Are the “youngins” Learning What They Should From k.d. lang?

The Graham Norton Show - London
k.d. lang on the Graham Norton Show April 2001

The State Of New Music Today

I don’t know how much of “popular” music you listen to. Over the past decade, it seems to have become easier for bands and artists to get their stuff recorded and on the market. In years past, it was possible to pretty much know about every group or singer “out there”. Today, it is overwhelming how many choices there are when one searches on iTunes or Spotify. Each week, there appears dozens of “new artists”.

From what I have experienced poking around in the lists of artists on Rhapsody and similar services is that there is a lot of stuff out there that is great “filler” music. What I mean by this is that it is quite good for a specific genre or demographic or purpose. Rave music, dance music, club music, techno, pop, etc. I notice that many of these groups seem to rely heavily on technology, either using software like Auto-tune, or other musical Photoshop-like tools. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is after all, what is available. There is lots of creativity going on using these tools. I think what I mean is that it seems more and more rare for an artist to pop on the scene who is unsupported by these technological advances. This is what I mean by “filler” music. It is not “pure”, but it is the best quality that the current musical scene seems to support.

These days, it is possible for someone to write, record, edit, and market all by themselves from home. And while this does seem to even the playing field a bit, it is asking a lot of one person to do all of these things. The true musician is no longer protected. They are no longer able to focus just on their art. They have to be a business person who is tech savvy and can muscle their way through a fast paced Internet world of distribution options. If you have seen people like Taylor Swift or Gaga in concert, the are athletes. Their shows are high energy and the artists can hardly catch their breath. For example, when I saw Lady Gaga in concert recently in Las Vegas, she only sat at the piano and sang (really sang) while she accompanied herself for 2 short songs. A total of about 6 minutes. The rest was a fast moving, eye catching extravaganza of medlies of hits from her three albums.

How can k.d. lang be introduced to younger generations?

k.d. lang’s voice is one of those that comes along rarely. I bet that in her generation, there are less than 5. Some went opera, some went pop, and a few went their own way, like k.d. has pretty much done. These artists are generally unsupported by technology. What I mean by this is that they can “pull their own weight” a cappella, anywhere, anytime.

I think I understand why k.d. kinda went her own way and did not opt to be so visible on the pop charts. But at the same time, I want to suggest that the price for this is that too many artists today are not familiar with her voice. Perhaps there are some, and I do not see or realize the influence in their work. It seems that what k.d. is so good at, the live show where her voice carries everything, is a lost art. Today it is all about media overload-fast-paced-action-hero-Elton-John-outrageously-clad superstars whose musical or vocal talents are not the selling point.

My concern about these rare voices is that the younger generation is so distracted by the technology that allows them to be creative, that they may not even be aware of artists who can create music with nothing but their own voice.  I am not suggesting that it is k.d. lang’s responsibility to “do” anything about this. But I do think that she is an untapped resource in terms of  studying her kind of artistry. There is a lot to k.d. lang that nearly all vocal artists can learn from, even if they are hip hop rappers and have no intention of ever singing in the same genre as she does. From phrasing to interpretation to musicality, I can’t say that these skills seem to be valued by many creators out there today.  Because so many artists are “self-taught” at home, and not necessarily formally educated,  voices like k.d.’s are under appreciated, if they are even noticed at all. Perhaps the fact that I worry about this only shows an unwarranted assumption on my part, but it concerns me nonetheless.  Thoughts?

Photo credit: Ian West/PA URN:10580458 (Press Association via AP Images). Used with permission.

1 Comment

  1. This seems to me to illustrate the difference between an “artist” and a “performer”.
    An artist can be a most excellent performer, but one who is only a performer, one who dazzles w/technology, flash, etc. just does not have the solid ART part down at all. Artists are few and far between, performers are a dime a dozen. I doubt seriously that there are that many listener/observers who know the difference any more. A true artist can perform anywhere anytime; a performer must have a great deal of technology, etc. before anything at all happens.
    I fear that audiences are a lot of the problem- they are so used to and know only excitement and hoopla that they have never noticed the depth and breadth that a true artist can bring to a song, a poem, a painting, etc. It doesn’t matter what the genre–an artist gives you the meat of the performance;a performer would be lost just standing on a stage without tons of help.
    k.d. is an artist-she can make you laugh,cry, be amazed, etc. etc. etc without gimmicks. The list of performers who would crash dismally is too long to go into in a post less than 7 yards long. There are other artists I can think of right off–Cris Williamson, Kate Wolf, and several more. Who knows about them? Some of us do and are lovers of their music and their poems, and have been faithful fans for years. We are the “silent minority”. Maybe I am just showing my age–but still I do know what I’m talking about. Thank you, Kath.

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