As Calvin Harris stripped to his skivvies for Emporio Armani in April, barely a bit of public attention was directed at his bulge. Instead the world’s collective eye fixed itself about five inches higher – somewhere around those thick bands of muscle that bisect his belly button – as we whispered: “Shit. When did Calvin Harris get so ripped?”
Muscle-bound men in pop are by no means a new phenomenon. We’ve had them for decades now – be they tough-guy gangsta rappers (50 Cent), smooth R&B sex machines (Usher) or Chippendales who can just about hold a tune (Peter Andre).
But, up until recently, no-one really knew, or cared, what DJ-producer types looked like. They would put their name to a bi-annual compilation of club classics, stick out one or two singles with a bunch of sexy ladies in the video, do the odd Essential Mix for Radio 1. That was it. That was all that was expected of you.
In the last five years though, things have changed. Where Jive Bunny and Fatboy Slim paved the way, knob-twiddlers like Mark Ronson, David Guetta, Skrillex and Avicii have all stepped out from behind the decks to become fully fledged global popstars in their own right.
Calvin Harris has always been the poster-boy of the producer-popstar crossovers. He sang his own songs, starred in his own videos – so it does make sense that he would be the first to make the transition from bedroom-dwelling music-maker to blonde beefcake cover star. But why has this only just happened now?
In part, it’s a symptom of the wider cultural rise of the ‘spornosexual’ (a term coined by prolific term-coiner and writer, Mark Simpson). ‘Sporno-’ is a combination of ‘sport’ and ‘porno’ – pinpointing two of the biggest influences on the modern male ideal: the lean-yet-shredded physiques of athletes and adult entertainers.
From magazines and movies, to the music charts, many men in the public eye have been attempting to bulk up in line with those who play professional sports for a living, or those who hump on camera. (Or, in a few specific cases, do both.)
This trend has trickled down to us laymen too. According to figures released by the Leisure Database Company, 2014 saw record numbers of Brits getting their schlubby arses into gear and signing up at gyms and fitness clubs, with memberships exceeding 8 million for the first time ever. Combined with huge surges in downloads of fitness apps for smartphones (Google claims that Health And Fitness was the fastest growing app category last year) and the new fashion for wearable fitness trackers , it is clear that we, as a people, are trying harder to look harder.
It’s no surprise then that we’re seeing more buff bods in the charts, but does it actually help a popstar to be hench?
Taking a look at the Official Charts Company’s top 20 selling singles of 2014, we see that Calvin Harris just crept into the final count with Summer, which was the 19th best selling single of the year.
Above him? Sam Smith – a man who looks (and sounds) like he is perpetually desperate to pop the top button of his shirt. He had the 18th and 17th best selling singles of the year.
And above ? Ed Sheeran – a high-profile holder of a Nando’s Black Card, and someone who can’t seem to conduct a single interview without turning the conversation to his love of burgers. He got the 11th and fifth.
The evidence therefore suggests that being stacked is no real shortcut to success. So maybe success is a shortcut to getting stacked?
A study conducted by Nuffield Health in 2012 showed that people who earned less than £20K a year would spend an hour a week in the gym, on average, whereas someone earning £101K+ would spend three.
It’s fairly safe to say that Calvin Harris’s earning potential and his personal training regimen would fit that same curve pretty neatly – even if Nuffield Health doesn’t have the exact stats for DJs who earn $46 million a year. Finishing off the “package” with Tip-Ex white, perfect teeth, a geometrically-sound haircut and a never-ending supply of understated yet immaculately-tailored garments is just a matter of spending the money on a team of people whose sole purpose in life is to make you look fantastic.
Harris isn’t the only one either. Justin Bieber first became a global megastar as a mop-topped little muppet with a body like Morph. Now the money’s rolling in, he’s got pumped.
One Direction too. It wasn’t until their third album that they really started to beef up (interestingly, the same timeframe as Calvin Harris) even though they already had their multi-million fanbase locked down long before.
Still, it would be disingenuous to suggest that a six-pack is not helpful in any way to your modern celebrity. It most definitely is. Because although a washboard stomach won’t necessarily guarantee you a gold disc, it will, at the very least, guarantee you some gold.
To an advertiser, a popstar with pecs you could bounce a pound coin off is dynamite. Agencies can’t sign them up fast enough. Calvin Harris landed Armani, Justin Bieber got Calvin Klein, Peter Andre is still raking in that sweet, sweet Iceland dollar. Even Iggy Pop – who looks like a Californian Halloween decoration – got a gig flogging car insurance with his leathery old abs out.
In days gone by, this would have been called selling out. Sure, you can dress it up however you like; justify it by talking about how you “feel an affinity to the brand ethos” (Harris), or are “honoured to be part of the legacy” (Bieber). Essentially though, it’s shilling. And while lucrative endorsements might not improve their sales, or get them booked at South By South West, the paydays are huge and it boosts their profile immeasurably.
So what can we expect next from our multi-hyphenate superstars? What brave new worlds are there for the singer-producer-DJ-model to conquer? Like fellow producer-performer hybrids Dr Dre and will.i.am, a natural extension for Calvin Harris: The Brand would be delving into the world of tech. But if he’s truly serious about maximising his brand potential long-term (and we have no cause to doubt it, given the ease at which he started talking corporate gibberish the second Armani opened their wallets) he’s going to want to move into philanthropy.
It might not seem a natural step for him – celebrities don’t usually start doing the heavy charity work until they’re well into their forties. But given that Scotland’s much-reported ‘obesity time-bomb’ is currently costing the country an estimated £4.6 billion, and with two thirds of their population considered to be overweight, there has never been a better time for a Scot who went from pasty little spod to bona fide beefcake to show us all how we can achieve a beach ready bod.
Words: Chris Lochery