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Music Picks

Sexy and Unsexy Music

Where stars get it right and wrong.

By Thom Wong 15 Nov 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong regularly writes about music for The Tyee.

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Attractive? Really?

To mangle a Zen koan: if Eddie Vedder records the soundtrack to a Sean Penn movie that takes place in a forest and no one sees the film or hears it, will it still suck?¹

The other night I had occasion to watch the Much Music Countdown (insomnia brought on by post-Hallowe'en chocolate binges). As I sat staring, slightly comatose, at the screen, I was overcome by a single, persistent thought: I could go the mall right now, and find five kids who could do that just as well.

The industry would have me believe that Ms. Lavigne is growing out of her sk8er girl persona and into a seductive temptress, but in the video for her new song, cunningly titled "Hot," she moves like she's made out of wood and has the eyes of a dead fish. Avril Lavigne is as convincing a vixen as Adam Levine, only without Stevie Wonder's vocal tics.

Say what you like about her earlier, completely contrived persona; at least when she was the anti-Britney and blowing our minds by wearing ties with tank tops, she appeared to have if not actual talent, then at least something about her that was worthy of notice. Now? She looks and sounds like what she is -- a soccer mom in training.

Actual conversation:

Me: Do Maroon 5 fans not know that Stevie Wonder made music?

Friend: I think it's more that the average Maroon 5 fan doesn't find Stevie Wonder attractive.

Me: But they do find Adam Levine...?

Friend: Oh, hells yes. Or at least they're not thinking, I really want a man in a dashiki with dreadlocks.

I may not like all of Rihanna's music, but when I watch her, I don't think, "Anyone could do that." When I see Avril Lavigne, not only do I think that anyone could do what she does, but I also think no one should be doing what she does and be getting paid for it. It's not a question of her style of music (and I use that term loosely), or how attractive she is, or even her marketability as a star. You just can't tell me that if Avril Lavigne was on American Idol, she wouldn't get voted off before the final 12.

It may be that any era of music has its questionable stars. And it may simply be nostalgia and retro sensibility that lets me enjoy Debbie Gibson while piling disdain on poor Ms. Lavigne. So I'll give her a decade or so, and maybe my kids will wear her t-shirts without irony as I fly them to school in our hovercraft.

One final note on the Countdown: how embarrassed are Finger Eleven fans going to be in five years? Now that the band has recorded its hard-rock-band-ballad-for-adult-contemporary-radio twice, and the lead singer has taken to wearing blazers, they're two steps removed from a house band gig in a Canadian casino.

What I bought since last we met

Sigur Ros's Hvarf/Heim: I've watched the trailer for their documentary many times now and I cry every single time. It may be your stance that Sigur Ros is a slow, plodding, overly cinematic group of men who sing like drunken whales. And you'd be right. Buy this and everything they've ever recorded.

Ron Sexsmith's self-titled debut: If you buy the latest repackaging of Jeff Buckley's 12 good songs, you are a tool. Instead, support this stalwart of the Canadian recording industry. Feist may own "Secret Heart," but to listen to Ron strain to reach his own notes, to understand that he wrote this song knowing he could barely hit them, is to appreciate one of the great songwriters of our times.

Mark Ronson's Version: Make your entire life sound like a '70s cop show. Ronson is a one-trick magician on this record -- horns, hi hat, better singers -- but that trick is awesome, so awesome that I'm forced to use the word awesome. He also manages to prove what we already knew: "Toxic" is a really great song, and Dirt McGirt (a.k.a. the Ol' Dirty Bastard) was a genius. Put this one on loud.

¹Yes. Yes it will.

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