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.