Music Industry: Razzle Dazzle vs Music (Part 2)

Fashion, turn to the left!

Entertainers tend to use costumes and flashiness to aid in their performances (as I touched on here).

But at what point does it interfere with or overshadow musicianship?

After writing part one of this discussion, I let the rest of it bounce around in my head for a while. Then, upon getting ready for a show, I found myself in a pathetic panic over what to wear. I felt that other performers were getting a little dressy for the night. Or perhaps the females. Wearing a skirt and playing the drums is out of the question for me, and I played in heels once for a Halloween show and that will not happen again, let-me-tell-you-sister!

The following thoughts cross my mind:

-I should wear whatever is functional. Even with pants, sometimes you gotta roll up a pant leg so it doesn’t get stuck on the kick pedal. Billowy sleeves get annoying, and I find flow-y shirtsto be a nuisance in general. Who needs to keep tugging their shirt around when you are supposed to be hitting stuff?

-Well, hello, this isn’t about fashion, it’s about music.

-Do I feel this way because I am intimidated by people who do get dolled up and I don’t feel like I can?

-Do I feel this way because I feel judged, as a female, if I don’t get dolled up? It’s a catch-22. Sometimes I already get the feeling that I am expected to stink (and I don’t mean the Tom’s of Maine stopped working, kids), but if I look feminine that expectation is boosted. And if I am wearing flannel and jeans I am automatically seen as manly or something silly. Again, this could be a misconception from audience members, and I despise bringing up these stereotypes. It’s 2012. This is about music.

Zooey Deschanel and her character, Jess, from New Girl, have recently come under fire for being too girly, and I read quite a few reviews claiming that she was a bad role model for today’s women. One writer went so far as to say that she’d prefer her daughter to look up to a character that was violent and tough (sane…debatable). In the recent issue of Entertainment Weekly there happened to be a great piece on this by Melissa Maerz. The question was whether the writers of New Girl have been changing it up to modify Jess as less girly and whimsical. Deschanel is quoted as saying “I’ve examined and reexamined myself (…)And I really don’t feel that liking to wear dresses is a problem for the feminist world”.

I think she’s right. Also, as for her character, what’s wrong with being whimsical, liking to dress up, liking to sing…? Anyone? How is that making her a weak role model? Last I checked her character was a teacher, helps people, is multi-talented, and a little dorky. And somehow certain groups have decided that is a less desirable role model for young girls because she’s not walking around with a gun, dropping F-bombs, and wearing skimpy outfits just to use men. I forgot…THAT is supposed to be empowering?

Back to the topic at hand…as for Deschanel herself, she is a talented musician and yes, she still dresses up for her performances.

Zooey Deschanel performing as She & Him in 2010, credit Farah Joan Fard. Special thanks to Press Here, New York, NY

But her outfits are functional. Retro, but realistic, I’d say.

On the other hand, I was watching the Grammy’s and did a double take when I saw what I thought was Silk Spectre running on the stage, only to realize it was Katy Perry.

Katy Perry, credit Matt Sayles, AP

There were many dance maneuvers and flames shot through the air, and I wouldn’t doubt-due to the magnitude of the Grammy’s-if vocals were pre-recorded, which I cannot find too much fault with. My biggest beef was…the outfit and calisthenics made it hard for me to even try to believe that there could be any singing and good breath support going on. Again, I could be wrong.

I recently asked other musicians, “How do costumes or clothing impact performance?”…

Boston musician, Harrison Shulik, replied “That’s the big thing. Get popular enough to make enough money to support an amazing visual masterpiece on stage. E.G.: Flaming Lips, Nine Inch Nails (or, you know, Beyonce and stuff(…) the line between gimmick and legitimate art moves around. But it seems that the longer an artist has had success, the more interested they are in doing something real special on stage, regardless of genre. I think it’s the young kids who wear hipster uniforms and have hair that strangely wraps around their head like they just got out of a dryer cycle in a space ship that are hurting themselves by being more interested in how they look than how they perform, or how their performance is received. Which is not to say appearances don’t matter, but be genuine about it.”

My sister, Sarah, chimed in with “There are some bands who are amazing and then have the visuals to match, and then there’s also the spectacle of outrageous costumes to make up for less than outrageous music”.

Still curious, I went to discuss this dilemma with my friend, Julia Reimers, who I used to perform with and is also a writer. She currently is the bassist for Mannequin Factory (working on their first demo, out soon!). She had a lot to say!

