Does sex sell in sg?

Now that I have your attention … of course it does.

Naturally, though, I have a longer answer too. In a recent post I referred to a “sexed-up” version of “Get Away Jordan” and some readers thought I was implying that EHSSQ uses sex in some way to sell their music. This made me chuckle at first. Since the run-up to the Iraq war, I thought “sexed up” had sort of become part of the popular lexicon as a euphemism for “hyped.”

Whatever the case, I meant it that way in this instance: as a short hand way of summarizing all the extra-musical emphasis – the meticulously constructed visuals, the flamboyant choreography, the short hair/spikey ties schtick – EHSSQ relies on to sell their music. If EHHSQ is a success in general, and if “Get Away Jordan” is at all popular in particular – and there seems to be far less consensus on this than I realized at first – it has as much to do with the hype (the “sexed-up”) style of the song.

But does this amount to a sexing up of gospel music in a less euphemistic sense? Is there an implicit or (not-so?) latent erotic component to this swishy dancing and hip-swiveling and gyrating and Rico-Suave gesturing and oh-so-smooth (“sensual” was the first word that came to mind) gesticulating that goes on during your average EHSSQ concert? I think a lot of people would say so – and a lot of the people who wouldn’t say so really secretly know it’s true all the same.

In the entertainment bidness, attractive young stars who spend a lot of time at the gym and the tanning bed and the designer clothing store and the hair salon, and who have glossy 8×10s available for the low low price of $5 that fans buy and pin up in their bedroom or on their refrigerator, and whose image is as much a part of their popularity as their musical ability — we often call this sex appeal. And just because we don’t use that term in gospel music doesn’t mean an element of that same kind of appeal isn’t at work with a lot young, hippish gospel groups and performers. Gospel music may be officially about the saving or enriching of the soul, but it’s an enfleshed soul after all.

This is not a new thing. There is a long connection in religious history, literature and the arts between the intense emotions and strong expressions of passionate feelings aroused by religion, and sexual ardor or other desires of the flesh. Indeed, more than a few writers, psychologists, philosophers, and theologians have argued that religious expressions (like music and speaking in tongues and revivalism) are a sublimation of certain dimensions of sexuality and sexual desire.

You need not agree with this to see that, closer to home, EHSSQ has been more willing than most southern gospel groups to present themselves in a manner that blurs the lines between the physical and spiritual.

This has a lot in common with the CCM tendency to adapt and adopt performance styles from popular culture and let fans make sense of it all - what’s the ministry and what part’s the show? - for themselves. But we forget that groups like the Statesmen and the Blackwoods pioneered this style of Christian entertainment that made no pretense about entertaining more than just the soul. It may be tempting to accuse a group like EHSSQ of being CCM for sg, inasmuch as CCM performance styles track right alongside dominant trends in mainstream music to an extent that the only way to tell them apart is to listen for “God” or “Jesus” now and again. But that would be wrong. Unlike CCM, EHSSQ (and to be fair, there are others) are converging old and new sg, both classic quartet and contemporary gospel styles with CCM and pop music and (as commenters have observed) some Elvis to boot … indeed, it seems they use whatever else strikes their fancy (what about a little dollop of Jamie Cullum here? Ok, sure … let’s do it). And they eagerly call it sg.

I don’t always care for the result, but bully for them, I say. Because this is actually only a logical extension of aesthetic tendencies that have been at work in gospel music for a long, long time … namely, eclecticism and hybridity (don’t let anybody fool you; what defines sg most clearly as a musical style is the way it blends styles and approaches without surrendering to any one of them). Music appeals to different people different ways and if you listen widely and are curious about how different styles of music work and can be adapted for your own purposes (as gospel music is), it can be difficult to contain that music’s effects, all protestations to the contrary. The only thing worse than hearing music that doesn’t move you, is hearing music that does and then being told by the person singing it how it’s supposed to effect you.

