Mick Jagger turns 70 today – which begs the question, where have all the front men gone?

Whatever happened to the charismatic, effeminate, mysterious frontman?

Today, the most charismatic front man in Britain turns 70. Yes, Mick Jagger, the epitome of flamboyance, has reached the big 7-0. Yet despite his rapidly advancing years, in terms of his natural ability to entertain, Jagger remains head and shoulders above anyone.

How depressing. Of course, one can still enjoy and treasure Jagger. As his Glastonbury performance demonstrated, he remains a force of nature, a man whose bravado borders on the offensive. However, he is 70, and the fact that he is still the best we have to offer only serves to expose the current dearth of young front men.

And it is not just Jagger who the front men of today have failed to eclipse. Icon after icon of decades gone by, the likes of Bowie, Mercury, Cocker and Morrissey are in no danger of being surpassed. So why are young, male, lead singers, just nowhere near as exciting, as magnetic, as alluring as they used to be?

First, and rather ironically, the very existence of these musical giants from past decades has handicapped today’s batch. The constant comparison of modern day performers to past legends by aged music journalists has served only to pigeonhole every promising young artist into a particular type. If you're Jake Bugg you’re the "new Bob Dylan", if you’re the Strypes you’re the "new Beatles", if you’re the Palma Violets you’re the "new Libertines", or the "new Strokes", not a new and exciting artist in your own right.

This has created a very rigid set of front man ideal types which constrain how today’s front men can act, perform, and even dress. You are either an Elvis, a Bowie, a Morrissey or another artist, with every attribute that accompanies that type. There’s no freedom to chart a new course, no license to break the mould.

Lead singer of the Vaccines, Justin Young sums this up. He and his band emerged in 2010 looking exactly like what they were: an exciting, frenetic, pure, naïve, electric guitar-toting rock band. They looked like they’d cut their own hair, bought their clothes in charity shops, and knew a thing or two about old French movies. They were charismatic. 

However, then they became an ideal type. After constant comparisons with the Ramones, and what appears to be Young’s own personal obsession with the New York City foursome, they ditched their very primitive, raw, artsy look and adopted the uniform of a traditional rock band. Now dressed in double denim, the Vaccines appear to be actively pursuing the "new Ramones" label, a far less intriguing prospect than they had originally promised.

Yet in truth, for several reasons, modern day front men can never really fulfil these ideal types anyway.  Most prominently, thanks partly to the aggressive macho posturing of the likes of Liam Gallagher, front men have lost touch with their feminine side. Performers like Jagger always had something so intriguingly androgynous - an effeminate edge. Whether it was Jagger’s penchant for dresses, Morrissey’s gladioli, or the whole Bowie package, past front men’s femininity added a certain flair.

Compare that to the likes of the Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner, who with his current quiff, snake skin boots and denim jacket looks like a mechanic at a wedding, or Kasabian’s Tom Meighan, who actually unveiled the new England away shirt in 2010, wearing it a live show in Paris. How macho. How straight. How boring.

Yet aside from questions of artistic direction and individual flair, the business of music and in particular, the rise of illegal downloads, must also take some of the rap.  Free music has reduced the amount of money up-and-coming artists can make as a result of selling records. Consequently, the tour bus has become the prime source of income, as bands jet set around the globe for months on end. As a result, music is now a game for the dependable, a game for those who can be on time and ready to perform every day. The unpredictable, reckless, mischievous performers would no longer survive.

Moreover, the exposure that the internet brings removes so much of the mystery that charisma often relies upon. You can now find out everything from an artist’s school to their formative musical influences, preventing performers from creating an aura of uncertainty, that alluring and exciting sense of intrigue that so many before have had.

To go back to the Justin Young example, upon the release of his first Vaccines album, all you had to do to remove his rock-star ruse was Google him. His previous exploits as Jay Jay Pistolet, a soft-spoken, priory-bead wearing, folk singer, were then revealed. His cover was blown, the intrigue was lost, and his charisma was dashed.

All in all, a concoction of trends have made today’s front men boring descendants of the musical geniuses we so miss. Unless we can end an obsession with the past, and ideal types of front men, unless we can once again find front men with an extravagant femininity, unless we can put money back into the record industry, and simultaneously keep musician’s own past away from the prying eyes of the internet, by the time Jagger reaches 80, we may still be in need of a successor. Better not hold our breath eh?

 

Is Jagger, at 70, still better than most other front men? Photography: Getty Images.
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Why does food taste better when we Instagram it?

Delay leads to increased pleasure when you set up a perfect shot of your dinner.

Been on holiday? Take any snaps? Of course you did – but if you’re anything like me, your friends and family didn’t make it into many of them. Frankly, I can only hope that Mr Whippy and I will still be mates in sixty years, because I’m going to have an awful lot of pictures of him to look back on.

Once a decidedly niche pursuit, photographing food is now almost as popular as eating it, and if you thought that the habit was annoying at home, it is even worse when it intrudes on the sacred peace of a holiday. Buy an ice cream and you’ll find yourself alone with a cone as your companion rushes across a four-lane highway to capture his or hers against the azure sea. Reach for a chip before the bowl has been immortalised on social media and get your hand smacked for your trouble.

It’s a trend that sucks the joy out of every meal – unless, that is, you’re the one behind the camera. A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that taking pictures of food enhances our pleasure in it. Diners at the food court of a farmers’ market in Philadelphia were asked either to photograph their meal or to eat “as you normally would”, then were questioned about how they found it. Those in the photography group reported that not only did they enjoy their meal more, but they were “significantly more immersed in the experience” of eating it.

This backs up evidence from previous studies, including one from this year in the Journal of Consumer Marketing, which found that participants who had been asked to photograph a red velvet cake – that bleeding behemoth of American overindulgence – later rated it as significantly tastier than those who had not.

Interestingly, taking a picture of a fruit salad had no effect on its perceived charms, but “when descriptive social norms regarding healthy eating [were] made salient”, photographing these healthier foods did lead to greater enjoyment. In other words, if you see lots of glossy, beautifully lit pictures of chia seed pudding on social media, you are more likely to believe that it’s edible, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
This may seem puzzling. After all, surely anything tastes better fresh from the kitchen rather than a protracted glamour shoot – runny yolks carefully split to capture that golden ooze, strips of bacon arranged just so atop plump hemispheres of avocado, pillowy burger buns posed to give a glimpse of meat beneath. It is hardly surprising that 95 million posts on Instagram, the photo-sharing site, proudly bear the hashtag #foodporn.

However, it is this delay that is apparently responsible for the increase in pleasure: the act of rearranging that parsley garnish, or moving the plate closer to the light, increases our anticipation of what we are about to eat, forcing us to consider how delicious it looks even as we forbid ourselves to take a bite until the perfect shot is in the bag. You could no doubt achieve the same heightened sense of satisfaction by saying grace before tucking in, but you would lose the gratification that comes from imagining other people ogling your grilled Ibizan sardines as they tuck in to an egg mayonnaise at their desk.

Bear in mind, though, that the food that is most successful on Instagram often has a freakish quality – lurid, rainbow-coloured bagel-croissant hybrids that look like something out of Frankenstein’s bakery are particularly popular at the moment – which may lead to some unwise menu choices in pursuit of online acclaim.

On the plus side, if a diet of giant burgers and salted-caramel lattes leaves you feeling queasy, take heart: if there is one thing that social media likes more than #avotoast, it is embarrassing oversharing. After a week of sickening ice-cream shots, a sickbed selfie is guaranteed to cheer up the rest of us. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser