I don’t know Katherine Jenkins. I’ve never met Katherine Jenkins. I have no personal beef with her and I have no idea what she’s like.
These facts, these demonstrations of my personal disinterest (note the proper use of that word), and my own thirty years-plus of experience as a professional singer qualify me well I would think to give you my informed opinion that she is a pretty poor singer. Or to refine that a little: she’s a pretty, poor singer.
That’s alright. There are plenty about. I’m not about to claim that I on the other hand am a great singer, because my abilities are actually irrelevant. It’s my experience that is crucial here. I’m not writing about my singing, I’m writing about hers.
My field of experience is classical music and opera and I can tell you straight away that Katherine Jenkins is not very good at singing opera. This could be because I’m told she’s never actually sung an opera, and contrary to what you may think, we opera singers are all waiting for her to sing one to see how well she does in the exercise. On the evidence so far, “badly” would be the likely outcome. In a general audition for an opera house, she would be swiftly on her way out of the stage door and her agent would be in receipt of a tetchy email from the casting director.
And yet Katherine Jenkins is terribly rich and famous. Do I envy her wealth? Not much. Do I envy her career? Not a bit of it. I wouldn’t do what she does for all the tea in China.
So, there we are, I think we’ve established that I’m not writing this with any sort of personal axe to grind. If I have a sense of outrage, and I do, it must be fuelled by something else. And in trying to pin down what that outrage is I’ve decided it must boil down to the way that Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson, and all the others of the pop-opera ilk have taken a beautiful art form and turned it into a chintzy piece of crap, solely with the aim of making someone a lot of money.
Ah, there’s the rub. I said “making someone a lot of money”.
There’s an old story about a tenor going up to Doncaster, I think it was, to sing a concert. The morning after the gig, he was waiting for a train back to London and a man approached him on the station platform.
“Are thee t’ singer from last night?”
“Why, yes I am” said the tenor, flattered to be recognised.
“Aye, well, I don’t blame thee. I blame them that sent thee.”
I don’t blame Katherine Jenkins. I blame the people around her who clearly know a lot about public relations but sod-all about serious music; the people who are quite happy to fire this operatic poo out of their glittery cannon.
Their strategy is getting very tired. Basically it is this: play up the humble, unstuffy, girl-next-door origins of the protege while simultaneously describing any critic of the protege as a pitiable, elitist, over-educated snob. The genuine ingenue versus the snooty establishment. It’s basically how George W Bush got elected.
Now the PR monsters have over-reached themselves. They’ve pilloried critics of Katherine Jenkins as bullies. A spoof Twitter account which brilliantly parodied Jenkins’ cutesy self-promotion, and a blog, We Love Katherine Jenkins, which did the same for the the fanzine culture that surrounds the singer, have both closed down under pressure, I can only suppose, from Jenkins’ “team”. There’s an excellent blogpost by Steve Silverman here about this.
Let me now retract my so-called qualifications for making a judgment about Katherine Jenkins’ singing. Let’s say I’m not a singer at all. I’m an accountant. Why shouldn’t I voice my opinions about someone who is trying to sell me her goods? If I think a washing machine is a pile of rubbish, do I have to be a qualified engineer to say so? No. Might I not be entitled to say “it looks very flash, with lots of knobs and lights, but it does a very poor job of cleaning my socks”? And if I thought the manufacturers of the said washing machine were spending far too much money making outrageous claims about their product, conning innocent people out of their hard-earned cash, wouldn’t we all consider it outrageous if my attempts to wake people up through the ancient and revered art of lampoonery were silenced by the manufacturers? Of course we would.
What particularly gets my goat, and my goat has been got, is when the corporation involved (and I use the word advisedly as Jenkins is the product of a commercial venture) starts throwing its weight around using the press. I’m no fan of The Daily Mail – you only have to glance online and see its Femail section, which seems to be devoted to discussing the state of celebrity breast enhancements, to get a measure of its standards – largely because it is unusually happy to print vapid publicity puff as news, especially if there’s a pretty girl like Jenkins involved for a photo op. And so it was that last week The Daily Mail was more than happy to reveal the name of Jenkins’ “cyber-bully”. The piece started with the usual glamour shot of Jenkins and then peppered the rest with as many unflattering pictures of the so-called stalker as it could find. The message was clear. They were trying to make the “cyber-bully” out to be some sort of lonely, sick weirdo. It really didn’t matter if people read the body of the text. The pictures would do all that was necessary. It was a beauty contest and Jenkins was, on the surface, the clear winner. And then the on-line commentators, swollen with righteous indignation, weighed in and ravaged the loser of the contest in quite revolting fashion: “One word: jealous”. “JEALOUS”. “Jealous”. “Jealousy”. “JEALOUS”.
Quite apart from the fact that the word they were looking for is ENVIOUS – I don’t believe the victim of this abuse has any designs on Jenkins’ fiancee – I am appalled by the notion that the only motivation someone could possibly have for pillorying Jenkins’ singing is a hatred born of wanting to look more like her. And if you’re going to attack someone on the basis of how they look (and I’m talking here about the commentators) isn’t that THE worst form of bullying? In fact, given that the entire gist of The Daily Mail’s article is rooted in mock outrage against bullying isn’t the whole thing a disgusting and massive exercise in irony? I’ve yet to witness a more blatant piece of intimidation by an organ of the press.
And if your weren’t outraged enough (and I know I am), the person they’ve picked on so viciously ISN’T the author of the Twitter account that Jenkins found so offensive. She may be a small thorn in the side of the Jenkins empire, vocal in her dislike of her singing and plastic image, but, as I think I’ve made the case, she has every right to be!
(Actually I can think of another instance of such extraordinary intimidation. When Joanna Yeates was murdered last Christmas, several tabloids, including The Daily Mail, decided that her landlord looked rather odd and that was all they needed to rip him to shreds and pretty-well string him up for the murder. The landlord later won substantial damages.)
Now a paranoia has descended on the social media. One word against Katherine Jenkins and people fear they will feel the hand of PC Plod on their shoulder. Good grief.
But I don’t blame Katherine Jenkins. I blame them that sent her.
A short post-script. On Sunday Katherine Jenkins announced on Twitter that she had been presented the Mozart Award at “Unesco in Dusseldorff” (sic). Aside from the howls of derision from the operatic community, no-one can actually find any confirmation of this claim or what the award is. There’s a UNESCO Mozart Medal, whose past recipients include Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Rostropovich. Is it the same? If so, the PR machine has been remarkably subdued. You would have thought they’d be all over this news like a cheap suit. Perhaps at an overheated celeb gala something was mis-heard. But if it is indeed true and she has been awarded the Mozart Medal by a United Nations organisation, then this is one of the few instances when you can actually say that the world literally has gone mad. And I’m not afraid to say so.