The Cultural Retreat from Overexposure

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Katy Perry played up the sexy candy babe image in her best-selling Teenage Dream album.

Comedian Stephen Colbert warned his daughter during the 2010 Grammys to “stay away from Katy Perry”. Katy Perry first rose to fame with a song about kissing a girl and liking it. She’s the bubblegum pop starlet known for catchy hooks, songs aimed at the teenage set, candy-colored hair, and bras that shoot whip cream. The cover of her “Teenage Dream” pop album featured the star lying nude in a bed of strategically-placed clouds.

Now the star who embraced scandalous music videos and raunchy stage costumes is backtracking on showing so much skin.

“Everybody’s so naked,” Katy Perry told NPR’s Scott Simon in an interview that aired earlier this week. “It’s like, put it away”.

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Miley Cyrus’s “I’m a big girl now” twerk and tongue fest at the 2013 VMAs.

Miley Cyrus sparked a media storm with her aggressively sexual dancing at the recent MTV Video Music Awards. She seemed to be following the now typical trajectory of female pop stars where they transition to “women” by becoming a highly sexualized caricature, a highly commercialized product, and then eventually move more toward the “mother goddess” caricature (or like Lady Gaga, just do it all at once).

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The pop star who started it all – Madonna. Shown here writhing on the stage in a wedding gown singing “Like a Virgin”.

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Britney Spears’ “I’m a big girl now” moment at the 2000 VMAS.

So maybe Perry is just taking it down a notch to try and carve out a pop cultural niche as the newest “mother goddess“. Or maybe, her actions could be reflective of uncertain economic times. A popular myth persists in the fashion world that hemlines go up when in economic good times, and down in economic bad times. The myth has been debunked, but there are some interesting scientifically-proven indicators of shifting tastes and economic conditions.

People look for reassurance in worrying times, according to a NY Times article. People tend to prefer songs that are slower, longer, with more meaningful themes during economic uncertainty. In better times, popular songs are more likely to be faster, upbeat songs.

Actresses and Playmates of the year during bad times tend to have more mature appearances – older, heavier, taller and less curvy. When people have less money, they buy longer lasting staples such as beans, rice, and pasta. However, candy (especially chocolate), beer and past sauce are recession-proof. Women spend more money on makeup during bad economic times (this is known as the lipstick effect), possibly to help them compete for a smaller pool of men with good jobs. And it seems that the celebrities have been cutting back on cloth in their race to near nudity exposure. Maybe it’s a recession thing?

Sadly, I couldn’t find any research on whether women dress more scandalously during economic recessions. But it does seem as if baring it all is becoming the new normal. So maybe as an attempt to stay unique, Katy Perry may be the vanguard of a new movement to roll back down the sleeves in order to stay unique. Because when everyone is naked, the one who stands out is the person in pants.

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