Monday, January 17, 2005

Talent worries

With another season of American Idol starting this week, I worry a lot about talent growth in America.  It used to be that bands and singers that were truly talented were invested in by record companies and grown up to the mega-stars that they became and still are.  Now everything seems so manufactured.  Sure, one of the qualifications of American Idol is an ability to actually sing, but it just feels wrong that America is picking the next pop star.  There used to be a magic and mystery to the music business: the feeling that there were record company agents trolling small bars and restaurants to find the next break-out hit and that it was the magic ears of those agents that helped propel popular music.  Now these manufactured acts simply do everything in Pro Tools and there is a Pro Tools computer at the sound board so that the music on stage (and sometimes the vocals) are the same as those in the studios.

Similarly, look at TV.  Where is the next group of Friends?  The answer seems to be that no one cares.  Simply go find a non-actor with some sort of story or, even better, get people to try out for some sort of contest, and simply film those people for 24 hours a day over the course of several months and distill it down to 8 1-hour episodes.  Should the talent in one season not be that great, well, there's another season just around the corner.

Aren't we tired of this yet?  Don't we want some of the magic and skill back?  It really doesn't seem like it.  Take a look at the guide on your digital cable or satellite and count the number of reality shows and episodes of American Idol.  Take a look (or a listen) to the top 40 songs and decide for yourself which of those bands are actually talented.  Look at some of the interviews with these manufactured bands and non-actor reality TV stars; a lot of them are very worried about whether the public will like what they are doing . . .

“Talent never asks ‘Will they like it?’.  Talent pleases itself.  That’s the difference between talent and ordinary.”

-- Larry King, CNN talk show host


1 comment:

Christopher Bailey said...

Ross...the talent is here, the ideas are here. Scratch beneath the thin surface that is today's mainstream media and you'll find those who still have a passion for their art.

The internet and MP3 has unleashed the talent of bands and musicians who create music their own way. I've found so many underground and indie groups at that mass radio won't bother to play. Too dangerous, too subversive to the expectations of mediocrity that exist.

Same for writing. Same for TV and movies and theatre. The question we have to answer is: what can we do to raise the bar for what goes into our head? If our collective culture demands better, what would happen?