Flip on your radio and search the stations. What do you hear? I’m willing to bet that, regardless of where you are in this great country, you have just encountered a slew of hideously overproduced pop and/or rap songs, a big dose of rock form the last thirty years, a handful of “country” (the parenthesis are to indicate that, unless you are very lucky, no radio station near you is playing Hank Williams Sr., Waylon Jennings, or George Jones), and one classical station that has a very dedicated following of about 50 or so people (most of which are music professors). Now, venture on over to iTunes and look at the current top selling artists. You see Katy Perry (a Christian-pop star turned bisexual), Enrique Iglesias (who despite his awful music, will always be my hero), and some dude who is, apparently, from Florida (and is also a popular rapper). Considering our country's current trends of musical consumption, I am left to wonder if truly artful music will ever be in the limelight. Although this was initially a rhetorical question that I have recently been asking myself, I just received my answer.
America’s Got Talent, is a popular television show that spends the summer searching for the hottest new act to headline in Vegas and to take home the million-dollar prize. There are magicians, Geek shows, dancers, comedians, and many, many musical acts. As you can imagine, the majority of the musical acts are terrible. And, since three non-musical people serve as judges, it is a wonder that any musician of worth ever makes it through. (Just to clarify for anyone who is too proud to admit they might actually get a kick out of this, the judges pick acts to advance in the early rounds and then their criticism is meant to guide the audience in their voting, which determines admission to the last few rounds. And although I doubt that anyone reading this blog would leave a rude comment correcting me, I will go ahead and acknowledge that Sharon Osborne was Ozzy’s manager and is largely responsible for him having a solo career, although the only times he has ever been tolerable is when Sabbath or Randy Rhodes was there to serve as a distraction).
Last night, the final four acts of the 2010 season were announced: Michael Grimm (whose voice sounds like whatever the lovechild of velour and sandpaper would sound like, and I truly mean this in the best possible way); Jackie Evancho (a wunderkind opera singer, who, despite some breathing issues sounds like an angel); Prince Poppycock (a phenomenal operatic tenor that looks like Mozart, that is, if you were to see Mozart when you had a head full of PCP); and a very cool black-light performance group that goes by the name of Defying Gravity. Yes, despite our nation’s insistence on routinely consuming the worst music possible, we have voted three extremely talented musicians (two of which are classical music) through to the final round. All of this comes on the heels of the 2009 and 2008 seasons, which were also dominated by classical musicians (Barbara Padilla, an opera singer, came in second in 2009 and Neal E. Boyd, yet another opera singer, winning the year before).
What does this say about the way we as Americans consume music? If anything, I think it tells us that despite our pervasive, lowbrow interests, we still treasure the art of music. If this is the case, however optimistic it may seem, then it appears there is still hope. If the masses choose to preserve these sorts of acts over guys with trendy hair cuts that play three chords on a guitar and try to sing like John Mayer, magicians that make trains disappear, adorable dancing children, and dudes who stick foreign objects into their skull, then maybe we are approaching an era when the value of culture will be restored. Or maybe not, what do I know? (I will leave it to John to burst my bubble by delving into the Ardornian philosophy of the devaluation of art through mass production).