No, I have yet to watch any of the Susan Boyle videos on YouTube, but I am intrigued, and somewhat heartened, by the success of her debut album, “I Dreamed a Dream”. I would love to think that this signals the rebirth of dense, sophisticated music made by grown-ups for both grown-ups and kids, but I know otherwise. The news about sales of her debut album comes coincidentally at a time when I have been thinking about how sick I am of “teenybopper” acts. I may be exaggerating a bit, and saying this invariably makes me sound so old, but it just seems to me that so many people in front of the camera or mic nowadays are very young. I suppose someone is interested in watching these kids, most likely their peers, but I am not interested at all. I prefer watching and listening to experienced performers who know their craft, but that’s me. Yet, I do think that others share this sentiment, and that the music business in general underestimates the consumer. In particular older audiences with their purchasing power are looking for something else besides the latest version of bubblegum music.
I recently read a similarly themed article in the New York Times by Charles Isherwood. He contrasted the wonderfully deep lyric interpretation of Barbara Cook with the technically sound, yet soulfully lacking, music on the tv show, “Glee”. According to Isherwood, the music on “Glee” lacks, “the human touch. When the kids in the club break into song, their voices become oddly disembodied, just one element among many to be manipulated by technicians in a thick layer of sound.” Now, I don’t watch “Glee”, and I suppose that I should watch a bit of it before I comment on it, but given that I have watched a few episodes of “American Idol”, I am guessing that he is talking about that belting style punctuated by the overuse of melisma that has grown very popular over the last few years. To me this kind of singing usually lacks subtlety, and without subtlety, you lose feeling, you lose honesty. I understand that as someone who has done a lot of singing and has listened to and watched a lot of other singers, I have a particular perspective, but I generally don’t find this style of singing engaging.
As I mentioned above, I have yet to watch any Susan Boyle videos, but when I hear people talk about her, most people with the notable exceptions of my husband and Chelsea Handler mention how moving her singing is to them. Commenting on the CD’s success in the New York Times, Steve Barnett, chairman of Columbia Records, said, “The reason that this record really did what it did was that people wanted to get it and own it, to feel like they’re a part of it.” Clearly, people are responding to her story – contest underdog/”never been kissed” ugly duckling – but I am hopeful that people are indicating with their dollars that they are looking for singing that not only sounds good, but also makes them feel something. I’d also like to think that by extension they are also indicating that age and experience have value. It also goes without saying that pretty people don’t always make the best music. In the end though I’m not holding out any hope that Susan Boyle will singlehandedly stem the tide of the teenybopper tsunami, but for now, I’ll just enjoy the moment when an older, not-so-attractive woman with a beautiful voice and a lot of heart served as a reminder of the way things could be as opposed to the way things are.