The Brits stuff more of it into one pop star then you will find in the entire Grammys’ audience. By “attitude”, I mean the proper combination of honesty and arrogance that is becoming increasingly rare to find. Continually, I watch interviews with my favorite American bands only to turn the channel after a couple of questions. It seems that in order to get a record contract on this continent, you must have the personality of a sloth.
Music fans here, it seems, want to be entertained while keeping a safe distance from offense. At the same time they want to feel like they are just like the people in the band. Musicians are meant to be humble and constantly reminding themselves how lucky they are to be making a living off their art. Every single award acceptance speech I have ever heard by an American or Canadian band has the obligatory “thank you to our fans, without you this wouldn’t have been possible”. Just once I want to see an American band get on stage to claim their award and say “we’re the greatest and this award would have been a farce if we didn’t win”. There is simply no room in our current music world for good old fashioned arrogance.
Arrogance is an underrated character trait in the music industry. Don’t confuse this with being cocky. Any pimple-faced kid can be cocky. It takes talent, brains, and wit to be convincingly arrogant. In order to be properly arrogant, you have to back up your mouth with results. That’s the key, being arrogant requires that you back it up. Being cocky, requires no such ability.
The only recent American star I have seen in recent times who does arrogance well is Kanye West. He is arguably the best artist of his genre and is not afraid to tell it to whoever is around. He doesn’t pretend to be humbled by his success and doesn’t hide himself among his contemporaries. Kanye knows that no one else at the moment is doing what he is and knows he deserves every ounce of success he receives. He carries himself with confidence and grace while remaining unpredictable. Other rappers who have displayed his level of self assuredness but few do it as convincingly as Kanye (with the possible exemption of Jay-Z). We need Canadian and American rock and roll stars like him. Rap/hip hop has become the last bastion of attitude in American music.
I made a point of watching a rerun of CBC’s The Hour last week so I could catch the interview with Kings of Leon. What a waste of an hour. While I can’t get enough of Kings of Leon’s music (I would be content if I spent an entire week listening to nothing but their four albums), their interview was exceedingly bland. I don’t get it – Kings of Leon’s music oozes attitude and on stage they adhere to the Liam Gallagher school of making nothing look damn cool.
The same can be said of Jack White. His voice and guitar contain an inimitable sound and on stage he is mesmerizing. But I’ve seen more attitude in the Queen’s New Year’s message.
Rock stars shouldn’t be like us. They don’t have to conform to the same social standards as us. It’s in their job description to portray whatever image they please. They should be larger-than-life figures who feel it is their God given right to do and say the things that the rest of us can’t get away with. Case in point is Oasis. The Gallagher brothers show an uncommon level of honesty in their interviews. They say whatever they think, regardless of the question, and are never afraid to place themselves above their contemporaries. Who else would come up with a line like, “John Lennon thought he was God, I just think I’m John Lennon.” It’s their “fuck you, we’re the greatest” attitude that has made them so endearing to their British and European fans while repulsing North American music fans. They adhere to the belief that “if you tell everyone that you’re the greatest, fifty percent of them will believe you.” As well, the Gallaghers never complain about the pressures of stardom or seemed embarrassed by their success because they know that being a rock star beats the hell out of pumping gas at Esso.
To see the difference between the two industries, just compare the Grammys to the Brits. Traditionally, the Brits are filled with half-drunk pop/rock stars yelling insults or voicing encouragement for bad behaviour. It is a thoroughly entertaining affair. The Grammys by contrast couldn’t be duller if they were hosted by Al Gore. Everyone gives canned acceptance speeches where they thank family, fans, and God raking care not to offend or show any attitude that would differentiate them from the rest of the characterless drones in the room.
Even British bubblegum pop stars have attitude. Robbie Williams sold out three nights at the 125,000 capacity Knebworth House but can’t fill a cafe in North America. The biggest reason being that he says what he wants and doesn’t apologize for it. Even British pop princess Lilly Allan says things that would never come out of Rihanna’s mouth. Who can remember a single memorable quote from Rihanna, Lady Ga Ga, or anybody else from the current crop of American made pop stars? Their occasional attempts at being edgy come across as manufactured and calculated.
Attitude has its practical advantages for a band. If said right, an in-your-face quip can make people take notice. Music fans who wouldn`t have bothered to check out your band on Myspace or Youtube will hunt you down if you make them laugh or even offend them (to a certain degree). If you say what you think, people will want to find out if you can back up what say. But there is a danger in that. Having an attitude only works in your favor if when people listen to your music they think, “Fair enough, they are damn good.”
I am not sure why the British and North American music industries have such diverging views on attitude and honesty. Maybe it`s cultural. Winston Churchill had a no BS attitude and a biting wit that endeared him to so many. I don’t know of an American politician that was able to make their opponents marvel at the brilliance of their put-downs. The Brits have always had a greater appreciation for a brash attitude, honesty, and a well worded insult. Whatever the reason, North American artists and fans both need to learn that a little attitude is not a bad thing.