Come Back, Comeback Soul


It’s interesting that the most recent comments on this blog have been addressing David “rumors” – whether from back in his Idol days or currently, on Twitter, as everyone tries to predict his next direction post-Mormon Mission.

However, one of the most interesting rumors (to me at least) that I had heard during David’s Idol season had to do with his “soul music” tendencies and his and his team’s deliberate attempts to move away from these as he tried to advance in the competition.

Yes, I had heard a rumor suggesting that, after the popularity of “Imagine” (compared to his prior week’s performance of “Shop Around”), #Manincap and Co. decided to push David’s “inspirational” persona over the “soul man from Utah” persona since, they allegedly calculated, this was a more strategic way to advance in the competition, given American Idol’s mainstream audience and voters.

Obviously this paid off since David transformed during the course of the season from a captivating, bouncy teen shooting off a Motown classic so effortlessly in Top 24 week to an awkwardly positioned “white guy” (as he self-deprecatingly acknowledged) trying to sing Chris Brown’s pop R&B hit “With You” during Top 3 week. The judges (and so many others) agreed:  R&B “soul” was soooooooo not David’s “cup of tea,” everyone reasoned – as his Top 3 performance seemingly indicated.

And all I have to say is: What the heck happened?

How did David go from soulful and fun “Shop Around” to ballad boy jeeringly mocked for being cheesy when given awful schlocky ballads like “Longer Than” to sing (even though David chose  for himself Chris Brown’s song as a reminder of the soulful musical roots that he preferred)?

Alas, if the rumors were true, the plans of David’s “team” have created a quagmire, in which we have a vocal masterclass seemingly stuck with an “inspirational” image that has created unnecessary distance from his “soul man from Utah” persona. The question I’ve always asked on this blog is:  Will David ever get his soul back?

See, that’s the real musical damage that Idol has done: in an effort to cater to “mainstream” tastes, one often has to “sell one’s soul” (quite literally).

So, here’s the thing: regardless of these strategies (and I know some of David’s fans don’t like to think of our idol as “calculating” – but let’s be real: one has to be to even acquire something as lofty as Idol runner-up status), David’s “soul” tendencies often leak out at unexpected moments.  Like when he let loose towards the end of “Angels” at Tulsa, or when he caresses the word “alma” (Spanish word for “soul”) in “Contigo en la distancia,” or when he adds those gospelesque, testifying runs in a Christmas carol like “Joy to the World,” or lays on a smooth lower register in “This Christmas.”  And how about that falsetto in “Beautiful“?  And need I mention his a capella version of Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky“?  And for all the jeering he got for taking on Chris Brown on Idol, he offered a far superior rendition when he dueted with Jordin Sparks on “No Air.”

I could go on. I hear in David’s “Voice” that soulful soul, which had been banished and is so waiting to breath air. Whether it’s Idol or his “mainstream” fans or maybe his “inspirational” and “religious” audience expecting David to “stay in a safe lane,” I so want him to move out of it and to engage the risks soul music often requires: improvisational style, unexpected runs and changes, the deep desire to “never play the same note or tune” the same way (which is why David never sings a song the same way, which of course is why everyone values the joy of hearing David perform live).

Besides, without David embracing his “soulful” tendencies, we’re left with wannabe “blue-eyed soul singers” like Justin Bieber (gag me!) and Justin Timberfake (slightly more tolerable but nonetheless  irritating).

These white boys of course don’t hold a candle to real blue-eyed soul singers like Michael McDonald, Robin Thicke, or the late Teena Marie (someone who I didn’t even know was white until I saw her on TV when I was a kid!). But why these pop stars tend to be much more successful than authentic singers (and therefore more marketable) is their swagger. 

justin-timberlake-grammys-650-430Justin Timberlake, more than that other Justin, certainly has this in spades, and his performance of “Suit & Tie” is all about “dressing up” R&B even while relying on the “street dressing down” that hip-hop offers with his collaboration with Jay-Z.

Let’s not forget that Justin Timberlake went from the Mickey Mouse Club to boy band N’Sync.  He needed “black music” to make him cool, which is why so many black audiences haven’t forgiven him (thanks for that link, D-Rat!) when he left Janet Jackson hanging in the wake of the Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” controversy. Janet Jackson was worth collaborating with for “cool points” but not worth standing by, even though it was his offending hand that revealed her breast to the world!

JT subsequently came off as a user and exploiter, not unlike his fellow Memphis resident, Elvis Presley, who basically stole from black music while being pronounced “King of rock-n-roll.”

