Not too long ago, World Music Central received a press packet promoting the musical group called ‘bond.’ The group is a string quartet of highly-trained female musicians, who mix classical music with dance rhythms. The press material dubbed their sound “classical-pop” music. The connection between their music and world music is tenuous at best. What was interesting, and somewhat revolting, was photo after glossy photo of these young women in suggestive, sometimes obscene, outfits and poses. And it didn’t stop there.
Included in the press packet was the usual stuff – their latest CD, reviews from various publications and a two-page press release from Universal Classics. Also included was an eight-page advertisement with more salacious photos of these women in various stages of undress, hawking hair care products. It must be hard to be a young woman these days and not know that a photo of you lying on your back with your mouth open doesn’t say a whole hell of a lot about hair care products. Likewise, the cheesecake photos of you busting out at the seams straddling a motorcycle or a horse (both actual photos included in the slick promotional material) doesn’t say a thing about your musicianship. Although, with pics like that you’re all set for the “Tool of the Month” grease monkey calendar, or it might just get you an audition for Shauna the Bestiality Queen.So, my question is – exactly what is it these women are selling?
Sex. Yes, it’s sex. That’s what the record company is really peddling. They made it abundantly clear with a short individual interview and photo of each the musicians. The interviewer asked such profound questions like, “What’s the sexiest song on you new album, and what makes it sexy?” Or, “I don’t know much about music, but could you say something sexy using a musical term?” Or, “What type of music do you like to listen to while having sex?” For a moment I thought that Hugh Heffner had taken over Universal Classics.
You’d never guess from the photos that these women carry credentials like a postgraduate degree from Guildhall School of Music and Drama or music degree from the Royal College of Music in London or an honors degree in music from the Trinity College of Music.
The mantra the media likes to shove in our face is that sex sells. It does and there’s no dispute about that, but it’s a flimsy and forever unfulfilled promise. With porno magazines and websites around every corner, teenage girls wandering around in nothing more than a stitch and a promise and pop and movies stars baring all, is the ability to wear a g-string, and get away with it, the only criteria to selling music. And world music at that?
I’ve been critical of ‘bond’ but there are others out there and some with a legitimate world music connection. Ishtar’s Emet on Sony Music France is another recent example of selling the promise of sex and not necessarily the music. Time Zone Records used a photo of a bare woman’s stomach to sell their compilation Latin Spice. In the book Guía Esencial De La Salsa (The Essential Guide to Salsa) there’s a section of the book referring to “La Maldición Latina” or The Latin Curse. The Latin Curse spells out the blatant sex used on CD covers. There are CD covers sporting women in bathing suits, a cover showing the well-proportioned backside of a woman in a thong and another of a young woman leaning or a drum lovingly. They all pretty much say the same thing – sex sells.
So if sex sells, what’s the problem? Who’s hurt by it? In my opinion it’s the artist who’s hurt. It has nothing to do with whether a young woman is exploiting her body or not. In my opinion, it’s your body and you can do with it as you please. The problem with female musicians and singers, especially world music artists, selling sex is who they’re selling sex to.” If you’re selling sex exclusively to the libidinous teen male demographic, you’re selling yourself short in my opinion. And you’re not selling me. In short you’re cutting yourself out of a wider market.
Record companies continue to ignore the enormous market made up of the over 35 year-old set. They do it at their own peril of course, and what they’ve set in motion for popular music is being carried over into the world music scene. Unfortunately, the record companies think music fans are all the same, that what works for pop mega stars will work for world music. They couldn’t be more wrong.
For myself, I’d never buy CDs with covers like the ones on ‘bond’s,’ Ishtar’s or Latin Spice. It doesn’t have anything to do with half naked women, instead it speaks of something else, something more insidious. It says the artist got conned into thinking she wasn’t good enough to stand on her own. Covers like that say to me the music might be okay, but that it wasn’t good enough. I have this image of a record producer saying something like, “The music’s great, honey. I really think you’re going to make it big. You just need to do one thing. Take off your top and say cheese.”