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Talent Optional: Bye Bye Ms. American Pie

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Justin Timberlake does not think Taylor Hicks can sing. Shows he has some sense, but then again I think that Justin Timberlake thinks he can sing. There goes that sense of sense. I don't think a computer-enhanced pop singer who can't write a song should criticize another created pop singer.

"The guy who won – people think he looks so normal, and he's so sweet, and he's so earnest, but he can't carry a tune in a bucket."

And he can? Is he jealous of Taylor? Does Justin want to annoy us every twenty minutes pushing Fords instead? I have not heard much from Justin Timberlake. Maybe he is jealous. I mean what has Justin done? There was that one song I remem… no, guess not.  But there were all those annoying N'Sync son… nope, can't think of any. So how is he a celebrity? Only thing I know about him is that he appears to be another in a long line of singers who are better at self-promotion than they are at singing. A good sign of this is that I cannot name one song of his and he has been a "singer" for years.

Oh MTV, what have you wrought upon us? There was no MTV in the '70s. There was only radio and the '70s were possibly one of the greatest (and worst) eras for music. The highs and lows were a result of the same facet of that decade that vanished in the '80s with the birth of that channel: ugly bands could succeed.

There have always been two classes of musicans: the pretty stars and the ugly stars. The pretty stars had lives growing up. The ugly stars did not. They sat home perfecting their art while the pretty stars treated music as a hobby. To the ugly stars, music was a way to make something that was theirs. To the pretty stars, it was simply another way to get laid.

Queen was one ugly band. So was Thin Lizzy. Fleetwood Mac had Stevie Nicks, but that was it for that band. Elton John is beyond ugly and have you ever seen Barbra Streisand? These are all very talented musicians. Like their style of music or not, there is no denying Barbra Streisand's voice or Freddie Mercury's or Elton John's, but none of them are nice to look at. Good thing they are in an audio art instead, right?  Wrong, good thing they came out in the '70s.  Video did indeed kill the radio star.

Music Television. The mere concept of it is so ridiculous. Music is an audio experience and television is a video experience. Music is free of context and flows. It creates its own images and own feelings. Television provides all of that for you. Music is astral, not created by man, but flowing through man. Television shows the music being made and destroys the illusion. Music is about the sound. Television is about the performer.

There is no place today for ugly musicians unless they are willing to go full freak show. The Jim Croces and James Taylors of today will never make it because they are too unattractive to sing love songs. They would not look right in their video. A band being signed today must actually worry about how they look in a video. Music comes second.

Growing up, I had no idea about the people behind my favorite groups. I did not know their names, what they looked like or how many members there were. Yes, I know Pink Floyd and Rush like the back of my hand now, but it was years before I saw what Geddy Lee or Roger Waters looked like. I still have never seen what Jethro Tull looks like or Gerry Rafferty. I don't want to know. The music is magical to me right now, almost religious and seeing the people it came from would be like knowing how a magician did his best trick.

About Brad Schader

  • Baronius

    Great article. Pink Floyd’s tour for “The Wall” featured a fake band in the center of the stage, acting out the story as the musicians played on the sides. Now that’s anonymity.

    There are some talented, good-looking young musicians out there. Michelle Branch and John Mayer come to mind. They both have the right look, and started out with appealing pop music. But once they got their foot in the door, they’ve gone in some interesting directions. But you’re right, no matter what they do they’ll never be as ugly as Getty Lee.

  • Allison Solow

    You don’t know what you’re talking about. Elton John, James Taylor and Paul Simon were all on TV during the 1970′s and nobody turned off the set because they were “ugly.” Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, and great talent shows through. You may deemed Streisand unattractive — I think she’s beautiful — but on the big screen in “Funny Girl” and on TV with shows like her TV specials she was not only fun to watch and listen to, she was transformed. Maybe you don’t realize this because you’re too young to remember. I suggest you check out some tapes and rethink your concept. There have always been pretty faces amid the great voices and by an large it’s the great ones who remain memorable.