However, I digress. As it relates to the sex appeal thing, ESSHQ is part of a trend in sg that received particular emphasis from Michael English. He took the sensuality of inspirational Christian music and infused it with a kind of yearning and urgency and piquancy and, well … a kind of naked emotional quality that audiences responded to deeply. And no small part of that response, I daresay, had to do with the fact that he was young and fit and good-looking and nattily dressed. Women (and probably a few men) were attracted to him. A lot of the rest of men wanted to be him. How many times in the 90s did some college kid come home on break and sing “I Bowed On My Knees” at church in high Michael English imitation? And almost as many young gospel singers since then have tried to make themselves into English – not just sing like him, but also look and carry themselves like and make the audience swoon for them like he did – as there are United States senators who want to be president.

In a way, it’s funny that it’s so heretical to say sg performers might have some sort of sex appeal that is part of their success and that they rely on in part to succeed. Because really, we’ve already settled this question from the other side of things. Anyone who remembers our discussion of groupies and roadies remembers that we long ago more or less agreed that many fans – of both genders – use the rhetoric and conventions of Christian fellowship to mask the kinds of crushes and other assorted attractions that fans can associate with entertainers, especially young and attractive ones. Why wouldn’t we expect that street to run both ways?

Anyway, I don’t necessarily think any of this is a bad thing. Indiscretions get overmuch attention, but in general southern gospelites seem to do a decent job balancing the private and public demands placed upon them by the music. And if I had to choose between stylistic chastity and the way things are, I vote for the way they are. Not least of all because it makes the music more human, more palpable, more authentically entertaining. In this age of digitized tracks and canned bands, we can use all the hints of human authenticity we can get.

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  1. KermitTheHermit wrote:

    For sure, sex sells in SG. However, I do not buy the Talley Trio’s latest album because Deborah gets me stirred into a sexual frenzy. For the right person… I am sure…

    Consider SG’s main audience: the older generations. 98 year old women are always wanting to get a huge from a cute young man. I have had my fair share of “accidental” tush grabs by some sweet ol’ blue hairs.

    Whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not, we are moved to support beauty. I choose the attractive cashier at the local Whippy Dip over the ugh-mo cashier everyday. Not because I want to get physically nearer to beauty, but it is always entrancing. Remember the yearly 60 Minute specials that display attractive people getting more opportunities in life than the not-so-good-lookin’?

    Just ’cause we were ransomed by a Savior doesn’t mean we aren’t still moved by sex. We are still sexual beings, even in old age. Ernie Haase just isn’t my type. :)

  2. Kyle wrote:

    This can be summed up, I think, with the intro to SS’s intro to “Trying To Get A Glimpse” on one of the Gaither South African Homecoming videos. A camera guy walks around the crowd before the show talking to audience members, and the overwhelming response is, “They’re HOT!” (and most of these comments, of course, are coming from younger females). Do you think that Bill put that in there to kill time??? NO WAY!!!

  3. Kyle wrote:

    And I need a grammar lesson, apparently!!!

  4. Derek wrote:

    Looks aren’t everything…but it helps! Let’s say you are a group owner/manager in search of a vocalist. Your search has been narrowed down to two…both equally talented for the job. One is Prince Charming and the other is Shrek. Remember, they are equal in the talent field. Which one will you choose? For those who said “Shrek” the altar is now open for repentance because you just lied! LOL

  5. Practical Fellow wrote:

    I’m willing to admit that I sang ME’s version of “Bowed on My Knees” during my college years.

    I’m not yet willing to admit that I wore pleated jeans in the early ’90s.

  6. jb wrote:

    You have your head in the sand if you think “sex or sex appeal” doesn’t sell. There’s a whole lot of cleavage, tight dresses and tops on stages too. Sit in a corner and watch the booths at NQC for one night, then try and say “sex appeal” doesn’t have anything to do with it.

  7. christy wrote:

    It’s one thing to have an attractive appearance, it’s another to shake it and parade it all ove the the stage. A little goes a long way; as far as I have seen EHSSQ takes the bucket and floods the stage with it. How far and how much like the world are we willing to become? Is there any separation left?

