In a study by Chia-Jung Tsay, who last year earned a Ph.D. in organizational behavior with a secondary Ph.D. field in music, nearly all participants — including highly trained musicians — were better able to identify the winners of competitions by watching silent video clips than by listening to audio recordings. The work was described in a paper published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Normal caveats about one-off sociological experiments aside, this roughly tracks with observable reality. Attractive people are better-liked than unattractive people, and are presumed to be more talented because everyone likes attractive people.
The bias towards attractive people isn’t really surprising, and probably helps to explain why, say, Katy Perry is able to sell millions of records (hint and hint). It’s not that Ms. Perry is more talented than most other female singers (though she isn’t completely devoid of vocal talent), but it certainly helps that she has a nice rack and a pleasant enough face. The same goes for Taylor Swift, Ellie Goulding, One Direction, and all the other attractive pop stars: Their good looks help to compensate for their general lack of sheer musical talent. They aren’t completely devoid of talent, but then no one expects Taylor Swift or Harry Styles to suddenly start rocking out some righteous guitar solos in the middle of concert.
The lesson in all this, though, is that being good-looking will help you a lot more than being talented. There’s a reason why Radiohead doesn’t have near the popularity of Coldplay, and that reason isn’t a lack of talent. Truthfully, Thom Yorke, though more talented, is less attractive than Chris Martin. Thus, if you want to be more successful in life, it’s better to look good than be talented (though both in tandem are damn near unstoppable). Therefore, it is wise to look as good as you possibly can.
Your success, then, is probably more contingent on upgrading your wardrobe and getting in shape than on learning useful skills. This truth may not be pretty, but then reality doesn’t really care about your feelings. So, if you want to be successful, it’s better to choose style over substance, though it’s ideal to choose both if at all possible.