Why I don’t want to be a singer ‘when I grow up’

I have been a lover of music for longer than I can remember. We have home videos of me as a toddler, sitting in the sandpit and singing to the camera the few nursery rhymes I knew, complete with mondegreen lyrics and an accompanying Tonka truck percussion section. I grew up wanting nothing more than to be a Disney princess, a musical maiden living life in the constant knowledge that a fully choreographed song could commence at any moment. The lyrics of ABBA’s Thank You For The Music spring to mind; “Mother says I was a dancer before I could walk / She says I began to sing long before I could talk”.

I got into musical theatre at the age of ten and continued to develop my love of performing, and singing in particular. Singing has always brought me so much enjoyment. My theatrical background leads me to look for the meaning in the lyrics I am singing and I love the storytelling aspect of a well-written song and striking melody. I’ve dabbled in songwriting, played several instruments and can competently accompany myself on the piano or guitar. While I’m not one to sing my own praises (pun intended), I’d say that music is certainly a place where my talents lie.

But beyond ‘girlish’ daydreaming, I have never seriously considered a career in music.

Yes, there have been times when I’ve thought about doing the odd pub gig or even auditioning for The Voice or the like, but I never took my music theory any further than mid-high school, never enjoyed instrumental exams and didn’t pursue music in tertiary studies.

For one thing, I had other areas I wanted to pursue. Music wasn’t the only thing for which I had an aptitude. I also didn’t want to run the risk of taking the ‘fun’ out of my passion by making it ‘work’.

But largely, I don’t see myself succeeding in music because in the larger music industry today, I don’t consider myself ‘marketable’.

Mia Freedman of Mamamia wrote about the music industry’s treatment of young female performers. In her words:

“It’s not just Miley and Arianna Grande and Britney and Nicky Minaj and Rhianna and Iggy Azalea. It’s also Madonna and Shakira and Kylie and Beyonce and J-Lo. It’s every woman at every age who is forced (either by management or market forces) to pull focus with her body if she wants to sell her music on a grand scale.

The music industry seems genuinely puzzled by women who won’t conform to their objectifying demands. And very few women at that global level of fame and success have the power to choose how they are portrayed. Sia and Taylor Swift are notable exceptions.”

To be totally honest, the music industry terrifies and disgusts me. For every Lorde, Sia or Adele, there are a thousand Britneys and Mileys and Rhiannas.

I don’t do ‘sexy’. I don’t do ‘raunch’. I sing. It seems that nowadays being able to sing is not enough – you also have to have a certain look, a certain mainstream appeal to achieve any notable level of success.

At risk of sounding like a stuffy old woman, many music video clips repulse me. I can’t stand to watch the likes of Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda or this piece of barely-even-soft-core p0rn0graphy from Shakira and Rhianna:

Maybe I’m naive, but I think it’s become worse over time.

A few weeks ago, my parents and I went to see Suzi Quatro in concert. This classic rocker is now in her 60s but can sure command a room. She was gutsy, she was cheeky and she wore her trademark leather jumpsuit with the confidence of a woman who knows she’s cemented her place in the business.

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Suzi’s still got it.

One thing I loved about watching Suzi perform is that while she seems to like her ‘bad girl’ image, she’s not really all that bad. Her demeanour still reminds me of a sweet, hardworking musician playing the role of rock chick. She’s tough. She’s cool. But at the heart of it, she still seems to be a nice person and her success has come from a solid track record of great songs and non-stop performing.

She has left a legacy in the industry that I can’t see many of today’s musicians doing for future generations. And while she made a point of being provocative and even seductive, it is in a way that is still errs more on the side of ‘cheeky’ than ‘raunchy’.

Perhaps I’m a prude. Perhaps I’m overreacting. I know that there are those musical acts that find success outside this realm of sexuality-as-currency. But overwhelmingly I feel bombarded by these images of female singers as figures of sexual appeal first and musical talent second – and I’m glad I can go back to my Suzi playlist for refuge.

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