JAIMIE VERNON – MEDIOCRITY: THE NEXT MASS EXTINCTION
I’ve been called out on many occasions for criticizing art. I was lambasted for shitting on a video of a teenage girl who looked like she’d rather be putting hot pokers under her finger nails than playing guitar. I will continue bashing mediocrity. It makes me a curmudgeon. It makes me Simon Cowell.
Is it because I’m jealous? No. Is it because I’m mean? No. Is it because I’m cynical. Well, maybe, sometimes. The actual reason I do it is because we’ve come to accept that “trying” is all that’s required in life. To “make an effort“. To “give it the college try“.
Well, that’s not good enough to survive in this world, kids. You have to be the best at what you do or you will be eaten alive. In the real world there is no participation badge. There is no pat on the back for a half-assed attempt – except maybe if you’re a teen mom in which case it’s mostly out of pity for the mom and deep concern for the baby. I take great pride in the things I excel at. I know my strengths – it’s why I stopped playing Junior Hockey as a teen…because I couldn’t skate worth shit. And I attempt to exceed expectations at everything I do. Not to impress you, or a boss, but because I expect the best from myself. People have a really hard time with that. I have a personal standard of excellence. Others don’t and apparently that makes me the asshole when I note that someone isn’t living up their potential (or lack of it).
Everything we’ve accomplished as a species is because someone was the best at what they did – building cities, creating the automobile, developing a vaccine for polio, going to the moon. There will always be critics like me because we don’t want the car that we buy built by some asshat that couldn’t be bothered to arrive sober that day in the factory or having someone make our food that’s never bothered to learn that you don’t undercook chicken. You wouldn’t accept this…so why are you accepting music, or movies, or TV shows that are substandard made by people whose commitment begins and ends with getting paid or merely fame for fame’s sake?
And if you aren’t good at something…that’s okay too. No one’s a master of the world. But please don’t insult my intelligence by pretending that you are. Become self-aware. And be honest. Because your art will reflect when you aren’t. This video cover version of Jason Derulo’s “Other Side” by Montreal’s Octavie went viral last week. It’s the definition of bad – from its barely passable Auto-Tune vocals to Octavie’s awkwardness in front of the camera (and let’s not even get into how bad the video itself is….with the videographers showing up in the reflections of mirrors during the performance).
The artist claims it was leaked illegally onto YouTube (though a search reveals it isn’t actually on YouTube) and that she didn’t want it on the internet because she knew it was bad. Few people believe this. The cynical world believes nothing in the modern world happens by accident; most certainly not people trying to become famous. And she has become famous – at least in a 15-megabytes-of-fame kind of way. Like Rebecca Black and the song “Friday” before her, the universal consensus is that this is the Epitome of Fail.
It has sparked massive debates on social media about what is good and bad art – particularly when comparing the old music heroes to the current ones. Yes, it’s all subjective. But had subjectivity been allowed to rule the Middle Ages would we have been given such brilliant, heavily censored and directed art by the likes of the Renaissance masters? Probably not. We’d have museums full of art by Francesco The Blacksmith who liked to dabble with a paint brush between shoeing horses.
There is a sense of judgment and superiority in this kind of schadenfreude – but it is part of who we are as humans. You can only support the weakest member of the herd for so long before you gotta let them slip, fall and get eaten by a predator. In Octavie’s case, the herd of public opinion.
I am quite aware that I hold the minority view here. People don’t agree with this sentiment believing that I’m coming at it via jealousy and hatred. Full disclosure here is that my art has been both ravaged and lauded in my career. I take both with heavy skepticism because I am self-aware. I know when I’ve hit a home run and I know when I’ve blown it. It’s the questioning of one’s art that allows growth. That allows one to make art better. And to do that, you don’t do it in public. You practice your ass off for a very LONG time.
Training, determination and discipline is the secret to greatness. What we have now isn’t so much better or worse art, just more inexperienced artists with unhinged skill sets. Everyone wants to be a star. NOW. TODAY. THIS MINUTE. Everyone wants everything they do to be thrown against the social media canvass the minute they do it. Well, that’s going to draw a lot of eyeballs and a lot of critical analysis. There is no WOW factor anymore. Just a whole lot of “Ho hum. Here’s another vocal acrobat chanteuse thinking that she can American Idol her way into superstardom” reaction. I’m that guy. I’m not a Kool-Aid drinker of pop culture. I like to nibble the fast food that’s killing civilization and spit out the crap that’s the most offensive. And little Muffy’s gonna get her feelings hurt.
There once was this thing called the Artist & Repertoire department at record labels. It consisted of guys and gals who scouted for primal talent and the A & R people groomed them and their music to prepare for the big, bad, critical world. The acts were stylized and the rough edges shaved off so they’d make the best impact heading out of the gate. They had five or six years of development before they became instant overnight sensations.
They were loaded into a van and sent to shithole clubs and opened for acts that could show them what it was ACTUALLY like to work hard at a craft. They were schooled in media behaviour and interview situations. It was like Miss Manners and Miss Chatelaine 101 for budding music stars. It was bootcamp. It was hard work. And the ones that wanted it badly enough put in the 10,000 hours of work.
With the exception of teen heartthrobs and Boy Bands this is hardly ever done anymore. Every artist wants to be themselves which is all well and good until the public lets you know they don’t like you for being yourself. Just ask Justin Bieber. He is currently in full career damage control because nobody showed him how to behave on his way up the food chain or when he’d finally achieved multi-millionaire pop star status. Instead, he had a father enabling the bad behaviour (which speaks more to their relationship than anything, but I digress). Here’s hoping he can pull out of the tail spin and remake himself into someone that the world should give a shit about. It’s a hard sell in this ever cynical universe of pre-manufactured pop.
And that brings us back to Octavie. She is the latest Willam Hung and Rebecca Black. Two people with barely the talent to sustain a note – let alone an entire career. But we love car crashes, don’t we? We want to see these people fail up the ladder and then be there to push them from the top of the mountain. My very harsh opinion is that they should be put out of their misery in advance of this. Japan has the highest rate of teen suicides in the world based on this very formula of instant fame and instant failure. They turn over their teen idols every 6 weeks. On the 7th week the star commits suicide. That’s an extreme example, but what becomes of the William Hungs and Rebecca Blacks when they’re in their 50s and 60s and their only moment of success – as distorted and hunchbacked as it is – is when they failed their way into the hearts of millions?
People would be better served pursuing things that they’re good at. And usually, in life, it doesn’t involve being humiliated and turned into social pariahs. A fulfilled life doesn’t start with a million hits on social media because you suck badly at your dream. So either work harder at the dream…or find another vocation that you’re actually good at and worry about whether your ass is lit properly while you sing wildly off key.
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon