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Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Voice of Holland

The Voice of Holland is over. Iris Kroes has won – a 19-year old harp-playing communication student of the university I happen to work for.  I hope the university will be proud of her and will congratulate her officially and publicly. Someone who has won a national competition with so many voters deserves that.
I have been watching the Voice of Holland on and off. And I liked it. It is, of course, a hugely orchestrated media event.  And the negative messages about the contracts the participants had to sign are serious, I think (although I think people over 18 should realize the value of their signature before they sign anything – that is the reason why I will not look at the children-version of the Voice of Holland, knowing that there is a huge psychological difference between people signing for themselves or parents signing on behalf of their children). And then some people think it a problem that this is a hugely commercial event. Yes, money is earned by some people, of course.
But I liked it.
One of the things I liked is the jury. Five professionals talking publicly about the singing (and dancing, and clothes, and image, and charisma) of the candidates. Knowing they are televised live, so trying to entertain but nevertheless trying to be a serious judge at the same time. They probably had had the message to be only positive, and struggled with that to the point of not being able to make serious decisions any more (when they had to divide 100 points over two candidates they nearly all chose rather grayish for a 49-51 split).
On the day before the finals, an article appeared in my newspaper, written by a pop journalist. It was a slightly curious article. It seemed to make a difference between “stardom” and being a pop-musician, but was not entirely precise in the distinction so that made it a bit messy. And it made a good point in stating that this was a contest for singers singing other people’s songs, and not for singers singing their own songs, something which is the norm in the more rock-oriented pop-scene. But actually the journalist seemed to be somewhat dismissive on that ground, which to me seemed strange. Yes, in rock you are supposed to write your own songs, but there is more popular music than rock, and in much popular music it is completely normal to sing songs written by others. Why should rock be the norm of pop?
Another point the journalist made was that probably none of the finalists would really “make it” in the pop scene – apart from one. The reason that that one singer would make it, was that he had been a rock-musician for a long time, had played all the great festivals already, had been touring extensively, had known the ups and downs of a rock career – in short, had the “street credibility” of a genuine rock musician. But – I repeat - why should rock be the norm of pop?
Winning the Voice of Holland of course is no guarantee for becoming a top popular (let alone rock) musician for the rest of your life. Everybody knows that, and actually in the programme the jury members quite often stressed that by for example saying “if some-one has the possibility to make it, it’s probably you” – possibility, probably. The journalist gave some examples of former winners of other competitions who did not “make it” – including Hind, who has arguably not become thé archetypical pop star but is doing quite well as a singer for as far as I know (singing pop but also Oum Kalthoum and fado), and Jamai, who is doing a lot of musical work. Something mentioned by the journalist as a career outside pop music. I think that’s wrong.
It seems to me the journalist is mainly projecting her own ideas about what a “genuine” pop star is (a rock star) on the Voice of Holland. Rock is the best. Other pop-genres are less worth. Musical is out. I know this phenomenon from the classical music scene, where “music” means “classical music”, “classical music” means “not Strauss played by André Rieu” and a “career in music” means “playing, not teaching”. And I know it from the jazz scene as well. And I am well aware that probably this is a phenomenon found in all music scenes: defining inside and outside, real and fake, high and low, good and bad. That simply is how we, music lovers, work.
Foucault’s discourse at work on the small scale? The rock discourse using the disciplining power of the press through the pen of a journalist to set its norms by excluding the deviant?
Or am I reading too much in it?

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