Does the looks of Britney Spears actually sell albums?

Britney Spears has a good-looking body, I’m sure we can all more or less agree on that. So do Anastacia, Shakira, Beyonce and almost every single female singer out there. We’ve all grown accustomed to this and take it for granted. When asked why Britney Spears is doing so well, we mindlessly blurt out “because she shows off her body”, “because she dresses like a slut” or something similar. If we don’t say it, we certainly think it.

But does her body actually sell albums? Think about it. Who buys her albums because she looks good? Why would anyone do that? If all I want is to gaze on an image of Britney, why buy the CD? I understand looking at the videos because she looks good, but why buy the albums? Who decides his or her music purchases based on the looks of the singer?

And if the body doesn’t sell albums, why does almost every single female performer work so hard to stay fit and beautiful, and show off their bodies as often as they can? What’s in it for them?

A good number of people buy what they’re told to buy. They purchase what is played on MTV & pop radio, and what artists get written up in popular magazines and featured on TV. If BS weighed 300 lbs, had massive facial hair and was not a Mouseketeer, she probably would not get the publicity she currently receives. Her sales would then depend more on her musical abilities. I would guess she wouldn’t have much of a career, but who knows.

Someone once said that if Janis Joplin were alive today, she wouldn’t be able to get a record contract because of her looks.

Yes, her looks do sell albums. But not for the reason you describe.

Britney Spears sells albums primarily to pre-teen and teenaged girls. While part of the reason they buy her albums is that it’s poppy, well-produced, upbeat music, there’s a heavy marketing element involved. To really sum it up, little girls buy her albums because they look up to her. Britney Spears is, to a little girl, what THEY want to be - sexy, pretty, popular, desired by boys, and powerful in a feminine way. For a popular music fan - not just Britney, but all acts - being a fan is about more than music, it’s about liking the musician and vicariously enjoying their power. So musicians that sell to different markets will market themselves as different kinds of role models:

  • Pop princesses, like the ones you names, market themselves as ideals of sexiness and beauty.
  • Heavy metal bands market themselves as tough and mean guys who could whip your ass in a bar fight, even if they’re 5’3" geeks.
  • Goth and punk bands market themselves as chatoic, out-of control weirdos who (most importantly) will scare parents.
  • Country and western artists market themselves as aw-shucks truck-drivin’ patriots who ain’t much fer book larnin’.
  • Progressive rock bands market themselves as cutting-edge fashion plates who are ironic and disaffected and might live in big loft apartments.

So to that end Britney markets herself in an image that little girls will look up to and idolize. It is perfectly normal that little girls will idolize a beautiful woman over a plain one, because women just do that naturally. (Men do, too - men will respect another man FAR more if that man is tall.)

Britney will naturally sell more albums if little girls idolize her; if she’s a role model they will buy her albums in large part for that reason alone. Then they can sing and dance along and fantasize that it’s THEM who’s onstage before 25,000 shrieking fans, who can wear any clothes they want, get any boys they want, and be the Most Popular Girl In School. They won’t necessarily consciously think that; ask a Britney fan and she will say Britney is “cool” and assert that Britney is, in fact, a really nice person and deserves all her success. If Britney was fat and had warts, they would find her less cool.

Must buy Britney albums. MUST BUY BRITNEY ALBUMS. Can you eat Britney albums?

What RickJay said.

I’ll just add to that, that music tends to grow on people. Most people don’t get blown away the first time they hear a song. Rather they begin to enjoy a tune after many repeated exposures as their ears and minds gradually make sense of it. Of course pop radio utilizes this effect with a scary rate of success. (This is not to say that this effect is just a pop thing. I typically listen to classical, jazz, other, pieces many times while actively analyzing the elements that make them work before I can fully enjoy a piece).

As to your OP, the fact that, as RickJay said, young girls idolize her and live vicariously through her makes them more likely to watch her videos on MTV. Her looks certainly make it more likely that a young guy would leave MTV on a few more minutes rather then surf.

So, the point I really want to add is that her looks facillitate repeated exposure of her songs to her audience, which results in a genuine enjoyment of her music.

video killed the radio star…
The only ugly top 40 female I can think of is Missy Elliot, but she has a much older demographic than pop starlets like Britney, Avri, Pink, etc.

I should interject here to confess that I did once buy a Mariah Carey album at the counter at 7-Eleven because I liked the pictures on the cover.

You know, the one where she’s wearing the tight white outfit with the rainbow across the most curvaceous parts in front and in back?

Yeah. That one.

But I’ve never bought a Britney Spears album. I just download her photos on the internet.

A couple years ago I was driving with a buddy of mine in the car when a No Doubt song I didn’t particularly care for came on the radio. I reached over to change the station, and my buddy asked “What’re you doing? Gwen Stefani is hot!”

