Thursday, April 17, 2008

All You Need is the Right Person, and Poof! You're a Star

I originally didn't even want to blog about Leona Lewis, because there's no need to feed the machine, but after reading this article I'm again reminded why she's doing well: it's all the media push. Look at all the key words here:
  • Although other winners of "The X-Factor" haven't been given a strong U.S. push...
  • Simon Cowell believes that Lewis' "television connection was being overblown in the media. 'I've never signed anyone from Star Search, he said."
  • Yet Davis and Cowell designated Lewis as a star-to-be and lined up A-list producers such as Akon and Stargate for her "Spirit."
  • As for the criticism that "Idol" and its ilk put technique over artistry, Cowell has heard it. "I worry about this," he said. "I'm interested in the person as well as the talent. . . . I'm not interested in singing robots."
First of all, why is she given a push and not any others? There are Idol clones in 40 countries, including India, South Korea, and a regional version in the Middle East. "Bleeding Love" was even reshot and remixed to fit an American audience, so clearly we're not even ready for the real thing. (I heard this on VH1's "Top 20 Countdown", in case you're wondering.) To add insult to injury, the song and the video are boring and aren't worth the extra effort.

Second, it's her television connection that's selling her. She is a media creation--at least in the U.S., her claim to fame is she won a British talent contest and the guy who runs that show also runs the American version, and he and one of the world's top music producers love her. It's the same as any other American Idols--at first they're sold as a product of the show. If they're lucky, they transcend that.

Third, because she was anointed she gets top producers to replicate a sound that will connect with American audiences, because they're familiar with similar work.

Fourth, the only thing setting Lewis apart right now is that she's shy, making her the polar opposite of the exhibitionistic pop stars that seem to be synonymous with America right now. That could be a major selling point if it's played well and if Lewis was actually interesting, but she's not and no one focuses on that because there's nothing much to say and she would be drowned out. For all we know, she is a robot stylistically. Granted, this isn't fair, as most first albums are based out of a desire to get material out there and please producers; it's often only in follow-ups that true artistry, vision and personality can begin to see the light of day.

It's clear that for whatever reason, Lewis was handpicked and stamped for approval for Americans, and because she had big-name backers she became a star. But not really. Her numbers are inflated. How many people really like her? We don't know anything about the girl, except that she's shy. Since her album just came out, the reviews will follow soon, but the only people talking are ones connected to her. No one saying anything about the music, just that she's talented and she like certain other American stars. So? That's nothing. It's empty praise, much like her music.

And it's people like her that prevent other artists from getting a fair chance.

Ever wonder why that band you love just cannot seem to ever really get the exposure they need? It's because they usually don't have enough marketing dollars at their disposal.

Artists bitch and moan about how unfairly treated they are by the industry, how discriminated they are for whatever reason, and many listeners will just nod their heads. But it's true. Even an artist as celebrated as Kelly Clarkson complained that she wasn't given the proper push behind her last album, My December, because she and Clive Davis notoriously butted heads over the musical direction. Guess what? The album bombed. The best cut from the album, "Sober", wasn't even released as a single, which is a shame. Instead, the first (and only?) single was the very depressing "Never Again", accompanied by a dark, angry video that clashed with the effervescent Clarkson's personality, and the label barely bothered a follow-up, thinking there was no point. ("Sober" might be listed as a single in the link, but the fact that there's no video and virtually no radio play belies this fact.)

And this is the original American Idol we're talking about.

There are so many great artists out there, just as there are so many great songs out there that have a small fanbase, just because people aren't exposed to the song enough times to make it stick. This might sound like a silly argument to make now that Israeli-French chanteuses are broken on computer commercials, that an American Idol contestant can sing a version of a famous song that was featured in numerous television shows and movies, and that generally the public is exposed to more channels and has more options of finding music they are interested in than ever before. Technically, there is no need to follow mainstream music at all, and there are plenty of people who don't. But for every Colbie Calliat there are hundreds of MySpace artists that just need their Simon Cowell to blast the media with his endorsement.

Update: The LA Times actually agrees with me, calling her "unremarkable" and unfavorably reviews her music. Thank you:
At a time when major labels have trimmed their rosters and their staff, Lewis represents a carefully handled safe bet. Lewis, and the string of "Idol" artists who have come before her, are representative of an extremely risk-averse major label climate, one where artist development means winning a contract on a television show.

1 comment:

John said...

Hooray for safe, yet completely vapid music!

You know, has almost no agenda (that I've been able to discern) and the hundreds of thousands of hours invested by the Music Genome Project have turned it into one of the most reliable sources for finding new music that you'll probably like. What other music source encourages you to push your stylistic boundaries?