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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Lauryn Hill's got the Ex-Factor

Last week I sold my tickets for Ms. Lauryn Hill at the Manchester Apollo...

I bought them in a manic panic while wine-tinged in Croatia, thinking nothing of the hefty pricetag, because, I figured: this is bloody Lauryn Hill, the songstress of my favourite ever album, the Fugees frontwoman, a lady 100% one of a kind. 

'It'll definitely sell out,' I reasoned, 'so even if I don't want to go I'll be able to shift them easily.' Of course, at that time, in our apartment in Stinjan, I figured I'd have a house in Leeds by now. I figured I could venture to Manchester and then venture back - easy, piece of cake. 

But, the job search has not been fruitful, and the house search even worse. And so, when it got to the night before September 23rd, with my financial situation bleak, my friends in Manchester not so keen, and after reading the harsh critiques of Hill's sets in Brixton and Birmingham, I decided I had to sell up. As many were also trying to do. The stress of it all was searing. I genuinely believed I was going to be 80 quid out of pocket as the hours ticked on. But, THANK GOD, StubHub was my saviour and someone claimed them.


What went wrong, Lauryn?

One of the handful of queens of neo soul (big up Badu, too) released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1998. 16 years ago. And still, the album is as electric and resonant as ever. Every song is incredible. From the grooves of Every Ghetto Every City to the heartbreak heart-song of Ex-Factor, it's seamless and soul-infused and impossible to outshine. Hill didn't even try. Her semi-sophomore offering 2001's MTV Unplugged 2.0 featured some new material but divided critics. Since then, she's laid low. Well, musically. There's been plenty of controversies that have kept her name in the papers for all the wrong reasons. Last year she spent three months in prison for tax evasion, Wyclef Jean's autobiography shed light on their tumultuous love affair, and now, her reputation is being tarnished by a string of fan-angering (fangering?) shows.

In Stefan Schumacher's cocky It's Finally Time To Stop Caring about Lauryn Hill he emphasises how Hill's lack of output has presently made her culturally insignificant. Talib Kweli fights back in defence arguing that "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. She is not an iPod nor is she a trained monkey. She doesn't have to do her hits and she doesn't have to do the songs the way you want to hear them." Kweli raises a convincing point. Artists are entitled to free self-expression and part of Ms. Hill's decline has inevitably come from her struggle away from the imprisoning creative restrictions placed upon her by her fledgling success. Perhaps the lack of a follow up is a direct result of unfair intense commercial pressure. 

We have to respect musicians and their choices. But, at the same time, musicians have to respect their fans. If Lauryn Hill doesn't want to play her Miseducation songs then she should sing something else, perhaps fitting in original old hits in the encore. Don't tamper with melodies that are loved and adored by millions, and the only reason people are paying upwards of 50 quid (even 100 quid) for tickets. It would be a lot more acceptable for her to morph the songs if people were only paying a tenner for entry. You can't have it both ways - you can't be the diva and the victim. Why come onstage at 10:45pm when you're meant to be on at 8:30pm? There are no excuses for that level of lateness night after night.

There is no denying Ms. Lauryn Hill is transcendentally talented. Her recent cover of the Beatles' Something on David Letterman showcases her distinctive voice beautifully. It's still the same - I still love it. But, if you're asking fans to shell out a small fortune to come and see you, you have to be respectful. You have to cater, at least a little bit, to what they want to hear. That's just manners. 

Last year in Amherst, Massachusetts I saw Bob Dylan live. Every college kid is enamoured with his 1960's back catalogue as a melodic ode to being young and confused. Yet, there was no sign of 'Like A Rolling Stone.' Some of his famous songs got the live treatment but, much like Lauryn, they were changed so much they were unrecognisable. I'm glad I saw him, because he is... well, Bob Dylan, but the concert itself was something I wouldn't pay again to see. Hill, to me, seems the same. She will always be culturally, socially and politically significant because of everything she's achieved. But, in reality, she's not currently relevant enough to charge extortionate amounts for tickets without backlash. Especially when essentially putting her middle finger up to her fans.

Oh, Lauryn. It could all be so simple, but you'd rather make it hard.

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