April 22, 2009

Yeah, Well, Cry Me A River

If you're watching it, it's for you.

I can assume everyone has seen the clip of Susan Boyle singing I Dream A Dream on Britain's Got Talent.

"Your halo is a little two steps to the right."

Everyone loves an underdog.  Everyone loves a high horse, too: "take that, you prejudicial prigs, who expect a good voice to only come out of slinky blondes with belly rings."

Myself, I don't expect it only out of slinky blondes, though I'll admit I like it better.  But  despite my fascination with slinky blondes, I have never bothered to find one that sang on Youtube.  My lust cannot be monetized.

I did, however, against all better judgment, go look for this clip.  And there's the rub.

Let's step back and ask some questions:

  1. Is it really surprising to anyone that a 47 year old woman can have a great voice?  (Opera, Aretha Franklin, etc?)
  2. Is it surprising to anyone that an overweight or homely woman can have a great voice?  (Madonna, Coldplay, etc? (Zing!))

No.  Which brings me to the 3rd question:

3. Could it possibly be surprising to Simon Cowell?  After seven years of Britain's Got 10p Text Messaging, he was suddenly caught off guard?

That I smell a rat is besides the point.  My first instinct is that Simon had already heard her sing, or maybe even specifically recruited her to come for an audition because of her 1999 single Cry Me A River.

This doesn't take away from her ability-- she can sing a tune, that's for damn sure.

But what's relevant point here is what is being done to you.  Regardless of whether Simon knew about her beforehand, her performance has now been packaged and marketed in a different way, specifically for you, based on what they know you like.  This further reinforces those preferences on your part.  In other words, they are giving you what you want, and training you to want the next thing. 

Watch the clip, the editing, the story they are writing: how they contrast from shots of cynical audience members, then cut back and forth to the hosts and audience as they look on in amazement.  That's all done after the fact.  That's the performance.  The live studio audience is legitimately impressed as it happens; but the Youtube viewers are compelled to be impressed by the slick Hollywood movie they are watching.    If you had stumbled upon a clip of her singing into a webcam in her kitchen, you might say, "wow, whaddya know" and then gone back to porn or stock quotes.  But when you are told "go see this (highly produced) clip" then you believe they hype.  It's putting a $100 price tag on a bottle of wine, and therefore liking it more.

Britain's Got Talent isn't trying to eventually find the next winner so they can give them a record deal; it's trying to get viewers now, ad revenue, and text messages.  You don't do that with another slinky blonde-- to sell records yes; but to get TV viewers no-- you do it with someone who is going to appeal to the show's demographic.

What you want is a shot of Simon-- the eye candy for the target demographic-- looking dreamy eyed.

"I said, 'my darling, you look wonderful to-night.'"

It's not a talent show, it's a docudrama. 

Let's peek at the meta-script's next act.  Boyle's awesome, but where's the drama?   Who is going to be her nemesis on the show?  You might first consider a slinky blonde-- but that wouldn't work because it's not polarizing, there's no tug of war.  You want someone who pulls at the same viewer who likes Boyle, but in a different way, to create inner tension.

In other words, you want a cute kid.

shaheen jafargholi.JPG
And look, he wore a tie!

A 20 year old wants to love someone who ultimately wins and hate someone who eventually loses.  A 40 year old wants to love two people, and be sad when it ends for one of them.

Part of this, as one clever reader emailed me, is that Boyle's story fits the theme of my favorite generation: even at 47, you could still possibly have your life activated and assume your rightful place in your movie.  Not through hard work or perseverance, of course, but simply by being discovered.

"But hold on-- she did work hard to be able to sing that well!"

Sure-- but notice that's not part of this story that they are telling you.  They deliberately emphasize her backwards, never been kissed, works in a diner persona.  "Oh, I've just sung in my church choir."  Really?  Is that all?

She can be the undiscovered, "am I too old?" neglected talent; the kid can be the budding prodigy, "even if you lose kid, you're going to be a winner."

Undiscovered is the new porn.

To repeat: none of this detracts from Boyle's excellent voice, or her chance to make from this what she can.  But do not think the gods smiled on Susan Boyle and, lo, she has been discovered.

Susan Boyle, plant or not, is a character in a well scripted movie, with the only theme that will get people to sit in front of the telly nowadays: everyone's a winner, unless they're a loser, and then they're winners, too. And 47 is no longer too late.  Everything you see from now on will have been carefully scripted and choreographed.

Everything, that is, except the unfortunate crash that always seems to come at the end of these dramas.  When everyone has to go back to real life. 

And by everyone, I mean you.


Britain's got 10p text mess... (Below threshold)

April 23, 2009 10:18 AM | Posted by Seemoreglass: | Reply

Britain's got 10p text messging. Classic, yo.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
So, just some more viral ma... (Below threshold)

April 23, 2009 1:40 PM | Posted by Roger: | Reply

So, just some more viral marketing? Seems marketing these days is about trying to find more ways to seem "real" and unscripted.

