From James Blunt to Michael Bublé: How the nerdy popstars got a free pass by pretending to be in the game

In 2014, James Blunt spent the summer traveling the world in spacesuits. The “You’re Beautiful” singer was on tour to promote Landing, his fourth studio album and a project Rolling stone described as “emotionally unbalanced” and tormented by the singer’s “restless moan”.

Whiners aside, in the spotlight, Blunt came in with a bang. In a fun nod to the LP title, he and his group performed as astronauts in NASA flight suits (minus the helmet, which would have made it inaudible – a plus or a minus depending on your opinion of his music). During the show, he sometimes explained that the “moon landing” did not refer to space travel but to what happened when two people sharing a dressing room bent down at the same time so that their buttocks were touching.

You could see Blunt’s tactic of steaming all the opponents in the building with wit and self-mockery. It was an ingenious strategy – but by no means unique to Blunt. Alongside arena chest hitters Josh Groban and Michael Bublé and show-off guitarist John Mayer, he’s part of a generation of cheesy artists who have mastered the art of irony. He eats his cake while winking and letting enemies know that the cakes are silly and he’s fully in on it.

The approach worked wonders for all of these headliners. The more they clown between songs and on social media, the more likely the world is to give their music a free pass. In the case of Blunt, in particular, the transformation has been remarkable. The wavy-haired crooner, who releases his career retrospective The stars under my feet (2004-2021) Friday was once the most hated man in pop.

The former Army Reconnaissance Officer staged a full frontal charge on the charts in 2005 with “You’re Beautiful.” This tune was inspired by a chance meeting with a former girlfriend on the subway: she was with her new partner and Blunt watched them from afar before returning home to alchemize his heartache through music. It topped the charts in 10 countries. In the UK he spent five weeks at number one. And that made Blunt the number one punching bag in Britain.

The case against him wasn’t just that he was stupid. It was that old Harrow and former member of the Household Cavalry Regiment was disgusting and chic. And being sincere and of blue blood was a double offense that had no turning back. Or, as the NME In other words, Blunt was “boring but inexplicably popular.” The same post named Blunt’s Debut, Back to chaos, the worst album of 2004.

Seventeen years later, Blunt reached the milestone of his first “best of” compilation. Yet instead of being a posh public enemy, he presents himself before us as a stealthy national treasure. He’s the number one geezer of pop. You might not want front row tickets to one of Blunt’s concerts, but you might very well be willing to have a pint with him. Blunt commands a furtive gaze even among those who would no longer gladly listen to his music.

How did this turnaround happen? The answer is, Blunt figured out that you can get away with almost anything in life – up to and including writing “You’re Beautiful” and going to Harrow – as long as you’re funny and disparaging. Exhibit A in this regard is his Twitter account. Blunt went above and beyond by making fun of himself. “I never liked the sound of my own voice. Until it makes me rich, ”he replied to a nasty tweet in 2013.“ For Lent, I gave up music, ”he wrote two years later. “There is a god”.

In 2020, an anthology of his best tweets was published under the title How to be a complete and utter blunt. And last month, he plugged in his new compilation by tweeting “Just when you thought it was safe to go back outside”. This was accompanied by a short film in which a woman bursts into screams when she is confronted by Blunt walking down the street with his guitar and busker drums.

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Does Blunt really believe his music is a hell of a task for humanity? Obviously not. However, by hinting that he might be in for the joke about his perceived naff qualities, he gained the rock equivalent of a Get Out of Jail card. All musical sins are forgiven.

He is part of that distinct subcategory of male cornball stars whose music is typically derided like syrup on a stick, but who have found that critical slings and arrows are easily dodged if you pretend to know how you are seen as terrible. . With a flash of wit or humility, a life of brownie points is yours.

James Blunt is far from the only artist to follow this strategy

((Atlantic / PA))

Blunt is arguably the Olympic champion to fight performatively before the critics attack you. Still, it’s a crowded podium. Among those who push it to the limit are Josh Groban, Michael Bublé and John Mayer (not a crooner but someone whose guitar solos make you question the existence of God like Blunt does when he s attack to the chorus of “You’re Beautiful”).

Groban provides a particularly instructive example of a star who, in the normal course, might expect to be stranded in chains and bombarded with fruit. Instead, he reinvented himself through the art of self-mockery.

