Where Are the Ugly People?

After trawling through YouTube the other day to listen to the latest offerings in the world of popular music, many thoughts come to mind. We could debate ad nauseum the declining quality of pop music both from a technical and cultural standpoint, but I think only one definitive conclusion can be reached: all the artists nowadays are super hot. All of them. And not just like, they look great when they’re done up kind of hot; but billboard Calvin Klein underwear kind of hot.

Now, this is probably no huge revelation, but trying to find answers to this phenomenon only leads to more questions. How is it that nowadays all of the successful pop artists are super hot? One can look through the decades and find many of pop’s icons being less than catalogue-model worthy. (Let’s not forget, jazz was once pop music too.) Certainly the pop artists that I grew up listening to had their fair share of funny noses, bald spots, and asymmetrical anomalies. And that was just fine with me.

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But I can’t help asking myself: what happened to the ugly people? Did all the hot people suddenly learn how to play music? Is there a Harry Potter style hidden music school tucked away where all the hot youngsters get classes in composition and making duck-lip faces?

Don’t get me wrong: the stars of yesteryear were always well presented, stylish, and made up to the best that their god-given proportions would allow. But now it’s an endless parade of anatomically perfect people melisma-ing and dry-humping their way through today’s hits.

Barre chords and bolt necks used to be the norm. (courtesy NBCUniversal)

And while we’re at it.. what’s with all the dry-humping? Peggy Lee had a pretty good career and to my knowledge she didn’t dry-hump anything (at least not in public). But now it seems you can’t sing a love song without shaking your ass at the cameraman. Did we leave the cinema unsatisfied because Gene Kelly didn’t dry-hump the lamppost in Singing In the Rain? (actually I’d pay money to see that out-take).

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I’m not naïve, folks. Show business has never been only about the music. I often come back to what a mentor told me when I was young: “People listen with their eyes, kid.” But I can’t help but think that with the music video revolution of the 1980s, music crossed a line it could never return from… and we’ve been on a downhill slope ever since. It feels like we are becoming less able to listen to music. And I mean, just listen… without some visual medium tagging along with the experience. I’ve no doubt there’s no turning back, but I can only agree with the conclusion I once read on a random stranger’s T-shirt: Music was better when they let ugly people make it.

By now, I think I know what you’re thinking: But Professor, you outrageously handsome devil… if you ban all the gorgeous people from making music, doesn’t that include you as well? Well, astute reader, I applaud your excellent taste, and I must confess; I have been known to expose some of my inappropriate regions for public consumption. Sometimes I wonder if my ass is part of the problem. (damn my Adonis-esque chiseled booty)

Listen to Angela Verbrugge: Love for Connoisseurs

My chiseled booty aside, it serves no purpose just to complain without offering some sort of solution. So here’s my plan: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Let’s bring trad jazz back to its former glory of being popular music. And I see only one way forward: c’mon gang, let’s all get hot. Let’s all get fully plucked, waxed, botoxed, and liposucked. I’m signing up for twerking and pole-dancing classes, and I suggest you do too.

And to get you started on your first sexy music video, here’s a list of jazz tunes that I think lend themselves to today’s penchant for some adults-only style nether-region shaking: Black Bottom Stomp, Cheek to Cheek, Dancing in the Dark, Georgia Grind, I’m Coming Virginia, It’s Tight Like That, Lady is a Tramp.

So let’s do this, cats. Slap on a G-string, set up your camera, let’s get jazz back where it was in its heyday: something of which your parents vehemently disapproved.

Reedman extraordinaire Adrian Cunningham is the leader of Professor Cunningham and his Old School Jazz Band, based in New York City. Adrian Cunningham was voted in a 2017 Hot House Jazz Magazine readers’ poll the Best Alto Sax Player in New York. His most recent album is Duologue, issued on the Arbors Jazz label. Visit him on the world wide web: www.adriancunningham.com.

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