A few years back Lilly Allen was on the popular quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks. A fellow contestant questioned Lil on the swear words in her album. Her daughter wanted the record but she wouldn’t buy it for her due to the foal language. Lilly’s reply was something along the lines of “I didn’t write my album for your daughter”, her music is a personal expression that is shared rather than a consumer friendly product. Pop bands like One Direction release songs that are products. There management carefully tailors their releases to the ideal demographic. Our charts in this country are littered with songs tailored to the what music executives think the teenage demographic want – I mean who cares what older people want ‘cos they don’t buy records right? However amongst the same old stuff the odd artist breaks through that writes music about what’s real for them. Although these artists are sometimes criticised for be being self-indulgent, if enough people like it, it will be a hit. More often than not it will be forgiven that maybe the lyrics aren’t suitable for children. These shining examples appose what shows like the Xfactor are about and whilst Lilly Allen is popular and has had mainstream hits she is authentic in what she does. I give her props for that.
To have the level of success that Lilly and other pop stars achieve sets a certain expectation to the general public, without exception if you are internationally recognisable and popular people will disapprove if you step outside of the boundaries society sets for you. Women bear the brunt of these expectations, especially where their physical portrayal is concerned. Christina Aguilera notably changed her image from pop princess to sexpot back in the late nineties for the release of her album ‘Stripped’ causing some feathers to be ruffled. There is a long list of young women who have ‘sexed’ it up to get noticed and to add that desirable edge to their act. Something I must add that boy bands like One direction have to do very little of to sell to the same teenage girl demographic.
Recently the sexualisation of another young pop princess has been hitting the headlines. You would have had to be living under a rock to have missed the controversy surround the young Miley Cyrus over the last few months. Between her performance at this year’s VMAs and the controversial Wrecking Ball video, she has sparked fierce debate between famous faces and civilians alike. Is her behaviour bowing down to misogynistic attitudes or is she just a young woman expressing herself? What I’m interested in is if this can be categorised as artistic licence? Much in the same way I accept creative freedom is to use swear words, which can be offensive to a large majority of the general public. How much difference does it make to have the controversy in a physical form rather than lyrical? We’ve seen the likes of Rhianna also release extremely provocative music videos recently and she has also used very sexual lyrics in her songs, is this ok?
For me I think the importance is the relationship between the controversy and the purpose behind it, whether it is in the lyrics of a song or the images it’s portrayed. If there is a clear message then I can get on board, I can see why they are doing it. Shocking for the sake of shocking is boring, the same as sexy for the sake of sexy. The whole idea that young women are just ‘exploring’ their sexuality by appearing semi-naked, bumping and grinding on inanimate objects doesn’t quite wash with me. Feeding a false idea of sex to young men and women is damaging, nothing is being questioned, and nothing is being challenged. And regardless of however young you are, if you’re in the public spotlight children will look up to you and to some extent copy you. I’m not saying that nudity is wrong, I’m not saying that sex is wrong (in fact they are two of the most right things we do as humans) but I want it to mean something. What is she standing for? What is she fighting for? Because the last time I checked the female form scantily clad gyrating on our screens has been seen on countless occasions.
I feel old sitting on this side of the fence; I grew up with Britney and J-Lo selling their sex icon images as a freebie along with their latest singles. I tried to dress like them and behave like them as a teenager and as an older woman feel let down. It turns out that what they portrayed on their music videos wasn’t sex at all, it was a fictitious ideology of Hollywood fluff. But then in the same way Lilly didn’t write her album for your daughters, Miley didn’t make her music video for me.