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Thursday, May 9, 2019

'My Favourite Things'

Is a musically weak and lyrically inane take by Ariane Grande on the Rogers and Hammerstein original anything to be concerned about?

A billion streams cannot be wrong

She has released a (legal) update on an admittedly saccharine sentiment and a tune whose beauty was understood by John Coltrane among others…

and converted it into a putrid paean to materialism with a lame urban vibe and a trite melodic appropriation.

Is she to be applauded because those from yesteryear with a tad more talent are, as a consequence, being talked about?

Is the woman whose career, through no fault of her own, was boosted by evil murderers driven by ideological-based hatred, guilty of offering the world her tears and a tribute to gross consumption?

Or is she being ironic, like other pop commentators at the top of their game from decades past who’ve used their platforms to preach anti-material morals whilst creaming in the dosh?

Does pop do irony anymore?

Just how rich is this vacuous, soulless, to my, no doubt malign ear, production-line muzak babe with an average voice and very average tunes, going to be made by celebrating ‘bubbles’ and other of her favourite things?

I find it funny that everybody seemingly hates politicians; there all in it for what they can get, aren’t they; they betray the people; climbing the greasy poll and stabbing us and each other in the back. Yet none of them are paid more than £100,000 a year to represent our often squalid and prejudiced world views.

But millions will worship a singer who, to her credit, has the honesty to tell you about what she is more than able to afford, make a virtue of it, and take your money in the process. These are the people we like, aren’t they? They don’t exploit people or their position, do they? They don’t have power, right? They don’t look after themselves at the expense of others. They connect with those less fortunate than themselves. They (often) come from humble beginnings... whatever that means. They’re not glorying in the globally-sanctioned excess that makes a few rich and many poor……

I have never (except for maybe a few months when I was 19) favoured revolution. But honestly, if you forced me to say the kind of people who should be candidates for elimination – because that’s what happens in revolutions - then I wouldn’t hesitate …… and nor of course would those who killed the innocents at her Manchester concert. So we cannot go there.

But Ariane Grande is not an innocent; she is a fellow traveller in unbridled exploitation and a singer of some of its worst tunes. For which she is popular. So who is innocent then?


Keith Rodway said...

Hmm. A tricky one this. I've had similar misgivings about Beyoncé's apparent worldview. I found her 12 Days of Christmas song, where her lover gives her diamonds, a series-whatever BMW etc, and it seems not be enough, bewildering and grotesque. Was that ironic? I couldn't tell. At this point, I should say that I think Beyoncé is a wonderfully talented songwriter and performer, and no doubt a powerful and empowering role model for millions of young women the world over - but I do feel uneasy about the tone of much that she releases. She comes across as an uber-entitled fantasy princess living in a rarified world with privileges that very few, if any, of her fans could ever hope to emulate. Bearing in mind the massive issues the world now faces, I find this hard to swallow. Maybe I'm missing the point. No doubt Beyoncé is the new Marlene Dietrich or Marilyn Monroe or whoever - a fabulous being whose very remoteness is all part of the appeal, living in a fantasy world a glimpse of which gives a few moments'relief from the drudgery of mundane existence... or something.
But then there's Arianna Grande and a whole regiment of similarly talentless pop moppets living as paeans to mediocrity and underachievement. This I fail to grasp.
One can only assume that this is how the world for her fans is and should be, for whatever reason, and be glad that it makes them happy. Us old 'uns are never going to get it, and frankly nor should we. It would be unseemly if we did! I reckon it'd be an uphill struggle trying to explain Coltrane to an Arianna fan, and that must be the way it's meant to be.

Neil Partrick said...

