I received this email from a friend in NYC. He went to The Neighborhood Playhouse with me after getting an degree in English from Stanford, now he’s a commercial producer. He points out how accepted the concept of form over function. For me it started with MTV and Madonna. Even when the world around me was hailing this new artist and new medium, I kept thinking that she was no more than a pop singer whose one trick would soon wear off. Which it did. She really isn’t much of a singer ( by her own admission) or dancer but she is a marketing wonder. Form over function. She introduced me to the idea of marketing yourself like a product– not a person, not an artist, not a musician. This is what has kept Madonna, the person, “on top” for so many years. It was my feeling that before Madonna the world actually demanded their artists have some art to offer, if even briefly, or they were rightly discarded.
This is my friend’s email…
Was depressed as hell watching the video premiere for "Fame" 2009 last night. Why? It's not because I despise hip hop as the death of authentic musicianship, which I do, (fast forward to 2049, and see if anyone will be remastering Kanye's songs for throngs of new fans — see BEATLES) but here's the reason:
The original, Irene Cara version of the song was sung with such passion, vulnerability and hope that you really hoped she'd make it — against incredible odds. There is bluster in that vocal, just on the cusp of overcoming an inferiority complex, making you feel that if she believes enough, trains, works at it, it will happen. It was sung to a driving, pop/rock beat that syncopated, instruments weaving in and out, giving you the feeling that nothing is certain, the world can turn, for good or bad, on a dime, and the best you can do is hold on for the ride and make the best of it — live forever. I always had the feeling that I was being invited into her world, where impossible things could happen, with tons of hard work, luck, and mantras of "I can do it."
This song was the best thing about the movie, which was mostly pretty damn hokey (by design – tip of the hat to old-time Hollywood musicals).
Fascinating how the same lyrics can take on a different meaning when the beat changes. The 2009 version is talk/sung to a steady, measured, medium/fast beat that never deviates. It merely drives forward like metronome clockwork — like time. In the vocal and arrangement, success is a foregone conclusion, and vulnerability does not exist. Passion is replaced with inevitability. Luck doesn't exist. Eat or be eaten – move forward, relentlessly – swing from award to award no matter what the cost. This version is ALL bluster and no humility.
And this is the disease of fame in our current time. Bowie nailed it in '74, as he did most things, way before it mainlined its way into the Zeitgeist, but at least you knew, being Bowie, that there was some irony in it (hammered home with Lennon's backing vocal and guitar). No irony now, it's just depressing. It's the kids doing stuff at 12 that I couldn't, or wouldn't imagine doing at 23. It's a business that dresses little girls like whores and screws us all on her way up and back down. The 2009 Fame-er won't merely strip for the audition, she'll blow the guy before he starts the camera. The gay kid will only try to off himself once enough people watch on YouTube. Apply years of technique and training to be on a reality show.
Congratulations. You've made it.
Celebrity is the disease that keeps growing, feeding on need for fame. Its shallowness will consume us all. It's the ultimate distraction from the Evils Men Do in boardrooms and Congressional halls.
Those of you who aspire to get on a reality show that can launch your career don’t need to train in an acting class. Hone your business and marketing skills, they willl give you the “market mindset” you need to succeed.
If you want to offer your art to the world don’t mistake the bright lights of celebrity, for really having something to offer humanity. I’m not saying artists shouldn't know how to market themselves, they absolutely should.
What I'm offering is the idea that the world is now full of people that have nothing but their marketing skills to market, their actual content is Twitter long and just as deep. Make your self uncommon to this practice. Offer your art and make people seek you out among the noise of distraction that has replaced meaning and content and real function.