Folk music and being fat — not two things you’d necessarily pair together, right? Recently I wrote a story for GeNYU on how “new folk” is entering the mainstream, with artists like Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers making bank on the iTunes best-seller list. My goal with the article was to discover the why. Folk music was the soundtrack to the 1960s and the counterculture movement, and now five decades later we’re seeing a resurgence of artists trying to get that same honest, simple sound. So…why?
My ultimate conclusion, with the help of Clayton Severson, the Iowan heartthrob who was kind enough to let me interview him, along with my incredibly helpful singer/songwriter boyfriend, is that GenY (generation aged 18-29) is craving authenticity. We’ve come to a point where everything, from the clothes we wear to the music we listen to on the radio to the models we aspire to look like, have all been carefully selected for us by the industries. And those artists and models and designers have been made to look a certain way because that’s what is supposedly appealing to us. To be honest, I can’t tell you the difference between Lady Gaga, Katy Perry or Kesha. Their faces may be different, but body wise they’re just about identical, and the same goes for their sound — and they’re the ones on Top 20 lists time and time again. BUT slowly new folk is making its debut, and maybe it’s because we’re getting tired of the fact that everyone sounds the same and looks the same and wears the same meat outfits or sits in the same giant eggs.
Music can sometimes help give insight on even the most sensitive topics — it can help us understand the big, scary, unanswered questions we have, or if not understand, at least relate to someone who is equally confused. I think folk music does that more than any other genre because it’s so much about people: i.e. folks. It’s about genuineness, emotion, real human feelings — the scary ones, the spectacular ones, the ones that stop us in our tracks because they are simply that overwhelming. And maybe the reason folk is coming back is because slowly people want something real. They want something that’s not made to sound overproduced and perfect, because humans aren’t overproduced and perfect. This is what has led me to believe folk music is like being fat.
I’ve been trying to come up with reasons as to why all of a sudden more and more stores carry plus-sizes, and why the BBW industry is having so much online success. Why now? Plus-sizes have been around for ages. BBWs have been modeling online for way more than a decade. But now plus-size models are really starting to make it big commercially, and stores 20-somethings love are finally carrying sizes 1X-4X. Could it be that just as we are craving authenticity in our music, we are also craving authenticity in our fashion/our models/our role models? Hell if I know, but maybe. Truly I don’t think people are suddenly just fatter, or that something radical has happened and everyone suddenly thinks being fat is ok. But slowly, perhaps what is becoming acceptable is to be satisfied with normality — to be satisfied with the fact that you’re over a size 12 because in reality, the average woman is most definitely over a size 12.
I remember road-tripping this summer, and thinking that if I heard “Call Me Maybe” one more time I was going to drive the car off the road. I hate that I’m so pretentious about my music tastes, but really, does anyone have any sort of emotional response to that song? I want to hear something that sounds like it could stand for something, something that I can relate to — just as I want to see a fat model parading herself around a runway proudly because I can relate to that. I can relate to wondering, “what’s wrong with being normal?”
In that same folk article I wrote, I interviewed About.com’s folk music guide, Kim Ruehl, who told me that folk music started seeing more widespread interest after 9/11. “People wanted to connect with each other, connect with where they came from, focus on what’s simple, what really matters,” she said. “It was toward the end of the Bush administration when people my age and younger started wondering if we’d ever live in a world again where we could trust our government or each other.”
I couldn’t have agreed more with her. People want to feel they can trust — it’s a natural human instinct. I wouldn’t trust Katy Perry because quite frankly she hasn’t put out that kind of image. But I might be inclined to trust Laura Gibson. In the same way, I wouldn’t trust a model who has let herself be photo-shopped into looking practically non-existent, but I would most definitely trust one who lets a photographer shoot her just as she is, curves, rolls, bulges and all.