Little girls grow up. So do teenagers. Even when they’re pop stars. So it’s unrealistic and possibly selfish to expect anyone to be frozen in time. And yet it can still feel like an awful clunking mistake when an artist who sparked our attention in one guise, suddenly wants to be something altogether different.
I’m talking about the alarming and yes, I’m going to say it disappointing new phase in the career of Gabriella Cilmi, the 18 year old Aussie girl with the big big talent whose first single Sweet About Me, released when she was only 16, felt like a fresh breeze on a muggy day.
With a cool, slightly indie style and a voice that made you want more, I loved everything about this song and video. Still do. Fresh, irreverant, a nod and a wink to girl power. Fashion isn’t the focus. Neither is sex. The ‘sexy’ is casual and implied. Not in-your-face-tits-out. What an exciting and fresh new talent, I thought.
Now watch this, two years later. It’s Gabriella Cilmi’s first single from her new album:
The song is called Woman On A Mission and this time the lyrics are very self-consciously girl power:
“I”m a woman, on a mission. Nothing can stop me, I’m stronger than ever, I’m gonna see this through”
Visually, the message is also whiplash-different with Gabriella dressed in various bras and undies and latex surrounded by dancers in lingerie.
Now, I don’t have a problem with sexy. I love Lady Gaga’s Telephone video and there are women in their underwear in that video too, including Gaga herself. Hell, at one point she’s in the nude.
But this new Gabriella Cilmi image feels different. It feels fake. Not authentic. Not like she’s in control AT ALL. This feels like a bunch of guys got together and decided Gabriella needed to make a statement about being grown up! Sexy! SEXXXXXXYYYYYY!!!!!!!!
If you’re perplexed as to why an artist who is going to sell her music to an overwhelmingly female audience would have to even be portrayed as sexy to men, music critic Bernard Zuel once explained it to me. He said that the marketing theory goes like this: if the female audience see men with their tongues hanging out at the sight of a particular female artist, they’ll be more likely to buy that artist’s music because they too, would like guys to feel that way about them. Nice.
Like I said. I have no problem with sexy. Beyonce’s videos are sexy too. But she’s a WOMAN. Forgive me for having a Nana Moment here but Gabriella Cilmi is 18. That’s not a lot of worldly sexual life experience. Maybe that’s why the clip and the new image feels so jarring to me. I want to look away when she’s wiggling around in her tramped up lingerie. It feels forced and desperate when there is no need for that image BECAUSE SHE HAS A PHENOMENAL VOICE.
And it’s not just me having this reaction. While these thoughts have been percolating around in my brain for a few weeks, Freelance writer Jenny Vuk also wrote about it in The National Times recently, saying of Gabriella Cilmi:
….her turn as ”a sophisticated, sexy woman” doesn’t so much remind me of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly as it does a moth irrevocably drawn to a flame. Under the public glare of those proverbial bright lights, every few years another golden-voiced angel sheds more than her clothes morphing into our newest lip-synching sex kitten.
When cleverly engineered sexuality works you get Kylie, Madonna, Rihanna, heck, even Lady Gaga. But casualties remain high. For every Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne there’s a Britney Spears; for every Jess and Lisa Origliasso (aka The Veronicas), there’s a Nikki Webster.
When does sexuality lose its allure? When the balance tips into porn or, worse still, parody. Look no further than a 17-year-old Miley Cyrus taking to the stage sporting little more than a hat and a smile while gyrating against a stripper’s pole. On second thoughts. Avert your eyes. Quickly. Sex doesn’t just sell – it sells out.
While Cilmi swears that her new image is all her own doing and there was no pressure from her record label, if her ”mission” is to sell albums, she might want to think a little more outside the box or, at least, the lingerie drawer, next time around.
Oh yes indeed. I understand that every girl wants to grow up and it’s a natural part of that to pump up the overt sexiness when you’re about that age. Lordy, some of the outfits I got around in in my late teens were….frightening.
But it’s one thing to wear a push-up bra and a too-short skirt to a nightclub when you’re 18 , another to make it your marketing image when you’re trying to becoming an international pop star who – one can only assume – is looking for longevity beyond just one or two albums.
Even if Gabriella herself was BEGGING to get her gear off (to prove to the world she’s growing up or to explore her burgeoning sexuality), those EXPERIENCED ADULTS who are guiding her career should have set her straight that it’s not the best way to ensure longevity in your career or respect as an artist.
And to go with her new video and publicity shots (holding whip and in boots and suspenders above), now she’s also on the cover of FHM, in more lingerie. Here are the pictures:
Her incredible voice has been eclipsed by an overly produced sound. Her unique quirky appeal has been dumbed down and sexed up so that now she resembles every other wannabe popstar out there from Heidi Montag to the Pussycat Dolls on down.
Down being the operative word.
And for what end?
Everything that was unique and fresh about Gabriella Cilmi’s look and sound and story has been sacrificed for a push-up bra and suspenders (does anyone actually wear suspenders in real life other than strippers or maybe the prostitutes in Underbelly? ANYONE?)
I don’t know who is managing Gabriella Cilmi but I would respectfully suggest they change their approach immediately. With this current strategy – which seems to be encapsulated in GET-HER-GEAR-OFF-FAST-PHWOOOAAARRRR, she’s become just another girl in undies. Just another girl getting her bra out and lying around in a wet t-shirt.
If you’re a reality TV star, grasping at the fading moments of your 15 minutes of fame, that’s one thing.
But what a damn waste for an artist who has, inarguably, TREMENDOUS talent. My hope is that this is merely a misstep and that the record company will allow her to put her clothes back on for her next album.
Or that she finds management who understand that there are women who can be respected and rewarded for their talent without taking off their clothes.
And to those commenters who are going to preach “Don’t judge, she’s just a girl etc”? I’m not apologising for my judgement on this one. It’s called critical thought actually. I’m not judging Gabriella Cilmi’s voice or her talent.
And I’m certainly not judging the kind of person she is. What would I know about that?
I’m judging a lousy, sexist decision taken by whoever it was who chose to market this talented chick in a demeaning, tacky way.
What do you think about the way female popstars are marketed?
Who gets it right?