"Why do most musical artists need to look a certain way?" - this was a question I was asked a while back. I have been a fan of the design and aesthetic liberties that artists take up to build their identities around. However, I never really thought about why they do it.
From fashion, graphic design, to stage design, these visual aspects have been thought out to create a single cohesive aesthetic. Here are the reasons why I think musical artists aim to look like how they sound:
Although Purple Rain is undeniably one of the greatest hits of the '80s, Prince would not be Prince if he were only to wear a Tshirt and a pair of jeans. For some reason, it's just easier to remember the weird and the outliers in a line-up.
In my experience, there have been many times where I would get interested in an artist and unintentionally forget their name. I would then refer to them by pointing out what made them look apart and ask somebody who might know who they are.
Into the demographic
In a way, this is how I think artists say that they are part of that certain subculture. Choosing a specific aesthetic creates a sense of familiarity to those who identify with a subculture to reach the artist's music better.
Although the sound of some acts speaks for themselves, I don't think it would be too bad to double-down on the identity by nailing the imagery.
From a band with a crazy bass player wearing nothing but his instrument to a helmet-wearing-robot-looking-DJ duo, artists have been doing these weird yet intriguing creative liberties to reel you into their music.
If you know the guys who I just described, chances are you may have started to look into them because of intrigue, but stayed as a fan because of their music.
To sell better
Don't get me wrong, I know that it's not the look that makes the artist, but the music. I don't think any amount of great art direction or design will ever sell bad music.
Folk classics like John Denver, Don McLean, and Simon & Garfunkle looked like your average "joe" until they picked up their instruments and swept you off your feet. These guys had top-selling records and music that has stood the test of time.
The thing is, artists nowadays get to be seen more and more through social media and other different platforms, not to mention the saturation of upcoming artists makes it more worth the money to look the part. Sometimes, a little bit of packaging gets the ball rolling.
Pushing the expression
The Beatles have changed their visual aesthetics throughout every album and their whole career. Doing so may have been back by the intention of staying relevant, but I'd like to think that they have done so to fortify the emotions they have chosen to feature for every single album.
This approach is not limited to curating visual aesthetics on albums only. Stage design and LED wall visuals during live shows have helped push the artist's expression. Fashion also remains a strong yet subtle way of expressing identity. Music is a very powerful art form, but visuals and aesthetics can help it grow into so much more than what it is.
With all of that said, I still don't think it is necessary for all artists to highly curate themselves. After all, visuals are just a part of the whole artistic expression. Just because everybody else is doing so, doesn't mean that artists should be confined to this status quo. Instead, the artist should have the liberty to express themselves in the best way they see fit.
As an artist myself, I simply think it makes music more exciting.