Music = Attitude = Image

In this visual age, music and fashion are different notes of the same tune. Today music superstars are actively seeking that perfect facade. The burning question is, what sells more - their image or their music?

Blues, jazz, rock, pop - one thing that stayed constant from ol' blue eyes, Frank Sinatra to the skimpy tops of Britney Spears is attitude. Musicians realized the value of image when they held concerts and since television, then Top of the Pops and finally MTV came along fashion awareness was amplified and the image became increasingly high impact while the music got equally loud but far less sophisticated. Since then, fashion has been an indispensable companion; helping artists develop fan followings through striking personas. In an age when most people watch music, while a few listen to it, musicians are fast making image their priority.

That includes our local music stars who, have long lagged behind in the image department. A discernable fashion sense is finally creeping into the music arena, but only barely. Yes, we are not a fashion literate people but styling helps. After all, pop began with the very fashion conscious Ahmed Rushdie and Runa Laila who sang film songs with style and oomph, especially the latter. The flappers and corset-fit shirts of Rushdie to Laila's bellbottoms and skimpy tops defined the Generation X of that time. And music has never been as stylized since.

Alamgir and Shyhaki introduced Pakistan to jeans and the somewhat rough look, but they looked like chocolate boys nevertheless. Always clean-shaven, they sported those buttoned shirts, which were signature wear during those times, and also supported the localised disco pop they were dishing out. But it was toned down and not very stylized. Shyhaki was always more flamboyant, but Alamgir was more popular.

The only pop music acts who managed to create an image in the Zia era, were the fabulous brother-sister duo Nazia and Zoheb Hassan. They were perhaps the first ones who actually had an attitude to go with their music and were totally fashion conscious. They wore whatever was in vogue. Naturally, the Islamists reacted and how! The duo was blamed for promoting an incestuous attitude in an Islamic state. They were banned from state television but that only fuelled their popularity. Nazia and Zoheb introduced world fashion at a time when locally the concept of fashion was in a revision process and were perhaps the reason why most teenagers in those days wore Teejays.

The trendy dressing of Nazia and Zoheb inspired various other acts to work on their image. Remember Nazia's dungarees and Zoheb's faded jeans? Vital Signs with their understated martial law trained image, which comprised of full-sleeve shirts (at times t-shirts) and jeans, had already made it big towards the end of the 80s. Though Vital Signs were almost a slap in the name of image with their bland normality, but in those days of fashion drought, even 'the boys next door' look was a unique identity. Backed by the genius of Shoaib Mansoor in terms of music, production and image, Pakistan finally got its Beatles. They were carefree, patriotic and above all good-looking youngsters strumming on guitars, lying on the ground and gazing at the sky. VS were a casual coup, much needed after the shackles of formal dictatorship.

Junoon became the first band to go glam, "sufi ishtyle." Though they too began as boys in jeans, they progressed to Ali's long hair, Salman's mirror worked sherwanis and Brian's shalwar kurta. Now Ali has gone ganja and the other two look pretty much the same. They were the first to merge their look to their eclectic brand of sufi rock with a style that borrowed liberally from both East and West.

Come 90s, and a major band boom happened under the aegis of Music Channel Charts and the clones that followed its smashing success. Pop music acts gushed forth from the fountain of youth. Strings inspired college fashions as boys started wearing blazers on jeans. Fakhr-e-Alam's rapper image introduced the nation to torn jeans and the oh-so-hip bandanna. He soon fell prey to eccentric dressing, which bordered on outrageous. But hail to him, for sporting just about everything from a plain white suit to a heavily worked crimson sherwani.

Leading the invasion of bhangra-pop in Pakistan were Jawad Ahmed and Abrar-ul-Haq. They have long been the largest selling pop artists in Pakistan, and interestingly enough, are two musicians without an image. Though they have no love lost for each other, both favour black coats and both sell like hot cakes. Though their videos feature typical Punjabi culture, we bet that neither of them will ever be caught dead in a dhoti. After all, you have to wear suits to meet generals, don't you?

Hadiqa Kiyani was perhaps the first female vocalist after Runa and then Nazia to have become a style icon. She formed her 'pop diva' image with the support of Deepak Perwani's long coat-like sherwanis and snake printed trousers and Nabila's chic cuts and colour. However, her biggest hit remains 'Bhooey Barian', the song with the most traditionally styled video. Off late, she is trying to take on the mantle of Madonna of Pakistan with radically changing and very outlandish styles in every video.

Ali Haider began as the good boy in his purani jeans romancing the good girl, but took an ecstatic turn with a sudden image change for Jadu that was as flamboyant as that album was energetic. However, now he's back to being boring old Ali, since he's realized that the earlier formula was far more financially lucrative.

Currently Noori, Fuzon, EP and Aaroh are sporting the good old grunge look, which works better with the kind of music they are making. Recently, as they taste success in increasing doses, they (at least noori and Fuzon) seem to be growing out of the Levi's wardrobe. And with the older lot, it is working the other way round. Strings have completely gone off from Deepak Perwani's creations to Levi's. They give an explanation that they don't like the image that was given to them, for their musical attitude is far simpler. Yes, they refuse to employ the services of a fashion designer, but they know what their attitude is all about.

The word "styling" is still searching for a meaning in our music scene. The recent bands in the pop music scene are well aware of their attitude, but all have the same grunge look. Then you have pop diva Hadiqa singing the most typical songs with styling straight out of Vogue. Our musicians don't know how to tailor their image to the statement they are trying to make. It is only when you have your attitude in place that image follows automatically. The right attitude is integral when music is open to all mediums of expression from cassettes and CDs to videos and concerts. Attitude comes with the kind of music you sing. Structure comes before facade.

To musicians and everyone else in search of "that perfect image," we say "Look for the perfect attitude first."

The News International
December, 2003
The News International, Pakistan