As the sudden stardom of the UK’s 47-year-old Susan Boyle spread like lightning around the world this past week, many were focused on what it meant for opportunities for others who may have been ignored by the music industry due to their looks. As would be expected, comments quickly became overblown and the notion that every pop star has to have looks on par with Mariah Carey are a bit extreme to say the least. The Kelly Clarksons, Pinks, Jennifer Hudsons, and Katy Perrys of the world are not frumpy 47-year-olds, but they are also far removed from being cookie cutter Barbies. In fact, the fumbling solo careers of Nicole Scherzinger and Christina Milian help illustrate looks will only take you so far in pop music. Mariah Carey truly does have one of the world’s most gifted sets of vocal pipes.
What is much more interesting to me is that suddenly millions and millions of entertainment fans around the world are listening to and praising a show tune, “I Dreamed a Dream,” and a pop standard, “Cry Me a River,” (the Susan Boyle recording recently uncovered) made famous by Julie London in the 1950’s. In a mainstream pop music world locked into the quintet of dance pop, singer-songwriter pop, punk pop, mainstream rock, and hip hop pop, the singing of Susan Boyle is like a huge gust of fresh air. There is no particular reason that Boyle’s style of singing should be relegated to corners of the adult contemporary market. Millions of viewers in tears at the sheer beauty of the sound are a testament to that fact.
When the inevitable first album from Susan Boyle arrives, it will be the test of whether the music industry and fans seem willing to expand the boundaries of mainstream pop in the US, UK and around the world. Perhaps one of the primary lessons from the Susan Boyle phenomenon is not only that performers come in a wide range of packages, but pop music can be phenomenally moving with an unlimited vocabularly of styles and sounds.