One of the most pernicious myths about pop music is that singers with great voices are somehow more “real” than ones whose voices are merely very good. Certainly, vocals do count to some extent—but pop is not opera. It’s about more than an impressive set of pipes. It’s about operating in a world of, as Nitsuh Abebe puts it, symbols and gestures: Making an image, embodying a narrative, taking audiences on a journey.
But for some reason, it feels cheap to admit this, and doubly cheap to admit it in the context of a televised singing competition, which relies heavily on selling the “All you need is a voice and a dream” angle. Which is why it was so refreshing to see Nicki Minaj of American Idol gleefully destroy the notion of a vocal meritocracy on Twitter last night:
No, this is NOT a “singing competition”. If that were the case, we’d judge w/blindfolds on. Presence, Look, Relatability, Authentic, etc.
— Nicki Minaj (@NICKIMINAJ) February 14, 2013
(And she threw in some subtle shade at The Voice while she was at it!)
Only a few weeks in, Nicki’s already proven herself one of the best Idol judges since Simon, and her willingness to speak happily upend Idol talking points is one of the biggest reasons why.