fans based upon their visual appeal to the fans.

Now I don’t think that’s right, and I hate how that’s the way the world works. When it comes to music, I think a singer’s music should be the only parameter in which we judge him or her. And that’s why I think highly of Carrie Underwood, because her music has quality in its writing and delivery. I think Jason Aldean’s single choices shine a shallow, immature light onto him; his singles are not quality music. The same goes for Luke Bryan. I listen to music. My judgement of artists comes from their music. I don’t care if my favorite singer is overweight or bald. As long as he or she writes and makes good music, I will listen with joy.

Music has the ability to influence your moods and thoughts. When you’re having a bad day, you listen to happy music to cheer yourself up. A song can incite nostalgia and bring you back to time or place from your past: a joyous moment or memories of good times with friends. None of these memories or feelings come from looking at a magazine cover or watching the artist perform on an award show. They come from hearing the song.

The power of music comes from listening, and often times that gets overlooked or set aside because the singer isn’t dressed a certain way. Fashion and body image should have no bearing on how music and singers are perceived.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Tomorrow, Sturgill Simpson‘s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth will be released. Josh’s review will also be published tomorrow.
  • Del McCoury‘s Del and Woody will also be released tomorrow.
  • The Honeycutters’ new album, On the Ropes, will be released May 20.
  • Flatland Calvary‘s recently released Humble Folks on April 1st. Texas/Red Dirt artists William Clark Green and Kaitlin Butts make appearances on the album.
  • Mickey Guyton said in a recent interview that she’ll be releasing a new single in May.
  • New On The Verge artist Tucker Beathard‘s single, “Rock On” just entered the top 30.
  • Dierks Bentley recently released a video for a new song from his upcoming album Black. “I’ll Be the Moon” is a duet with Maren Morris.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Motel Cowboy Show” by Reckless Kelly. From their 2006 album, Wicked Twisted Road, “Motel Cowboy Show” is a great country song, with 5 and half minutes of fiddles, steel guitars, and catchy lyrics. This is easily one of my favorite Reckless Kelly songs.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV. I’ve been listening to a lot of classic rock this week after seeing a presentation called Drugs and Rock N’ Roll. Led Zeppelin IV is one of my favorite rock albums, and includes some of Zeppelin’s classic songs including “When The Levee Breaks”, “Rock and Roll” and “Stairway to Heaven.”

Tweet of the Week

And Sam Hunt. And Cole Swindell. And Thomas Rhett. The list goes on and on.

iTunes Review

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This was left under Keith Urban’s Ripcord. An album available for preorder with his radio singles available. A little extreme in his review, but I find tommyboy_’s theory kind of funny. Hopefully tommyboy_ finds out there’s more (and better) country music available away from radio’s consistent dreck.

The Hodgepodge: Remembering Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard April 6, 1937 – April 6, 2016

In an old boxcar converted into a house, Merle Haggard was born in Oildale, California on April 6, 1937. Growing up, Haggard developed a rebellious attitude after losing his father, Jim, to a stroke while Merle was only nine years old. Criminal activity became a normal way of life for Haggard who would be put into juvenile detention centers only to try to escape. Music became a positive outlet for Merle Haggard. He taught himself to play guitar at the age of 12, playing along to old records of Lefty Frizzell and Bob Wills.

It wasn’t until a short stint locked up in San Quentin that completely shook Merle of his criminal ways. In need of money, Haggard was charged with robbery in Bakersfield, California. After attempting to escape from Bakersfield Jail, Haggard was transferred to San Quentin in 1957. A short time later in 1958, he attended a Johnny Cash concert. It was this concert that inspired Haggard to join the prison band and put focus into his music. “Rabbit”, a fellow inmate at San Quentin, recognized Haggard’s musical prowess and potential, and encouraged him to continue focusing on that career. And in 1960, Merle Haggard was released from San Quentin, right into the blossoming Bakersfield music scene.

Merle Haggard wound up playing bass for Wynn Stewart’s band in 1962. This opportunity led him to record his first songs, with “Sing a Sad Song” being released in 1964, reaching the top 20 on the charts. When his recording of “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers” hit the top 10, Merle caught the attention of Capitol Records, who help Merle become the defining country singer we all know him to be. It was the Liz and Casey Anderson penned “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive” that gave him his first number one single in 1967.

As Merle Haggard grew more comfortable in the spotlight, he opened up about his past life as a law-breaker and spending time in prison. He was no longer afraid that such details would result in negative reactions and drive fans away from his music. “Branded Man”, “Sing Me Back Home”, and “Mama Tried” were songs Merle wrote based on his past, and all three reached number one in the late 1960s.

In the midst of the Vietnam War and the protests in America, Merle Haggard became a political icon for the conservative right, for the people who hated the war protestors. What started off as a joke, “Okie from Muskogee” became an anthem for the way things used to be. Quickly followed by the rambunctious “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” Merle Haggard epitomized the American pride in country music, which is an attitude that hasn’t subsided to this day.

But it’s not just the political attitude that made Merle Haggard a country music icon. Merle Haggard wrote and recorded songs true to himself. Along with Buck Owens and others, Merle Haggard helped lead the Bakersfield Sound of country music into popularity; a sound developed in retaliation to the Nashville Sound. It was a music scene and style for those wanting freedom from the control of the establishment. From the late 60s through most of the 80s, Merle Haggard recorded 38 songs that made it to number one on the country charts, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what made Merle Haggard great.

Haggard persevered through hard times and made a name for himself without compromise. His music has influenced countless singers and songwriters to this day. And Merle Haggard never wavered or stopped recording until the very end. Just last year, Haggard, along with his long time friend Willie Nelson, recorded an album 14 new recordings, Django and Jimmie. It wasn’t until late last year that Merle had to start canceling concert dates due to coming down with pneumonia. It was that sickness that ultimately caused his death yesterday, April 6, 2016.

Merle Haggard was a man whose life was saved by his love for music. A man forgiven for his sins and praised for his accomplishments thereafter. An iconic singer and songwriter who valued sincerity in his music. Country music’s notoriety would not be the same if it weren’t for Merle Haggard. May he rest in peace, and may his music live forever.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Hayes Carll‘s Lovers and Leavers will be released tomorrow.
  • Next week on April 15, Sturgill Simpson‘s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth will be released.
  • Del McCoury‘s Del and Woody will also be released on the 15th.
  • Michael Ray announced his new single will be “Think A Little Less.”
  • Jason Aldean‘s new single is called “Lights Come On.” Josh has a review on this coming soon.

Throwback Thursday Song

Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Gareth Emery’s 100 Reasons to Live English EDM DJ Gareth Emery released a new album at the beginning of the month. I’m not a big fan of EDM music, but while exploring new releases, I checked out this album and found myself enjoying the production of the dance tunes. If you don’t listen to EDM, then my suggestion is to go listen to Merle Haggard.

Tweet of the Week

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A review calling out Jason Aldean for his terrible music. I like this one!