Music vs Fashion: A Long Lasting Battle

By Inez Patel

Do you ever wonder whether Lady Gaga would have become so successful without her obscene dress sense? Would the Black Eyed Peas have made it big time if not for the addition of the sexy Fergie? Would Robin Thicke still be known as that ‘dirty dude on a bicycle’ it if were not for the makeover he got from Pharrell? With a name like ‘The Pussycat Dolls’, was anyone ever really interested in their music? The simple answer to these is no, probably not. It seems as if musicians always have to have an extra element to them to actually make it big time or to be found interesting by the public. It is rather disappointing actually, that the music industry is so ravelled up in a materialistic ideology based on fashion, sex and putting on a performance. Where is the real music? What has happened to it?

Lady Gaga’s debut album was released in 2008, from which her songs Just Dance and Poker Face became hits. However when this happened, the focus was on her wild sense of clothing, or better yet her lack of it. She admits that her dress sense is rather unconventional “[i]t’s meant to make guys think: ‘I don’t know if this is sexy or just weird.” Lady Gaga is the singer that went to meet Queen Victoria in a red latex Victorian style dress, she wore a ‘meat dress’ to the 2010 MTV Video Awards and arrived at the 2011 Grammys being carried in a translucent egg. Additionally, I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that her fame levels raised just that much more because of the rumours that Gaga might have that little extra appendage that would take away her ‘Lady’ label.  So how far would ‘Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta’ have gone, if she had put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and simply just sang? It seems highly unlikely that the lyrics “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick” would have touched the souls of individuals in the way that real music should.

Lady Gaga arriving at the Grammy's

Robin Thicke has been around in the music industry since before 2002 but only became a commercial success in 2007. Now what is it that brought about this miraculous success you may ask? Well it was the release of his second album The Evolution of Robin Thicke which literally was an evolution. Once Thicke started working with hot-shot Pharrell Williams he seemed to become a whole new person. Before this, Thicke was had long and wild hair and he wore, well he wore just about anything. Then he cut his hair and became this clean-shaven stud whose dress sense made every women stare for a few extra seconds or minutes, actually maybe even hours. There is a lot of denial that his new look is what lifted his fame. Instead, there are ideas that it was because he started singing about soul-searching, love, faith and meaningful emotions. Funny enough his next album was called Sex Therapy so this idea of profound music seems rather contradictory. Now this is to not say that it is Thicke’s fault for changing, but rather a concern for society; a concern that artists have to appeal to something other than music to get attention.

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It seemed so much more meaningful when the industry was entangled with the likes of real music. The Beatles, Elvis Presley, even local wonders such as Miriam Makeba…but wait, I must stop myself. I am one of those people that hate to be wrong, yet after ranting over and over about the dreadful direction that the music industry is heading in I realized something rather important. The music industry of the 21st Centure, although arguably cruder, is not so different from what it used to be. It seems as though music has actually always been connected to other elements and it is just shocking to us now because artists need more and more interesting elements to add onto their ‘act’ to make them stand out.

The Beatles

When thinking of The Beatles, for instance, there is no doubt that they had a significant role to play in the music industry with a large fan base still existing at present. Yet one of the aspects that made them so exciting in the 1960s was that this ‘fab four’ were also strongly characterised by their iconic style. With their matching black suits and ties and the unforgettable ‘mop-top’ haircut, The Beatles provided their fans with something extra to talk about other than their music. Even later on when they released their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they collaborated this with a new style. The new image of bold and bright military jackets, with longer hair and movember-looking moustaches was another aspect that kept fans interested in the new and exciting movement.

Elvis Presley is another example. Apart from being an iconic fashion icon, he was also seen as a sex icon of the 1960s. He did things that were not usually accepted for men. He wore pink, silks, velour, big belts, jewellery and even fashioned the high collar. Don’t forget his dark side burns and greased hair, or even the complete black leather outfit that he wore in 1968. It is close to impossible to deny that Elvis was musically talented, but his fame came hand-in-hand with his image as a whole.

The same is found even if you were to look at local acts such as Miriam Makeba. She was a spectacular singer while simultaneously an unmistakable 60s fashion icon. Miriam Makeba’s image was intimately joined to the ‘black is beautiful’ slogan that emerged from the anti-apartheid struggle. Makeba introduced, not only to South Africans but, to the world an icon of black African style: “I see other black women imitate my style, which is no style at all, but just letting our hair be itself. They call it the Afro look.” Her traditional style of African headdresses and shoulder-padded caftans most certainly gave her an extra element to be noticed by.

It would be unfair to say that these artists don’t have any musical talent. Lady Gaga obviously does have some form of talent, having learnt to play the piano at age 4 and Robin Thicke having written music for a multiple number of other well-known singers. So in actual fact, they cannot be criticized for being the way that they are because it is one of the demands of the music industry and, as we have seen, has been for a long time. Thinking about it only makes you realize that, in actual fact, most other successful artists have got something extra to them that have made them more noticeable. For example, Beyonce and her reputation for unforgettable live performances, Shakira and her foreign sex appeal, Jay-Z and Kanye West for their rumoured illuminati cult, and even South Africa’s own Die Aantwoord for their hair-raisingly creepy music videos.

So it seems to stand that, yes, although the music industry demands that artists be more and more daring with their musical acts this might just be something to accept. It is clearly not a new thing, as I had thought. In fact, these artists should be commended on their bold individuality and the fact that they bring something new to look at. As with Elvis, The Beatles, Makeba and Thicke, it seems as if Lady Gaga’s dress sense creatively combines her image with her music in a complimentary manner. How many other celebrities would have been able to wear a meat dress and be voted by Time Magazine as the top fashion statement of 2010? This is not something to run away from, but rather something to embrace as we divulge into this century of spontaneity and freshness that keeps the music industry buzzing with excitement.

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