Charlotte Church delivers the John Peel Lecture at this year’s Radio Festival
The former child star enters the debate over the sexualisation of young female musicians, most recently waged between Miley Cyrus and Sinead O’Connor
There were not many laughs in Charlotte Church’s lecture. She came at it as a child-star-turned-pop-sensation-turned-Leveson-witness-turned-born-again-feminist.
Her highly articulate and up-to-the-minute speech centred upon how young women in the music industry are manipulated by middle-aged men whose prime desire is hitting financial targets, surpassing the bottom line, even if they cannot actually touch the female derrières that are enabling them to hit their cash goals.
Charlotte sits in the same camp as trans-Atlantic uber pop stars such as Britney Spears, Christine Aguilera and Miley Cyrus. She, like them, made her name, her fame and her fortune when she was an innocent, handled by adults. What followed was a very public observation of a golden child becoming a wild, dysfunctional young adult through an often cruel and judgmental media and public opinion microscope. Church refers to the hateful Twitter comments she has received after each and every press story run about her, whether their roots were based in reality or headline-grabbing vindictive fiction.
But I did not feel sorry for her in this lecture. Nor did I feel she was, that dreaded 21st-century word, a “victim.” Charlotte acknowledges her own participation in the monotonous music executive routine of young female artists being told that taking off most of their clothes is an “empowering” experience, that displaying their flesh breaks conventional views of women not having any “ownership” of their own image and that they will become “role models” for younger girls.
She does not buy this line of argument anymore. In fact it’s not an argument: it’s a manipulative way of persuading young women that they have no option but to reveal their bodies. The sell to them is that they are presenting a positive view of women. The reality is that as soon as they have committed to a “sexy” video to promote their song they have sold themselves and their integrity.
She makes specific reference to Miley Cyrus’s recent Wrecking Ball video and the open letter that Sinead O’Connor (cited by Cyrus as an “inspiration” for the crass soft-porn promo that she was convinced to make for “artistic” and “groundbreaking” reasons by her dubiously-motivated male director).
As a mother of three children – one male and two female – I could relate to Church’s concern for the messages that this and Rihanna’s highly sexualised videos send out to their target audience – that being a “strong and sexy” female means that you have to strip down and perform excessively shocking acts to show that “accepted boundaries” mean nothing any more.
I am not entirely convinced that Charlotte’s backing of Annie Lennox’s call for pop videos to receive cinema ratings – we’ve all wanted to see films that were above our age rating, regardless of content, just because the thrill comes from knowing we shouldn’t have seen them. But I do empathise with her view that the message these films send out – expose as much flesh as you can and you’ll being doing young women as well as young men a favour – is highly questionable.
When the lecture closed, Jane Garvey put some questions to Charlotte Church that had been sent in after her appearance on a Woman’s Hour special about women in the music industry. Garvey made the point that it was all very well that Church could advise the question-senders to do their own thing and make their own way, without record company backing, but that she was sitting in the privileged position of someone who’d made a fortune that permitted her to run her own label thanks to the commercial success she’d gained from this same dastardly business: “But that was on money made from when I was an angelic child star, not a sexualised pop star,” replied Charlotte. It got her biggest and most appreciative round of applause of the night.