I was watching a Nail Horan performance (yeah I never thought I’d open a blog post with that line) and what hit me about his performance was the level of honesty in his music. An earnestness. And I couldn’t help but compare him to the other One Direction “boys” who’ve released solo albums.
If you didn’t know, which none of you probably did, I was a One Direction fan…but not a fan-girl because I’m (honestly put) too old to be getting pfklahbjkllmwnhkowz about boys in a boy-band. I did that with Backstreet Boys, Nsync, Boyzone, Westlife, 98 Degrees, Five…*cough* uh yeah, I have a thing for boy-bands so sue me. I should add The Beatles to the list too since I jam out to their music once every blue moon. But I digress.
So being the fan that I am, I still follow the members and former member’s solo careers. And recently Nail and Liam (Payne) has released albums. While I wasn’t too hyped up about their releases, out of the two Nail’s music seem to resonate with me more. (Let’s ignore Liam’s Justin Timberlake inspired offering of “Strip That Down”.) After watching Nail perform on the Ellen Show, I understood why. He wasn’t trying to sell his music to me as the next number one hit in the world (though I’m sure he’d love that); he was just singing a song that came from a sincere place. My Mom actually walked out of the kitchen into the TV room and said she loved his voice. This people, is a feat in itself since my Mom isn’t big on music in general if it’s not gospel.
As I watched him perform I also realized that as a reader sincerity is what I look for in a book. It can be from the straight-forward romance story of a Harlequin/Mills & Boon novel to the more complicated genre bending dark romance; I still expect sincerity.
But now you ask, “Inge isn’t that what every writer puts in their work?” And I’d have to say, no. Not all writers write books because they feel compelled to write them or because the characters can’t leave them alone or because the story is important to tell (and I’m specifically referring to the romance genre here). I’ve read romance novels that felt rushed, whose characters were one dimensional and the plot unmemorable. Someone once said in a writing group, the romance is the plot. And I thought, yes it is. But, the journey is what makes it interesting. The intrigue. The pushing, the pulling, the crisis, the misunderstanding, etc. you get where I’m going with this.
In romance we only have so many tropes. Sometimes it can become generic and repetitive. I’ve read so many romance novels in my teens and while all of them were enjoyable, I couldn’t tell you who wrote them. I kid you not. I just didn’t pay attention. I paid more attention to the logo of the publisher printed on the book because I knew what type of story I would get.
Back then authors didn’t have to be writing machines the way they are required to be now…and because of that, I do believe a lot more honesty in prose has fallen to the wayside. Characters and plots that grip you at the heart rather than ones that tick off all the boxes that makes them a “hit on the charts” *smile*
There is no formula to romance, no matter what people say. Writing a romance isn’t that simple. However, there are elements to romance novels that are expected to be in there. And for some writers/publishers just hitting those marks are enough to put the work out and on your virtual and non-virtual bookshelf. The same way you hear the same generic pop songs on the radio or on music channels. (I haven’t listened to the radio in years. Wow. I should try it again. *ha*) For the same reason we love artists like Adele and Lorde, because they stand out from the crowd. They offer you something that doesn’t sound standard, but sincere. Authentic, if you will.
Which brought me full circle to myself as a writer; so far I have three published works out there in the universe. I like to believe I hadn’t become generic in my writing (though a part of me suspects that I might have) and with my current manuscript, another paranormal romance, I’m aiming to not just hit all the elements of what’s expected. But to bring honesty to my work.
I recently read a Brenda Jackson novel, (a first for me) and though the premise of the story has been done before, the way she told it completely drew me in. I’m hooked to the series now. She put a spin on the “brothers-coming-home-per-the-patriarchs-request” on its head by throwing in a murder mystery that spans three books. Nothing felt contrived. I didn’t get the sense that she was writing a series because her publisher or readers demanded the next Brenda Jackson novel. This in turn made me think of the latest Veronica Roth novel that I read, racist and mind bending insensitivity to people who suffer from chronic pain aside, the story hit the checklist of a “hit making” YA sci-fi novel aimed at teenage girls. And it is a bestseller. Like a Veronica Roth novel would be in this decade. It still didn’t change the fact that it was generic. (I’m not going to read the second book.)
What’s funny to me, is that you’ll get big names like Adele and Lorde (yeah I’m back to music again *smile*) who will go to pains to give you something true…honest…authentic. But then also artist who because they have big names, seem to think, they can sell you anything and you’ll buy it. And let’s face it; a lot of us buy it.
I recently mentioned to someone that Taylor Swift’s 1989 sounded to me like she took a lot of inspiration from her friends and sister-music-group HAIM. And it seems to be right around the time she met them that Tay-Tay’s music started to change. Now I’m not saying we can’t be influenced by people, but if you want to listen to the ‘original’ download a HAIM song (my favorite is “If I Could Change Your Mind”).
As a writer, as someone who is operating in the realm of creativity, honesty in anyone’s work matters to me. It’s become one of the things that cause me to return as a customer. If you’re sincere in what you’re offering to me, I’m more likely to buy in to you. Over the years I can only name a few authors I’ve consistently bought and read. At varsity I bought so many chicklit books but I can’t say I consistently bought a certain author over and over again. I’d invested more in the genre than the authors and when I got sick of the genre, I stopped buying the books.
What I will add at the end of this very longwinded view on Pop Culture and Writing is that I love what self-publishing has done for sincerity and authenticity in the romance novel. Too many checks and balances can make for generic reading. It can keep out voices that stand out from the crowd, that write for the love of it, not just for the deadline or bottom-line. This is a shift I noticed in music too. Singers who start their own label and produce the type of music the recording companies wouldn’t allow them to make. Something that I as a (reader and) listener want: artists who walk on stage like Nail Horan with the ‘world’ at your feet but still have the sensitivity to know that your audience isn’t stupid. We can spot a fake. We’ll know if you put your heart into it, if you borrowed from someone else and if you’re just doing it for the money.