The Burden of Being a Male Sex Symbol: Can An Artist Sell Sex And Still Have Their Music Taken Seriously?

July 25, 2012  |  

But as my friend pointed out, I think the concept of being a sex symbol is even harder to grasp for men. Sadly, women are more used to being looked at as sex objects and objectified in magazines and music videos that when female artists realize that they’ve become one, they ride the new classification until the wheels fall off. But when a man, who doesn’t have to get butt naked but only needs to look good, sing a couple of alluring songs, give the eye and flash a muscle or two, becomes one, they don’t know how to deal and get upset with their fans. While Maxwell could be the gentleman (see another favorite of mine, “Get to Know Ya“), in his concerts (I’ve been to two shows), what gets his fans’ attention the most and gets them riled up is when he sings “Till The Cops Come Knockin,” turns a red light on on stage and turns around, booty facing the crowd, and starts shaking. That. Thang.

D’Angelo took things a step further when he ditched the long leather jackets, sitting behind a piano and wearing big, bulky clothes, for going the full monty on screen. I’m talking, “How Does It Feel.” D’Angelo was fine from the very beginning, when it was just him and his piano during the Brown Sugar days. But the minute D stepped in the light on that video set, showed off a fancy new six pack and put the camera right above his yoo-hoo, he brought in a new legion of fans with a slew of new expectations. It didn’t help that when he did the Voodoo tour, he didn’t have a real shirt on. In a recent article with GQ, the singer explained that he became disheartened by requests to “Take it off!!!!” and even had a fan throw money at him like her a** was at Chippendales:
“One time I got mad when a female threw money at me onstage, and that made me feel fucked-up, and I threw the money back at her,” [D’Angelo] says. “I was like, ‘I’m not a stripper.”

From there, many female fans were more obsessed with his body than his body of work. And after that video, asking people to focus on the music (Voodoo WAS an epic fusion of R&B and funk from an array of influences–please check out “One Mo’ gin”), was damn near impossible, especially when he would come out on stage with his pecs, abs and arms glistening. It was like screaming “F**K ME!!!!!” as the chorus to a track and then asking folks why they missed the message of the song. Uh, good luck with that, champ. And the fact that to this day, the director of the video pretends the video had nothing to do with sex, when the song itself has D talking about making folks moist between their thighs, is a laughable defense.

D’Angelo became SO disheartened at his new sex symbol status, that the singer told Questlove that when the tour was over, he planned to get fat, grow a beard, drink and go hide in obscurity in the woods. With the exception of the latter, that’s exactly what he did. And even when he returned, a bevvy of chicks (not true fans) weren’t 100 percent satisfied with D’Angelo’s return because he didn’t look like he did that fateful day he made such an epically beautiful video, one he probably deems an epic fail nowadays.

So I say, though it’s hard for male singers like Maxwell and D’Angelo, hell even actors like Idris Elba, to wear their sex symbol crowns, it’s a price you pay when you use sex to get ahead–whether you’re singing about, making videos butt naked, or having women’s jaws drop when you pop up on screen in your underwear only. But if you’re truly talented, you should know that your real fans are always going to be down to ride, and will see your music as the thing of most importance, your looks as an added perk to the package. As far as Maxwell goes, his voice and music has always been enough for me, but when he often sang songs about love making, or even just crooned to the women-folk (“Fortunate” is EVERYTHING), it forced his fans to put their attention not only on what he sounded like, but also on what he looked like, and with his fluffy fro, to many, he was fine as hell.  But if you ask me, to answer my own question, I adore the guy either way–with or without the fro. Just don’t get mad at a sister for reminiscing about it from time to time…

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