entertainment

The music industry only knows how to do one thing with young women.

By MIA FREEDMAN

My daughter wants to be a singer when she grows up. She’s 8 years old and with increasing desperation, I’m trying to suggest possible alternatives. Artist. Writer. Entrepreneur. Anything.

This is one bubble I’m quite keen to burst. Because when you’re interested in something as a kid, you start looking around for role models. And if you’re a little girl who wants to be a singer, you’ll be looking a long time before you find one with her clothes on.

Miley Cyrus performing on Breakfast TV earlier this week.

Last night I watched another superb episode of Australian Story, profiling a young Australian woman who always dreamed of a singing career and came incredibly close to having one after she won the first season of The Voice back in 2012.

Karise Eden had a hugely troubled childhood and spent her teens in and out of foster homes and refuges after leaving school and home aged 12. Her emotional story and her underdog status captured the public imagination as she progressed through the series towards the final but it was always her voice that eclipsed everything.

Karise, during and after The Voice (post continues after gallery).

I remember the moment her name was announced as the winner. As jubilant and poignant as it was, I felt a fierce concern for her wellbeing. Almost dread. The music industry is notoriously demanding and constraining – especially of young women. Sure enough, just a few weeks later, Karise pulled out of her Australian tour, stopped recording music and walked out of public life. In last night’s episode of Australian Story, Karise Eden explained that it had all been too much for her.

“If I could put one word on my journey over the last couple of years it would definitely be ‘turbulent’” she said wryly, describing the peaks and troughs after winning The Voice.

Karise says fans were constantly coming to her to share their own issues of self-harm and depression. “I didn’t know what to say, I was 19, only a kid myself,” she explained. “I felt like a fake, like a joke.”

Colleen Ward, a friend of Karise noted, “Once she won, everybody was wanting her. She was the person of the moment. She was being pushed and pulled.”

Her foster aunt talks about her time on the show and how she was forced to wear make-up, have her hair done and wear fancy clothes and how “anyone who knows Karise knows she wouldn’t have wanted any of that.”

In the end, it was stress, anxiety a history of various mental illness diagnoses and the overwhelming realisation that she wasn’t strong enough to deliver what was required of her by the music industry machine.

Three days into a national tour, she walked away. Two years later, she’s reemerging. Pregnant, engaged and doing it on her own terms.

She’s still only 22.

I hope she makes it. Because we need more women in the music industry who break the mould of booty shaking, leotard-wearing, overly sexualised pop star. It’s not just Miley and Arianna Grande and Britney and Nicky Minaj and Rhianna and Iggy Azalea. It’s also Madonna and Shakira and Kylie and Beyonce and J-Lo. It’s every woman at every age who is forced (either by management or market forces) to pull focus with her body if she wants to sell her music on a grand scale.

The music industry seems genuinely puzzled by women who won’t conform to their objectifying demands. And very few women at that global level of fame and success have the power to choose how they are portrayed. Sia and Taylor Swift are notable exceptions.

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A few years ago I wrote about my bitter disappointment with rising Australian star Gabriella Cilmi. It wasn’t Cilmi herself who pissed me off but her management.

Overnight, they took the kick-arse 16-year-old with the incredible voice from this:

to this:

The promotion for that appalling song included the requisite photo shoot with a men’s magazine where she was portrayed like this:

Predictably, after massive success with her first single, her second one bombed. Within months the now 18-year-old had disappeared, just like Karise Eden.

Mia.

And in a recent interview to promote a new album in the UK where she now lives, she too revealed the intense pressure she’d been under as a teenager, in Cilmi’s case to sexualise her image. She recounted the disasterous toll it took.

“Somehow, it wasn’t about music anymore, it was all about the way I looked,” she said in an interview for Vintage TV’s Needle Time. “It was about stylists and choreography and photo shoots, having to wake up and do my hair every morning and look glamorous.”

Of the topless photoshoot she was forced to do for FHM she says: “I remember locking myself in the loo, bawling my eyes out and thinking how did I end up here? It was a hard time for me, I just kind of felt like a bit of a dolly, a puppet. And that’s not ever what I envisaged for myself. Maybe [I imagined] being on the cover of Rolling Stone one day but not being on the cover of FHM. It wasn’t my dream. So that’s when I kind of broke-up with my management and the label.”

Good move. Run, don’t walk. But it cannot be overstated how hard that must have been for a teenager surrounded by adults pressuring her to go in a different direction. Cilmi has now taken back control of her music and has started her own record label to release her album.

I asked News Ltd music editor Kathy McCabe about the pressure placed on female artists to conform, she said this:

“The Australian music industry probably has a better track record than their international counterparts for nurturing unique female talent rather than trying to oversexualise or homogenise them for the pop market. Firstly, they just can’t compete in that space.
Could you imagine Jessica Mauboy, Samantha Jade, Dami Im or The Veronicas bootyshaking in barely-there leotards? They would be crucified by fans and critics here because it simply isn’t them.
“Secondly, Australian female artists just don’t have to play that card to find their audience as demonstrated by the enduring and respected careers enjoyed by Sarah Blasko, Missy Higgins, Kasey Chambers, Clare Bowditch, Sia, Adalita and so many more.”
Take a look through the stars who have been influenced by the industry: 

With Karise, it wasn’t so much the sexualisation – she never even got as far as that but I can guarantee it would have arose  – as the inability to cope with the demands of sudden fame (is there any other kind anymore?).

We need more artists like Karise Eden and Clare Bowditch and Missy Higgins and Sia and Julia Stone in the industry:

Sia (left), Missy Higgins, Clare Bowditch, Julia Stone.

We need more women who don’t conform to the booty-shaking, auto-tuned pop music sausage factory that spits out an exhaustingly sexualised stereotype of female performer.

We need to find ways for female artists who do not wish to do the rounds of blokey breakfast radio and be quizzed about their sex lives to still make and share their songs on a grand scale.

We need women who can be role models to girls and women of all ages who dream of making music and making enough money to support themselves. And to do that, we need to support them.

Here are some links to some albums you might like to check out:

Sarah Blasko, Missy Higgins, Kasey Chambers, Clare Bowditch, Sia, Adalita, Karise, Katie Noonan and more.

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