An earlier post showed that audiences in cocooning times prefer singers to be attractive, while in outgoing times it's whoever can sing well. Quite a few stars of the '80s, like Phil Collins and Bonnie Tyler, could never have made it today, when pop stars are chosen more for looks, as they were during the '50s (see the post for pictures of Midcentury pop singers).
With the unabated attempt by the cultural Powers That Be to get a '90s nostalgia movement going, I decided to look into where 1995 stood on this shift, judging from the Billboard Year-End singles chart. There were some attractive singers (Madonna, Mariah Carey, Sheryl Crow), but still a fair showing of homely women as well.
Something struck me about the homely ones, though: a good number were black. Rap and R&B were big at the time, were dominated by blacks, and featured about as many women as men. So, homely black female singers were a core part of pop music back in the mid-'90s.
Fast-forward to 2014, when there were only three black women on the Year-End charts -- Rihanna, Beyonce, and Nicki Minaj. Compared to most blacks, they are lighter-skinned, mulatto / exotic-looking, with the kind of mixture you'd find in the Caribbean. They're not bombshells, but they're clearly more attractive than their homely predecessors in the '90s -- TLC, Da Brat, Monica, Brandy, Des'ree, etc.
In this way, pop music has returned to the cocooning Midcentury, when there weren't many black female singers before the '60s. It wasn't until 1963 that the black girl-groups really took over R&B. And although they could sing, they were homely -- the Chiffons, Martha and the Vandellas, the Ronettes.
How about during the so-called image-obsessed decade of the '80s? Black female singers were well represented, and as usual were on the homely side. Several were also middle-aged. From '83-'84, there was Patti Austin, Donna Summer, Dionne Warwick, Roberta Flack, Tina Turner, Deniece Williams, the Pointer Sisters, and Shannon. Irene Cara was the only exotic Caribbean-looking mulatto. Back then, it was still "can she carry a tune?" rather than "how much sex appeal does she have?"
You might think it's odd that these changes haven't been noticed before, especially given the potential angle of "dat's raciss!" and "dat's sexiss!" But it would require black women admitting in public that they aren't very good-looking, so that trends toward good-looking pop culture stars will have a "disparate impact" on them.
Or white liberals risking ostracism in trying to explain the lack of black women in sex-appeal sectors, by pointing out that they aren't very attractive. White conservatives don't pay much attention to any of these matters to notice.