Racial politics and music are complicated. On the one hand, Elvis Presley, as a “cool white kid,” was needed to make black music accessible in a racist society like 1950s America. After all, it can be argued that, without Elvis Presley, we could not have had the popular demand for the music of Motown and R&B soul that came later in the 1960s, music that influenced rock musicians like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, and of course later R&B singers and even hip-hop, which started out by sampling soul music.

elvisThese developments would also, of course, influence David’s own soulful style.  And, perhaps like an Elvis Presley, JT is being positioned, once again, as a “cool white kid” making classic R&B more accessible in this age of hip-hop and electronica. His 20/20 Experience album has certainly brought back a sound that has been missing for a while, and which Beyonce actually tried to bring back with her 4 album. But if JT succeeds in selling R&B more widely, when Beyonce couldn’t, what does that tell you about white male privilege?

So, I can’t be continuously mad at a JT for facilitating the production, the distribution, and the popularity of soul music. I just would like folks to recognize the difference between “swag” and real “soul.”

Our beloved David is probably never going to get the “swagger” thing down, but that’s what I love about him. He’s not going to pretend to (unlike some other Justins I can name). But all he has to do is open his mouth and let the Voice testify.

JT performs “soul,” David represses his.  Perhaps, though, JT can help create an environment in which “comeback soul” does make an official comeback, performed by authentic soul singers. When that climate is reached, perhaps David might one day release his inner “soul man.” I know he’s still got it in him.

Posted on May 1, 2013, in music. Bookmark the permalink. 53 Comments.

  1. All I can say is ‘WOW’. This one is the best one yet, Hg…I just love your writing and every single thing you said I’m right there with you.

  2. HG – thanks so much for this post, it’s outstanding.

    There are so many things that I love about David’s voice and delivery but if I really analyze all those things and my reactions to them, it’s the “soul” instances that connect with me the most. I know this will vary from person to person but, like many here, I do long for when that Soul David will actually be released.

    There is a striking difference when you see videos of David singing before Idol and then as the show progressed. As much as Imagine was his signature performance and I do find it beautiful, I admit that Shop Around is far and away the performance of his from AI that I’ve watched and enjoyed the most. Yes, there were other good performances from him that season and maybe even some better technical vocals but my view counts don’t lie. Shop Around is my favorite.

    But that was just a glimpse of what he could do. Ribbon in the Sky almost killed me. And I think I’ve documented very clearly that This Christmas was my highlight of the MKOC tour. I hope the fact that he had that song on the setlist of his last tour before heading off on the mission is a small sign of hope that he’s willing to embrace more of it. I think he has the confidence in his voice to do it. Hopefully he continues to have the confidence in himself. Soul isn’t always about the color of your skin or the address on your mailbox. Hey David, here’s me, sending you massive ~you can do it~~ vibes!

    P.S. Thanks for answering my question about favorite soul moments too, HG! So glad you included Contigo. I’ll be honest — I frequently hear a soulful vibe from him when he’s singing in Spanish. I know he hasn’t done a ton of Spanish songs to compare but the feeling I get when listening is the same feeling I get when he sang Ribbon in the Sky or This Christmas. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that I’m excited about the possibility of a Spanish album.

  3. Beautifully put HG…. and a belated thank you for all your posts.
    Now I’m hoping a fan or two sends this off to David. I can’t think of a better way to remind him how much he is loved and missed.

  4. HG – this post is like savoring fine wine at the end of a long day at work, Simply sublime!

    You have said it so well and true about David versus the current pretenders. Unfortunately, they also have sharp management and brand marketing on their side.

    Like Ali, Shop Around is one of my faves from AI. I remember when I first found him on YT – I became intrigued by his I Surrender performance from Star Search and wondered how come he did not express himself as freely as he did then. That performance was vintage David as we now know – deep knee bends, the diva hand, unleashed growls, vocal grit and belted raw emotion. Oh for him to be able to tap that resource on a record with the right producer! His vanilla sound would be shelved indefinitely.

  5. After I go to a concert and David captivates me with his soulful touches, I think back on something he said about having to sing differently for studio recordings. Why, David? Why? Who told you that?

    • I’ve always wondered this myself. Remember his live acoustic Angels that he sold in the fanpack? Recorded live at a show and the screaming, yelling, talking – all edited out. I’d buy ten copies of a live album like that. (I agree with the “crimes are being committed comment lol)

  6. Unfortunately, I love “Mirrors.”

    • Me too! (or maybe three…lol)

      • Great Post hg. What a good read it was. I have to admit I like “Mirrors” too but not all of JT’s music. I can only hope that David does release his inner soul when he returns to his music career.

