Genius vs. Failure

Congratulations Aqua, ‘Barbie Girl’ can now hand over the title of ‘worst song ever’.

A few weeks ago Rebecca Black’s video for the song ‘Friday’ went viral. You can check out the video here. (Consider yourself warned.) Almost immediately it was given the title of ‘worst song ever’ by the millions of people (including myself) who chose to suffer through the video online.  It really is a train wreck of a video, and the story behind the song is almost just as terrible. Essentially, her parents paid a ‘get-famous-quick’ record producer (the guy who raps in the video) a huge fee to make their daughter a star and viola… the world’s worst song was recorded, video shot, and then subsequently shot down. If her parents hadn’t paid hefty fee I would say they were victims of a pretty good scam here, but all reports indicate they knew what they were doing. The real villain in this story though is the writer/producer of the song. It is awful.

I was trying to figure out why exactly this song was so bad, when I made a realization. For some reason ‘Friday’ sounded familiar. At least the beginning of the song did. It reminded me of another song I’ve loved for years, so I did a lyrics check and this is what i saw…

 

from Rebecca Black’s Friday:

7am, waking up in the morning

Gotta be fresh, 

gotta go downstairs

Gotta have my bowl gotta have cereal

Seein everything, the time is goin

Tickin on and on, everybody is rushing

gotta get down to the bus stop

gotta catch my bus, i see my friends

 

From the Beatles’ A Day in the Life:

Woke up, got out of bed

Dragged a comb across my head

Found my way downstairs 

and drank a cup

And looking up, noticed I was late

Found my coat

and grabbed my hat,

Made the bus in seconds flat

One song is awful, and the other is on the album that tops Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the Greatest Albums of All Time. The question is; what is the difference between genius and failure? Here are a few of my thoughts:

Subjectivity.

I have a few young girls in our youth ministry who love Rebecca Black and don’t care at all about the Beatles. (Keep me, and them, in your prayers.) Appreciation of art (or ‘art’) is ultimately subjective, and our sense of what is ‘good art’ at best can only  be validated by others with similar opinions.

Originality.

Creativity is part of our design. For the most part, we can all appreciate the difficulty of creating an original thought. The ability to copy or mimic does not carry with it the same value as the ability to produce. This is why my print of Van Gogh’s Starry Night cost me $29.99 (including the frame) and the original painting is estimated to be worth over $100,000,000. It takes a genius (see subjectivity) to paint that piece and any goofball can head to Kinko’s and print off a decent copy. We place value on originality, which is why so many older songs are held in much higher regard. The Beatles were one of the most original bands of the last century because they wrote  and played things that no one had put together quite like they had. They’ve stood the test of time because no one has been able to duplicate their work very well either. Even the guys in the band couldn’t really duplicate their sound after they went solo.

Timing.

The fact that I know how to read and write makes me a genius in 1102, and puts me square in the first grade in 2011. The fact that I don’t know a thing about horses makes me the village idiot two hundred years ago, and nowadays makes me, well, average I guess. Timing is a key element in greatness. Would Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ album been the landmark album that it was if it came out ten years later? What about ten months? They had the right song for that time and because of that have been given all kinds of accolades for their music. Personally, I prefer ‘In Bloom’ to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, but doubt that my pick would have made the same impact. Anyways, timing is a major part what makes something great. The first guy that made a phone call was a genius, the last guy I saw make a phone call cut me off on the freeway.

Talent.

For my money, this is the great divide. Talent is that special ability to do something well. We spend a lot of time quantifying talent into something measurable. In the case of music, talent may be measured in how close a singer can come to a specific note, or how well an drummer can keep the time etc. To state the obvious, this is probably where most of us make the separation between The Beatles and the producers behind Rebecca Black. Given a similar subject, The Beatles clearly have more talent.

I bring all of this up because we live in a world where artistic mediocrity is increasingly becoming the norm. If we want to make an impact through art it is important to leverage all of the things mentioned above. Develop and use talents. Take advantage of opportunities. Create something original. Allow room for discussion.

There are very few shortcuts to genius. Focusing on one of these aspects may bring about a temporary excitement, but if you truly want to create something that lasts, it takes an extraordinary amount of dedication.

I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list, what are your thoughts on the difference between genius and failure?

One love, one heart.

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Author: djiverson

I am a Christian, son, brother, artist and friend. I am blessed to be the Youth & Family Minister at New Vintage Church in San Diego. Know You Are Loved.

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