When it seems the music industry started to put more noticeably “appealing” packaging on Classical music CDs, several things entered my mind:
A) I became flustered and needed a spurt of cold water.
B) Was hoping every CD would be like that.
C) Couldn’t help but wonder if you could sell a recording by Bruno Walter or James Levine with that kind of packaging.
But lets face it. Even though I didn’t care what the performers looked like when I was an unsuspecting youngster, it’s decades later, and I’m currently much more driven by the appeal of muses. Hilary Hahn is the most obvious example for me in the classical genre, and Jenny Lewis is my indie favorite. But at least they have very strong creative work to back it up. I value that over everything else, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t influenced by their good looks. That’s about as much of an argument that I can make.
The flip side of this issue is the current popularity of performers like David Garrett and Andre Rieu. Garrett is a classically trained violinist that plays both classical and rock music, plays “Flight of The Bumblebee” very quickly (I didn’t realize there was a race) and is seen much on TV (I’m going to guess it’s because of both the crossover thing and his cuteness factor that get him gigs like NBC’s Today Show). Rieu, also on TV (More than I care to see), is a Dutch violinist/conductor that focuses on safe, light Viennese classics and has frilly features at his live shows like white horses and buffets with champagne for the audience. Now that’s incentive. For what, I’m not so sure, since I doubt that you’ll ever hear Rieu leading his Johann Strauss Orchestra into a Mahler symphony.
Okay, so, who am I to judge if we are talking about sex appeal? Fair enough. It’s worth getting into for the debate over real artistic merit vs. sex appeal when I happen to like artists who have both. I’m a huge fan of Liszt and those who interpret him like Jorge Bolet, Leslie Howard, and Marc-Andre Hamelin, but I know that doesn’t extend beyond the music. Liszt was quite a stud back in the day, but they weren’t making CD covers back then.
The music business, unfortunately, is just that, a business, and needs an angle every now and then to make an extra buck or just to break even. Not sure if this example was hers or the label’s idea, but it’s very hard for me not to think of the nude cover that violinist Lara St. John did for her first CD in 1996. She’s had a lengthy and prosperous career since then, but again, I can’t seem to separate that image from the rest of her legacy. It tends to become an albatross.
So is it a problem? Not really since I’ve already admitted that it plays a role in my taste. In some cases, it unfortunately downsizes the importance of the music (I wonder how many knew St. John’s album was a Bach collection, or cared. Just an observation), and it’s unfair to see the music take a backseat to the packaging. But at least through an artist’s programming, I know that I probably never would have discovered something as beautiful as The Lark Ascending if I didn’t start buying Hilary Hahn’s CDs 9 years ago.