  8. AggiebassinTx wrote:

    I know this is going back to the “groupies/roadies/diesel sniffers” post. I do know of one well known group who had “diesel sniffers” following their bus. The group manager had the driver to stop the bus, he got off and told them they didn’t tolerate this. This was the same group manager who wouldn’t let quartet wives travel on the bus. He was old school, but you never heard or saw anything out of line with them. And as George used to say….”I just love old people.”

  9. Oldtimer wrote:

    Sex appeal has always been a driving force in Southern Gospel Music. If you don’t believe it just look back to the 70s when the Kingsmen and the Goodmans were the hottest thing going. :) I am going to the mailbox every week looking for the swimsuit edition of the Singing News.

    Come on boys and girls - lets not act as if this is somehow surprising. Pretty songs are great and if they can be sung by pretty people, all the better. There are still plenty of successful groups (by SG standards) who will never be pinned up on anyone’s bedroom wall so it is not as if the industry is driven by this. But everything else being equal, why not enjoy what God created visually as well as audibly.

  10. Faith wrote:

    Come on, people, let’s be honest…

    I think that Lauren Talley is an amazing artist…and she is beautiful as well. But…the stiletto knee-high boots and form-fitting clothes don’t add anything to her singing ability, do they? I am sure, however, that certain members of the audience (i.e. the male half) greatly enjoy watching her wear them. One has to wonder, if she wasn’t so pretty, would The Talley Trio be so popular with the young (male) crowd?

  11. Angie =) wrote:

    Hi! I know this is T-ToTallY off the subject, but does anyone know the lyrics to “Hallelujah” as performed by the Nelons? I have googled and searched with no success! -or just point me in the right direction so I can find them on the web. Thanks!
    P.S. I really enjoy reading AVFL… keep up the good work 8-)

  12. CVH wrote:

    Sexuality and sex appeal is an intrinsic part of human nature. Some strands of Christianity try to sublimate it more than others but when it comes to music and the marketing of same, it’s always a factor.

    I remember in the late 70’s, Word was looking to bring on a new pop female artist and they had it narrowed down to two talented singers. Honestly the only substantive difference was their appearance. One was more vivacious and had a killer smile; the other, equal or superior vocally, had more average looks. Just as Derek posted (#4), the decision went to the one who was more physically attractive and marketable.

    In CCM, Amy has been marketed not only as a naturally attractive woman but as a sensual artist and she is. No denying it. That kind of earthiness, not “in-your-face” sexuality, has a great appeal. Natalie Grant, Joy Williams and others (including newcomers like Canadian Christian Evans) have a natural beauty; add the right hair, clothes and makeup and the attraction isn’t just to their music. But because it’s Christian music - CCM, SG or whatever - it’s all innocent, right?

    I agree with Avery’s basic point - let it be as it is, even if there are occasional excesses or questions that arise. Better that than a repressive dowdy look. Unless you’re The Singing Nuns, of course and that’s their natural garb anyway.

    Lauren is attractive but she has a cold edge to her. Now, Judy Martin Hess…smart, talented, sexy…oh yeah.

  13. J.W.S. wrote:

    I’m a young male and Lauren’s clothes aren’t popular with me.

  14. not a pervert wrote:

    WHAT? WHAT? No wonder that SG music is falling apart. What about Jesus! What about the Message? Are you preparing to go to a great gospel music concert in HELL? If you don’t know Jesus, if the artist singings about him don’t know him, then that is where you all will go. Both to the sexy and the unsexy.

  15. j-mo wrote:

    not a pervert - you are amazing.

    J.W.S. - I don’t know if your joke was intentional or not, but that was one of the funniest posts I’ve seen here in a long time either way.

  16. Kyle wrote:


  17. Judy wrote:

    It’s been going on forever. Mylon Lefevre brought down the house with screams when he came out on the stage with the LeFevres and the stamps. Dare I mention the Big Chief?

  18. ShowNTell wrote:

    Peg McKamey really does it for me.

  19. smith wrote:

    I sure would hope that Lauren’s clothes wouldn’t be popular with a male. LOL

    As for the whole post. ha. I’ve been around SG music for a loooooong time. I’ve pretty much seen it all. I’ve seen the diesel-sniffers and groupies and whatever else you want to call them in action. It’s disgusting.

