Thursday, October 3

interview: richard ley-hamilton on sexuality in the music industry

Photo from the audience

On the back of both my previous posts re: my feature in this week's Critic, below is fragments of my discussion with Richard about sexuality in the music industry, masculine image and audience demographics. 


Discussion on Sexuality in the Music Industry

In terms of the music industry in general - like most industries - it’s pretty patriarchal, it’s male dominated because of the money involved. Sexism likely survives because sex, as a commodity, has a high value. In respect to female artists, there’s a lot more cultural currency in selling an artist as sexual than there is authentic. Male sexuality is also something that can be channeled through a group like One Direction. If you even go back in time to groups like Backstreet Boys, their music was marketed in a sexual direction and a lot of it was targeted towards the homosexual market - these boys were idealised Western icons. Also, if you look at their videos where its raining and their clothes a half off - there’s a homoerotic subtext. So there is sexuality in the male sector of the music industry - it’s not an issue for solely female artists. But in that context, these are controlled artists.

Sexuality becomes a priority for selling female artists in my opinion. Lorde, as part of the new generation of female artists, is a musician who I think naturally comes up in this discussion. Although she writes the vocal melodies and the lyrics, her music is composed by a man, she is managed by an incredibly business literate guy. In her first music video the portrayal was authentic. In her second video for "Tennis Courts" Lorde was sexualised. When I watch that video I feel uncomfortable because I see what’s going on. It’s not as clear as Miley Cyrus’ videos (although I’m not sure if she’s going for some sense of irony). I’m particularly concerned because of her age. But the thing is, I’m thinking this because the consumer mind has been over-sexualised therefore with Lorde’s video that may have not been their intention. I might just be too sensitive to the issue. Sexualisation in media and art has become the norm - it is inherent in almost anything that is sold.

Discussion on the Masculine Image

Vulnerability doesn't have cultural capital as much I guess. There are a lot of bands about power and wit and cleverness but there’s not necessarily a lot of bands that are about vulnerability. Coldplay is a prime example of a band that has been knocked consistently for Chris Martin’s openness. He’s an incredibly talented musician but he’s incredibly fragile too and Coldplay get knocked to shit for that. Thom Yorke is just as flawed but he doesn't push as hard to throw that image out there.

A lot of that masculine image I learnt from high school. It’s not necessarily a New Zealand specific thing but the Kiwi bloke stereotype or the idea of masculinity in New Zealand is a strong, recurring trope - particularly in who we idolise. People like Richie McCaw of Sir Edmund Hillary - strong, physical, active gentleman. I see that in University culture. The Scarfie culture, a large percentage of the guys I see walking around exude that macho ethos. Because they’re relying on an outdated stereotype to give them authenticity I think it’s far more important to stake your own claim, they represent a lack of emotional connection with themselves which is something that I think is important to externally express. They’re happy to take on the image of a generic masculine icon. 

Discussion on Audience

According to Facebook statistics a large number of our band Males' fan base are from the 14-20 year old female demographic. There are probably a range of factors as to why this is. The lyrics of Males, and I assume that’s what people listen to although I don’t necessarily myself, have a lot of fragility and I feel that females are more readily accepting of fragility than males because it relies on accepting that within yourself.  A part of the female stereotype is being sensitive and emotionally aware and having emotional intelligence.

Me: Sometimes I feel like that idea stems from internalised sexism so although it seems like a good thing to be fragile and identify with ideas of  fragility, it is also something you are taught to do because you’re female.

Exactly. A lot of the bullshit that surrounds sexuality stems from the 'men are from Mars women are from Venus' idea. I think it’s a consumerist and a capitalist issue as well because by splitting humankind into two completely different demographics you double the amount of money you can make - you don’t have to market music to one generic pool of emotions. Instead the music industry extract emotions and ideas and uses those to tell women and men who they are and then sell them things like music to satisfy that. Sexism is the social reality of that economic policy in a sense. When you look at the state of the world you have to look at all political and economic agendas behind pretty much any social ideologies.

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