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Adele Proves That It’s Talent, Not Just Sex, That Sells

We’ve been fans of chart-topping British songstress Adele since her debut album 19—she’s hyper talented, likeable and something about her just seems… different. We couldn’t quite figure out what sets her apart until last week, when XL Recordings founder Richard Russell pointed it out: Adele sells music based on the merits of her songs alone. “The whole message with [Adele] is that it’s just music… there are no gimmicks, no selling of sexuality.” Russell told The Guardian, adding that this tendency to over-sexualize—as opposed to focusing on the music—has led to “boring, crass and unoriginal” songs from female artists.

We’re sure Russell doesn’t mean to say that Adele isn’t sexy—anyone who’s seen her rock a microphone knows for a fact that she is. But the way she’s marketed her success on her rise to the top is almost exactly the opposite of the way other female stars conduct their business. Need proof? Look no further than your nearest magazine stand and check out the past several months of Rolling Stone. Rihanna graced the April 1 issue in shorts that, quite honestly, could have been painted on, and Katy Perry wore nothing but underwear and a come-hither stare in her most recent cover feature, “Sex, God, and Katy Perry.” (Yeah, why even make a mention of the music?) Either of these images would be right at home in Playboy, but isn’t RS a music magazine? Shouldn’t the focus of these cover stories be on these ladies’ songs and not their other, um, assets? Not to get all neo-feminist on everyone’s asses, but we doubt that the editors were asking Keith Richards to strip down for his cover shoot. (And actually, thank God for that.)

In an earlier interview with Q Magazine, Adele pondered her career and how sexifying it just wouldn’t work. “I can’t imagine having guns and whipped cream coming out of my tits,” she said. “Even if I had Rihanna’s body, I’d still be making the music I make and that don’t go together.” The girl’s got a point—revealing photos and ridiculous costume choices aside, her reign at the top of the charts goes beyond promotion and into the music. Like her image, the entire message of her runaway success 21 is contrary to most of the women who dominate Top 40 radio. “Rolling in the Deep” is a song of power and liberation, a stark contrast to RiRi glorifying bondage in “S&M” or J. Lo’s party anthem “On the Floor.” Come to think of it, there may only be one other Top 40 female who regularly keeps it PG while owning the charts, and that’s everyone’s favorite country sweetheart Taylor Swift.

Maybe it has to do with talent. After all, no offense to Rihanna and Katy Perry, but these are the facts: Adele is on a completely different plane when it comes to her writing ability and vocal range. Perhaps there’s a sliding scale of sexism in pop where talented female musicians prove their worth through music, and hot girls who can carry a tune get dressed up in barely-there outfits, hide behind a layer of vocal effects and rely on publicity stunts like making out with chicks onstage to promote their new material. You have to wonder: Is the world missing out on the next Janis Joplin or Chrissie Hynde because they don’t want to prance around in a thong and machine gun bra?

While we’re hopeful that Richard Russell is right and Adele will help alter how the industry markets female acts, change is slow in the music industry so it’s hard to be optimistic. But at the very least she’s stepping in the right direction, forcing label execs to look beyond the spandex-clad size zeroes for hit songs and to give consumers a little more credit. There’s nothing wrong with a fluffy pop song, and sure, sometimes it’s funny to watch people squirt whipped cream out of their tits. But maybe Adele will help spawn a new generation of songstresses who write less about getting sleazy and more about things that matter. Because while no one is arguing that sex sells, sometimes skill sells too.

The Return Of The Big Music Video Premiere

Is this a sign of the first wave of ’90s nostalgia? In the past few weeks it feels like we’ve gone back in time 15 years and returned to the age of the big music video. It’s about time too, as memorable music videos have been too few and far between lately.

Dr. Dre has been slowly drumming up the buzz with little snippets here and there from his long, long, long awaited album Detox. At one point the rap Chinese Democracy, Dre appears to be making good on his word that the album will be released in the near future, likely some time in April (Dre himself has been quoted as setting the release date for 4/20 – ha ha – but that’s a Wednesday. Albums are typically released on a Tuesday in the US).He’s already released the first single from the album, “Kush” and just released the video for second single “I Need a Doctor (feat. Eminem & Skylar Grey)”. While the video for “Kush” was appropriately epic visual for any mainstream hip-hop single, “I Need a Doctor” takes things to a whole ‘nother level.

The seven minute long video tells Dre’s entire life story (or at least the parts we care about) from a montage to his early 90s gangsta heyday to his collaborations with Eminem. Then a little car crash throws a wrench into the mix but it only serves to facilitate his recovery and his big beefy return to form. Seriously, the guys gotten jacked. His pockets must be swelling too – from the Ferrari 360 Moderna to Dre post workout Gatorade, the product placement in the video is off the chain.

Rihanna has remained as ubiquitous as ever, continuing to have a spot in seemingly every Top 40 hip hop and R&B song currently released (we’ll talk more about Kanye’s new video, and her appearance in it, a little later on). Rihanna capped off the month in big music videos with the visuals accompanying her new single “S&M”. While the song is a hit on pop radio, the video has, unsurprisingly, generated a lot of controversy.

In addition to the expected reaction to the risque imagery, photographer David LaChapelle claims that the video copies directly from some of his past work. LaChapelle, whose photos have appeared in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and GQ said, “The next time you make a David LaChapelle video you should probably hire David LaChapelle” in a tweet which has since been deleted. LaChapelle has also brought a lawsuit against the director of the video over the alleged infringement. You can check for yourself and take a look at side by side comparisons of the video and some of LaChapelle’s work.

Kanye West, not one for small gestures, just dropped the video for “All of the Lights”, the fourth single from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The track, the centerpiece of an album referred to by at least one critic as “the Sgt Pepper of hip hop” is an oversized, blown up banger. Such a track needs a striking, standout visual to accompany it and Kanye did not disappoint.

Borrowing heavily from the art style of French filmmaker Gaspard Noe’s Enter the Void, the clip is highly stylized while not as crazy over-the-top as his video for “Runaway.” Effervescent colors swirl and the seizure inducing flashing lights pervade the clip as video switches from the story arc presented in the song’s lyrics to shots of Rihanna and her boobs in some kind of boob harness. A does of controversy for this one too: the video has gotten a warning added to the beginning of the clip on YouTube alerting viewers as to its potentially seizure inducing nature. Overall, B+ for the video—it gets points for Rihanna and the quality art direction but penalized for Kanye’s sleeveless shirt.

We can’t make mention of some of the big videos of the past month without forgetting Britney Spears and Radiohead. Britney came back with a bang, or, if you prefer the metaphor presented in the video for “Hold It Against Me”, like some glammed-up meteor impact. You can check out our coverage of it from earlier this week here. Radiohead may have had the biggest or the most hyped releases of the past few weeks with their announcement and sudden release of their new album The King of Limbs sent shockwaves through the Internet. Adding to the stir was the video for the first single off the album, “Lotus Flower”. If you haven’t seen it yet you’re doing yourself a disservice.

The question that is begged by all these big premieres is, “Why?” With the industry struggling to generate revenue from the traditional methods you would think they would be more hesitant to back large, big budget affairs for videos. This all harkens back to the last golden age of pop music, the mid to late ’90s (Boy Bands, Girl Groups and Will Smith) which went hand in hand with the age of the multi-million dollar music video. This is also the last time MTV would play music videos, ever. While they’re all accruing millions of views and thousands of comments online, why is it now that artists are returning to the visual medium, to the budget-busting music video, to make a statement? Only time will tell if such a strategy will work. For now, let’s just enjoy the visuals.

 


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