Monday, March 17, 2008

today : American I Dull

I accidentally watched American Idol yesterday. Here in the England we get all the shows from each week packaged together in one gloopy lump and broadcast on the weekend.

When I say 'accidentally' I was surfing around the channels during the dead hours of Sunday evening and whenI saw Idol I stopped and watched. So, okay, strictly I chose to watch it, I admit.

During the show I had an epiphany. I have written before about Simon Cowell's inordinate power in the pop music market and bascially my criticism of him is his narrow and rather blinkered opinion of what makes a good song. This week's Idol was trumpeted as the songs of Lennon and McCartney. One of the contestants - a pretty Fillipino-American woman, sang In My Life. And here is where I had an epiphany. Cowell dismissed it as a boring song. Another contestant - a dreadlocked Colombian American man, sang If I Fell. Cowell dismissed it as a boring song.

My conclusion: Simon Cowell has little interest in, knowledge of, or appreciation of music. In My Life especially is one of McCartney's most perfect melodies; combining pop music sensibility with the best of 20th Century American popular song. The trick is making the quite complicated seem utterly simple. The melody also perfectly matches the shifting wistful nostalgia and joy of the lyrics. In short, a work of genius. Yet I have a sneaking suspicion that Cowell is a Beatles ignoramus, and wouldn't know an American popular song if it slapped him in the face.

As I have said before, I do not envy him his success, or even really expect that he should be anything other than a moneymaking mogul. My complaint is that with such incredible marketing power at his fingertips, he is (to paraphrase what he said about the pretty Filipino- American woman) fatally safe and boring. The public has a huge capacity for consuming sophisticated, difficult and often bizarre culture, if it is offered to them. Why did the Beatles (or Prince or Stevie Wonder or Led Zep or Blur or The Arctic Monkeys or Joni Mitchell or...) strike gold in the first place? Cowell only knows the world of the superficial, forgettable and safe, and because of that does both the artists and public a huge disservice.

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