‘Dress first, music later’?


Talulah Does the Hula, performing at the HWCH festival. Pic from http://www.entertainment.ie


Dublin band Talulah Does the Hula has four female members and one male. The women, like many (but not all) of us females, are into fashion and make-up, and dress up when they go onstage. Their retro style often means vintage dresses, stockings, tights, high heels. Nothing outlandish, always beautifully styled and often envied by those who appreciate that sort of look.

But some reviewers seem to wonder if TDTH should dress up on stage. ‘Do their outfits distract from the music?‘ seems to be their question. 

The fact is that TDTH‘s on-stage outfits have no relation to their ability to play music – and if they choose to, they should be able to go onstage wearing dresses and heels without having a reviewer assume they care more about the denier of their tights than the guitar pedal they’re about to step on.

Entertainment.ie has some very thorough and well-written reviews of the weekend’s Hard Working Class Heroes Festival online – and I’d encourage you all to read them – but their review of TDTH’s show really rankles with me. The band themselves are put out by it, and it’s no surprise.

It’s simply not on to say this:

The first noticeable thing about Talulah Does The Hula was, well, their legs. Fronted by four talented stunners, two of which used to front The Chalets, each Talulah had donned their own version of the mini for the occasion. At an event where probably 90% of performers, and about 70% of the clientele were male, it’s a little disheartening to think that female bands are still so image-based. All ranting tangents aside, the shame is more that Talulah’s image is their focus rather than their music.

The problem with this review – and, please, I’m not suggesting the reviewer is some sort of sexist/misogynist, club-toting neanderthal – is that the reviewer clearly feels that female musicians shouldn’t be judged on their appearance. Excellent! But they open the review by mentioning their long legs and calling them stunners. Mixed messages, much?

It’s sad, but inevitable, that female musicians continue to be judged on their looks/visual appeal/image while male musicians can show up onstage half-pissed and wearing a pair of their grandad’s y-fronts and be hailed as genius.

And this, I think, is how the reviewer feels too.  It’s as though their heart is in the right place, but they’re not quite sure how to phrase what they feel about this subject.  And unfortunately this leads them to fall straight into the trap of judging the band on their looks.

Maybe the reviewer feels that female musicians ‘leave the side down’ when they dress up.  But all performers deserve the right to dress as they please.

I appreciate that it is easy to be confused about this, and it does bring up some thorny issues. But I find it disappointing that there continues to be a double-standard for male and female musicians.  Talulah Does The Hula ‘dress up’ because they want to – because they are putting on a performance and they want to look a certain way.  They’re not dressed offensively, or even provocatively.

If you’re not a fan of their sound, then that’s cool. If you didn’t enjoy their set, fair enough. But don’t blame it on their choice of attire.

If a guy can wear a suit on stage and not be accused of caring too much about his image to the detriment of his music, then a woman should be afforded the same respect.


10 Comments Add yours

  1. Eoghan says:

    The very first thing I thought about was Nick Olivieri going onstage with nothing on, just his bass. Once women start doing things along these lines, there is a case for writing an article/review about it. Having seen Mountain man, and loving Warpaint, I can safely say that it makes no difference whether it is females or males onstage. As long as the music is, well, y’know, good…

    1. paula says:

      as a member of above band,i can safely say that our beef was with the fact that our outfits were mentioned at all.
      this isnt the first review of this ilk that we’ve received.
      i dont give a shit if people dont like our band.
      but why bring our legs into it?
      lets face it,even if i wore a t shirt and jeans,i’d still be a shit guitarist.

  2. Nay says:

    I really didn’t think that was a good review of HWCH to be honest, played it fairly safe on the music front and wasn’t particularly interesting or skilfully written!

    I have to say I completely disagree with the reviewer (Jenny Mulligan) mentioning their outfits, it’s not on at all especially considering there was no mention of any other bands’ attire. However, I’d be wary of your quote in italics about shiny makeup, it does read like it was something the reviewer said. Just your interpretation I know but I read the same article and didn’t get any such impression that she was insinuating the Talulahs were image-obsessed to the point that their outfits were more important than their music.

    I actually got loads of grief a few weeks ago for commenting on a review in which the writer sneered at a female band for playing in jeans and said they looked as though they belonged on a refugee truck out of Bosnia. When will reviewers get it into their heads that clothes have no basis in music writing?

  3. That was an odd review. When I read your opening couple of paragraphs, I thought you might have gotten the wrong end of the stick but the reviewer does seem to go on about their skirts.

    Was it a man or a woman reviewing it, do you know? (I didn’t catch a byline but that may be my own stupidity.)

    Have to admit I’m not really a TDTH fan, but my impression of their music is that it is a modern take on the old ’60s girl band sound so it would make perfect sense for them to wear mini-skirts like the old groups did.

    If they wanted to be judged on their looks, presumably they’d wear something a bit more slutty than the relatively conservative ’60s fashion in the shot above. (Maybe they had stripper poles or something at HWCH – I wasn’t there so you never know.)

  4. kDamo says:

    Oh, I commented earlier but it didn’t seem to work.

    First of all, it’s a ridiculous review and the writer obviously felt like blaming the band for her inability to get past the skirt issue.

    Secondly, that statistic about male participants and attendees is way off in my opinion. It occurred to me on the last night that I had seen loads of female band members during the weekend and it makes a nice change from egotistical boys in leather trying to look cool. Also, though I didn’t conduct any kind of cencus of attendees, it seemed like there was plenty of females around and I’d say I met as many female friends as I did males over the weekend.

    For what it’s worth, I thought TDTH sounded great and so did most people there from what I saw.

  5. littlebrick says:

    As a different member of the above band, I think Aoife nailed exactly the sentiments I had when I read the entertainment.ie article (and proceeded to have a twitter/fb rant about it).

    It’s not so much that outfits were mentioned that irked me, it’s the mixed message of complaining “female bands” are image based and then writing at length about that image. Why single out female bands? I don’t get it. Try to name me a single band that doesn’t have an image. Even a non-image is an image.

    In fact, the band who played directly after us, Futures Apart, wore metallic body paint… I haven’t heard one mention of that.

    1. That was the band that was on before you called Liz is Evil who wore the body paint, I am in Futures Apart and its been a long time since we wore paint. although who knows we might do it again 😉

      1. Plus we did get a review that basically went on about our clothes and mentioned very little about our music which is silly really so y’know it might not just be a gender thing. it might be a dressing nice thing. I dress like that every day and have to deal with a little crap now and then, it’s just unprofessional on the “music” reviewers part to go on about fashion so don’t let it get you down. chin up you looked great and rocked out, sound was crap that night but we can’t be blamed for that.

      2. before this i mentioned i am in Futures Apart and that it wasn’t us who wore the body paint but the band on before called Liz is Evil

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