Cheryl Cole isn't the greatest singer but she's still a star
All my life I've been listening to the same charge, but it's only ever been levelled at female performers. She can't sing. Or more precisely, she can't sing live.
Madonna, Kylie, Dannii. Britney, Katy Perry and, of course, in perhaps one of the most sustained and vicious attacks of all, Cheryl Cole.
And now what a field day they've been having since the Geordie popster suffered a horrendous technical problem while appearing on Channel 4's Stand Up For Cancer show.
No matter that she was doing her bit for a worthy cause, Cheryl has been derided, sneered at and abused relentlessly since the performance of Call My Name, for which there was virtually no vocal for the first 90 seconds, bar the odd sound of breathing and whispered words. But then female singers aren't permitted to stand there in front of a microphone for two hours in a shiny suit like Bryan Ferry or David Bowie, muttering their masculine profundities about life, love and relationships.
Oh no, female performers not only have to be stunningly attractive with perfect bodies and massed ranks of dancers on stage with them, they are also meant to sing live, note for note, every bar of their current number one while being lowered from the ceiling on a crescent moon, squeezing in and out of an array of expensive and revealing costumes for the rest of the evening and doing a gymnastics display worthy of Olympic gold.
Meanwhile, some shoegazing singer with an indie band who can't hold a note in a bucket is lauded for authenticity and integrity and if they can't sing that really isn't the point ... it's the experience. Which is actually the point of all pop music concerts. You aren't there to hear Cheryl Cole "sing". You're there to bask in the sheer Cheryl-ness of the universe. Being note perfect is admirable but CC isn't about that kind of thing.
There is more to being a star than technical proficiency. Cheryl's backstory is just as important as her latest number one. She is the girl from working class Geordieland who became the nation's sweetheart through hard graft, determination and willpower.
Yet the sour charges just keep on coming: Madonna/Cheryl/Kylie "have rubbish voices". Big deal. Robbie Williams, Justin Bieber and that guy from One Direction aren't "great" singers, either. But no one demands it of them.
What we want when watching Cheryl et al is something more elemental, more otherworldly: charisma, excitement, that certain crackling between performer and audience. We want to watch those who have "it".
And, deny it or not, it has been female stars like Madonna, Britney, Christina, Beyonce and, yes, Cheryl who have dominated pop culture. It is they - not some old wizened rock hero - that determine our collective dreams, fantasies and desires. But that simple fact gets on a lot of old goats - easier by far to denigrate a woman for being untalented.
The simple fact is that these ladies are steeped in an older tradition than rock and roll. They are the product of pure showbiz. For all of them, the show must go on.
I'd like to see what those same commentators would do if, after 10 minutes of trying to get their computer to work and failing, with a deadline looming, they had to throw away their laptop and file their copy a cappella, word for word, straight onto the front page of the paper with no one coming round to say, at a crucial moment, you've spelt your own byline wrong. And that's in the privacy of their own offices.
Cheryl's technical malfunction left her exposed in front of millions. She could have crumpled, stormed off, burst into wracking sobs. But no, like the pro she is, and like the star she is, she ripped out her earpiece, kept dancing and got stuck in to the last few verses of the vocals.
And guess what? She can sing live. It wasn't Montserrat Caballe but it was Cheryl Cole - and that's who people want to hear.