I often wonder what makes people remember singers, if it’s their songs or their image. I pick my brain about what the audience appreciates more, their talent or the presentation of it. Comments such as “she’s not that good but she’s pretty so I’m a fan” and “he has talent but doesn’t look the part” are quite common to my ears. It confuses me, or are such sentiments an indication that is it both the song and the image that equal a great singer? Maybe there’s a measuring stick which has been designed by preference, but then again, what makes preference what it is? It surely has to have an influencing factor.
When I am listening to a song on the radio or soundcloud or a podcast, I expect to be seduced to listen to another line of it, I anticipate the talent, the blend of the beat and the voice to tempt my senses to open up for more and I just listen to feel how it makes me feel. I desire to be shaken into liking it, how the artist looks like is the least of my concern. The voice must tease my imagination into forming images I can accept or deny, make and remake. It’s a beautiful process of attention, if I am willing to give it. However, with videos, it’s quite different. What strikes me first is the look of the singer, and if I immediately grow a liking to it, if I actually resonate with it enough to readjust my posture into one of paying attention. As the images strike me, the song seems like a backdrop, not actually the centre point. The song becomes a silhouette while the images possess me like an unexpected reflex. I see if it makes ‘sense’, if it correlates to what the song says. Bad lighting or a case of a bad concept of the video can make me dislike the song altogether. I notice that the song becomes a reference point here, and the images matter more. Or is it maybe the blend of the two that appeals to me? I often wonder and the answer does not come easy. Does the singer heighten the appeal of the song, or does the song speak for itself?
Artists have become brands in which their songs present themselves. Talent is hardly a prerequisite anymore, it’s about being sellable, being relevant to the needs of your market, the whole package! Marketing has had an upper hand at playing the determining factor of a singer’s success, because the singers, relative to their image, have evolved into products, and how that is made attractive enough to grab attention is what leads to success, in the conventional manner. It is not wrong, business is an aspect of music but the business sense of it seems to overweigh other factors concerned. So, I’m tempted to say that in our era, a singer’s image dominates what they sing about and that domination is founded on how well their branding strategy is, how well they sell themselves through that image.
For example, a singer’s presence at an award show is literally seen as a performance act in terms of what they are wearing, who they are with and so forth, so the manner in which we look at performance has also diversified. Image is sensationalized, while talent is but a shadow that often isn’t that necessary by mainstream media standards, more so by the accepting attitude of the audience of those standards.
I would say only a minority of people are not concerned about the singer’s image and a majority of them are. In many cases, the song either enhances the image or silences it. The song can be great and gorgeously made, but the singer’s persona and image heightens its likeability.
Angie Thato Chuma