Susan Boyle’s Ugly Magic

Let’s start by stating the obvious: Susan Boyle is a good, to very good singer. But that’s not why she’s famous. She’s famous for being ugly and talented.

It’s sad that Reality TV has warped our minds so much that it’s somehow a surprise when someone unattractive is good at something.  Not just that, but being ugly and talented is something to be applauded now, like some sort of accomplishment. It’s like saying, “Hah! You sure showed them! Most people wouldn’t have even left the mock-less confines of their home, but you stepped out and achieved something, which so few ugly people do.”

The Susan Boyle Experience is exactly like the Andrea Bocelli Phenomenon. One of thousands of talented singers, Bocelli has made a fortune by picking a song to ride, (you know the one I’m talking about, even if you don’t know the name) and by being blind. Any time a new listener is introduced to Bocelli, the conversation turns immediately to, “he’s blind, too!”  Usually before the first note is even played.

How his blindness, or her ugliness, has ANYTHING to do with singing is beyond me. Maybe it has more to do with the fact that the fully-sighted can’t imagine a blind man, not just NOT killing himself, but actually choosing to become good at something. Now, if Bocelli or Susan Boyle had been born deaf, and could still sing well, that would be a cause for congratulations. But they aren’t.  It’s REALLY hard to sing when you’re deaf.

Susan Boyle’s success says just as much about Reality TV as it say about our cultural bias towards the attractive.

Susan Boyle Syndrome is a high school mentality. It is a freak show that you can feel good about. It is every episode of Maury Povich. It is an episode of Oprah where she shows a motivational story about a man with an upper torso and arms and that’s it. Dressed up as a motivational story, these ratings-magnets only exist for their freak show elements, but we the viewers feel we can watch without shame if the freak is either happy, or talented.

Normally talent shows like Idol or Britain’s Got Talent used the William Hungs of the world for their freak show draw. People who are awkward, untalented, funny-looking, but naïve enough to still have self-respect. As long as William Hung thinks he’s ok, I can laugh at his ugly qualities all I want.

The same goes for Susan Boyle:  We watch because she’s ugly, but we feel good about ourselves because she can sing well.

It wasn’t THAT long ago that you didn’t have to be pretty to be talented. Sure, it’s always helped, but consider the following:

  • FDR: polio
  • Janis Joplin: Ugly
  • Bob Dylan: Weird looking
  • Van Morrison: Wow…
  • Miss Piggy: A pig

What do all these people/puppets have in common?  They all became famous for their abilities/merits/hilarious obsessions with funny frogs.

Part of the problem is supply and demand. Now that computers can make anybody sing, or pretty, suddenly the supply of attractive singers has skyrocketed (sometimes people just don’t sing on their own albums, see: Ashanti and Jennifer Lopez). Most listeners don’t care if the voice they’re hearing is real, fake, or digitized. Rhythm, melody, and harmony are all more important. (If you don’t believe me, borrow your weird aunt’s version of jingle cats. Trust me, people actually bought that stuff. With money!)

Music videos did their share of putting looks over talent, but don’t blame MTV, you judgmental baby-boomers. Remember the Beatles? They had to quit touring and playing live before people (women) would actually listen to their music. “Help!”, “Long Day’s Night”, and any movie with Elvis are just as much to blame as MTV

Fact: A clip of a moderately attractive woman singing with Susan Boyle’s voice would not have found its way into 13 million computers.

If Susan Boyle had really opened peoples minds to the idea that looks and talent are un-related, I would be thrilled. Shocked, but thrilled. But there won’t suddenly be an influx of Plain Jane, stay-at-home middle aged moms on the top 40, no matter how well they can sing. We like pretty people too much to go back. We may invite an ugly singer into our homes once in a while, but 5 years from now if anyone is still listening to Susan Boyle after the gimmicky TV surprise has worn off, well, let’s just say even Susan Boyle herself wouldn’t have dreamed THAT dream.

Comments (2)

  1. 9:54 pm, April 30, 2009Par  / Reply

  2. 5:48 pm, May 9, 2009Admin  / Reply

    EXACTLY! That guy said it better.

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