Blame Lily Allen, her trainers and ballgown chic and her line for New Look if you must (ooh, let’s do), female singers who have emerged in the past few years haven’t been allowed to be just that, they have to be a style icon too, and the stranger the better. Want people to know who you are? Better turn up to the Brits wearing a lace body stocking. On a sliding scale, we’ve got Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Jessie J, Paloma Faith and Florence Welch, and that’s not to mention Katy Perry and Rihanna’s increasingly plastic wardrobes. Even Ellie Goulding, who has the advantage of possessing the ability to play an instrument and come up with a decent tune or two, ends up on magazine covers in her pants.
The gripe is not that pop stars are wearing ridiculous clothing, it’s that being a style icon isn’t optional. You’ve got a record out? Great, fine, we’ll get to that, but first tell us where you got that cerise eyeliner and how much you’re willing to spend on a pair of shoes, and oops, we haven’t mentioned your album at all so we’ll just put a little note at the end reminding people that you’re actually a singer and that they can buy something of yours that isn’t your new line for Very.
Having something to say has moved from the music to what is physically displayed. It’s not about the ba-bling-ba-bling – fair point, Jessie J, but people recognise you for your goth-porn wig of a hair style and that gravel crap stuck in your lipgloss, not for whatever statement your songs are (barely) trying to make. Fair enough if your songs aren’t meant to be saying anything, but so many of these singers are touted as being antidotes to anodyne pop puppets, as someone real offering something real. And it’s a particular school of new acts that this seems to apply to. The likes of Imogen Heap and Jesca Hoop dress like they’ve been raised by crows, but they never seem to get asked about how they get their hair to sit perfectly; it’s the Imelda Mays that push their image so much, and it seems, really, to be masking a lack of personality and, well, tunes. It is perhaps too early to tell, but it certainly doesn’t feel like we’ll be listening to Paloma Faith’s Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful in twenty, ten, even five years’ time. People have always wanted to imitate how their favourite singers and celebrities look, but this is something else. This is music attached to fashion, not the other way round, and frankly, both are suffering.