In 2013 Miley Cyrus paired the ‘sex sells’ mantra with brown boots and smashed her wrecking ball into music industry headlines. In the process of igniting debate on music’s sexualisation, in its first week Cyrus’s ‘Bangerz’ sold 270,000 copies: an indication of the mantra’s accuracy. Sex, as O’Connor admitted following her online spat with Cyrus, has always been Rock & Roll’s natural bedfellow. Now however, in a musical landscape featuring Rihanna pole dancing in a bejewelled bikini; Robin Thicke blurring lines and Cyrus licking sledgehammers, the debate over the necessity of ‘stripping to succeed’ has never been so heated.
The British Board of Classifications plan to generate age appropriate music video ratings, highlights, not only the sexual extremes artists go to for success, but also the marketing strategies normality. The spiralling contest of hyper-sexualisation is considered by Lisa Paulon as a response to record label fears that artists can’t be sold ‘just through their music, so (consequently) a stronger hook’ is required. This assessment encompasses a vital variable in the sex sells debate; whilst the number of females marketing their sex includes the majority dominating todays charts, instances of men being objectified to the same extremes are minimal. A ‘male music industry sexualisation’ Google search corroborates this as, in lieu of male cases, links are provided only to female examples. These findings suggest that, primarily, the question of whether artists need to strip to succeed depends on gender. The record sales of Ed Sheran (who, in the first week, sold 182,000 copies of his album ‘X’ without even removing his shirt) further supports the theory.
Paulon’s report prompts the question of how we define ‘success’? Profit generated; an unbiased statistic produced through sales, seems to be the fairest marker. Through this definition successful artists include Rihanna and Lady Gaga, both of whom are listed as the highest earning females of 2013. However, internet user ‘Flion Flon’s’ statement questions whether their success is the result of talent or over exposed flesh. He argues that despite sexualised Rihanna selling ‘over 37 million albums’ he still ‘can’t name a single song’ by the artist. Whilst demonstrating the financial advantages of ‘strip marketing’, the argument also negates the ‘wealth equals musical success’ stance as forgettable music can hardly be considered successful. Flon’s derision backs Paulon’s report of marketing ‘hooks’ substituting talent and ‘a top record executive’s’ blaming of the industry’s ‘over-sexualising of female artists (leading) to “boring, crass and unoriginal” music’. Alluded to within these arguments is the insufficiency of financial gain as a marker of musical success and a consideration of how significant Rihanna and Miley Cyrus’s achievements are.
Musical talent employed appears as the most appropriate definition of success. However, as with poetic or artistic skill, effectively gauging musical ability is complex due to the subjective nature of artistic ability. Nevertheless, it is arguable that those who employ sexualised marketing strategies are less successful than those who find sexual hooks unnecessary. Adele, an artist who has sold 25 million albums and is listed as one of 2012’s richest women, has ‘never needed to be sexed up’ and consequently fronts the argument that, not only is stripping unnecessary but it also indicates a lack of success absent in more sexually modest artists.