A few weeks back, the Musky Canadian and I checked out buzz band Cults at The Empty Bottle (which was not half empty on this occasion).
The singer of Cults, Madeline Follin, looks like this:
And sings like this:
Needless to say, the Canadian and I both fell in love within 30 seconds of the band starting to play.
I enjoyed the entire show, and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve heard from Cults in the studio (check out their recent Daytrotter session). My question is: how much of my appreciation of the band’s music is directly related to Follin’s attractiveness? (Yes, I know I’m 42 years older than her. Shut up.)
I liked Cults’ songs before I had seen Follin, but my interest definitely picked up when I heard she was pretty, and picked up even more when I saw that for myself. And this phenomenon is by no means unique to Cults. I have a weakness for lady singers (to the point that when I started a band myself some 42 years ago, I insisted we have a girl singer; someday, HipHopHotomus will rise again), and I’m sure there are a lot of bands and artists who I like exponentially more because of how the singer looks. My attractiveness bias applies to everyone from Neko Case and Jenny Lewis to Fleetwood Mac.
Essentially, there’s a spectrum that ranges from artists who are legitimately awesome, where it’s a small bonus if the singer is hot (Neko Case) to artists that I probably wouldn’t pay attention to if the singer had a different face (She & Him, The Kills).
It’s not that the music itself is irrelevant — far from it — but it would be disingenuous to claim that I’m not more compelled to buy an album or go to a show if there’s a pretty girl in the mix. The show part of that last statement makes perfect sense: it’s human nature to gravitate toward attractive people, and at shows you can see said attractiveness in person. Music recordings are a different story, however.
As a strictly auditory medium, music lacks a visual element (except for the 1980s, when MTV revolutionized everything!). More accurately, music leaves space for the listener to add visuals, to complement what they’re hearing with imagination. And one of the easiest ways for the brain to fill that void is to picture the person singing the song — especially if that person happens to be beautiful. The combination of a pretty voice and a pretty face allows the listener’s brain to keep things in harmony.
I’m not proud that I’m so easily compelled by a pair of so-blue-they-don’t-look-human eyes,
or assorted other physical charms, but neither am I ashamed. Pop music and physical attractiveness have long been bedfellows. From heart-throbs like Elvis Presley and Paul McCartney to sirens like The Supremes, the top of the charts are always littered with pretty. And shows like American Idol tend to reinforce the idea that attractiveness is a prerequisite for pop music stardom.
Liking a band more than you otherwise would because of physical beauty is a kind of guilty pleasure, akin to enjoying a Backstreet Boys song because the melody is so fucking catchy. You know you shouldn’t whistle that song while you walk down the street, but you can’t help yourself. It’s human nature.
So while I might feel secret, shameful disappointment when I find out that Tift Merritt is not as good-looking as her voice makes her seem, and while I might cringe a bit when I certain certain bands come up on my iPod that I know are not worthy of being there strictly based on their music, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.
The answer to the titular question of this post: Pretty matters. Probably a lot. It’s not everything, but it does matter. And if you pretend it doesn’t, then you’re kidding yourself.