Thursday, October 14, 2010

Style Over Image

I follow on Twitter an Irish band called Talulah Does The Hula. They're a five piece group made up of four girls and a boy. They're relatively new on the scene but the band members are seasoned pros to the Irish gigging circuit due to being in different bands before this one. If you don't know who they are, check out this video for a good example of what they do.

Have fun trying to get that one out of your head today.

The reason why I mention them is that recently they played a gig at the Hard Working Class Heroes festival here in Dublin and were reviewed by as part of the festivities. You can find that review here. I think we can all agree that it's not the most professionally written piece and it has been responded to by other bloggers already so I won't jump on the bandwagon of telling the writer how stupid it was. But I do want to talk about the band's response to it on Twitter because it brings up an interesting point and has had me thinking;

Fed up with clothes-obsessed reviews. God forbid putting on dresses and suits. Maybe if we wear potato sacks they'll write about the music?
Now that's a question. Should reviewers mention things like band image when referring to a band? Is it part of what makes a band?

This is certainly not a new phenomena. Even back in the 60s journalists were talking about style over substance. The Beatles were heavily criticised in the press for their long hair and drainpipe trousers when they first got noticed. Even after they had made it big, in their first press conference in America as soon as they got off the plane a large amount of the questions were about their hair. Here is a transcript from

Q: "Does all that hair help you sing?"
PAUL: "What?"

Q: "Does all that hair help you sing?"
JOHN: "Definitely. Yeah."

Q: "You feel like Sampson? If you lost your hair, you'd lose what you have? 'It'?"
JOHN: "Don't know. I don't know."
PAUL: "Don't know."

Q: "How many of you are bald, that you have to wear those wigs?"
RINGO: "All of us."
PAUL: "I'm bald."

Q: "You're bald?"
JOHN: "Oh, we're all bald, yeah."
PAUL: "Don't tell anyone, please."
JOHN: "And deaf and dumb, too."

Q: "Do you know American slang? Are you for real?"
PAUL: "For real."
JOHN: "Come and have a feel."
RINGO: (laughs)

Q: "Aren't you afraid of what the American Barbers Association is going to think of you?"
RINGO: "Well, we run quicker than the English ones, we'll have a go here, you know."

Q: "Listen, I got a question here. Are you going to get a haircut at all while you're here?"
RINGO: "Nope."
PAUL: "No, thanks."
GEORGE: "I had one yesterday."
RINGO: "And that's no lie, it's the truth."
PAUL: "It's the truth."

Q: "You know, I think he missed."
JOHN: "Nope."
GEORGE: "No, he didn't. No."
RINGO: "You should have seen him the day before."

Now firstly I'd like to point out that at this stage the guys are all pretty young. George was only 21. So to be able to deal with this sort of questioning at that age as well as they did is pretty impressive. But what the hell was going on? These guys make sound high brow.

Lady Gaga has had a similar problem but in a very different way. How often do you read about the nuances of her songs? About her voice? The production value of her records? I don't think I've ever read anything about her that wasn't talking about either her clothes, her state of mind or her ability to have/not have a penis.

Gaga, off down the shops for some milk.
In this regard though, she is a very different beast as she intentionally draws this attention to her. This is part of her "performance" which has spilled from the stage into the real world. She wants to create this mystique about herself. In essence, it was planned all along and that's the difference. Her appearance is her image. Something professionally thought out to represent her. She wants you to write about it.

The Beatles image was their style. They wore clothes they liked and thought looked good. They would have worn their clothes had they been in a band or not. They thought it looked good to match on stage, sure, but off stage they still wore shirts, ties and drainpipe trousers.

And this is where I can understand Talulah Does The Hula's problem with their review. They wore dresses because they like them. They wear high heels because the like to wear high heel shoes. It's not done to grab your attention. It's done because it feels comfortable.

As a band made up of mostly girls they will, however, always draw this attention. They recently supported The Bangles in Dublin and if you look at their history you can see some of the tension that the press' obsession with image brought to the band as they focused more and more on Susanna Hoffs as "the pretty one". Two fifths of Talulah should be well used to it too. As former members of The Chalets they will understand how much the press can obsess over image.

There are pluses to this epidemic too though. Some people can be drawn to a band because of their image. It can help people connect with them and form a bond that goes past the music. I know a lot of people suddenly started wearing polka dot dresses to some Chalets shows... that's no coincidence. Fans of punk music will dress in a punk style. It's all part of the scene. So, yeah, they probably would write about the potoato sack you're wearing if you indeed chose to do so.

I think Talulah Does The Hula can take some pride from the fact that people think they look great on stage. For one thing it shows that you don't have to dress like a boy to be in a rock band. That's a good message for kids coming up. Also they show that you don't have to dress in a bikini to get noticed as a female musician. They're doing their thing and they shouldn't let the press get them down. Nobody listens to the press anyway. And haven't for the last 50 years at least.

Who thinks of haircuts when they think of The Beatles? All we remember is the music.

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