  7. Great article HG! Appreciate this site and your insightful writing.

    Yay to the prospect of a Spanish song or two or three … lol.

    Peter- like Mirrors too. Give David the right song and kick butt musicians to heighten the David effect and there you have it. As far as swag, David is holding out on us on that front. I think he wants to be taken seriously and probably doesn’t want people forgeting he knows how to sing. ;0

  8. cotton candy

    crappbot- in the studio the mics are very sensitive and pick up EVERYTHING so a singer would not belt out a song the way they might do in a live concert that’s all.

    • Arent there about a million sliders on that control board? Surely some singers belt in the studio?

      If he’s trying to match the instrumental track rather than the other way around, crimes are being committed.

      • cotton candy

        when david’s in the studio he probably sings each song 3-5 times and then the most perfect part of each song is fused together thus achieving a “perfect” track, but as we all know, every time david sings it’s perfect that’s why i think he could easily make an album in 1 day! go in the studio, sing 10 songs, one time each, and he’s done! but that’s not how they do it for some reason.

  9. Thanks for posting this, HG! David’s performance of ‘Shop Around’ was fearless, natural and almost effortless—that’s why I have always loved it. I hope his time away from the music industry will give him a perspective of where he really ‘lives’, musically….

  10. Me Four! *Mirrors* Wow oh wow HG what a post!!! I savored every word, and then went back and enjoyed reading all over again. I too hope the “Soulman” that we all know is hiding there, surfaces permanently!

  11. hell0g0rge0us

    Thanks for your comments everyone! And for the record, I like Mirrors (and Suit and Tie and Pusher Love Girl).

    JT’s soul music is tight and he’s getting good music sent his way. But he’s still just a pretender, IMO.

  12. Really Great article HG… Ahhh Ribbon in the sky- and on the fly- off a cell phone- Honestly preferred that one to the “formal” one he did on his vlog. David just let it flow and it was so natural.
    PS: I burst out laughing when I came to this line- ..
    Teena Marie (someone who I didn’t even know was white until I saw her on TV when I was a kid!)
    ( so true)

  13. wow
    ‘JT performs ‘soul,’ David represses his.’
    that hit me like a ton of reality bricks.
    I sure hope David gets back his ‘soul’.. Shop Around was one of my favorite performances.
    thanks for the fabulous article.

    ps. love JT’s cd especially Mirrors.. have seen comments where folks thought it was David.

  14. Shanny in Australia

    HG, I don’t know nearly enough about the history and nuances of all the things you toucbed on, so I can’t say if I agree or disagree with your assessments but I’m impressed with how you weaved through and included all the elements you did. And as someone who asked that you write this post, I just wanted to say Thanks. 🙂

    Incidentally, from what i’ve seen, I think the overwhelming majority of fans would welcome David taking a more soulful direction. He seems to have purposefully avoided it in the past (despite it always leaking out when he performed) and going by the covers he sung post-jive etc, I believe we will slowly but surely see David move more in that direction on his return.

    Thanks again HG.

  15. Wow, Hg! Really enjoyed this read and was looking forward to your take on the Soul-man. In my opinion he can sing soul like no other. He will slay the masses if he puts out an album showcasing all his talent in this area! I’m really hoping that this is the route he’ll take when he gets back!

    You put a lot into writing this piece and I thank you for it.

  16. Always loved David’s soulful side. That’s what caught my eye with him to begin with. He’s organically soulful. Wish he would do more of it even collaborate with an R&B artist one day. David is a natural. Thanks for a great article, HG.

  17. HG, your assessment was 100% spot on! I don’t know how it could have been stated any better. Sooo many pretenders…and JT is probably the CEO. There are so many who are great at “pretend soul” but when you see the REAL thing there is simply no comparison. Like David, authentic soul singers don’t “try.” They simply open their mouth and it comes out; its not what they do but simply who they are.

    The ironic thing to me is that a genuine soul singer like David is afraid of being seen as a fake, as just “a white guy trying to sing soul,” while the fakes have unjustified arrogance in spades. There’s no way anyone could convince them that they don’t know what soul is, or that they are essentially like kids playing dress up. There’s no substitute for the real thing and as everyone has said, I seriously hope David decides to embrace who he is instead of running from it.

  18. Really loved the article, HG. I’m a born and raised Motown girl, soul was the majority of what was on the airwaves. I remember having sleepovers with girlfriends and leaving the radio on all night – Stevie, The Spinners, Marvin Gaye – well you guys know. 🙂
    David has this in him. My god, just listen to him sing Happy Birthday.
    I’m hoping his time away gives him the strength to let out the soul 100%.