    It’s not a sin to be attractive. And it’s not a sin to be attracted to someone. How far one takes it…that’s another thing.

  20. CVH wrote:

    Wow is right…so maybe we could get the Dove Brothers to cover Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy”.

  21. Steve wrote:

    “Peg McKamey really does it for me.”

    old Peg’s hot all right but Naomi Sego
    always flung a craving on me.

  22. Butch wrote:

    I can’t stand the way so many group members have been married 2 or 3 times. Makes you wonder what these people are really like. I know you can give me a whole bunch of reasons that justifies their new relationships, but it still doesn’t add up. A certain popular soloist “comes out of the closet” and the Singing News disowns him. But you have all kinds of other singers who are unfaithful, remarried whatever, whatever and nobody bats an eye. Don’t go singing to me about the grace and mercy of God if you have no idea how to apply that grace in your personal relationships. Sometimes it really stinks

  23. themonk wrote:

    My mind now meanders to and fro as to what southern gospel music truly is. I thought it was music that glorified GOD. Period. It is typical, humanistic, and pragmatic at best to assume that what EHSS are doing is spiritual, Godly, or for that matter holy and reverent. Here we go again assuming that a Righteous, Holy, Omnipitent, Omniscient, Omnipresent Creator needs our “help” to save anybody. We are servants. We are instruments. We are untensils. How many times have you ever used a pen to write a note, and it stopped writing the way it was designed to operate, obediently? I bet you threw that pen in the trash didn’t you? The entire industry is not pleasing to God. What will we plea on the day of Judgement, I charted 6 number one songs and 11 top 20’s. Come on people let’s really put this into perspective. We are talking about an industry that in itself has a cult following or “worshipping” for that matter, whether it be for sex appeal, an addiction to diesel fumes, or the potential to touch a “star” (LOL), who knows. There are 6 billion people on this planet and the percentage that actually know who Bill Gaither is, is so finite that my calculator can’t show the number beyond the continued zero. Who are we kidding? EHSS are not the posterchild or the icon for a corrupted industry driven by a watered-down gospel, greed, self-love, and lies. They simply are the most recent example of it. Just speaking out of pain, not anger here. Fans, do not see the entire picture of what promoters, music directors, booking agents, and artists know. Live engulfed within the blanket of darkness if you must, but I choose to light a tiny little candle by clicking the “post” button.

  24. Buick wrote:

    The next thing you know, someone will say that Tony Gore relied more on sex-appeal than talent.

    Seems to me that this is a visual as well as an audio business. That’s why there are concerts and not just radios. That’s why there are VHS and DVD sales and not just CD and cassette. We know it is visual and we understand that attractive people - - well, you know: they ATTRACT. They attract attention, interest, sales, etc. Most of the performers dress nicely for the stage, wear make-up and comb their hair - because appearance matters.

    But I suspect most of us would acknowledge there is a difference between being attractive and flaunting a certain sensuality. For my money, flaunted sensuality detracts from the message and the cheapens the messenger. But then again, I may be a minority of one to say that. There are artists I don’t much care for because they are too overtly sensual.

    It amuses me that this thread has turned into a top-ten list of who in SG “hot”. If you are watching and following an artist so you can get a sexual thrill, you have some confessing to do.

    And any artist that contrives to parade sensuality/sexuality may be the “S” in SG but they ain’t “G”.

  25. Kyle wrote:

    I don’t know about sex appeal, but appearance does make a difference. Why do you think the NQC has a dress code for the stage (and wouldn’t let Phelps on stage)….

  26. Jim wrote:

    Butch - preach it!

  27. ddk wrote:

    Yea. What Butch said. This thread is nauseating. Seems like adultery is fine, but homosexuality? NO WAY! Get consistent people.

  28. jb wrote:

    So many great comments to ponder here, but, it isn’t just with the “stars”. I think we see it in our own churches we attend on Sunday morning. We had a local pastor say from his pulpit, “you want me to come pray with you at the altar, but, you are falling out on the altar and you can’t kneel because your skirts are too short”. You have ladies coming in showing way to much on top, short shirts and skirts. There is certainly a huge difference in dressing attractive and dressing sensual to be noticed. I dress attractive and everything is covered up.