  • http://kanrei.blogspot.com kanrei

    They were on TV specials here and there, but their appearance was not a factor in their getting signed as performers nor was it a factor in their being promoted.
    I am 35. Whether that makes me too young or not is up to your perspective. I feel I saw the end of quality and the beginning of fads.
    Think about John Travolta, David Soul, Shawn Cassidy all trying to be singers in the 70′s and being noveltys at best. They were actors, not singers.
    Star Search was a joke that gave birth to the occastional talent. American Idol IS a pop star. Musical talent has indeed become secondary to an audio art.

  • duane

    Good post, Brad. Your views seem self-evident to me. A damn shame that that’s the way things are. I don’t understand Allison’s beef (#2). If anything, her comments just reinforce your position. But I don’t want to go into it right now. She should rethink your post.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    this Article shows why i stick with bands like TooL, Rush, and Motorhead…

    it’s about the fucking music

    nuff said…

    Excelsior?

  • duane

    Gonzo, I don’t care if we have ever disagreed about anything in the past. I don’t care if we disagree about anything in the future. Because anyone who lists Tool and Rush among their favorites (ugly bastards that they are) is OK in my book.

    A couple of quick comments on the original post:

    I also happen to think that Streisand can sing like nobody’s business. Where are the Streisands these days? They’re out there, but we’ll never see or hear them, because they’re not “hot.”

    Stevie Nicks was a fabulous babe, but she also had a boatload of talent. I think her pairing with Lindsay Buckingham produced some wonderful pop music. But then again, I’m an old fart.

  • http://kanrei.blogspot.com kanrei

    Tool is a great example. Their music seems to me like it comes from some place else. Seeing the people who made it would only ground it to me. I have never seen them and loved that, while making videos, they have never appeared in any and made videos that never gave a context to their songs.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    well now… TooL does like to remain anonymous visually , out side of their concerts… it has worked for Rush for 35 years now…

    here is the best Interview with TooL i have found so far…

    enjoy…

    Excelsior?

  • JR

    Kanrei: Tool is a great example…

    Tool is post-MTV, right? Not sure that helps your argument so much.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    well JR, they are a decent example..

    watch the Interview..

    they came about around ’91 … 10 yers into the MTV age…but only their first video even shows their faces…

    NONE of the rest do.. the only time you actually see them is either in concert… or the VERY rare interview

    right on topic, actually… as an example fo how great Music can still be made and distributed without falling into the “pretty boy” dog and pony show…

    Excelsior!

  • http://kanrei.blogspot.com kanrei

    I spoke of Tool because they are the exception to the rule. They are unknown. They have succeeded inspite of the MTV pretty musician rule. If anything, they would fall into the other category I spoke of:
    There is no place today for ugly musicians unless they are willing to go full freak show.

    There is talent out there today, but they cannot become famous on thier own. They must have a gimmic.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=diana+hartman diana hartman

    I am pleased to tell you this article is being featured in the Culture Focus today, August 21.

    Diana Hartman
    Culture Editor

  • http://kanrei.blogspot.com kanrei

    Diana,
    I am flattered. Thank you

  • Mohjho

    Neil Young
    Looks like shit
    Sings like shit
    I can’t stop listening.

  • http://www.innocentabroad.com Adam

    Nice article, but your argument doesn’t explain bands like Nickelback, Dave Matthews, or the Counting Crows– Adam Duritz is a very unattractive man no matter how you slice it, but he still sells records, makes videos, and is well-loved. It’s women who have suffered the most from the pretty phenomenon– a lot of the biggest female stars of the past decade never even wrote their own songs.

    But forget MTV– the internet is fixing the pretty rock star problem. Look at the biggest internet sensation bands of the past few years: Arctic Monkeys, Decemberists, Franz Ferdinand, The Shins, Death Cab For Cutie, Joanna Newsom, Modest Mouse, and Bright Eyes, to name but a few… none of these bands would be known at all were it not for grassroots blogging and internet downloading, and all of them are now on major labels. When 500 people routinely show at concerts for a band that never released an album, record labels pay attention. You can tart any of those artists up (and they have tried with Conor Oberst aka Bright Eyes big time) but you can’t hide the fact that they are NOT pretty. MTV will fade into irrelevance and obscurity eventually, and we can reclaim music for talented people, regardless of aesthetics.