So, apparently Idina Menzel screwed up a high note in the most public of ways, singing her signature tune live in Times Square for Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve, which was of course broadcast. The Twittersphere went nuts and it's been a point of discussion on singer bulletin boards --- much of it decrying her vocal technique or lack thereof.
I'll be honest. I hated "Let It Go" on first hearing and have pretty much done everything possible to avoid it since then. I cannot understand its popularity at all. That style of music is so repetitive and unoriginal, and the style of singingjust sounds like yelling to me. This is not a critique of Menzel's technique because it's the only thing of hers I've ever heard. I'll leave discussions of her technique to others but I will say this: anybody can screw up a single note and it is not, or should not, be a big deal. The circumstances for this performance were in no way ideal: freezing temperatures, live with a mic and probably a recording, outdoors, who knows how long she had to sit around and wait to sing. I understand she's in a show right now and is probably doing the standard 6-8 shows a week, which would make anybody tired. The only reason this is any sort of big deal is because the lady is famous, and she's not allowed to make a mistake for that reason.
And that's what's interesting and significant about this story.
The world turns its celebrities into gods, raising them on a pedestal so high above the average mortal that people slogging about their nine-to-five lives can no longer recognize them as human. They get personal stylists and the highest level professional advice and work on their hair, makeup, bodies. They're airbrushed in magazines. They have a raft of handlers and advisers and publicists who help them carefully craft an image and a brand. No avergae person can compete with all of that, and yet it's held up to us as what we should strive for (because envy and dissatisfaction SELL). These people have fans who hang on their every word and live vicariously through them. And mostly, the celebrities are complicit with all of this --- after all, the perks are pretty damn good.
The only trick is, once you're in the shark tank, you have to keep swimming, and never, ever, ever let a trace of blood into the water.
We turn our celebrities into meta-humans.We are in love with the unattainable physical image. We are in love with glamour (which, by the way, was originally defined as an enchantment, and specifically one which made the person "wearing " it seem more attractive and alluring than they really were. Still apt, I'd say). We are, in love with the fake as long as it's pretty. And above all, we are in love with the myth of "overnight success" , the childish trope of the plucky-but-talented nobody who gets discovered and rockets to stardom on the basis of their innate talent and "passion".
In fact, in these rags-to-riches story, passion is the most important element. You gotta have heart! What you don't, apparently, have to have, is years of training put in learning your craf, because there is absolutely nothing sparkly and romantic and glamourous about hard, often tedious and repetitive work. There's nothing glamourous about technique, and that's why you don't see any glorification of it in the hype. When we perform, technique isn't meant to be seen, not directly. But technique, my friends, is what real artists possess, and what enables them to make art; and they possess it because they put in the time, the brain power, and the repetition to earn it.
There are many, many insanely passionate people out there whose level of talent does not support their dream. Either they just don't have the facility to acquire the skill set they need in the time frame and to the level it must be developed, or they've failed to develop the technique properly. And yes, there is an element of luck involved, of circumstances that must align. It's not at all fair, but it's the way of the world.
Because of these circumstances, some people attain a fairly high level of success with no talent or technique whatsoever (anyone with the last name Kardashian); with a somewhat modest or limited talent that they have learned how to make the most of and have worked their asses off to develop a technique to support (Madonna springs to mind; I have a great deal of respect for her); or with a great deal of talent and very little technique, or a poorly developed technique (many people seem to think Menzel falls into this category; again, I'm not in a position to offer an opinion on that).
It's an extremely precarious position, celebrity, and it's one of extremes. As much as we love our golden children we love to see them fall. There is a very real and very ugly side to worship, probably because it is so out of proportion to begin with. We are largely unforgiving of public mistakes like Menzel's note flub, although the ravening crowd also tends to move on quickly to the next shiny object or public flogging.
But it leaves a real person, the person behind the glamour, wounded in the wake. They have indeed put themselves in the public eye and in doing so, in presenting themselves as professionals in a field and using their personal lives as a commodity for their brand, have invited criticism. But analytic criticism and snarky bashing are two entirely different things.
This is what we have to remember --- these may be terribly, terribly glamourous people, living lives we wish we could have, but they are human beings who love, hate, laugh, cry, work, play, and live, just as we do. If you wouldn't say it to a person's face, over coffee; if you wouldn't sign your name to it when you post it in a comment or on a discussion board; if you would be appalled if a group of strangers walked into your workplace and started making fun of the last error you made on the job --- maybe you shouldn't be saying it at all.