“How To Succeed In Music Without Really Trying”
There’s always a generic “uplifting clumsy best friend” character in popular romantic comedies. If you don’t know her, she’s the sidekick to the uptight and logical, yet socially oblivious woman in the role of the protagonist (paging Katherine Heigl). Said clumsy best friend’s sole responsibility in these films is to remind the main character not to “lower her expectations for a man”. My burning question is this: Where is the clumsy best friend to an entire generation of music fans? I’ve got a few minutes to kill here, so lets lay down some lessons in love, sister. You seem like lately you’ve been desperate for any band that comes along, but you’re better than that. He doesn’t care about you like The Who used to.
Here’s the problem: a live show just ain’t what it used to be. It’s as simple as that. Seeing a band or solo artist put on an incredible performance (whether it’s at Madison Square Garden, a bar in Brooklyn, or on Letterman), is somehow a huge shock nowadays. Expectations seem to have dropped so far through the ground that a bad-to-mediocre performance is the norm, and dare I say… socially and culturally acceptable. Now, when we leave a venue or turn off the TV, we say, “I am so surprised at how good they are live”, instead of “Of course they’re good, I was willing to pay $20 to see that,” or “Of course they’re good, they were able to get booked on the Tonight Show”.
I’ve been wondering where this all started. I’ve been wondering why a band or singer is allowed to bomb on Saturday Night Live or at a major music festival, yet no one could foresee it happening before booking them on television or paying an arm and a leg for a concert ticket. After seeing too many articles and videos of the recent Lana Del Rey SNL fiasco, it’s almost crystal clear now; the current lowered expectations towards live performance come from (yes, you guessed it)… YouTube.
And not just YouTube, but an entire network of outlets that promote streaming and downloading video on the Internet. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not actually Youtube itself that’s corrupting music fans and their leniency towards lackluster live performance or the laziness of musicians, it’s the idea lies behind having access to thousands and thousands of musical performances at your fingertips.
Pre-YouTube (let’s also say before the MTV age), the way you saw your favorite band or singer perform was by going to a concert. You buy the record; you learn the words, hang up the posts, shrink and cut the T-shirts, iron the patch on your denim jacket. And then you see them perform live, because there was no other way to do it. After that much commitment to a singer, band or, album, they had better be good by the time you finally make it to see them perform it in person. Maybe your dad spun The Who Sell Out about six hundred times before he even knew what it was like to feel Pete Townshend’s energy in an arena.
That’s how it was for mostly everyone, bands and artists used major tours and live concerts for bringing out the big guns, because it was essentially the only necessary step after selling a shit-load of albums or snagging a cool spot on a television show for the first time. You had to be good live. Everyone was good live. If you weren’t good live, you weren’t famous or successful. Now, though, you can watch hundreds and hundreds of performances by a band or artist before you even decide to check out their album for the first time or read anything about them. You can be sitting behind your computer and standing front row at the same time. You can watch a two-song performance from an obscure Swedish talk show while waiting for the bus.
This leads me to believe that since the idea of a “concert” or a “live performance” holds nowhere near the same value that it did before developments in streaming video, the same goes for the quality of live performance. If a live show isn’t as important to fans anymore, why should the music industry care either? The quality has dropped just as much as our expectations, and the most famous artists on the planet right now can barely perform the songs that are made popular by their YouTube videos and albums. And in the same way, a superfan can defend a big-lipped indie starlet’s inability to hold a note in concert by digging up a link to one rare pool-side performance where she maybe sounds okay. And that’s apparently enough to justify and excuse every other horrible set.
If you’re a famous musician that can’t perform a song live and have it sound just as good as it does on the album, it either shouldn’t be on the album in the first place, or you just don’t deserve your success. The “Golden Age” of rock n’ roll wasn’t Golden simply because of the existence of things like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Beatles and The Doors. Those artists were allowed to become well-known because they could damn-well prove that they deserved it when they hit the stage. And the ones who couldn’t… didn’t.
Now, imagine the awesome “Golden Age” we could be having now if we could raise our expectations of professional musicians back to where they were thirty years ago, paired with (not rivaling) utilizing the world’s current technological advancement to expand its influence. Imagine what The Beatles could have done if they’d had YouTube, Tumblr, Vimeo, Facebook, and more. The possibilities are endless. If the clumsy best friend were to show up and tell everyone “Katy Perry cannot sing live, stop allowing her to be famous” and “Foo Fighters should not be the biggest rock band in the world, you’re better than that”, we could make room for all of the bands and solo artists out there who are talented, have got it together, and are ready to take the place of those who are sub-par.
Unleash your inner snob. In concert, a frontman should have Freddie’s energy. A guitarist should have Townshend’s dedication. A popstar should have Bowie’s theatrics. When you leave the venue, it should be better than sex. Not better than a root canal. Tell all of those lackluster performers that they’re not good enough for you. Tell them that they better come back being able to really impress you if you’re going to give them the time of day. And while you’re at it, tell your ex-boyfriend the same thing.