  29. RDB wrote:

    I only partially agree with you.

    Whether or not “sex” is being used is always partly in the mind of the beholder and not entirely the control of the performer. Anyone who is young(er), not too fat, etc is prolly going to have more “sex appeal” than someone otherwise. However, with an older audience it gets complicated. Maybe it’s a deep voice or a bad haircut that does it.

    Ha ha. Anyway, speculating on who does or doesn’t use it will provide endless entertainment for some and righteous indignation for others. That I’m pretty sure about.

  30. allamericanmale wrote:

    Lauren Talley sure knows how to wear those tight form fitting slacks! wow!

  31. Dexter wrote:

    Buick!! I swear I almost wet myself…that was funny….No…Tony Gore…Just like myself…we HAVE to rely on talent…because that’s all we have! LOL Sex appeal have I NOT!

  32. Aaron Swain wrote:

    #20: Oh boy. If McRay dances on Didn’t It Rain, think how he would dance on that song. LOL

  33. GT wrote:

    You gusy need professional head examinations.

  34. GT wrote:

    ((guys)) I need a professional spelling examination.

  35. CG wrote:

    What about those of us…um, I mean those who are attractive AND talented? Do think that’s a curse we, I mean they, really wanted to be born with? ;-)

  36. Dave wrote:

    Yea that’s right, when Peg kicks that show off on the stage , or Hamill took off his coat and threw it across the stage, that sent people into sexual choas! LOL

  37. David wrote:

    It must not be popular in Florence, SC-I just got back from Family Christian Stores & Get Away Jordan is in the clearance bin for 50% off!

    BTW, what is sexual choas, Dave? Wait, don’t answer that-I don’t think I want to know.

  38. TLN wrote:

    I must confess, when I was a younger SG performer, I tried to imitate the current “hot” male SG singers, both in my fashion and vocally. Why? To help me minister especially ro the female audience! It was just my target audience. I firmly believed at that time that it was my definite calling! LOL

    Further confession time ensues. Why did I go see the Nelons, the Hemphills, A. Grant and later the Martins every chance I got (late 70’s - 80’s)? Yep, you got it! Amy and certain members of the SG groups mentioned were certainly “selling the message of the gospel” to me…and I was surely buyin’ it! Lol Please don’t take me wrong…the afore-mentioned singers were only using their God-given talents (and yes, their natural attractiveness) to minister! Their respective ministries just always seemed to tug on MY heartsrings in a very special way! T’ll always thank God for calling them to the ministry!

    Disclaimer: A large percentage of the above post was tongue-in-cheek…fun intended!

  39. singer57 wrote:

    You people need to get a life!

  40. ST wrote:

    This thread reminded me of a story I heard a long while ago. A promoter wanted to book the Mckameys so he asked the booking agent what the flat was. When he found out he said this. “My Lord, for that much money is Peg going to take her clothes off?”

  41. JM wrote:

    Interesting discussion and the top of a very slippery slope! During the 70’s, I was on the road for about four years with a quartet. And while I’m sure a great number of things have changed in SGM, the undertone of sex appeal remains strong. We had a lead singer that was, to my hetro-grounded sensibility, “ugly as a mud fence!” However, his single status made him a target for many a lovely lady. Of course, he tried his best to act and dress the part and did his best to channel Elvis. Worked just well enough to get him married to a beautiful girl, fathered two children and a divorce notice for his fifth anniversery present.
    Are we attracted to good looking people, who just happen to sing gospel music? Sure! Do we go to a gospel concert to satisfy some perverse, lustfulness in our soul? Probably not. Do SGM fans click on the web sites of their favorite groups in the same way that they would thumb through a Victoria Secrets catalogue? Not likely. However, it is “human nature” to choose to associate with good looking people. You won’t find many homely or ugly ministers pastoring large, well-to-do congregations. However, we need to accept the truth and spirit of ministry regardless of what “package” the Holy Spirit chooses to use. Some packages will be pretty and pleasing and perhaps even tempting. Some will be very plain and ordinary. However, if the Spirit wishes to use an individual for his work, the “look” becomes subordinate to the message. Pretty packages attract the masses, but it’s what’s in the box that counts!