“Does that make this stupid-ass song sound any better?”

“Hell yeah, it does!”

So I guess it matters to some people. :rolleyes:


Britney Spears is doing so well because she has looks generally agreed as being attractive and is packaged and marketed by a very well-oiled and smooth industry that knows exactly which buttons to push in the targeted mass-market customers.

It’s a combination of her fortunate genetical make-up, clinically written & produced music and ruthlessly efficient marketing.

Well, that’s what I ‘mindless blurt out’ anyhow. :wink:

I can only think of three albums I ever bought on the basis of a sexy photo of the performer(s):

Shania Twain, “The Woman in Me” Hated it. Listened to it once and got rid of it.

Bond, “Born” (that pseudo-classical quartet that tarts up its numbers with disco production). Blah! I’ll stick with the Eroica Trio, thank you!

Sarah Chang, the album of Strauss pieces. That one worked out pretty well, actually.
I’ve also bought every Sheryl Crow album, and several by Mary Chapin-Carpenter and k.d. lang, mainly because I really like the way they sing.

Now you’ve done it, Zen. The Madonna True Believers will come in and give you the “How dare you insult Madonna best selling female artist ever nineteen million number one hits female role model blah blah” speech.

Though, given the colossal flop her last album was, there might not be as many true believers as there used to be.

I am not sure looks always tell the whole story. Celebrity can make you seem attractive when you would not be otherwise. Try really looking at Avril Lavigne and forgetting that she is famous. I see a perfectly average-to-cute teenage girl. She has a well marketed persona, but is no better looking than the average girl her age.

In the end I think marketing has more to do with success than pure beauty. Create an image your intended audience can buy into and you are most of the way there.

I will also defy orthodoxy and say that the music does matter. We may not like the genre of music that Brittney puts out. For what it is though, it is of a high quality. It is well produced and tends to have an strong infectious hook. Using beauty alone, we would expect Jessica Simpson to sell just as many albums as Spears. At the end of the day the reason she doesn’t is that she doesn’t put out songs that are quite as tight, well produced, or catchy.

And I don’t buy that female pop stars HAVE to be gorgeous, or that Janis Joplin could never be popular today. Sarah McLachlan isn’t very good looking and doesn’t have the tight Britney body, and she was the cat’s meow for a few years there. Tori Amos has sold ten million albums and she is, in my humble and subjective opinion, as ugly as a bag of bugs. Pink isn’t a very good looking young lady, although she has a good body and the athletic body is the big thing now. Alanis Morrissette isn’t very good looking. Avril Lavigne is average. Celine Dion looks like a velociraptor, though I’ll grant her appeal is to a different demographic. Huh, a lot of Canadians there, eh?


The concept is Pop stars, not female musicians. The Janis comment is hyperbole, but the idea is that she would probably not be given a major contract without a whole lot of work on her part. The major labels wouldn’t know how to market her. I don’t know their history, but I think performers like Sarah & Tori paid some dues and weren’t marketed as pop stars. Maybe these people aren’t super model material, but they’re far from average. I don’t consider Janis to be ugly or anything, just not pretty enough for pop-stardom.
To be fair, I picked pretty much the first pics I came across.

For my usually normal but in-this-case vaguely creepy uncle, yes, it does.

I think people are forgetting the highly sensual nature of Britney’s music. She may offer all the quotes she wants about how she isn’t “that way” and she was “disappointed” in the Esquire photos and all of that, but I think it’s just a cynical marketing angle — the old virgin/whore cliche. If Britney were putting out Raffi albums, even with that bod, she’d be a zero.

No, for my uncle, who’s in his mid-to-late fifties, it’s about securing the image of the performer in his mind, and then listening to her growl and pant and moan in her music. The songs pound in a very sexual rhythm, and Britney purrs, “I’m not / that / in-no-cent.” And my uncle gets a woody.

(Seriously. At a family gathering a year or two ago, he spent half an hour trying to convince me that I secretly found Britney hot, “how can you not, just admit it, you’re lying, just look at her,” etc. Deeply disturbing.)

So it’s not just about what she looks like. It’s how she leverages those looks aurally.

“Celine Dion looks like a velociraptor.” Heh. Heh.

Emperor has no clothes here. I gotta’ remark that BS is actually subpar compared to most performers. She’s “girl next door pretty” but she is not “supermodel hot”.
So that makes me think RickJay’s first post has to be dead on.

For me, who enjoys a little bit of so many different genres of music, i like britney’s stuff because of the catchy off beat sexy rhythms, her great dance movies and seductivity are what gets me. She’s very sexy, her music is what i liek to grind to when i go hooching at the bars!
So i don’t think it’s all for young girls.