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.

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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.