Annoying yes, but on their side, it worked, and that is all they really care about.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
If this is true, then it wa... (Below threshold)

April 23, 2009 3:51 PM | Posted by Joseph Bergevin: | Reply

If this is true, then it was at least a bit of a gamble. Companies spend a lot of time and money to figure out what people want, but they still fail. New Coke was better than old Coke on paper, but the public, it's fickle. It might be ascribing too much to assume that this was a brilliantly managed plant. Not to say it wasn't calculated, just that it wasn't unusual in that regard.

What gets me are the "objective" media reports on it. I expect a TV show to dramatize itself, but not a 3rd party. Few media reports mentioned the fact that she has been deeply involved in singing before the show. She's presented, by objective media, as some improbable gem.

The reaction she generated also seemed less than wholesome. She's the physical equivalent of liberal guilt. On one level, people regard her as unfortunate and sad. They're glad they don't look or act like her. They don't want to be her. On the other hand, they want to believe that they're without prejudice - that they appreciate the whole, blemished scope of humanity. Here's a perfect opportunity to sanction the efforts of a lesser while still retaining an appearance of smart discrimination. Her talent is impressive, but she still doesn't threaten our sense of worth. We can applaud it, and seem magnanimous. If she here a slinky, blonde hottie, who would be moved by our recognition?

If the show is a manipulative sham, it's only a mirror.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 6 (6 votes cast)
Hmm. She reminds me of my g... (Below threshold)

April 23, 2009 4:37 PM | Posted by Andrea Harris: | Reply

Hmm. She reminds me of my grandmother. Who was also a somewhat plain, stout woman who sang in her church choir and had a fine voice, quite as good or better than the average rich and famous singer today, IMHO. And if my grandmother had decided that a record deal and a talent show had been the way to go for her, believe me she would have found a way. Church choir politics can be as ruthless as any other backstage machinations. Watch out for those nice church ladies.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
Funny, I watched her, thoug... (Below threshold)

April 23, 2009 5:00 PM | Posted by spriteless: | Reply

Funny, I watched her, thought "She seems confident" and enjoyed the music. I guess I just got the shallow level enjoyment out of it.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
Um, no. Simon Cowell doesn'... (Below threshold)

April 23, 2009 5:13 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Um, no. Simon Cowell doesn't handle the auditions. It certainly didn't amaze him the fact that a woman her age can sing very well but he's smiling at the joke and brilliant move his fellow producers pulled on him, the audience, and the massive ratings that will follow.

Oh, and gee whiz. A television show is edited and put together in the direction its producers best see fit that will entertain and make money? You don't say. What you don't say, and what's funny about your post, is the fact that you resort to the old Seinfeld routine, "...not that there's anything wrong with it"; "...that's not to say she can't sing". Have you considered the fact that she's in on it, too? That she's smart and knew she'd dazzle the show's producers and that they'd turn her into the underdog she knew she was to become? Give her head some credit, not just her vocal cords.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
Just as the 47 year old hag... (Below threshold)

April 23, 2009 5:36 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Just as the 47 year old hag appeals to the older generation of narcissist, the 20 year old boy seems to be catering to the generation of budding narcissists. 20 is young enough for a teenager or even preteen to relate with ("if only I could be discovered like him"). It seems as though there's a generation gap of narcissists--I'd say college age to about 40--who are aware that that kind of behavior is bullshit, so they don't watch it.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I view Susan Boyle as a seq... (Below threshold)

April 23, 2009 7:13 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I view Susan Boyle as a sequel to Paul Potts in 2007. Same show, same scenario, even the same look on the faces of the jurors.

In fact, the German tabloid media here calls her "Mrs. Potts".

Paul Potts likely generated millions for the producers of the show, so why not try once again?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Anyone who thinks this isn'... (Below threshold)

April 23, 2009 7:54 PM | Posted by Anon: | Reply

Anyone who thinks this isn't set up must be a lobotomy patient.

BTW, her voice ain't even that great. When I listened I was like "so what?" Great voice of course but it hardly was worth the oohs and aahs and the cotton candy doped up facial expression given by Simon.

SET UP. Believing otherwise definitely puts you in the

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
When I said this someone to... (Below threshold)

April 23, 2009 9:15 PM | Posted by anonamo: | Reply

When I said this someone told me I must be the most bitter person ever.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 5 (5 votes cast)
that post of yours was so c... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2009 11:58 AM | Posted by Luco: | Reply

that post of yours was so cynical, I couldn't help but enjoy every little bit. and I can't help but aggree with you 100%.

actually, this reminds me of a touchy-feely news I saw once (on youtube) featuring the "moving" story of how an American school allowed an autist student to shoot some hoops, because the game was already over anyway and - well let's give the poor bloke some fun now shall we?

he enjoyed basketball and, well, he was an AUTIST for chrissakes. so he shot more hoops than both teams AND from further away. so by the end of it everybody was weeping with emotion, violins playing etc.

you know, I always thought that story was cheesy, and I don't even know much about autists. it's nice to see someone shares this point of view instead of thinking, "duh! let's replace NBA with extras from that movie, 'my left foot'!"

