Blame it On the Youths
A celebrity with a record label announced recently that she had signed a talented teenager to a recording contract; album due out soon! The adolescent lad joins another teenager on the Celebrity’s label. She specializes in discovering post-pubescent stars-to-be-made; indeed, this Celebrity, Ellen DeGeneres, discovered the Filipina belter Charice Pempengco, now known as Charice, which is a lot easier to say and a lot less Filipino and therefore easier to sell to the producer’s of Glee, for whom the teenaged singing champ permitted the use of Botox on her not-yet-old-enough-to-vote-or-drink face.
Kids these days! Man, do they ever have talent! Not a day passes without someone’s home video going viral, forwarded around the globe by folks who are deeply impressed by a precocious youngster doing something that seems way beyond her years.
One of the hottest acts in the jazz-pop world right now is a 17-year-old Canadian who recorded her first album at 15. People say she sounds exactly like a young Ella Fitzgerald, and that’s terrific — for a Vegas tribute show, with Madeline Peyroux starring as Billie Holiday. For a teenager, she sure can shoo-be-doo!
Thanks to televised competitions, most folks now view singing as a kind of athletic event, an aural subset of figure skating and gymnastics, two other sports dominated by an age group that has an inordinate fondness for the word “like.” The majority of listeners view music as a kind of pleasant noise, and the popularity of youthful practicioners of the vocal arts is directly linked to the pleasantness of the noise these kids produce: they have amazing instruments that generate amazing tones. They’ve got what’s known as “pipes,” in the parlance of our times.
What they don’t have is anything to say — besides, maybe, how they feel about having a first crush, a mean mom, or whatever else tends to dominate the teenaged consciousness. They can’t yet tell us about love, or justice, or liberty, or anything else, really, because they haven’t yet thought or felt enough to be interpretive artists. They can pretend to know about these things, of course. They can mouth the words and screw up their face and let forth a mighty howl. But no matter how many showbiz tropes a teenager employs to connote sincerity, it’s still going to be difficult to take him seriously when he sings “My Way.”
Or “September Song.” Or “It Had to Be You,” or “Night and Day,” or even “Summertime.”
He’ll still sound great when he hits that climactic high C, and she’ll still cause squeals when she holds out a ringing tone for four whole measures. But for those of us who view music, and singing in particular, through a different prism, where it less an athletic competition and more an act of storytelling, the teenaged superstars are full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
They sound great. One day they might sing great, too.