  42. HML wrote:

    JM, I think you really put it well. Looks do play a roll in SG music because they play a role in life - I don’t think we can escape that even under the name of being “spiritual”. Being in the twentyish bracket, I admit to having my interest peeked by young, good-looking groups with a sense of style…but what keeps me coming back is, as you said, “what’s in the box”. Likewise, I don’t rule out groups who aren’t as good-looking, because it’s still about “what’s in the box”. Some people who might not have the looks sure have great personality, and that’s more important to me in the long run - friends or artists. So while looks might catch my attention, there’s got to be more to back it up.

  43. MelodiousTenor wrote:

    Ok! First….I agree with Monk, and Swain that was too funny….You are still as funny as in college.

    The point? Sex does sell, and the church is full of it; because our homes are full of it. That is why the “INDUSTRY” tolerates it. I cannot tell you the times we have sat at our booth and just watched people. I saw more cleavage, and tail shown at NQC than at my local grocery store.

    Of course the younger crowd sees it and thinks hey SG Artist “so-&-so” wears that to our church for a concert….think I’ll wear it! I have seen it night in and night out….after spending the last 10 years in the industry. The last 2 years especially singing with a major group….It is crazy how they dress, and act…OH, BTW that is the guys and the gals!!

    When the dress code for alot of groups has become dress down on stage; it affects their actions off-stage!! Go to waffle house with them after the concert—-been there—- it is sickening.

    Hey, my old basketball coach said you will dress sharp for games; because it allows you to think better of yourselves and those you are in contact with. Why else do companies have a dress code?
    Why do the most successful NBA teams require a Suit, and a tie on ball trips?

    SG needs Holy Ghost, God Fearing, conviction back in the pulpits, and buses. I know from personal experience there is alot of “JUNK” in the industry that is foolish, But don’t throw out the baby with the bath water!!! God is raising up a group of singers with God’s Holy conviction and standards drippin off of them!!

  44. TN wrote:

    HML, I would assume that you really meant to say, “…I admit to having my interest PIQUED…” (not PEEKED), didn’t you…?

  45. HML wrote:

    Oh, that’s embarrassing - yes, I did mean piqued, thanks for the correction, TN! (My mom tried so hard to drill proper spelling into me…)

  46. c smith wrote:

    i wish i could read this website every day. Don’t ya’ll think that the christian music graphic artists write subliminal messages, (including the word sex) all over the place on christian CD covers, and then say…”what do you mean we try to sell christian music with sex?????? what you talkin about mr. drummond??????” (I am proud of my ability to see subliminal messages, its an acquired talent. ) Whenever I see closeup shots of an artist on a CD, i fall out with laughter. TEE HEE. Why do you think they are looking at the camera like a sick cow??? I don’t really know what goes on to sell people, i just suspect a lot more goes on than we have any idea…whadda think they pay graphic artists for? This subject has interested me for YEARS.

  47. bd wrote:

    Attractive sells! Madison Avenue knows that and so do record companies. It is a fact, be it right or wrong.

  48. John Wyrick wrote:

    As a veteran in the Christian Music industry with feet in both Southern Gospel and Christian Rock, I can tell you the reason why I have been an independent for 20+ years rather than fool around with a label is that looks, image, and “being a package” are very important if you want to succeed in the industry. As a young man I walked out of an executives office after he began advising me to “use” the appeal I had and the attractiveness of my position in Christ as a singer/performer. It dawned on me, I’m a minister and not a performer.
    I have been more interested in being a success with the Lord.
    The unfortunate thing at hand here is that many of those in the industry do not realize that they are sex objects. However there are equally as many who take advantage of their appeal, and the gullibility of their fans.
    As believers, we should pray diligently that our focus is Christ, and the Cross.

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