Monday, February 25, 2008

Is America creatively bankrupt?

She may have won a completely made-up Brit Award last week, but Adele can never make it in the US because she is a great big fat heiffer who ate all the pies, and then the person who made the pies, followed by his dog and a bus and a dinghy.

So claims music business commentator Bob Lefsetz* on his rather spiffing blog.

"It’s our culture, stupid. We don’t revere great music, we revere fame," he writes, arguing that Americans aren't inspired to write truly astounding songs any more because their radio stations are segregated by genre - thus robbing them of any inspiration - while the creative ugly types need not apply for the job of pop star in the first place.

He contrasts this with the UK , which he believes to be a hotbed of musical innovation, full of passion and raw sex, but also with The Feeling.

While it's all very forcefully argued, I'm not sure his outsider's perspective is entirely right. For starters, the US can embrace a porky pop star when it wants to, from Mama Cass to Missy Elliot. Secondly, the major labels here are playing it just as safe as their American counterparts by signing soundalike this-worked-for-someone-else-so-maybe-lightning-will-strike-twice acts like Mika (Scissor Sisters), Kate Nash (Lily Allen) and even Adele (Amy Winehouse).

Nonetheless, there is something more vibrant about our music scene when you compare it to the mess emo and hip-hop have gotten themselves into across the pond.

It's not happening in the mainstream, mind you. Look at this summer's festival headliners and see if you don't feel like it's 1996 all over again. (The Verve? REM? Rage Against The Machine???). Instead, pop music has entered one of its experimental, arty phases, while a subsection of indie has rediscovered melody and songcraft.

If we have anyone to thank for this, it's probably the BBC. As Lefsetz points out in his article, MTV and formatted radio have essentially stripped American music fans of the ability to genre-hop and discover new acts. Our young musicians are exposed to a cornucopia of musical styles via the likes of Zane Lowe, who will happily spin The Eagles Of Death Metal, Gnarls Barkley, Biffy Clyro and Snoop Dogg in the space of ten minutes.

So, if the licence fee was abolished, would our musical heritage be the first victim? I invite your comments or, failing that, plain indifference.

* Kind of

PS For those of you who care, I had a fantastic Oscars night working with a team of seven people putting together the BBC's exhaustive online coverage, fuelled merely by sausage rolls and kettle chips. You should read it. It is top drawer.

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