Oscar Nominated '20 Feet From Stardom' Offers 6 Great Lessons Today's Pop Stars Should Heed
Between the Grammys and Miley Cyrus' newly-debuted MTV Unplugged , we've been getting our fair share of musical performances from Hollywood's hottest music stars. But amidst this music chatter, the documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom, garnered an Oscar nomination earlier this month for its revealing look into the lives and careers of the music world's most notable back-up singers. It's a fascinating film and has been generating buzz in the music industry ever since its debut in the summer of 2013.
Starring musical greats Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, and Lisa Fischer, these women and their auto-tune free musical ability showcased in the film make it blatantly clear that the musical stars of today are not held to a very high standard when faced with actually, you know, creating music.
Here are some of the major lessons learned from the divas of 20 Feet From Stardom that today's artists should take serious notes on.
They had the ability to sing live
As soon as the film starts, the back-up singers starring in the film are seen singing live. They pick up on harmonies at the drop of a hat and do not hesitate to belt it out sans instruments or auto-tune. I mean, this is pretty much expected considering they are back-up singers and are always to be on point musically.
However, this is a stark contrast from the likes of modern stars like Britney Spears, who haven’t been heard singing live since maybe their debut record. How could we ever expect something so silly as singers actually singing on stage? Back in the day, there was no faking it.
They could really dance and sing at the same time
Merry Clayton, who performed with the Rolling Stones and Tina Turner, is shown in the film truly busting out some moves next to Tina Turner on stage, all while harmonizing in perfect pitch.
While we can appreciate Beyonce for continuing the tradition of dancing and singing live simultaneously, this once standard practice has become a relic in modern music. Either the performers have some on-point moves, like Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears, with their prerecorded tracks playing along with them, or they sing live without moving an inch, a la Lorde and Adele.
They weren't one-trick ponies
To be successful in the music industry today, singers tend to stick to what they know has sold in the past. Let’s face it- Rhianna’s songs all sound pretty much the same.
For the singers of 20 Feet From Stardom, it couldn’t be more of the opposite. Because they sang with everyone from Luther Vandross to the Rolling Stones, they needed to be able to adhere to all types of musical styles. They could belt and rift, scat and blend, and sing all vocal parts when required- signs of true vocal ability rather than just singing the same line of melody repeatedly with a techno beat underneath.
They couldn't rely on autotune
In the ’50s and ’60s, autotune didn’t even exist. For today’s stars, like Miley Cyrus, when they decide to actually sing live, we almost immediately want them to stop because they can barely hold a note without floundering.
They were humble and respectful
The stars of 20 Feet From Stardom wouldn’t ever be caught acting out, breaking the law, or making any personal attempt to jeopardize their reputations or their careers. For them, singing behind or next to music’s greatest stars was an honor and a privilege; they would never pull any of Justin Bieber’s recent moves to land themselves on the wrong side of fame. They cared too much.
They could deliver whenever they were needed
The women were expected to do everything perfectly; after all, that’s what they were being paid for. Between perfect pitch and impeccable appearance, the back up singers never missed a note. In the film, Merry Clayton even tells the story of how she got out of her bed in the middle of the night while she was pregnant to go record with Mick Jagger because that’s when he needed her for the track.
For stars today, it doesn’t seem like they really feel the pressure to deliver. Just look at Madonna’s latest performance at the Grammys; she couldn’t even properly sing the two lines of a hit song she’s been singing for years.