Artistic Licence SBP Column Jan 20th

‘‘The new Amy Winehouse.” With apologies to Duffy, Adele and all the other pretty, talented and anodyne musicians vying for the Winehouse throne in 2008, if I have to hear or read that phrase one more time this month, I may scream.

As far as I’m concerned, dodgy husband and heroin use aside, there is no reason for us to be done with the old Amy Winehouse – considering, as when we say ‘‘old’’, we are referring to a gal who has just recently turned 24.

But you can’t blame the record companies for the brouhaha. It’s understandable that they would wish to create a maelstrom of publicity around new artists such as Adele and Duffy. After all, Winehouse did emerge with the bestselling record in Britain in 2007 and, in this time of music industry crisis, you can be guaranteed that if record company behemoths had had the requisite science skills, Winehouse would have been dragged into a lab long ago and cloned faster than you can sing the words ‘‘Dolly the sheep’’.

What I find harder to accept is our feverish willingness to lap up the record company ethos and accept that, just a couple of years into her career, we need ‘‘a new Winehouse’’. Perhaps it’s down to the iTunes/’‘next, next, next’’ mentality creeping into our psyches. But what is certain is that, these days, even when our pop stars are brilliantly talented, we chow down on them, spit out the bones, then look around eagerly for the next starry-eyed victim who’s capable of stringing together three chords and the truth.

Fun as the magpie mentality can be, it means we lose something important as well.

There’s a great joy that comes from following the music of an artist over the course of their entire career. By this, I mean owning not just the brilliant albums, but also the rubbish albums, the comeback albums and the drugs albums that some of the band (hello, Steven Tyler) don’t even remember making.

You don’t give up on your artist when they craft a record full of experimental dog noises. You complain about them, sure, but ultimately accept them – because, in a weird way, they have become your family – even when they’re terrible, you still love them. Sadly, while in the 1970s this was a concept that people used to get, these days it seems like you’re only allowed to trouble us with your music as long as your breasts pass the pencil test and you haven’t yet hit 30.Or, in Winehouse’s case, 24.

In the Guardian recently, columnist John Harris complained that it was hard to see much musical difference between 2008 and 1998,whereas the difference between 1968 and 1958 was astonishing. You have to wonder if the conveyor-belt, drop-the-artist-after-the-first-album mentality that has overtaken the music industry is to blame. If you won’t allow your artists to grow, how does music itself grow?

That’s a question the likes of Duffy and Adele won’t have to worry about now, while they’re being ferried around radio and television stations and told how great they are. But come January 2009, they may find themselves back on the wrong side of the door, wondering what on earth happened. It’s nice that, these days, everyone gets to be famous for 15minutes, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy for music.


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