Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Voices," and the Music Industry

Music Week continues with some pondering...

I am not a music snob - which is a valid explanation for the fact that I own three Kelly Clarkson CDs. And I fully support the opinion that Kelly Clarkson is awesome - because she is. Girl is crazy talented, humble, and has a voice for days. Every so often I just frolic around YouTube revisiting her performances from American Idol.

And that's when it struck me. As much as I appreciate Kelly Clarkson's genre niche in her career, I really love her voice more than I love her music. It's not that I don't love her girl-power anthemic pop-rock; it's great. But when she was on AI, she tackled the likes of Motown and Big Band, and she absolutely killed it. What I wouldn't give for her to release a CD of those genres!

But the sad truth is that it'll probably never happen. It's not that I don't think Kelly won't return to her "Idol" roots. It's just that it probably wouldn't sell, and the people who greenlight such projects completely know this.

You can't just be a "Voice" anymore in today's music industry. It used to be that you didn't have to write your own songs. Sondheim and Bacharach and Berlin took care of it for you, and all you had to do was sing "The Standards." A song started with one artist, and then circled through several others' reinterpretations. It was no big deal. Barbra Streisand recorded countless albums that were just, "Barbra Streisand sings the hits of Broadway!" and nobody batted an eye.

But somewhere along the way - perhaps with the invention of karaoke or the Internet or the reality show - it just wasn't good enough to be a "Voice." Popular music, when penned by someone other than than its singer, began to be seen as inauthentic. Your songs had to be your music. Look at Taylor Swift - does she have the strongest voice in the music industry? No, but she has the strongest point of view. Homegirl can write and deliver a song like no other, and it's perfect for what audiences want these days. Even on American Idol, a singing competition, it's ill-advised that contestants should simply sing - they have to show up and play the piano or the guitar, and restructure the classics so that they can prove their "artistry," and don't just look like they're doing karaoke. (Not to mention, they need to be marketable. Sorry, Melinda Doolittle!)

It's a strange phenomenon, and it's certainly not necessarily a bad thing. Musical artistry is important, and if you do indeed have the talent to craft lyrics and melody and make them appeal to people, then by all means, take it to the bank. But we've somehow lost the ability to appreciate the vocal artistry. Perhaps with half of YouTube weighed down with people singing into their webcams, we've become disenchanted with it all.

But I'd like to see it swing back the other way, at least a little bit. And perhaps with Glee covering songs from Bacharach to Jay-Z, we're already a step in the right direction. But then again, I hear time and time again that Glee is "ruining" the songs they choose to cover, so maybe not. Frankly, the idea of an artist "ruining" a song is just preposterous. Covers are simply reinterpretations. Some don't measure up, but many do. And again, may I remind all of humankind that what is simply different is not necessarily bad.

So, I guess I'll continue to support the Josh Grobans and Michael Bubles for singing the old standards, and hope for the Kelly Clarksons and Lea Micheles to one day follow suit, even if the CD sales are less than stellar. Because I'm fairly certain they can sing almost anything - and they should show off their voices. There are people out there who will appreciate it.


  1. This is an interesting perspective. I confess I hadn't really considered this before; occasionally I argue with someone about music vs lyrics or lyrics vs voice or music vs voice but I never really thought about who was WRITING the songs.

    Although Laura did point out to me that someone who isn't Ke$sha writes Ke$sha songs, which makes me feel a bit better about singing along to them. :B

  2. And I spelled Ke$ha wrong there twice. DAMMIT.

  3. Haha! I don't think you can judge anyone for misspelling a name that has a dollar sign in it. :D And you mean... there's a phantom Ke$ha out there who brushes her teeth with Jack Daniels?! :O

    I probably should have mentioned Susan Boyle in the article, since she hit the scene as a "Voice" and everyone went apeshit. I think the appeal wasn't simply because of her voice, though, but also because of her circumstances.

  4. Another thing in favor of voice is stuff like Broadway tunes. Of course tons of people have performed "Funny Girl" but that's part of what makes it great. Given that a person likes show tunes, does anyone ever really get tired of hearing stuff from Les Mis? Reinterpretation is the lifeblood of show tunes.

  5. Oh, totally. Showtunes are awesome because they allow for, and even encourage, different vocal reinterpretations. But an artist can't sell a CD of showtunes these days, unfortunately.

    I've decided that even though I'm rather apathetic towards West Side Story that I love "Somewhere." Of course, now that I've pinpointed a song I love, I'm scouring the Internet to see if there's a version sung by a Voice I love. Still searching.


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