Britney, Auto-Tune, and Female Imperfection

“Can you Photoshop that out?”   

It’s a question I get asked fairly often. As a photographer and amateur filmmaker, actors and models will look into my camera viewfinder at the end of a shoot and notice something about themselves they don’t like. A mole. A wild hair. An awkward stance.

This is usually the stuff that I like the most. So no, I’m sorry; there won’t be any Photoshopping—unless a plane flies into the shot. Imperfections are what make us human. They also are what make a woman particularly attractive.

Our digital culture has become so skilled at eradicating our flaws that it has made women insecure and artists both lazy and terrified of showing any real humanity. Recently a horrific audio was leaked of Britney Spears singing her song “Alien” without the aid of Auto-Tune, the electronic device that cleanses the human voice of any cracks, falters, or squeaks. Britney sounds absolutely dreadful on the “natural” track. She is flat and out of tune.

By being raised on Auto-Tune, and in a fashion and arts culture that demands flawless female perfection, Britney Spears let her talent atrophy and has encouraged the public to commodify her physical appearance. She got lazy. This is sad because Spears can sing. I’ve heard her do it live. She’s also an interesting dancer. Yet instead of developing her voice while accepting its limits, she relied on Auto-Tune. Instead of letting her body age naturally, her publicity shots are overly lit, Photoshopped, touched up, cleansed. She has become, as her song says, alien.

William F. Buckey once famously said that he’d rather be governed by the first fifty people in the Boston phone book than the entire faculty at Harvard. I would rather see female representations in the arts and media as dictated by fifty people randomly plucked from the phone book than by Hollywood and the fashion industry. As a healthy heterosexual man with healthy heterosexual friends, I can say this with certainty: We like female “imperfection.” (Probably because we ourselves are so imperfect.) When Debbie Harry’s voice falters and cracks over the word “perfect” in “Accidents Never Happen,” I get a thrill. I’ve always loved the gap in Lauren Hutton’s teeth. I don’t agree with her politics, but I like Hillary Clinton’s wrinkles. She’s lived some life, and that is attractive. I know I’m heading into cliché territory here, but some bromides are repeated because they’re true: your imperfections make you different, special, sexy.

Sometimes when I’m photographing a model I have to deprogram her from the “model” stances and “seducing” the camera. I’ll shoot them when we’re just talking, or ask them to stand against a wall and act like they’re waiting for a bus. Suddenly the rigid posing evaporates, and a natural—and beautiful—human being appears.

Photoshopping, airbrushing, Auto-Tune, post-production correction: these are the things that have robbed pop culture of its necessary rawness. Although things aren’t totally hopeless. One of the most compelling female singers I’ve seen in the last few months is Katie Alice Greer, the singer for the punk band Priests.  Greer reminds me of a young Debbie Harry. When I saw Priests play in a park in Washington, D.C., Greer was absolutely magnetic. She has a powerful voice and is a pretty young woman, but she wasn’t afraid to scream, sweat, jump up and down, and occasionally hit a bad note. In short, by making herself open and vulnerable, by figuratively laying herself bare, she gained power and charisma. The name of Priests’ acclaimed new album reveals that Greer and her bandmates might know something about the entertainment and fashion industries: Bodies and Control and Money and Power. Britney should ponder those subjects on her next album, and consider tossing the Auto-Tune.

Here’s Priests playing their show recently in D.C.

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One response to “Britney, Auto-Tune, and Female Imperfection

  1. what exactly means healthy heterosexual man? and why is it important for this article….does that mean that healthy heterosexual woman doesn’t love natural beauty or it has something to do with gay artificial vision of beauty?

    plus britneys fake voice and fake image is perfectly ok because art is artificial, and if she is not an artist then she is consistent product

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