Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sings, plays guitar, writes songs, and is sexy too?

I was just listening to some Orianthi during my bike ride and found myself thinking about her particular variety of talents. Her best of course is as a guitar player; she's still young, but great for her age, with promise of being a real notable figure in the field eventually. You'd think that would be enough to get her secure in the music business, but it doesn't work that way.

She's also a fairly good singer. When I say "fairly good" I mean by the standards of the music industry. If she were just one of the girls down at the local supermarket she'd probably be one of the best singers you know, if not the best. But compared to the other singers you're hearing on records, she's only serviceable, nothing special.

As a songwriter, she's nothing special. Her songs are a little clumsy and derivative, the words ranging from trite to bland, the melodies and arrangements solid but never unexpected. One hopes she'll mature in this (or if not, let other people write songs for her; this used to be very common, but it's less common these days, and while I appreciate the virtues of the singer-songwriter, there were also virtues to employing the people who write better than they sing, and sing better than they write, like we used to do).

But she also just happens to be fairly hot. Not "top ten list" hot by any means, but if she were walking down the street, you'd look. She's got a pretty face and a fairly curvy body, at least. And for a female, it's nearly impossible to get by on talent, even when you've got three different ones (guitar, singing, and songwriting), unless you also happen to be at a minimum pretty, and ideally, also sexy. This is a lot less so for a male; certainly, being sexy is a very helpful thing for a male musician, and can substitute for a lot of talent, but male musicians ranging from gangly to butt-ugly get recording contracts all the time and even are allowed to make videos. With females, there are very few exceptions to the "must be hot" rule (though we will let an older female who used to be hot have a pass now and then). There are exceptions, of course, but so few that they tend to prove the rule (and even then, they are often relegated to the fringes of popular culture, condemned to being labelled in one of the various "alternative" or "indie" subsets, or forced to rely on more gimmicks like outrageous clothes.

I can't help wonder how many really good singers, guitar players, etc. we're passing up. Plenty of people have bemoaned this. The big fuss about Susan Boyle last year even brought the question briefly to the forefront. But it's not just, how many great guitar players out there we never hear of; it's also, how many people are out there that would have been great guitar players, but never even pursued their inborn talent because their looks would never have worked out for them anyway. If you assume that talent and looks are more-or-less randomly distributed and uncorrelated, it stands to reason that for every ultratalented person who was also in the top 1% of looks, there would be 99 others who weren't. Odds are high therefore that the most talented guitarists wouldn't also be the most attractive people, and so we're often losing out on their talents.

Then again, is my assumption faulty? If both beauty and musical talent have some genetic component, or an environmental one, or both, they might correlate just because a tendency to bring beautiful and talented people together might concentrate talent amongst their offspring, while in the rest of the population, talent would be randomly distributed and less likely to increase by concentration over the generations. If this is the case... maybe we should stop letting ugly but talented guys become rich and famous! Imagine how much more beautiful the next crop of pop stars would be if we stopped tainting the rock-star gene pool with the likes of Mötley Crüe.

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