I was lucky enough to see Charlotte and her band when I was out in Austin for SXSW this year. I was with some friends - all discerning music lovers - and we sought out this gig more out of curiosity than in any genuine expectation of seeing something good. It was off the beaten track and there were probably less than a hundred people there to see her. It was, however, truly impressive. Strong intriguing songs supported by a great band mixing some vintage electronica with good grooves, and of course Charlotte's voice was superb. I couldn't help thinking that she must have had to work very hard to re-invent herself in such an impressive way.
The next day there was a tiny review of the gig in the Daily Mail. The review was dismissive, concentrating more on Charlotte's unusual choice of clothes and headgear than the music. Typical Daily Mail I hear you say and you would be right. Of course, the only reason they bothered to review the gig in the first place is because it was Charlotte Church. If the singer of these dark and very personal songs had been an unknown they wouldn't have bothered; so you could argue that she has the advantage over other young hopefuls inasmuch as she can get publicity whenever she wants it. I actually think she faces a real disadvantage too.
In order to bring her music to a wider audience she will have to fight against a tide of prejudice in the UK. Critics who will say, you're Charlotte Church, the corny welsh warbler who went out with a rugby star, how can we take you seriously as an artist? So ironically, her profile and notoriety will probably make it harder for her to succeed with her new venture than if she was an unknown. Nevertheless, her music deserves to be heard and I sincerely hope she can break through the prejudice.
BBC Radio 6 Music - easily the finest music station in the UK if not the world - chose Charlotte to deliver the John Peel lecture this year. She slammed the music industry for its "juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality" and laid into artists like Rihanna and Miley Cyrus. She spoke of middle-aged record executives who pressured her to wear more and more revealing outfits when she was growing up and who justified it by reminding her just whose money was being spent. In view of the unacceptable personal attack launched by Miley Cyrus on Sinead O'Connor when Sinead dared to suggest that Ms Cyrus was being manipulated by her record company, Charlotte's words were brave and timely. There is a predominant culture - particularly in the US - where female pop and R&B artists seem hell bent on trying to out-do each other in how suggestive and sexually provocative they can be in their videos. Where will it all end?
Are these women genuinely interested in creating good lasting work or are they simply (unwittingly?) living out the fantasies of middle-aged record executives? We live in an age where explicit porn is just a tap away on your pc and we all know that young people are being exposed to this stuff from a very early age. Are we now entering an era where the only way of effectively communicating with young people through music is to make it look like the dodgy stuff they are accessing on their computers?
I exaggerate of course. There are still some fantastic emerging female artists who do not fall into this murky trap and let's hope that young women will see them as their role models and not the not-so-soft-porn artists that Charlotte mentions in her lecture. In the meantime, have a listen to her music. She is not just a good spokeswoman for all of us who share these concerns but a bloody good musician too.
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