Before I ever touched a real musical instrument, I played at being a rock star. When I was 5 years old, I picked up a tennis racket and imagined myself playing a wild solo in front of a cheering crowd. If you're reading this blog, you've probably done the same thing. If you haven't played guitar on a racket, you sang at the top of your lungs using a hairbrush as a microphone. Like me, while watching TV, you copied Michael Jackson's Moonwalk, danced Madonna's Vogue or did Angus Young's Duck Walk (a move he borrowed from Chuck Berry). By imitating your idols, you were unknowingly flirting with one of the most effective weapons in show business: the signature move.
From Elvis Presley swaying to Blue Suede Shoe to Psy conquering the world by hopping to Gagnam Style, the history of pop culture is filled with artists who have made a direct connection between a gesture and their music.
Before writing this article, I dug up several lists of the best "signature moves" on the web. But I couldn't find an exact definition of the concept. So here is mine:
Signature Move - A body movement or attitude that meets the following criteria:
Popularized by a particular artist
Performed regularly over a long period in the artists' career. Let's make an exception for artists who quickly rose to fame and then fell into oblivion but whose signature move still significantly impacted popular culture. Example: La Macarena by Los Del Rio.
Performed by anyone who tries to imitate the artist in question.
Immortalized regularly on visual support (photo, film, video)
Here is now an incomplete list of movements associated with well-known artists.
A move used in a general way by an artist
Elvis Presley’s Hip Thrust
Axl Rose's Snake Dance
Michael Jackson's Moonwalk
Michael Jackson's Crotch Grab
Mick Jagger's Rooster Strut
David Lee Roth’s Karate Kicks
A move with an instrument
Chuck Berry's Duckwalk copied by AC/DC’s Angus Young
Jerry Lee Lewis standing at the piano and playing with his feet
ZZ Top’s rotating guitars
Pete Townsend's Windmill
Steve Harris' Bass Riffle
A Move associated with a song title
Chubby Checker’s Twist
Psy's Gagnam Style - Over 2 billion views on YouTube (record from 2014 to 2019)
YMCA by the Village People
Routines associated with a song or a moment of the show
Rolling On The River by Tina Turner
James Brown's cape routine at the end of his shows
The few examples listed above belong to international stars. However, I don't think you have to wait until you've reached the pantheon of pop music to adopt your own signature moves. On the contrary, using this tool can help emerging artists stand out.
So here are 5 reasons why you should create the moves that fit your grooves
To establish a branding
Performing a signature move is the stage equivalent of having a logo. It allows you to anchor an image in the mind of your audience. When you see an artist perform for the first time, you may quickly forget his or her music, but you will remember a movement or a body attitude much longer. For more efficiency, wear a distinctive outfit, and you're all set.
To stimulate emulation
A strong signature move will stimulate emulation. The most fervent fans of an artist, succumbing to a powerful desire for identification, will be tempted to reproduce their idol's moves. This happens in all styles. Hip-hop culture has a lot of examples of hand gestures and dance moves associated with certain rappers. In rock music, think of all the air guitar virtuosos who mimic their favourite guitarists' body language while they pretend to play a solo. And we all know a part-time Céline who beats her chest while singing My Heart Will Go On in karaoke bars.
To create a moment that the public expects
As artists gain notoriety, their signature moves become "highlights" of their shows. The audience will want to see them perform these famous moves that set them apart. It's part of the show.
To give the media a treat
A powerful and evocative signature move is visually attractive. Let's imagine the following circumstances. Several groups perform at the same indie music festival, say 40 shows over a weekend. Two or three photos will represent the entire festival in the arts and entertainment section of the local newspaper. A handful of excerpts from the shows will summarize the whole event in a 30-second video clip posted on social media. Guess which artists or groups will be featured?
Because it's free, and it works for you while you sleep.
A signature move works for the artist 24/7. A while ago, a video clip was the best vehicle to communicate an artist’s body movements and attitudes to a large audience. Then, fans would repeat these movements in front of their TV sets, as in the example given in this article's introduction. Today, thanks to Tik Tok and other social media, embedding your music in the body memory of your audience is easier than ever.