Is it true blondes have more hits?
The charts don't lie, even if their hair colour might. Between Lady Gaga's platinum mane, Ke$ha's blond bed-head and Courtney Love's golden locks, ladies with light-coloured tresses have dominated the hit parade of late. Even Rihanna has replaced her short black hair with a straw-coloured pompadour for her current single, Rude Boy.
Worldwide, natural blondes are said to make up less than 2 per cent of the population, and even the most generous estimates place the number of flaxen-haired North Americans - both born and bottle-bred - at less that one in four. Yet on the pop charts, blondes have held up to 70 per cent of the top slots recently.
Forty per cent of the Best Artist nominees at the Junos were blond, while according to Billboard, six of the 10 best-selling artists for 2009 were blond; narrow the field to women, and the ratio becomes seven out of 10.
But why? Is hair colour really an indicator of musical ability, or is this all just a Clairol conspiracy?
Dyeing to be blond
Merely being a blonde is no guarantee of pop success - otherwise, Paris Hilton's records would have been hits. Nor is there any evidence linking blondness to innate musicality, as Linda McCartney proved.
In truth, few pop blondes were born that way. Most owe their light-haired looks to stylists, not genetics. Lady Gaga had black hair in her earliest publicity photos, and countless other blond chart-toppers have similarly dark roots: Madonna, Britney Spears, Ke$ha, Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani, to name just a few.
There's nothing unusual about women dyeing their hair, and research indicates that women who go blond tend to gain self-confidence in the process. Indeed, a study conducted by researchers at Nottingham Trent University showed that half the women surveyed would be more likely to "sing or dance in front of strangers" after colouring their hair - a definite plus for a performer.
At the high end of the pop charts, though, there are more practical considerations at work. Sex sells, and "when singers have a whole team of people manufacturing them, they make them blond because that's the sexiest," says Brian-David Daigle, a New York-based editorial hairstylist. The hottest look, he says, is "Marilyn Monroe, as opposed to Jackie O."
Blacks and blondes
It's one thing for Madonna or Britney to blond it up, but when African-American stars like Beyoncé or Mary J. Blige start adding pale highlights or going bottle-blond, sex appeal is hardly the only factor at play.
To some extent, the sheer unnaturalness of the look makes blond hair on black women a strong fashion statement. "Rihanna tends to experiment a lot," says MTV reporter Sharlene Chiu. In her case, changing hair colour may be no more significant than changing designers. "She loves to constantly change her look, especially her hair," says Chiu.
There is a definite colour-coding with hair, as Daigle points out. "Blond is [an image that is]lighter and more approachable," he says. "People who are blond tend to be [seen as]kinder and nicer, whereas the bad-ass bitches have the dark hair."
But it's hard to overlook the race factor. "Blond is a whiteness trait," points out Jennifer Berdahl, associate professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. "If the highest status a woman can have is to be youthful and white, blond would go with both those characteristics and help sell her image."
Of course, not every woman in the music business is blond, and there are actually quite a few who actively object to the notion that they need to look young and sexy and blond to sell records. Take alternative music. "Artists like St. Vincent, Dum Dum Girls, Beach House and Dirty Projectors are all kick-ass bands featuring women, and they would still be receiving critical acclaim whether they were blond or not," says Chiu.
In fact, there are times when even popular bottle blondes need to get back to their dark roots. "Christina Aguilera, on her sophomore album, went brunette to make herself seem a more serious artist," points out Daigle. "I find that with my clients as well. People in the higher professions, like lawyers and Wall Street people, are brunettes because they want to be taken seriously.
"The blondes are the fun ones," he adds, and it probably isn't an accident that when the pop charts are full of frothy, frivolous tunes, the blondes are large and in charge. Aguilera, it should be noted, is a platinum blonde on the cover of her new album, Bionic., which is being released today.
But fun is not a factor in every singer's image, which is why Chiu cannot imagine someone like Alison Mosshart, of Dead Weather and the Kills, ever going blond. "She's known for that dark, mysterious persona and air of mystery," says Chiu. By contrast, the only mystery with most blondes is whether they were born that way.
Gentlemen prefer not to be blond
Although blondness in nature is not gender-specific, on the pop charts it seems to be almost entirely a girl thing. Of Billboard's 10 best-selling artists for 2009, the only blond men were the ones in Nickelback; on the male-artist chart, it was just Eminem, surrounded by black-haired or shaved-headed rappers.
"I don't think blondness matters that much with a man," says Daigle. In fact, when male performers turn to the bottle, artificial colour can actually hurt their image. "If it's not a natural beach blond, if it looks like they're just dyeing their hair, it looks tacky.
"Unless they're going for that dark thing like [Fallout Boy's]Pete Wentz, when men go lighter it just feels too artificial, and therefore you feel that they're being artificial as an artist. Whereas women are allowed to play."