I don’t know what kind of profile Charlotte Church has in the US any more, if she has any. Five million Americans have bought Church’s albums in the past, but, if I had to guess, I’d imagine those sales were mostly during her “little girl with a big voice” stage back in the late 1990s, a period that saw the Welsh singer perform for Bill Clinton at the White House while still a teenager.
In the UK, Church has never really gone away though, morphing from choir girl to pop vixen to alt-rock chick, and trying her hand at acting and television presenting. Not to mention being a tabloid staple for everything from her love life to her consumption of alcohol and even *wrings hands* cigarettes. She may only be a sprightly 27, but she has been an internationally successful recording artist since the age of 11, so it’s safe to say she has seen and done her fair share.
All of which makes her very recent talk for BBC Radio 6’s The John Peel Lecture so very interesting, and even inspiring. I’m not much of a fan of her music, but this presentation is excellent. In it, Church takes aim fairly and squarely at the very limited roles available for women within the music industry, and particularly the hyper-sexualised pop market. As someone who literally grew up in front of a lens, and who was subject to an overload of “ooh, she’s of age now, look at her tits”-type of attention from the tabloid press, she surely knows what she is talking about.
Here are some extracts from her talk, via Digital Music News:
I’d like you to imagine a world in which male musicians are routinely expected to act as submissive sex objects. Picture Beyonce’s husband Jay-Z stripped down to a T-back bikini thong, sex kittin’ his way through a boulevard of suited-and-booted women for their pleasure. Or Britney Spears’ ex, Justin Timberlake, in buttocks-clenching hot pants writhing on top of a pink Chevy, explaining to an audience how he’d like to be their ‘Teenage Dream.’
Before we all get a little too hot beneath the gusset, of course these scenarios are not likely to become reality, unless for comedy’s sake. The reason for this is that these are roles the music industry has carved out specifically for women. It is a male-dominated industry, with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality.
From what I can see, there are three main roles that women are allowed to fill in modern pop music. Each of them restrictive for both artists and audience. They are mainly portrayed through the medium of the music video, you’ll find them very familiar. I call them One of the Girls’ Girls, the Victim/Torch Singer, and the Unattainable Sexbot.
The One of the Girls’ Girls role is a painfully thin reduction of feminism that generally seems to point to a world where, ‘so long as you can hang out with your girls it’s possible to sort of wave away the evils that men do.’ This denigrates women and men equally, and yet is commonly lauded for being empowering.
The Victim/Torch Singer can be divided into the sexy victim (ie, Natalie Imbruglia in the ‘Torn’ video) and the not-so-sexy victim. One female artist who does not use her sexuality to sell records is Adele. However, lyrically, her songs are almost without exception written from the perspective of the wronged woman, an archetype as old as time. Someone who has been let down by the men around her, and is subsequently in a perpetual state of despair.
But to me, the Unattainable Sexbot is most commonly employed and most damaging, a role that is also claimed to be an empowering one. The irony behind this is that the women filling these roles are often very young, often previous child stars or Disney tweens, who are simply trying to get along in an industry glamorized to be the most desirable career for young women. They are encouraged to present themselves as hyper-sexualized, unrealistic, cartoonish, as objects, reducing female sexuality to a prize you can win.
You can hear the talk, in its entirety, below, and it is highly recommended.
H/T to Paul Rokk.