Talib Kweli wrote an article defending Lauryn Hill and how she conducts her concerts. There are many who are complaining that she doesn’t sing her hits and when she does, she does them in a way that does not resemble the original songs. Not to mention that she is notorious for showing up late.
“I am not obligated to make the same album over and over again just because fans demand it. I am allowed to try new things, succeed at them or fail at them. I am allowed to not make music anymore ever if that’s what I choose to do. I am allowed to give a shitty show or not even show up if I feel like it. Hopefully, that will never happen, but if it does, it will never take away from the quality of the work I’ve already put out into the world.” Read Full Article Here
He is correct; he is not obligated to give us the same album over and over again. The recent death of Prince illustrates that fans of an artist will accept the art they give us because we know the artist is being authentic and true to their craft. But Prince never cheated his fans at a concert. He knew when we came to see him, he could do whatever he wanted but he always gave us what we came to see and hear. As an artist, when you ask someone to pay $100 for tickets, plus the cost of parking, and everything that goes with attending a concert, you have an obligation to give a great show. Does a shitty concert take away from the music the artist has already given us; no. But it takes away the connection that we have with the artist. If you’re going to give shitty concerts, the artist can do us all a favor and just record YouTube clips and not ask us to fork over our hard earned money to see and hear something that drew us to the artist in the first place.
A concert is a customer-centered endeavor and a business transaction as much as it is a live expression of the music the artist created. According to Talib, an artist can do a concert that is completely disconnected from the music that represents them. Image Michael Jackson, dropping the Thriller album, going on a world tour where the concert is a reggae and ballad version of the Album. Imagine paying to see that concert and he never sings Billie Jean, Beat it or Human Nature. Imaging complaining and having him tell you, he already gave you the music on the album. That would be cheating his fans.
An artist has all of the freedom they need in the writing and production of their songs – Label input notwithstanding. They are free to release whatever version of their songs that moves them the most. In an intimate setting like what MTV did with Unplugged, they have the license freedom to perform a set as they like. In fact, I’d welcome a set listening to Sade sing with just an acoustic guitar.
I saw Alicia Keys perform at the Hollywood Bowl. The theme was a 1920’s cabaret. She blended her songs with covers of performers from that era. It was well done, unique, and entertaining. But in the end, it was Alicia Keys and her music. I’ve seen Indie Arie perform a narrative with her songs and Jill Scott sang as if she were performing in an Opera. There aren’t any limitations on the artist when they structure their concert. But in the end, an artist should respect their fans enough to make an effort to have them leave as satisfied customers and not be so egocentric as to think that their feelings about the show are the only one that matters.
So when Talib writes
“when you pay for a Lauryn Hill concert you are not paying for her to do what you want, you are paying for her to do what she wants”
He’s absolutely incorrect. There isn’t one area of our lives where paying customers to accept that standard.
Another anology: you attend an auto show and fall in love with the new Nissan Maxima. You love it enough to place a down payment on the car only to show up at the dealership and have them roll out what looks like a Nissan Sentra. We wouldn’t accept them telling us that what we saw as the “Auto Show” version of the car and the street version is something totally different. I’d at least want the base model version of the car I saw at the auto show.
With any new music Lauryn Hill creates, she has total freedom to create in any fashion she likes. We can are free to accept that new music in accordance to our individual taste. But when she asks people to fork over money to see her perform live, there is an obligation to understand the value that he fans assessed with their purchase and present something of commensurate value; and in this case, singing her hits in a way that resemble the version we love and with the decency of showing up on time.
Imagine going to an auto show, putting money down on a 2017 Maxima then showing up at the dealership and the dealer rolls out what looks like a Ford Focus. You’d be piss. Maybe the auto show version had all the bells and whistles and you didn’t need THAT car but you’d expect to at least be shown the base model.
Take artistic freedoms at jam sessions, YouTube videos, even with some songs within the concert. But at major concerts, an artist is obligated to deliver to the expectations of paying customers. Artists derive most of their revenue from touring. What we as fans download onto our media devices is part of the marketing strategy to get us to purchase concert tickets. Lauryn Hill or any other artist cannot in good conscience bait and switch their material on a whim unless the venue or advertising suggest or overtly state something different.
I have tickets to see Lauryn Hill in September. I’ve read enough to know I should be a little weary of what I’m going to get and that it’ll be a miracle if the concert actually starts on time. This is not a good reputation and she would be wise to actually listen to her fans who are still willing to shell out money to see her even though she hasn’t produced a new album in 16 years. We’re giving her the benefit of the doubt. The least she can do is is give us a concert worth the cost of admission.
Image from: http://ppcorn.com/us/2015/01/10/lauryn-hill-launches-acoustic-performance-shows/by