What do Jennifer Higdon and Björk have in common? Well, it’s going to take me a while to explain, so please bear with me here. It all started last night when I happened to catch some of VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the 90s. When the countdown reached number 55, something so seemingly simple about the music industry suddenly dawned on me. After a snippet from slot holder Fiona Apple’s music video for “Criminal,” the commentary turned to the singer-songwriter’s acceptance speech at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards ceremony. If you don’t remember it, here’s how things went down: Fiona took the stage to accept her astronaut statuette and the first thing out of her mouth was, “This world is bullshit.” She was referring to the music business, and I can’t say that I disagree. The fact that an artist in her mid-20s can display such cynicism towards the industry is, in and of itself, an indication that the system is in no way about nurturing talent or furthering art—as we all know, it’s about money.
Which brings me back to Jennifer Higdon and Björk. What’s the commonality? Simple: Both artists are able to create in a highly artistic, uncompromised fashion while producing work which, assumingly, satisfies them, the music industry, their fans, and allows them to make a living. It’s a win-win-win-win situation when your creative ambitions actually work well with the systems already in place—such a simple concept, right? These are people making no aesthetic sacrifices while they create, and they follow their passions all the way to the bank. I’m sure Björk and Jennifer Higdon are just fine with the fact that neither of them made the cut for VH1’s list (though I think the list was in need of more Icelandic blood).
Fiona Apple’s speech continued: “You shouldn’t model your life about what you think that you think we think is cool, and what we’re wearing, and what we’re saying and everything. Go with yourself.” Again, it’s true that music moguls profit from the cult of personality surrounding artists. If you don’t think it happens in the classical music world, allow me to introduce to you the John Cage mouse pad—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.