Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

How talented Susan Boyle exposes our shallow side

The reaction to ‘nearly 47-year-old’ Susan Boyle's appearance on Britain's Got Talent has become a global phenomenon.

And now Boyle-mania is spreading across the world with the single, unemployed Scot wowing Demi Moore, appearing on the Larry King Show and being impersonated by Jay Leno.

The question is, of course, why? Why do we find the idea of a ‘frumpy' middle-aged woman singing (beautifully, I'll admit) a not very popular song (Go on, admit it, you couldn't whistle a bar from I Dreamed a Dream if your life depended on it) from the so-so musical Les Mis?

There are, of course, very base reasons. The sentimental ‘never been kissed' angle, her cat Pebbles, the viewing drama of seeing the sneery smiles of Cowell, Morgan and Holden changing to disbelief, shock and, in the end, admiration, all make for compulsive viewing.

Yet there is something somewhat more worrying about our reaction. It was the sheer — to use a perhaps all too apt word — nakedness of Boyle's performance that was the shock to our system. She just stood there and sang her song — and that was it. Punk-like would be stretching a point but ...

There were no makeovers, no shying away from the fact this wasn’t a ‘babe' doing yet another ‘Whitney by numbers' R&B ‘classic'.

Indeed, quite the reverse. Frizzle haired, doubled-chinned, bad teeth, wearing a dress that screamed ‘frump'. Even the fact that's she’s from West Lothian was apparently a sign of her chronic patheticness. And yet, is Boyle really that grotesque? Take a look around Belfast’s Royal Avenue, your own housing estate or high street. You’ll see lots of Susan Boyles. Boyle is only a ‘grotesque freak’ by the Botoxed, implanted, plucked, infantilised, sexualised standards of our media. By normal standards, she is just what she is. Brief though ‘pure' Boyle mania may be, but her performance reminded us that in a good world, in a just world, it would be talent, not looks, that wins out. It also reminded us just how far we'd fallen. The shock was a condemnation of all of us. Like Cowell et al, we expected to enjoy a little sneerfest at the termerity of this saddo and yet she defeated our expectations.

And what were those expectations? That any singer hopeful of stardom has to look like Beyonce or, at least, ‘pretty-girl-next-door-who-scrubs-up-surprisingly-well' like Duffy or Lily Allen. That any — female — singer who could not least make a passing waft at ‘sexiness' centring on male fantansies of same naturally deserves to thrown on the great scrapheap of public indifference — if not downright revulsion. Also, there’s this idea that ‘ugly' people have no right to take up valuable thought-time. They do so at their peril. To quote Amanda Holden — the face of Botoxed primetime — "I am so thrilled because I know that everybody was against you." Against you?

Think that's too strong? Look at the frantic antics of Madonna (who's older than Boyle), Mariah Carey and Kylie (who's had cancer, for goodness sake) to stay forever in their early 20s (or, at a push, late 20s). They're not doing it for the sheer hell of it. They're fighting like cornered tigers because they know their careers — regardless of their enormous talent as ‘artists' — depend upon being ‘sexy'. That's just the bottom (in a tiny gold hotpants kind of way) line.

Our top female stars? Girls Aloud. The Saturdays. Sugababes. Amy Winehouse? She’s given a bye-ball because we love the gritty drama of divadom and (whisper it quietly) because she could be very sexy indeed — she just gone a little AWOL on that front.

Boyle's few minutes in the limelight remind us that there has to be a better way. But she's also our ‘Get Out of Jail Free' card — a wee assurance that we're not so bad, so shallow. Still, don't hold your breath, Boyle may win Britain's Got Talent but the sex kittens will win the war.

Because that's just the way it is ...

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