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

Whatever happened to the charismatic, effeminate, mysterious frontman?

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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.