He learned the hard way that his music was not going to be enough to take over the world. “Thin and tasteless” was The independentthe evaluation of his LP, All that resonates. “A one-note songwriter,” the BBC said – not known for its reviews. The consensus was that Groban couldn’t have been more cheesy had he been sprayed with liquefied Wensleydale.

But Groban quickly revealed his superpower: that he was a hoot in concert. Contradicting his image of an overgrown altar boy, he joked wildly about how sorry he felt for all the boyfriends and husbands dragged along against their will. During a tour, he even hosted a question-and-answer session during which he thrilled the audience. He seemed to be having a lot more fun swapping zingers than singing his side shots of Robbie Williams’ “It’s Now or Never” and “Angels”.

Few would mistake Josh Groban for musical credibility. And yet no one could claim today that he was piously naive

All of those riffs and jokes had the desired result. Few would mistake Josh Groban for musical credibility. And yet no one today could claim that he was piously naive. The New York Times praised her “exceedingly charming stage presence, cherubic features and long tousled locks”; Rolling stone called it “very funny on social media and talk shows.” He’s off the hook.

His career has kept pace with Blunt’s. The two broke through in the early 2000s. It is therefore difficult to say whether one influenced the other in terms of image management. What is indisputable is that social media has been a boon for both. In Groban’s case, the “coming out” ceremony as a good, humorous sport took place in 2011 on Jimmy Kimmel Live! There he “sang” a selection of Kanye West’s tweets in a “Grobnian” style. He later appeared in American sitcoms It’s always nice in Philadelphia and Office, the latter after being contacted by the show’s Mindy Kaling on Twitter.

“Maybe there’s a stigma to more classical music, it’s older,” Groban said. Vulture in 2015 about that square perception, “but the more I can talk to my age group and younger it’s like I’ve been loving this stuff since I was your age – we’re all weird together . “

Next we come to Michael Bublé, whose 2011 Xmas The album sold 12 million copies worldwide, placing it in the top 25 best-selling records of the 21st century. As with Groban, his live shows are full of jokes that no man would willingly attend any of his concerts. And there will be joke after joke at his own expense – in addition to the pope’s impersonations and one-sided exchanges with his backing band that last longer than his covers of Sinatra.

Bublé tends to stay low-key on social media (although he’s discovered the joys of TikTok). On Twitter, Blunt’s biggest rival has always been John Mayer. The musician is adored by guitarists for his flagellating technique. Among the general public, he is best known for his hectic love life – he dated Katy Perry and Jennifer Aniston and was the inspiration for Taylor Swift’s “Dear John”. And for his colorful and often bizarre tweets.

“Yogurt doesn’t do anything. Creamy nonsense, “he told his 1.4 million followers in 2017.” Confession: While I’m annoyed by people who speak loudly / act obnoxiously in public, I secretly admire their lack. of self-awareness, ”he added several months later. Can you be more in depth in 280 characters or less?

Ironic naff to the max: John Mayer in a promo photo of his latest album

(Press image)

Mayer recently took his playful trolling to the next level with a 1980s ‘yacht rock’ tribute album called sob rock. It was his biggest hit in years, suggesting people prefer John Mayer, the ironic prankster, to John Mayer, the smooth rock god.

James Blunt’s strategy of joking with his detractors was, meanwhile, so successful that he ended up falling victim to his own hilarity. After a few years of abusive tweets, he noticed that strangers were no longer taking pictures. He had “won” the Internet. It was devastating. “The sadness is that people have stopped abusing me. I don’t have any material to work with, ”Blunt lamented. Guardian in 2013.

Last week, he said he learned how to turn negativity online into a plus. In a way, he solved the intractable puzzle. He found out how to beat the internet at his own game. “I learned to profit from it,” he told PA. “It’s a joke, because I tour all over the world and have the chance to play in arenas that can accommodate up to 20,000 people per night.”

A cosmos without James Blunt torching the random ones on Twitter is one that’s so much poorer. Yet the disappearance of enemies also underscores Blunt’s success. Even online vitriol – the most poisonous substance known to mankind – cannot withstand the force field projected by a kitsch, humorous singer.

Blunt is a former master of the tear-streaked power ballad. But as he proved when he strapped into a spacesuit all these years ago, what’s really out of this world is his ability to weave hatred into the gold of comedy. .

‘The Stars Beneath My Feet (2004-2021)’ is released on November 19

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