James Cousins

So it has happened. It was perhaps inevitable, but I had still hoped that, somehow, it could have been avoided. The inevitable being the arrival of the dreadful ‘Insert country/city/institution here’s Got Talent’-style show. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, ‘York’s Got Talent’. Heaven help us.

This sort of talent contest usually provokes in me a largely apathetic reaction. There are many other things more worthy of attention than the desperate antics of some vapid eejits willing to risk public humiliation in the slim hope of finding fame – the appropriate response to third world dictatorships, cute little baby ducklings, the price of chocolate; the list goes on. But now that it has found its way to campus I think it’s time I took a little look at this odd and ostensibly talent-seeking phenomenon.

For what exactly is talent, in a musical context at least? Any attempt to pin down specifically what sets apart the sublime from the mediocre is ultimately doomed to failure – the illusive and illuminating spark that is inspiration appears in different forms and guises, not all of which can be appreciated by any one individual. The rather subjective issue of personal taste muddies the waters of any rational debate on this issue, for what sounds to you like the most beautiful music on earth could easily sound to me like a load of trashy old noise. I’m afraid that, though I?may begrudgingly understand the appeal, I’m never going to listen to power metal for my own personal aural pleasure.

But moving from one end of the musical spectrum to the other, I used to be adamant that manufactured pop… what? I hesitate to use the word ‘artists’ but as no suitable alternative suggests itself, I guess it’ll have to suffice. Anyway, I used to be insistent that manufactured pop artists weren’t artists at all. In the vast majority of cases the famous face who appears on the record cover has little or no creative input into the music released under his or her name; the pop star has been reduced to an attractive karaoke singer. The lyrics of the ‘confessional’ song from Britney Spears’ latest album (which contains the immortal line “It’s Britney, bitch”) weren’t even written by Spears. Instead of music that actually means something we get a cheap sheen of pseudo-intimacy; hardly an applaudable substitute.

The more I think about it, however, the fact that a musician isn’t performing their own compositions seems irrelevant. Classical musicians earn great acclaim for their re-interpretation of the music of others, and rightly so, for the act of playing great music involves more than just the regurgitation of notes on a page. But if musical talent doesn’t come from compositional abilities and can’t be measured objectively, then what’s the problem with a talent show finding particular people who fit their criteria? Well I don’t like the idea of the artist as a ready-made commodity. Artistic development appears to have gone right out the window; instead, the newly discovered star is thrust blinking and squinting into the glare of the spotlight, prepared only to rake in the cash for Simon Cowell et al. So talent shows are evil. Or perhaps I’m just becoming a grumpy old man.

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