A couple of weeks ago, I heard a new song I instinctively liked, which turned out to be by … Let's call this artist Hot New Thang.1
But after a couple more listens, I just started to feel cheated and, eventually, resentful.
The reason is simple: HNT's song has a very distinctive sound to it. Someone else's sound.
Now, being a writer rather than a musician, I haven't spent a whole lot of time analysing music and its nuances, so it's possible my ear is simply not refined enough to hear the difference between HNT and the someone else who very obviously influenced said HNT. But even if that is the case, that makes me no different from the rest of the listening public, who will also notice the similarity. I'd lay bets that a good slice of said listening public will turn away from HNT's first album because it's derivative.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the latest victim of our hunger for the next new thing.
We, the consuming public, are always hungry for new voices. I imagine this is normal enough. We like art that speaks strongly to us, and new voices have, on account of being new, an element of surprise that can increase their impact. So the people who feed us our art are always looking for the next new thing.
That's not the problem. The problem is what happens when we find that next new thing. Because lately it seems to me that, more and more, we're rushing our artists.
We're finding them young — awfully young.2 And they have potential, oh boy do they have potential, they're damn well overflowing with it. But they're so young they haven't found their own voice yet. They're so young that their voice is nothing more than a clumsy mishmash of all their influences, with a scintillating promise of their potential peeking out through the gaps.3
And we idolise them, not for what they've actually achieved, but for their potential. What we think they can achieve. We rush them into celebrity so fast we push them ahead of their learning curve, so far ahead that they outstrip their current talent. By the time their talent has caught up with them, and they've digested all their early influences and found a truly unique voice of their own, the advertising/celebrity machine has done its job so well, and saturated every corner of the market with every possible mention of them, that we're bored.
Somehow, we who are eternally hungry for new voices, have created (or at least participated in creating) a system that ensures the only new voices we get are too young to be anything but derivative — and when those voices outgrow their origins, and evolve into something truly new, we're so overexposed we can't hear it.
Has anybody else noticed this?
Is anybody else frustrated to all hell and back by this?
- Bear with me — I'm going to try and tell this story without naming names. Partly because I have an aversion to speaking negatively in a public forum about creative work I didn't enjoy, for whatever reason, and mostly because names have no real bearing on the point I'm trying to make. [↩]
- It occurs to me at this point that my use of the word young may lead you to suspect I mean calendar age. And while I'm not precluding calendar age, what I really mean is in terms of experience in a creative endeavour. So if you're suddenly thinking Ah-hah! By HNT she means that child-star who has a song consisting entirely of, as far as I can make out, the word Baby repeated over and over and over again until you would like your eyeballs to spontaneously start bleeding just for something different to break the pace, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but he is not the artist who triggered this thought. (And if you're now thinking I thought you weren't going to name names, Deb? … um, yeah. Shaddup.) [↩]
- This is normal. Everyone's early work is derivative, because with anything you learn by doing, and you learn how to do something by copying someone who already can. And only with practise do you learn how to borrow the skillsets of other artists without falling into mimicry. [↩]