Monday, April 20, 2009
Adam Lambert, American Idol And Why The Music Industry Has Failed
I'm not sure if the majority of my readers have been watching American Idol but I have to say hands down it's the best one since the first series. I was deeply invested at the beginning and quickly lost interest, but have popped in the last few episodes every other season. I find Fantasia's life story interesting. Carrie Underwood got me listening to modern country music. Of course if you know anything about the music industry Nashville songwriters are the best in the biz so she and her team have had access to and selected songs that really showcase her assets as an artist. Smart move!
I cheered for Jennifer Hudson's career success and how Simon Cowell had to eat crow after he was so dismissive of her. It's been very interesting to watch how Kelly Clarkson navigates her career away from Idol and how she's fumbled a bit trying to forge her own identity. Not to mention being taken seriously as an accomplished song-writer. I thought she was either incredibly ballsy or crazy to publicly rail against Clive Davis, but apparently her brand is intact. Most artists at her level, who'd had huge hits would NOT try to rock the boat. So more power to her.
Now aside from the concerns about the packaging and commoditizing of artists into cookie cutter pop stars I really like Adam and his confidence. He's going to be edgy and I think that frightens the handlers. He's not going to fit in a nice little box to stuff him in and is the antithesis of "interchangeable". Unless he's going to do rock music they'll encourage him to "tone it down". Because of the macho culture in this country where the definition of masculinity can be so limiting a man that's in touch with his feminine side or doesn't conform to acting like a GI Joe is very threatening.
There are already whispers and rumors about his orientation and however he identifies himself has no bearing on his immense talent. Robert Smith has happily worn mascara, eyeliner and bright red lipstick for nearly 30 years and is still married to his beloved Mary. Of course he's British. So I'm rooting for Adam because he's clearly leading the pack but I wonder if winning would be more of a hindrance for his long term career aspects. He's clearly playing to win though. I'm just not sure if the Simons: that would be Cowell and Fuller (head of 19 Management) want him to win. If he comes in 2nd he can milk all the sympathy of having been "wronged" forever.
I'm also looking at the other contestants because this season has the highest level of competition yet. If Anoop wasn't Indian he'd have more of a chance at winning. Since he's not white, Black or even Latino his non-gentrified name and brown skin are going to be a hinderance in this country. He also doesn't "conform" to expectations. He has a beautiful voice and makes good song selections but you know they're thinking, "How are we going to 'market' him?" Gee, I dunno...how about as a pop artist! Soulful songs but not specifically arranged in an R&B format. He needs well-crafted songs and keep him far away from hip-hop. His first single could be a mid-tempo with a gospel choir. Actually I think Natasha Bedingfield should write a song for him. He'd do well flipping the script and singing songs that may have been pitched to women because the contrast is also interesting. If he'd been a contestant in the UK for the original format Pop Idol it may have worked because of the prominent Asian population. The fact that he's so talented has sustained him. I'd like to think we've moved beyond these roadblocks but I'm a realist.
As I stated I think this season has had it's strongest group of competitors. They're stumbling a bit at times because the don't have enough experience performing and they don't know enough music history and what suits their voice. That's the problem with pop music in that the finished song you hear was fashioned for a specific artist with certain vocal limitations. If you're an accomplished vocalist, singing the average pop song will sound weird and has to be rearranged to suit that person. So with that I'd give the nod to Adam, but he's the senior member of the group at age 27. If he'd been 16 like Allison he wouldn't be nearly as polished as he is now. He clearly knows his voice and what it can and can't do. There's plenty of major label artists who can't say that!
Lil Rounds is a great singer but she's gonna get sucked into to vortex of lost Black female artists. There's too many great singers and the industry isn't supportive. If she'd been light-skinned, thinner and willing to sex it up they may have given her a shot. The industry isn't supportive of artists who offer substance and albums with 80% good material. They want a few singles and filler and for that artist to put out a new craptastic album every 1.25 years with the accompanying soft porn video to match. Look at the career challenges being thrown at Jill Scott, Ledisi, India. Arie and others who have legit talent, write their own songs and STILL get grief!! She needs to take a cue from Natalie who's looking to foreign markets
Allison is young, a raw talent that needs more seasoning and a complete makeover. She has reminded me of Kelly Clarkson from time to time and Randy confirmed my assessment. Kelly tried to rage against the music machine and got smacked down publicly. I admire her for fighting for her own voice and creative control. She is a talented songwriter as well but under the circumstances of her rise to prominence I can see where she was going to have to compromise...or else. I don't know if Allison has the writing chops to demand creative control or if she'd be packaged in a similar way Jordan Sparks has been.
Matt Giraud sometimes comes across as channeling Justin Timberlake and the ironies ensue! Justin has been working with Black choreographers, songwriters and producers his entire career and has used that to build his career. Matt has white skin but is bi-racial so there's the rub. A white guy appropriates aspects of Black culture and hangs out with Blacks as if some Black-cred can attach itself while someone who actually has Black heritage will be seen as imitating the mimicker. If Matt was browner would anyone dare to compare him to Timberlake or would the realization that he's lifted another culture for style be that much more obvious?
The other contestants left are white males and quite frankly don't interest me. If one of them was a modern day Steve Perry that would be one thing. Unless they pull out some surprising departure from their usual routine I think they'll be eliminated. Or...because of the polarizing effects of the contestants I've discussed one of them might win. Anything's possible!