I’ve never liked the diva mentality: “I have a beautiful voice, therefore I don’t have to be beautiful in any other way.” It makes me think of Pavarotti, who, when he was asked by fellow tenor Placido Domingo why he didn’t want to try his hand at conducting, said: “With a voice like mine, I don’t have to.” It’s off-putting to a lot of people, no matter how well-deserved the praise for the singing is.
However, there’s another side to that coin which can be just as disgusting. It’s the singer who apologizes for how good they are. You might not be able to name who it is among you who feels this way, who feels guilty for sounding good, because they refuse to toot their own horn. They may come across as an artistic recluse, or they are constantly shining their spotlight on someone else out of love and support for others. A lot of them may be highly religious, seeing their gift as entirely coming from God, and so they deflect praise and compliments by saying they only sing “for Him.” Or they could be like Norah Jones, who, after receiving her armload of Grammys in 2002, said she felt like she got all the presents at someone else’s birthday party.
For women in particular, this is a residual effect of Victorian-era social mores: If you were any good at singing or playing an instrument, you kept it to yourself and even deliberately made mistakes in front of listeners to prove your modesty. But if you showed any sense of pride or ownership of your talent, you risked being called a stage whore or a slut.
We’re still reaping that harvest, and not just in music.
Men who apologize for being good are much harder to spot. They might succeed in hiding their artistic talents entirely, or else hide one great skill behind another, like the drummer who is a closet singer or vice versa…or, the accountant by day and thrash metal guitarist by night who will host an open mic but never star in it.
But I totally get why people may feel guilty about their talent. They don’t want to put other people down or make them jealous. They don’t want to be perceived as a diva, as one of “those” musicians. They want to be different, eclectic. They don’t want to be known only as artists, but as complete human beings. They may have witnessed incidents where their peers got defeated unfairly in competition; maybe they beat out their own best friend in high school and felt bad about it. Or they themselves have been defeated so many times that to finally win feels wrong.
Or they just don’t want to fool themselves. They don’t want to be seen as a hack or a fake. They don’t want to be an empty suit or set of heels. Bottom line, they think that the only way to get validated is from the outside – from someone else, and not from within.
And there’s the crux of the matter. Apologizing for having talent or skill is a symptom of emotional dependence on some entity outside yourself. You don’t think you’re enough just as you are, just by saying so. So you take a preemptive strike by downplaying what you have in front of listeners. You don’t “really” care about that award or nomination; you don’t take too much stock in people’s praise. “It’s not a big deal,” you say.
But it’s the WORST thing to say. Why? Because if we don’t care about our art, then no one else will. If we don’t show pride in what we do, no one else will. If we don’t experience joy in our gifts and the fruits of our labor, then listeners are going to give even less of a sh*t about artists than they already do.
Take other people out of the equation and the consequence is no less disturbing: How good does it feel to be YOU when you’re belittling your own talent? Say it to the person in the mirror and see how it feels.
It’s no good. Talent has to speak up. Skill has to take center stage. Creativity can’t live under a rock. No one is going to get you out there but you and your own audacity. Get moving. Be glad for being heard. And don’t apologize for being good.