Role models are important

Role models are important

Let’s strip away the veneer of the ‘are musicians good role models or bad ones?’ discussion. Why should they have to be role models at all? And why are they being sold as such?

Good day, and welcome. Allow me to set the scene; year 11 English class at a girls’ comprehensive, writing about why pop stars are (or are not) good role models. Out of a class of 32, 31 wrote from the desired stance. One, alone, questioned why musicians had to conform as role models. That one was I; the most awkward writer the English Department ever dreaded receiving into their ‘hallowed’ halls. And it’s true, isn’t it: why should artists be role models? Why should they be card-carrying ambassadors of social convention? If you read the tabloids, that’s what ‘role model’ usually means.

Cheryl Cole, Justin Bieber and Béyonce are just some of the famous popstars touted as being ‘good role models’. They have close to no bad press, everything they do is lauded and, for now, they balance precariously on their pedestals. Courtney Love, Boy George and Britney Spears all toppled from their pedestals as soon as the press could shove them up there. And why? Because Courtney Love, Boy George and Britney Spears were not ‘good role models’.

Within the popular music industry, the demographic can be anyone and everyone – and it’s ‘everyone’ that the music factories are targeting, because ‘everyone’ is where the money is. A backstory that pulls the heart strings through a shredder, a catchy song and an infallible image all add up to a malleable, sellable, money-making machine.

Excuse me, I mean pop star.

It is fair to say that if these musicians choose to be famous, they should expect in this day and age to live constantly under scrutiny and behave appropriately. As Spiderman once said ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’. And as a pop star there is great power. Power to influence music trends (T-Pain and auto-tune, anyone?), fashion trends (Florence Welch and red hair?) and even cosmetic surgery trends – Cheryl Cole’s dimple imitation implants.

1) These aren’t very important trends, are they? They’re not trends in thinking. They’re not politicial or socially active trends. They’re fads with a commercial basis. ‘Good’ role models in this context are unthreatening pretties who won’t make people think – just spend, spend, spend as they try to visually emulate their heroes.

2) Is this fair? Should any popstar, even one being chauffered with their seatbelt on in a 100% commercial vehicle, be obliged to be a role model of any kind?

As much as they are pimped by their record companies as perfect, pop stars are not infallible. Everyone makes mistakes, has lapses in judgement, regardless of whether they’ve had a number one chart hit or not. Not all musicians sign up to be a role model; some musicians are in the business to show the world their artistry. Artists like Justin Bieber give money to charity and in return are showered with affection and support by loyal ‘Beliebers’. Christofer Drew Ingle, in contrast, answered the interview question of ‘what do you do when you’re not recording or on tour?’ honestly. He told the interviewer he smoked herb, slept with his girlfriend and chilled. This did not go down so well with all his fans.

Remember Fall Out Boy? Pete Wentz wrote lyrics, played bass and had noodz. Everyone loved him, natch. But who ever loved Patrick Stump, the chubby, cutesy lead singer with the angel’s voice? Not so many. Now Patrick’s lost the weight, he’s gained some style points and a whole bunch of fangirls. Point. In. Case.

It’s a strange phenomenon, the ‘role model’. Why do we expect someone to have personal values, look a certain way, perform certain tasks we wouldn’t do ourselves? I think we like to have someone to look up to and hero worship because we need someone in easy reach to fill the gaps. The thing is, we all have personal goals, so we all have personal role models. That’s fair enough. But our personal goals are sometimes too individual to be widely commercial – The Machine needs to appeal to the lowest common denominator to get the money flowing. Look – Bieber’s got a really symmetrical face! Look – Beyonce never falls over, always hits her notes and has a really nice bottom!

Creative types, such as musical artists, should be free to do what they need to create true, meaningful music, and not be forced to teeter on shaky pedestals. Artists serve to write us songs we can relate to, laugh to, dance to, and cry to. To write the real, profound lyrics listeners want, they need life experience. And what life experience is there to be gained from an existence encased in a PR-approved bubble?

Particularly in the music industry at the moment, there is a serious case of ‘imagery over artistry’. And that is sadder than a once-golden pop star resorting to desperate measures clamber back onto their pedestal. It’s arguable as to who invented the idea of the popstar role model. The public? Press? Music factories? But ‘the public’, broken down, is loads of people with very singular life experiences and thoughts, and it’s up to the public to decide if they would rather follow, say, Bieber, or Buddha.

It’s not a universal truth, but it isn’t half becoming it. Let’s start a riot in our heads. No more pandering to vacant idolisation in an image-based society. More ugly people with beautiful voices!

If we want to celebrate musicians as role models. we shouldn’t celebrate Justin Bieber as the norm and Susan Boyle as the exception. Quite the reverse, please and thank you.

Justin Bieber – he’s a boy with a decent voice and a symmetrical face.

We don’t think Florence ever intended to be a role model. She intended to be a girl with a machine. However, her red hair has been emulated by many and talked half to death.

Patti Smith had a messy time with love, cut her hair to look like Keith Richards and created powerful music you might have a strong reaction to in either direction. An interesting person. Not a clear-cut hero, but… many people have namechecked her as a role model for some aspect of their lives.