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Guess You Gotta Be Ugly to Get Any Respect

What is Rox Populi? | Archived Columns

Posted: January 23, 2003

By Casey Wimmer

I've just wedged myself in the middle of a cluster of nearly hyperventilating, Abercrombie-esque girls. Judging from the volume bursting from the swaying crowd, one would assume I've decided to attend an Aaron Carter/Justin Timberlake double bill, but wait! A bluesy acoustic guitar begins, and nobody on stage is dancing. The girls in the audience continue to scream -- I'm at a John Mayer concert. These are not the kind of screaming fans common to an 'N Sync show, but an older crop of excited females: college girls. Recently-turned 20-somethings who cried when Joey McIntyre crooned "Please Don't Go Girl" in 1989 are bouncing in their tube tops as John reassures them that their Body is a Wonderland. What is it about doe-eyed sorority girls giggling in adoration that disqualifies a valid singer/songwriter? The same thing happened to Dave Matthews when his sexiness began to be valued more than his music. Lay your blanket down on the lawn at a Dave Matthews Band show and you'll find yourself lost in a sea of giddy females who have come, not for the band's 15-minute jams, but for the chance to wear their new low-slung jeans and giggle about Dave's gravelly voice. DMB concerts used to be cool in the mid-1990s, when tailgating didn't involve ecstasy, fans knew more lyrics than just those to "Crash" and the lawn wasn't ridden with drunk 16-year-old girls traipsing over your blanket in a human chain toward the restrooms because "Trisha needs to puke, y'all!" DMB fans consisted of just as many frayed hat-wearing dudes as L.L. Bean-donning, low-key college girls. These days, the male fans have slowly filtered out, writing off DMB as girl music, the chilled-out girls have graduated from law school and moved on, and the lawns are now filled with fake I.D.-toting college freshman who paid $56.00 (Ticketmaster online service charge included) to pass out in the parking lot before the "Ants Marching" encore.

Now John Mayer has picked up the sensitive-songwriter torch (and the guitar) and humbly taken the stages of smaller venues, all packed with the standard lawn crowd so common to modern-day DMB shows. His aw, shucks smile, tousled hair and rumpled Oxford shirts drive the Econ majors wild. Meanwhile, it seems that his intricate guitar plucking and personal (yet accessibly mainstream) lyrics have been overlooked. When asked about his feelings on the prospects of "hooking up" on the road with his abundant female fans, Mayer replied: "Most people that meet me, it's not like, 'I want to meet the guy from MTV.' It's more like, 'I've got to meet this guy because I want to say what this record means to me.'" But cut to a pan shot of the typical General Admission audience at a "John!" show and you'll notice waves of deeply tanned Alpha Betas gazing over their $6.50 draft beer, debating with their girlfriends about whether he's a good kisser. These girls are single-handedly de-legitimizing the acoustic pop genre, causing disgusted serious music fans to turn their backs on deserving artists in search of undiscovered acts, much as their grandmothers did the pre-acid Beatles 40 years before.

These days, when a video on MTV introduces you to millions of gushing female fans and thus gets you labeled as a sellout by half of your potential audience it seems that the only way to retain validity is to be ugly (and, oh yeah, talented). Screaming girls will always lower an artist's cool quotient -- just ask the dudes who quit taking their 4-Runners (with OBX sticker prominently placed in back windshield) to Dave shows eight years ago. They're all at the O.A.R concert. Never heard of them? That's exactly the point.

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