The Problem with Susan Boyle’s New Cover (and “Singers” in General)

Susan Boyle has released a new cover of the Rolling Stones classic “Wild Horses.” See this link for the audio.

Boyle certainly brings her beautiful voice to the song, and there is no denying her innate talent. She has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard, in terms of overall quality.

That having been said, however, this song fails Susan Boyle, and she should’ve never touched it. As I’ve said elsewhere, the lyrics and tone carry an edge of graceful rebellion, one that Boyle is unable to imitate. This is a song that an aging rocker can pull off, a man who has been down a lot of roads (and seen the best and worst of himself), but not one that a good ‘ole girl who helps out at church like Boyle can approach with any sort of authenticity.

Contrast this with her coming-out effort, “I Dreamed a Dream.” It’s authentic because the tone/lyrics match her as an individual: we as listeners buy that she’s dreamed the dream.

This question of authenticity is an important one. Pat Boone can’t do “Enter Sandman” because “Enter Sandman” isn’t Pat Boone. Boone had to know he was turning into a parody of himself, and thought he’d draw some attention (and make some money) out of it. Mission accomplished, given the fact that I still remember this horror-show of an album.

Note, however, that this judgment has nothing to do with the quality of the artist him/herself. Frank Sinatra (much less Pat Boone) has no business doing “Enter Sandman” any more than Susan Boyle has the ability to pull off “Wild Horses.” And Metallica has no business making a serious effort at “Mack the Knife,” either.

The biggest problem with singers is that they rely on other people to write for them. Few actually develop a sense of authentic artistic individuality; nowadays, from Britney Spears to yes, even Susan Boyle, they end up playing whatever somebody in the business gives them to play. In a sense, the modern singer becomes a kind of whore, going where the money and the business tell them to.

And the general public eats it up – for a time. Britney Spears is a joke, and the general audience moved past Celine Dion a decade ago, all in spite of their respective talents. What happens is that even though we enjoy it for a while, we all sense – even if we can’t put our finger on it initially – that what we’re hearing is a fad, a trend, something moving in the moment only to be forgotten in the next.

Susan Boyle’s gift is simply too valuable to be wasted in this way. She needs to establish authenticity, and fast, so that she doesn’t become just another flash in the pan.

7 Responses to The Problem with Susan Boyle’s New Cover (and “Singers” in General)

  • Ellyn says:

    I think you are absolutely right.
    (Although not necessarily because Boyle is “a good ‘ole girl who helps out at church.” Some of us good ole church girls could bring the authenticity, if not the melody. ;-) )

  • Josh says:

    Believe it or not, I know a seminarian or two who might be able to bring some authenticity to this song as well ;-).

  • Greg says:

    Well at least I could enjoy listening to Susan Boyle. I had to stop Pat Boone almost immediately. It was simply too painful to listen to.

    I agree with you. However, there is a rule as certain as gravity. Today’s expression of rage, exuberance, and gritty authenticity becomes tomorrow’s Muzak. You can hear re-orchestrated Rolling Stones music played by symphony orchestras in elevators. I’ve even heard some Bob Dylan songs with no singer, the tempo slowed down, and different instruments composed to do the vocal parts.

    It’s always a little bit of a head twister to hear some song that one used to rock out to turned into some symphonic arrangement. That’s when you realize that you’re starting to go over the hill.

  • eskyguard says:

    Billy Joel. His music will last 100 years because he is the protagonist in all his songs.

  • Jeff Childers says:

    I’m glad someone else gets the awesometh of Billy Joel, who manages to craft meaningful songs without being a pretentious artsy-fartsy jag or a pansiated fruitjob. In that, he’s at the head of a small class including Springstein and Johnny Cougar. For an equal, one might look to Hank Williams, but that’s about it.

  • Jeff Childers says:

    The alst line of the aobve comment should have read: “for a *superior,* one might look to Hank Williams, but that’s about it.”

  • Jeff Childers says:

    The second word of the above comment should have read: “last.”

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