I think people who love music, truly love music have always been frustrated by the effects of fashion and antics on people’s perception of music. That is to say, do people love music for the music itself for all the surrounding atmospherics: an artist looks, what her or she wears, or what ridiculous things they do at an awards show? This question became particularly salient when Dr. Chia-Jung Tsay published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claiming that visual impressions of an artist were far more powerful than the sound of their music.
To avoid this effect myself I generally use the fat, ugly, and dull test. If an artist was fat, ugly, and never did anything exciting would their music still be compelling? I’m always asking myself this when evaluating a tune and try and visualise the musicians themselves in the most dreary and pedestrian terms.
There a great many pop stars who definitely fail this test and the number seems to have risen steadily since the advent of MTV. I remember a great many bands before the supremacy of music videos who were essentially “faceless” bands. If the entire group was sitting next to you on a bus you’d never recognize them.
It’s not that “faceless” acts are any better than image–heavy ones, nor that strong imagery precludes musical prowess, but it can be annoying to hear claims that an artist is a “great musician” when they’re clearly a fashion model who happens to make records. There’s nothing wrong with being a fashion model, that’s great, but it doesn’t make one a great musician any more than being able to play the piano really well makes one better dressed.