How Far Is Too Far?

There really isn’t anything that’s as beautiful as a human voice singing sincerely with no outside help. It is stunning to hear such singing and these days, all too rare.

We hear voices with so much help from electronics that we forget what it’s like to hear someone sing really well, at a professional level, spontaneously, with feeling. But it’s not that such people don’t exist, they do. It’s simply that the people pulling the strings in the music business aren’t much interested in them.

The music business is dominated by men. Producers, musicians, arrangers, managers, music directors are more likely than not to be male. It’s not that there are no women, but they are more likely to be artists and not to be in a position of power. The only exception to that would be those women who have succeeded on their own and have made their own production companies. They call their own shots.

It really isn’t possible to know what this does to the output we see and hear as “music” but I wonder how different things would be if the music business were dominated instead by women. Would pop music still be dominated by young women who are mostly screaming or being breathy and “baby” voiced? Would the dances you see in the big pop singers’ production numbers feature woman dancing in highly suggestive clothing making moves that would have been considered, years ago, as absolutely obscene.

I’m no prude, and I appreciate the young and beautiful just as much as anyone else, but sometimes the line between what is “sexy” and what is disgusting is hard to find. When a woman dances in multiple moves in which she spreads her legs wide apart while directly facing the audience — clothed or not — you have to wonder — would another woman ask for those moves?

I am a product of the 60s and we were the people who went naked at Woodstock, folks.  We were the generation of “let it all hang out”, so I am not hung up on propriety, but I have a problem with how female singers are presented because simple singing in simply talented singers isn’t enough. It could be argued that the men are making suggestive moves, too, since Michael Jackson was famous for, among other things, grabbing his own crotch, but none of these fancy maneuvers have anything to do with singing, and none of the men are dressed in their underwear.

Show business is the business of entertainment, yes. Singing is part of the entertainment industry, yes. But singing, plain and simple, ought to get a bit more attention in show business than it does.

If you go to YouTube and you look up any old TV variety show where singers came out and sang with some kind of musical accompaniment, and there are lots of examples of that, you will see that the vocalists sang and then left. There might have been a simple set, maybe there was some kind of back-up group, but not much else. You got to hear the voice, you got to see the face, you got to hear the song. I sometimes crave this and I don’t think it’s what you get in the auditions of American Idol, since the germ of what it means to sing simply is so much missing in the young people who are the auditioners. I don’t think Aretha Franklin or Barbra Streisand would ever have been able, or would have wanted, to do the things that Rihanna, Beyonce or Jennifer Lopez do in their shows, and if they were on the scene today, would they have careers at all if that were the case? And who are we missing now because they might object to the things I’m mentioning here?

We can’t go back. We can’t capture what we might once have had. I don’t know what will happen in the future as we go forward but I do hope that we find a way to leave singers alone and let women go back to being woman and not sex toys on stage. I know, don’t hold my breath, but I can dream, can’t I?

 

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