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
Um... I basically have igno... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2009 3:35 PM | Posted by Sulpica: | Reply

Um... I basically have ignored all reality shows. (Except to think about why they caught on so hard.) So Susan Boyle? Who?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
What is most interesting to... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2009 2:23 PM | Posted by Mark Lansing: | Reply

What is most interesting to me about the Susan Boyle clip is that we associate physical attraction with an attractive voice. I would not assume that we should readily dismiss that association as an entirely baseless prejudice. The two articles linked below consider the possibility that there is, indeed, a correlation between physical attractiveness and an attractive voice.



Of course, we're looking here at correlations rather than hard and fast rules, so there would be many exceptions. But the exceptions do seem to take us by surprise. Perhaps our bias resides in our bones, so to speak, as much as our culture and our bias might serve some rough purpose in species survival.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
Wow, good find. However... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2009 11:11 AM | Posted, in reply to Mark Lansing's comment, by Alone: | Reply

Wow, good find. However, the paper used spoken voice as the measure, not singing voice. It's easier to train your speaking voice to be a certain way (e.g. sexy) then it is to sing a certain way (I'd guess.) So the fact that men could tell which woman was attractive based on how she counted from one to ten is not all that surprising (though the phone sex industry relies on the woman being able to mimic a certain speaking voice...)

That doesn't take away from your point. I was amazed that the paper found a correlation between speaking voice and not just how many partners she's had, but how many people she's cheated with. So does the voice bend to the personality of the person, or does the voice reflect the type of person you're likely to be?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
I enjoyed your article very... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2009 3:24 PM | Posted by Marcus Harbaugh: | Reply

I enjoyed your article very much. I have always believed that there was very little left to "chance" on show's like Britain's Got Talent, or American Idol, which is one of the reasons I don't really care for them. I watched Susan audition (singing "I Dreamed a Dream") and within 2 measures, she was given a full standing ovation with wild applause and screaming and so on....the thing that really struck me was the HYPE that surrounds her. I read some of the Youtube comments with people raving about her (and the studio audience, of course). But, with my background as a working professional musician who's worked with some AMAZING singers whom you will probably never hear about, I thought it interesting that really, she is an ok singer. Not bad, but not actually as amazing as the "story" being told might lead you to believe. You can go to just about any town in America and find a person who not only sings as well or better, but might also be 10x more attractive. Or not. She's the underdog that's a great singer? Not quite. She's a decent dime-a-dozen singer who happens to "get a shot." So to me, its a bit of a let down to me, because it is very very easy for the producers to find a plant like her ANYWHERE, because it really is quite common. I'm disappointed because I wanted to hear someone who was truly a world class singer who lived in the sticks all her life. Now THAT would be a story. But why work hard trying to find a magical simpleton like that when an every-man will do, and the viewer won't know the difference?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
Cynicism is the disease of ... (Below threshold)

June 20, 2009 5:12 PM | Posted by la femme artiste: | Reply

Cynicism is the disease of the Modern Era_

It's always interesting how much I hear the former twenty-something year-old self that was me, (some twenty-odd years ago!) in these posts when, I stop by to read the musings of the current in-generation...

Muse on! Maybe check the cynicism within though. At least, from time-to-time.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (2 votes cast)
I was glad to see a woman s... (Below threshold)

September 4, 2009 12:12 PM | Posted by rossi: | Reply

I was glad to see a woman sing who did not fit the usual physical stereotype and I thought the audience did too. They were happy to support the underdog. She got there through sheer talent. The power of physical attraction is usually so overdone that it is getting a bit nauseating.
Maybe they knew they had a winner but I dont think so.The looks on the audiences faces were genuine. God knows a bunch of cynical, porn addicted, jerks who just go for skinny blondes would not have thought her appearance worth anything. What come through with this woman is her enormous humanity and passion. It kind of shocked people out of their complacency.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -2 (2 votes cast)
I opine that to get the <a ... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2010 7:55 PM | Posted by BERNARD23Melva: | Reply

I opine that to get the home loans from banks you ought to present a great motivation. However, one time I have got a secured loan, just because I was willing to buy a building.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -2 (2 votes cast)
I work at Wal-Mart and sing... (Below threshold)

September 25, 2013 12:37 AM | Posted, in reply to Marcus Harbaugh's comment, by Atarii: | Reply

I work at Wal-Mart and sing as I push buggies. If I were at least as good as Susan Boyle, would that be intriguing? What if I were better? How much better would I have to be to impress?

Incidentally, I am not asking this sarcastically or to make a point: I consider Susan to be a mediocre-to-above-average singer, myself, so I'm not becoming defensive.
I want to know how good one would need to be, and how pathetic (such as me working at Wal-Mart, which is true) that person would need to be to merit your intrigue.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)