Angels & Whores

AdeleAfter Adele topped the Guardian‘s Music Power 100, her label boss, Richard Russell, attributed her success to the focus on her voice rather than her looks, which, he believes, puts her in stark contrast to other female pop artistes.

“At the level it is at now, it is radical,” he said. “It is clearly about the music and the talent and the things it is meant to be about. I think there has been a certain amount of confusion, and it’s resulting in garbage being sold and marketing with little real value to it. I think Adele is a good thing to be happening.”

That a strong female performer is gaining success without bowing to pressure to conform to a certain body type or being over-sexualised, is “unbelievable”, he said.

“It’s just so boring, crass and unoriginal,” he said, adding that the problem goes “way beyond” the music industry.

While it is good to see diversity, and to think that a talent like Adele’s can find an audience without being dressed up in a sequinned corset, Russell’s remarks reek of old-school patriarchy. He describes watching female popstars on MTV as “faux-porn” and says it made him feel “a bit queasy”. This suggests he is unnerved by the idea that women might feel empowered by and even enjoy raw sex, the kind that has had the ties to love, romance, marriage or reproduction stripped away. The kind of random, no-strings-attached sex that men have been allowed to enjoy (and discuss) for centuries.

Flamboyant sexuality has been part of pop music from the very beginning; lyrics have always contained innuendo and slang references to the sex act (rock ‘n’ roll being just one). From Elvis Presley’s hips to Mick Jagger’s lips, the defining moments of male pop artistry have always been about celebrating sex appeal. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, whether you’re a glam rocker stripping down onstage to reveal a chiselled torso circa 1976 or hip-hopper humping air in a 2011 music video. However, these displays of male sexuality don’t tend to be critiqued as “faux-porn” or make anyone feel sick.

Russell’s righteous indignation suggests that he has missed the point. Pop music is pretty much the only area where a female performer can take control of her sexuality and use it to communicate a message, or spark a discussion. Against a backdrop of abstinence-only sex education, and generally repressive attitudes towards reproductive rights, pop music might offer the only open forum in which to debate the anomalies of the human sexual spectrum. Rihanna’s recent embrace of S&M allowed her to discuss her past experiences of abuse, and explain how playing a specific role in the bedroom allowed her to overcome that. Lady Gaga has used her Little Monsters tour as a platform for discussing the problems faced by LGBT individuals.

By positioning Adele as a Good Girl, one who is more talented and more deserving of acclaim because she diminishes her sexuality, Russell is tarring Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Katy Perry et al with the Bad Girl brush, making the judgment that because they rock’n’ roll as part of their act, they are of less value as performers. The suggestion is that because Adele conforms to Russell’s idea of propriety (she sings, nicely, and doesn’t do anything that would scare a man or make him throw up), she should be rewarded more than the out-of-control Bad Girls. This is a division old as time, when Lilith (so ancient Jewish legend goes) was cast out of Paradise (and wiped from the orthodox version of the creation myth) for insisting on being on top during sex. It seems the Angel/Whore dialectic, that tired Victorian trope, is being perpetuated in today’s pop music.

Adele Can Change How Music Industry Markets Female Acts – Guardian
Female Sexuality Is Not A Pandora’s Box – Stephanie Vega

One Response to “Angels & Whores”

  1. Mediaknowall » Blog Archive » Rihanna: moral panic poster child? Says:

    […] restrict broadcast times accordingly. This coincides with record label boss Richard Russell’s proclamation that Adele’s success is based on her specifically non-outrageous, non-sexual imag… which suggests that public opinion is no longer in favor of sexy female popstars like […]