Sunday, June 29, 2014

Aging rock stars and how it can be a bit sexist

On Wednesday, I went to see Blondie in Cologne.  I'm not a huge Blondie fan, but big enough that I was really excited to hear hits like "Heart of Glass," "Atomic," and "One Way or Another."  To be clear, I don't actually follow Blondie at all; I actually just listen to the music and don't look out for them in the media.  And this is probably what my problem was because when Debbie Harry came out on stage, I thought to myself, "Whoa, Debbie Harry is old!"

Before you tell me I'm a raging idiot and of course Debbie Harry is old, let me clarify why this came to me as a surprise.  Debbie Harry's face is so tightly bound to Blondie's image that when the band was getting popular back in the day, everyone actually thought Debbie Harry's name was Blondie (it wasn't, and there was a campaign from the band with buttons that said, "Blondie is a group.") Everyone knows what Debbie Harry looked like in the 70s because she graces t-shirts and other items as modern vintage.  At the concert, they were also selling t-shirts with her face on it, but it was an image from the 70s, not from now.  Even if I google "Debbie Harry Rolling Stone," the search results show a German cover from July 2011.  And guess what?  It's not Debbie Harry as how she currently looks, but what she looked like 40 years ago:

Sure, the lead article is, "35 Years of Punk," along with "The Myth of Debbie Harry - Meeting with the Punk-Pop Goddess" and "Blondie - The New Album."  Although two out of the three articles deal with Debbie Harry now, Rolling Stone chose to feature her image from the 70s.  It's only when you look inside that you see what she currently looks like.

Compare this with the Rolling Stones or Black Sabbath, both of whom I saw within the same week that I went to see Blondie.  Everyone knows what Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and Ozzy Osbourne looks like today.  We recognize them immediately and know that they're old.  When I google "Rolling Stones Rolling Stone" or "Black Sabbath Rolling Stone," I get these images in the top search results:

Both of these covers are from the last year; The Rolling Stones' cover is from May 2013, and the Black Sabbath one is from September 2013 (note that it is the Spanish edition).  Granted, these are heavily photoshopped and I can tell you this because I literally just saw both bands in the last week and a half.  The point though is -- you know they're old and you're not surprised to see them looking as they should because yes, they're over 65 years old.

This brings me to the point that I think it's a bit sexist that Debbie Harry's image from the 70s is still being used.  Granted, it might be of the band's choice, but I think it's also a bit of societal pressure.  Clothing for little girls mimics items made for older girls or even women, but then as soon as you hit a certain age, society tells women that we should all look younger.  Heaven forbid we all actually look our age!  Girls make themselves up to look older and wear clothing that makes them look a certain age, but then women also make themselves up to look younger.  There are products galore out there to make you look that perfect age.

Debbie Harry is, as Rolling Stone pointed out, a punk-pop goddess.  She did a lot for MTV back in the day, and she is a role-model for a lot of women in rock.  Blondie as a band needs to stop using her image from the golden age of MTV.  They're still a great band making phenomenal music.  Having to rely on Debbie Harry's image from the 70s is sending the wrong message to girls and women in rock today -- we can't get old and we must be eternally, youthfully beautiful.  She and the band should really embrace her image now; she can still rock and she is beautiful the way she is.  And to underline this point, this is what she looked like at the concert I went to in Cologne:

She still looks fantastic and not in a plasticine sort of way.  Even if you think about other women in music that are aging -- Madonna and Cher, to name just two -- they are also stuck in a weird place where they're trying to look forever youthful.  Whether or not they are succeeding is a different matter, but I don't really see Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, or Ozzy Osbourne really trying to keep looking like their younger selves.  "Men are like wine, they get better with age," is something I hear so often.  But women?  Eh, there's always going to be a younger woman out there who wants to have an older man.

But back to Blondie -- I was actually really annoyed with myself that I was so shocked to realize that Debbie Harry is old.  It might be my own fault because I don't actively follow the band in the media at all, but on the other hand, if there is anything about Blondie, it shows Debbie Harry from the 70s (unless you open the magazine).  I can only hope that at some point, women will catch up to their male counterparts and society will accept aging female rock stars.  A good first step would be to embrace those from the past.


Ningxin Wu said...

I always thought that the point of being a rock star is that you don't have to follow what the mainstream "beauty" ist. While the pop princes and princesses mostly rely on their appearance and stylist, rock star should stick to the shits that they don't give. Maybe it's about Debbie Harry's vanity. Maybe getting old is really women's worst fear!?
Well it would be great if women like Debbie Harry can just let it go because we do need role models to tell us that we can still be awfully cool by being "old".

plee said...

I agree that rock and roll is not following the mainstream, but I think to a certain degree, it applies more to men than women. Female rock stars still have to look beautiful. Take a look at men in rock like Ozzy Osbourne or Iggy Pop -- they are by no means mainstream, but they are successful. Women in rock still have to be beautiful to a certain degree -- Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, Gwen Stefani.

I don't think it's about Debbie Harry's vanity. She's not the one making the call on the Rolling Stone covers. As for the t-shirts at a concert...the band needs to collectively decide to say, "This is Debbie Harry now and she's just as beautiful as 40 years ago!"

Cris Mic said...

Hello Guys!! Can anyone suggest me names of famous female rock stars ? My son’s school teacher gave him a project which he has to submit by next week. So please suggest me if anyone knows.

plee said...

Hi Cris Mic, I just saw your message now. I hope you could find some female rock stars for your son's project! Besides Debbie Harry, there are lots of others -- Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, Joan Baez, Shirley Manson, Courtney Love...I'm sure you found something interesting!