Sex on the Piano: Music Marketing in an Instagram World
Call it my own personal “OK, Boomer” moment (although I’m actually Gen X), but I struggle with the rise of the Instagram Pianist, i.e. an extremely sexy young woman, dressed and made-up like a porn star playing (or draping herself over) the piano in an exaggeratedly sexual manner. When these pictures and videos first started appearing, I ignored the soft porn and blocked the ones that crossed into sheer crassness. I never listened to any of the playing, thinking that these women were the 21st Century equivalent of the Robert Palmer girls—pretty, but not musicians.
My avoidance ended a month ago when circumstances forced me to look more closely at these pianists, particularly the performer who could be named the “protopianist” of the "sex-on-the-piano" musical subset.
First reaction: distaste
Second reaction: awareness that I found the image déclassé and that my distaste was (embarrassingly) partially rooted in social class.
Third reaction: reminded myself that a) “protopianist” was building a career in a difficult market, b) I’m not her target demographic, c) a performer should be able to wear whatever she damn well pleases, and d) having performed for years in sexy gowns and stilettos, I was in no position to judge another woman's concert attire.
Fourth reaction: Deep breath. After telling myself to stop judging a pianist by her glitter, I went to YouTube and watched several of the protopianist’s videos. Her technique was better than I expected. I’d like to speak to her musical expression, but every time I tried to listen deeply to what she was playing, I found myself distracted by the thick layer of manufactured sex that drenched every scene and gesture. By the time Liszt’s La Campanella devolved into a parody of Fifty Shades of Gray, I gave up and stopped watching.
Fifth Reaction: Anger--not at the protopianist or any of her imitators, but at an industry so narrow that performers feel they must sacrifice musical depth for a sexy surface. And the root of that anger? Authenticity.
Authenticity. When it’s present, there’s a “rightness” to a person, a musical performance, or a work of art. It transcends the individual because it requires one to serve something greater than oneself. Authenticity is what makes the performance riveting and unforgettable. Sadly, in an image-driven business, substance is too often sacrificed on the altar of style. The transcendent power of music is being glitter-bombed by manufactured faces and slick marketing. Everyone suffers—the pianists who feel they need to do this to create a career, the music and the listeners. I’m saddened and angry that the music marketing machine has forced so many to choose glitz over depth in order to have a shot at a career.