When Does the Backlash Against the Susan Boyle Backlash Begin?



It was inevitable, you know. Really, it’s a classic American trait to build up our heroes and then tear them down in a merciless feeding frenzy. Why? To create the kind of second-chance-comeback story we love to lap up.

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In the case of Susan Boyle, what has happened is that this typically American syndrome has been globally redefined. Boyle is not so much a cultural phenomenon as a cultural incident; and now, in the media as well as at watercoolers, parking lots and wood-panelled suburban dens everywhere, she has been built up so that, right on cue, she can be torn down, surely to rise again.

Nora Ephron — her finger on the pulse of each gust of cultural wind — gives a superb example of a tear-down in a Huffington Post piece called Stop the Music. Tortured more by melodic memes than meaning to lance Boyle, she writes:

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“…the worst thing about Susan Boyle — and there are several, but I’m going to deal with only one — is that she sings that horrible song. That song is worse than all of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and it’s worse than “It’s A Small World After All.” That song from Les Miserables that Susan Boyle sings is the all-time most horrible song ever in history, and the reason is simple: it sticks in your brain and never stops playing. Even if you watched Susan Boyle only once, dry-eyed, it sticks for days and days. And just when you think it’s gone, you see the title in print, and it starts playing again.”

By tear-down standards, by the way, this wasn’t so devastating: What Ephron is actually doing is railing against the music of Claude-Michel Sch√∂nberg and the lyrics of Herbert Kretzmer. This effectively puts her in the company of at least half the theater critics in New York. (The other half, alas, prefers American Idol.)

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Still, I wish Ephron would consider what Boyle’s alternatives might have been. Would she have asked Boyle to sing No Doubt’s “Hey Baby”? Something from Spring Awakening? Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls”?

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Ephron also overlooks many other songs that could top “I Dreamed a Dream” for the title of most horrible song ever. The first thing that came to my mind was “Deutchland Uber Alles,” but I’d rather not offend all those Haydn fans out there. What about all the “coon songs” — racist ditties — popular here in the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th century?

Well, this kind of parlor game can go on forever, so I googled the words “worst song ever” and, lo and behold, I found this list from Blender.com. Personally, I’m grateful not to find “I Dreamed a Dream” on the list. In fact, I’d rather hear Boyle sing “I Dreamed a Dream” than Crash Test Dummies’ “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”? When that song came out, I was a mess — I couldn’t get that innocuous, drivelous tune out of my head for months. I became so desperate at one point that I tried to contact the German singer Nena for the purpose of having her visit my home and coo “99 Luftballoons” softly in my ear while I tried to get some sleep. Nena said nein.

Naturally, Blender.com suggests that the most horrible song of all time is this:

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I mean, “Marconi plays the Mamba” has to be infinitely worse than “I Dreamed a Dream,” no?

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But wait — there’s more double-double-Boyle-and-trouble than meets Ephron’s eye. Here’s a small selection of stories indicating how the Boyle backlash is in full swing. Is every commentator and commentator wannabe seeking to land their potshots while the getting’s good? You decide:

  1. Brendan O’Neill: “10 Craziest Things About Boylemania.”
  2. Kevin Hoffman: Boyle’s success is a “machiavellian marketing scheme.”
  3. Maureen Callahan: “Why Is No One Suspicious of Simon Cowell’s Latest Creation.”
  4. Michael Musto: Proving Boyle has made it big and is passe at the same time.

Perhaps Boyle (who is likely so busy hiring lawyers and agents she hasn’t had time to swipe the royal scepter from Queen Elizabeth II) should skip Rob Leigh’s blog post in the Daily Mirror: “Susan Boyle is not a very good singer, calm down everybody,” a headline constructed to suggest that Boyle also will sit someday on the throne of St. Peter:

[G]enuinely comparing Susan Boyle’s off-key warbling as being on the same level as Julie Andrews and Elaine Paige is just inane.

If I brought out my hip-wiggling and karaoke-level ‘It’s Not Unusual’ vocal efforts out in front of Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan, Amanda Holden and an audience baying for the sacrificial blood of attention-seeking oddballs, would I deserve similar likening to Tom Jones?

Only if everyone in the theatre and watching at home had spent the entire day in the pub.

Now that’s a dream to dream.