The cover of Katy Perry’s latest album, Teenage Dream, features a painting of her lying naked on a fairy floss cloud. She proudly describes it as art. Katy Perry is 25 and she relies on her latest controversy to sell her singles, just like the ubiquitous (and rather annoying) Lady Gaga.
Fine with me, I can cope quite well with the shimmery profligacy of music stars. I am far too used to the plasticness of under 25ers such as Hilary Duff and Amanda Bynes, I roll my eyes at the latest Britney Spears scandal spectacular and simply scoff at the Emperor’s-clothes style of Madonna.
What really causes me concern is the teen stars who started off sweet and have since sexed up their image...and are still teenagers. The latest video clips from female teenage singers make me realise that the days of music girl power were as short as the Spice Girls’ skirts.
The music video to Gabriella Cilmi’s new song Defender is a case in point. It is a beautiful ballad, sung in the 18 year old’s strong, unique voice. The images of her singing are interspersed with images of her stripping off to her underwear then inexplicably getting sprayed by water as if in a lone wet t-shirt competition (yes, really). The saddest part is that it shouldn’t be necessary- her voice should, and does, stand on its own without any of this nonsense.
Miley Cyrus’ new Can’t be Tamed clip tells a similar story. Once a bubblegum-sweet Disney star, 17-year-old Cyrus now regularly flounces around in corsets and dances suggestively with other girls on stage. She isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel with these moves, but consider her audience: seven year olds who watch her avidly in Disney’s Hannah Montana. I can just see them searching for corsets in H&M and practising her raunchy dance moves at slumber parties. It makes me want to shout loud enough for all tweens to hear “women don’t have to dance in their underwear in public or be ditzy to be popular!”
These pop stars and their posses know that sex sells. But when has it gone too far? When is a singer too young for “sexploitation”? When will culture-makers realise that there may be things more valuable than a quick buck? Taylor Momson, 16, will tell you that caring about her fans would be, like, totally pushing it.
The Gossip Girl star, singer and lover of controversial sound bites, was recently quoted in the Daily Mail as saying 'I didn’t get into this to be a role model. So I'm sorry if I’m influencing your kids in a way that you don’t like, but I can’t be responsible for their actions. I don’t care.'
The charming child also describes her new, raunchy image as freeing. Freeing? Really? I am sick of female celebrities being glassy eyed, dumbed-down brands without individual opinions or identity. They certainly don’t seem free to me. Where are the sassy, powerful women that both men and women can admire? There was it seems, more girl power around 50 years ago. When non-size-zero Aretha Franklin sang about being “a natural woman” and “respect”, you believed her. I want some more of that girl power in this century, with brains and all.
I’m not calling for a blanket ban on anything- art in all of its forms has always been controversial; provoking us to examine ourselves and our culture. But images of children are censored and films have ratings and timeslots. Perhaps it is time these regulations started to more stringently apply to the music business.
Sophie Hull is a sub editor for an international magazine publisher. She attends ChristChurch London and writes for their in-house magazine, Broadcast.
Sex sells ... but how young?
Women don’t have to dance in their underwear in public to be popular
Published 24 August 2010 | Sophie Hull