Thanks for this, as usual Keith, highly enjoyable contribution to a burgeoning if not massively trending debate. You are, I think, arguing that talented entertainers whose high living remoteness is part of their schtick, can be enjoyed as a whole package. Miles Davis had his own bling, a Woody Guthrie asceticism wouldn't fit. But then there's the cliché of African-American entertainers whose very self conscious celebration of material achievement is supposedly deep seated and in inverse proportion to their forefathers/mothers' servitude. There are a lot of aristocratic titles among the early jazz and blues artists. But in the contemporary era there's the sometimes irritating idea of appropriate role models. What was said in the last London riots? If I couldn't afford Nike, I'd nick 'em. Beyonce is basically a good voice, good (sometimes) songs, and tiresome emphasis (like Marilyn) on her body. Self empowerment, no doubt, but what does she or inferior moppet Ariana Grande have to offer as aspirational motivation to their fans, other than consumerism. Arithmetically speaking, their fans can't all be superstars. James Brown sang 'Stay in school.' What do these fascile entertainers offer? No doubt my argument reflects my age, but why shouldn't fans of urban dance mundanity be educated to understand beauty. When I went to school we were offered this, I heard Brian Wilson and Kraftwerk in music class as well as Bach. The 'poverty of aspiration' was noted by Bevan 60 years ago..

Keith Rodway said...

It's a very tricky debate. Yes, Miles loved fast cars and beautiful women - marks of the high-status male - but he also took care of business, creating a legacy of highly original, genre-defying music that no-one else, not even on occasion Miles himself, could follow, develop or improve upon. Like Bowie or Beefheart or Delia Derbyshire, he'd create something unexpected and move on, time and time again. I've spent 50+ years listening to Bitches Brew, On the Corner, In a Silent Way etc etc, and somehow it doesn't get old. But I think the bling was simply an aspect of his private life, it wasn't the artistic goal in itself. As a musician, in an ideal world - ie, if I had the merest fraction of Miles'talent - I'd want to take his ideas and expand on them. Many tried and the results were underwhelming. But I wouldn't want a faster car or more beautiful women. Yet with Arianna G, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and even Taylor Swift - who I think does actually have good songs - it's the trappings of celebrity that seem to be the main draw. I think it became clear a long time ago that you didn't need artistic integrity and if anything it was a liability. And yet, I feel uncomfortable saying this. My old mucker Mick Hutchinson - one of the most talented guitarists of the old guard - said, correctly in my opinion, that young people love the music they listen with the same intensity of passion as I loved Howling Wolf or The Animals or Aretha Franklin or Nina Simone. When I asked a group of my students why Ed Sheeran was so popular one replied that he is a good communicator. What bothered me was that the intellectual content was sorely lacking if compared to, say Bob Dylan. But, everything in the arts is a response to its environment, to its social and cultural context. So I'm guessing that comparisons between the avatars of different eras based on subjective, or even objective, notions of beauty are in some way inappropriate. Andy Warhol said that in the future everything would be about surfaces. Much of his own work predicted that. Would Miles have been focused on his following on Instagram? Does it even make sense to wonder? To be clear, I agree with you. James Brown's advice was sound. There is currently no correlative to Brian Wilson or Kraftwerk. Bevan had a point. Yet, none of this apparently matters to fans of Jess Glynne or anyone raised on the horrors of X Factor! If mediocrity is the new excellence and we are the new dinosaurs we have to accept that, be thankful for what we had, stick to our point of view and let future generations figure out the rest.

Neil Partrick said...

Great comments, Keith. My reference to Miles was partly tongue in cheek - obviously the bling minus the artistic bang is a pretty poor deal. Regarding the suggestion of you ol' mucker that the 'kids' are, well, alright because they have the same passionate intensity about music that we did aged 14-19, or wotever, I seriously doubt it. Why? Because I remember that a lot of my contemporaries in the late 1970s/early 80s avidly taped the charts, or bought singles or dreamed of someone buying them an LP. It wasn’t on demand and, effectively, free. Also, many of the kids back then, like those today who can sod-cast any ol’ shit from their phone, got excited for a while about something. However they didn’t hang on to it, often never listen to it now, and they look back on it (as no doubt their equivalents of today will in the future) with nostalgia for that stuff up in the attic (or long since deleted off their phone if they bothered to download it). Subjective, qualitative analysis is precisely that, I know, but the music that I most loved as a youth/young man moved me, transported me, made me rant, fired me up…. Ultimately, it gave me a reason to live. And I could barely play a fuggin’ note. I seriously doubt if the kids holding up their phones at an Ed Sheeran gig will ever really know what that felt/feels like.