We all know the feeling. You hear a song on the radio, or on Spotify, or blasting from a phone on the train, how you discover the song is irrelevant to be honest, but you like it. It’s a tune. A tune in the best sense of the word and you find yourself humming along to it for the rest of the day. You find out who it’s by, pop over to iTunes and buy it (Or wait 2 months to have the privilege if you are living in the UK). It becomes your new jam, a song that will define the next few months of your life. You can’t wait for a live performance of this now massive hit across the globe, and your anticipation is sky high once one is announced. You sit down to watch it and horror crosses your face as you see this…
This is an open letter to the producers, writers and artists of the top 40. It’s a cry for some semblance of quality control when it comes to artists at the top of the charts. If you write or produce a hit song and you give it to an artist with the performance ‘talents’ of Ariana Grande you are as much to blame for that travesty above as anyone else. Devoid of personality, a lackluster performance of basic choreography, vocals that are so impossible to decipher that it hurts to hear them; it’s terrible in just about every way.
There’s a lot to be said for music artists who are great performers a well as great on record. It’s something that I feel isn’t discussed enough in the current Pop blog space where acts like Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea and the slew of recent Boybands get away with being devoid of any personality or talent for performance. The quality of the songs is irrelevant, I love Problem, Fancy and Bang Bang as much as the next guy (though I realise quite a lot of people reading this will in fact despise all three of these songs), but seeing them butchered on stage by the very acts that released them is troubling.
By allowing the current #1 acts, of which Grande and Azalea most definitely are right now, just check the US top 10, get away with performances like this only reduces the overall quality threshold for the industry. Check out the performance above from Iggy on So You Think You Can Dance where featured artist Charli XCX outshines the main artist by a huge degree. You could replace those names with the likes of Pitbull, Flo Rida or One Direction and the point still stands, is this the standard we are supposed to accept from our Pop stars?
One Direction are an interesting act to consider in this instance as they emerged through a platform that should supposedly make sure that they have the chops to own a stage. Week in week out the acts have to perform to 10 million people, so surely some talent performing on stage is a given? If the X Factor is all about finding artists with that special something on a record and on stage can someone explain exactly what it is they have that isn’t supplied by the Syco marketing department or the A-List pop writers. Watch any of their performances over the years and the lack of personality is often astounding. In interviews they seem like likable lads, definitely not the boring bunch they are once their song kicks in, jumping up and down as if that constitutes as ‘performing’.
Of course One Direction aren’t the only boyband getting away with this right now, The Vamps, 5 Seconds Of Summer, Union J; bad performances have never really held back boybands. The Wanted managed to last 4 whole years getting away with terrible performance after terrible performance.
Trying to make sure I don’t sound like I’m slagging off acts I don’t like for the fun of it, this also applies to the pop acts not topping the charts. Take Tegan & Sara for example. I love their latest album Heartthrob to death, but it’s completely lost on me when they perform it live. The difference here is that the songs are completely their own, it’s not a potential #1 hit written for them, it’s totally theirs.
Overall my problem isn’t with people’s vocal talents, far from it. Katy Perry has sounded horrendous far too many times to count, but she knows how to own a stage when the time comes. Same for Rihanna who is much more about her on stage attitude than the vocal she’s delivering. Gaga kills it every time, even if the song she’s performing isn’t her best. Even Cheryl with her deadpan ‘sexy’ expression and miming delivers a killer dance performance time and again. I’m totally cool with miming to be honest, I’d much rather someone go for it while miming than looked bored while struggling through a vocal, see Madonna for an example of how to pull off a mimed performance. As she moves further an further into pure pop I’d like Taylor Swift to take a few notes from these girls as her performances begin to become less and less tolerable.
I know what you are thinking; ‘but Sam, you love Britney, she’s terrible on stage’. I partly agree with you, but she’s more than deserved her chance to spend her days stumbling her way through her shows in Vegas. When she was at #1 she was delivering amazing performances, the kind that stole the show at the VMAs, not made you embarrassed for everyone involved.
You want an example of how to perform a massive number 1 single, look above for a masterclass. Kiesza performs with everything she has, you can tell that she’s loving every minute and doesn’t hold back. You can see the influence from Robyn in these recent performances, someone who can own a stage in a tiny club or a stadium all by herself, as I saw her do when she supported Coldplay (interestingly alongside Charli XCX who I mentioned before). Even someone like Jessie J, who manages to ruin most of her own songs by oversinging, owns the stage whenever she’s on it.
I think that’s the problem I have. Pop is an industry where Ariana Grande is seen as a vocal ‘talent’ and is compared to Mariah on every possible occasion. When our mark of talent is reduced to being able to reach a note that only dogs can hear something has gone wrong, especially given the single deadpan expression she seems to have. In an ideal world, every successful artist will have it in them to perform to the standard of success they achieve, but for as long as the industry rewards and celebrates acts as lacklustre as those I’ve mentioned here that will never be the case. If Rihanna is laughing at your ‘big dance moment’ things are beyond repair.