“As soon as I cross the threshold of my apartment door, real pants are immediately abandoned or replaced by yoga pants. If people are coming over to my place, I might put on jeans to go along with my t-shirt, but not a trace of makeup will be seen unless we are to go out somewhere. All of these rules also apply to band practice. Because that’s what I am the most comfortable wearing, and it doesn’t get in the way when I’m just trying to concentrate on playing …because, let’s face it, sometimes fashion gets in the way. For example, if I attempted to play at all in heels I would probably miss the pedal entirely and fall over.”

And performing?

“You can’t wear yoga pants during a performance. But sometimes even just jeans and a t-shirt don’t seem like enough for
what is expected for women. While this is basically the only wardrobe for men — I sometimes feel like I ought to be wearing something which
requires more thought, effort, and at times discomfort. I’ve had points where I’ve thought to myself, “Thank God that my bass is in
front of my hips so no one can see this muffin top busting out of these crazy tight pants. Putting up with that discomfort, though, seems like an unspoken rule(…)which then makes me think about pop stars who can wear all of the crazy things they do — which, like you said, does make me wonder about breath support…although, there is that whole heels thing, which I’ll admit I have to give props to because they actually pull that off.”

But, in the end, does fashion get in the way of musicianship?

“I agree that yes, there is a pressure to wear clothes that are uncomfortable while performing for the sake of fashion. There’s an image that goes along with music that you have to uphold. But at the same time — you have to think about women in jobs that require suits and heels as well. It can’t be comfortable for a lawyer to cross-examine a witness in a heavy wool suit (and) pumps, but if she were to wear sweatpants and her old, raggedy college hoodie, the jury would probably be significantly less likely to listen to her, just based on physical appearance…However, in both cases of music and this law firm example, men’s appropriate attire is significantly more comfortable…in the case of a professional environment, while women are expected to wear skirts and heels, men simply wear pants, a button-down shirt, tie, and shoes that allow them to be firmly planted on the ground.
“It’s a bit more extreme in music: in the case of rock and roll, men’s attire is jeans and a t-shirt. Women’s, on the other hand, is a sort
of pressure to wear things that may constrict your breathing or fall off your body while you play. It’s not a requirement, but the sense that you ought to do some version of this still exists, and I’ve never felt like I would be able to just do the jeans and t-shirt thing. I have to put together and entire outfit, and then do the whole accessories shebang. (They) always wind up coming off because the rings constrict my fingers, and the bracelet keeps knocking into the strings, and the hat keeps falling off, and the necklace is just bothering me in general.” She adds that fashion can add confidence to the individual performing.

In Sarah’s example, it makes me wonder about the spectacle of the performance overshadowing talent. I also find Julia’s points to be spot on.

While watching Karmin on SNL I was surprised at some of the stage antics and a little bummed that they were not playing more instruments. Their musical ability should not be knocked, as they are both accomplished musicians. I also am aware that fans requested more rapping of them. Yet I couldn’t help but to think…Amy’s outfit looked really uncomfortable. And for all who gave her a thumbs down, I was a little disheartened. So many comments were targeted at her stage presence and outfit, rather than her as a musician. She can rap-fast. And it may not have been made as clear, but she can sing and is a musician. Nick also is an accomplished musician, having been a member of concert and jazz band. Both graduated from Boston’s Berklee College of Music. But I felt the performance focused so much on ‘razzle dazzle’ that people not familiar with them were left scratching their heads.

Sure, David Bowie did it…shoes, outfits, everything! And he still rocked it. But where do we find the balance? With so much ability to auto-tune, pre-record, and sync up, don’t we want to go to a show and be wowed…not by the pyrotechnics, but by the person named on the ticket we bought?

“There’s a brand new dance but I don’t know it’s name”. David Bowie, ‘Fashion’.


5 thoughts on “Music Industry: Razzle Dazzle vs Music (Part 2)

  1. Wow, I’m impressed with this article! I personally love it when musicians put a lot of effort into their outfits and even end up a little kooky (like Lady Gaga; Nicki Minaj, on the other hand, is a no-no). But, I don’t think that one has to wear a meat dress to be a good singer, obviously, nor neccessarily a good performer.

    1. Thank you so much for your input, I really appreciate it!

      Also, read your blog…thank you for writing about the Middle East in such a way. I think it is important to bring humanity and perspective to these events. Too often it is presented in an ‘Us and Them’ fashion, and it’s nice to hear a different voice.

  2. Haha — another thing outrageous in the Katy Perry photo — look at how MASSIVE that bass drum is. If she was standing next to it it looks like it would come up to her waist!

    Great article, btw.

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