  19. Some great, soulful singing on Idol tonight. The final four ladies are all wonderful, and Harry Connick Jr. should be a mentor every week–he’s not only hilarious, but has great advice in really feeling the lyrics.

    • I love Harry Connick Jr. as a mentor. I think he should be a judge.

      • I loved Harry Connick Jr. as a mentor too. I especially agreed with the part where he wanted them to be sure to sing the melody without too many runs. I would like David do sing soulfully too but really don’t like excessive runs. Joshua Ledet last year on Idol did too many runs IMHO.

  20. David’s live performance I really loved was “The Riddle”.
    It was different than any other songs he sang. He should make record like that. Not too balad and not too cheesy .

  21. I’m almost afraid to post here anymore. I’ve never seen so many folks missing the forest for the trees and getting so jittery and hysterical over the reading of a religious book. Wasn’t this country founded on religious freedom? But I suppose if you spend a lot of your time reading and commenting on idol blogs, you can’t help but feel superior about your reading choices and habits. LOL!

    But back to the topic at hand. HG, after reading this, I’m afraid I don’t know what “soul” is. I need you boo is … soul?

    • I don’t know where you get that idea that anyone is hysterical about reading a religious book..anyone is free to read whatever book they choose.

    • cotton candy

      if anyone here wants to see/hear an amazing real soul singer check out allen stone on YT! i just discovered him recently and he’s kinda cute and sexy like david! and he’s a good boy(his dad’s a minister and he grew up singing in the church) 🙂

    • Anon- I always find what you have to say interesting. Don’t always agree- but sometimes do. I don’t think anyone cares about David reading a religious book. The point I took from the comments was some people wondered how that impacted the public or industry perception of David. It should not matter on tiny bit. But religion generally does not add a check on the cool factor for a pop star’s image. Is that right? no…

  22. cotton candy

    cq- it means that while other kids are on the streets causing trouble he’s in church singing!

    • I’m sorry cotton candy, I over reacted. I just get a little tired having people gage talent by how clean cut they are..not condone bad behavior, it’s that I don’t think it has anything to do with their singing that’s all.

  23. Nice post; the title really made me think. Re. Timberlake, I’m not feeling the new music but I still enjoy many of the songs from his debut album.

  24. cotton candy

    no need to apologize but thanks! i agree, nothing to do with their singing talent except maybe God helps them and blesses them with opportunities, etc! 🙂 FYI- i also like chris brown(bad boy) for his voice, not his criminal behavior

    • I also appreciate CB’s talent but his personality has room for improvement. Maybe he just needs to mature.

      • David seems to want to sing songs which have a message, feel good songs, songs that uplift your spirit if BEGIN is any indication of where his head was & probably still is.

        That said, one of my favorite singers is the fabulous Marvin Gaye. Granted, Marvin sang some songs which David would never attempt to sing due to the sensual nature of the lyrics, however Marvin also sang two of my favorite “message” songs. One is “What’s Going On” & another is “Mercy, Mercy Me”. While listening to these songs by Marvin, I have wondered & actually salivated at the thought of what David could do with these songs or similar songs.

      • a lurker 2, Marvin Gaye is one of my all time favorite soul singers. Yes, how I wish David would bring out that Soul Man back.

  25. YES HG – Waving my hand to testify, because THIS is the post I’ve been waiting to read from you!! You have told the truth and shamed the devil, like my grandma used to say. With my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, I’m going to say that I’m tired and more than a little bored with what I call the ‘whitewashing’ of David Archuleta’s music. I totally own my unapologetic selfish desire to hear that same unabashed soul and yes SWAGGA he put over in 2 minutes of Shop Around. That’s the David that grabbed hold of me and got (and holds) my attention. Like John Lee Hooker (my blues HERO) said in his song Boogie Children – ” It’s in him, and it just gotta come out”! COME OUT, SOUL MAN FROM UTAH!

    props and a YASSSSSSSSSSS to ya HG. This post is fiyah.

  26. I see your Marvin Gaye (LOVELOVELOVELOVELOVEHIM) A Lurker 2, and I’m going to raise you with one of the IMO most unsung heroes of blue eyed soul that doesn’t get the kudos or respect I think he deserves… Gino Vanelli. I was in MAJAH love, lust goony gaga love with this guy during his hey day… ”I Just Wanna Stop” is my hand to the sky, testify song… he had and still has a helluva silky soulful powerful voice… I’d love to hear David go all smooth soul one day like Gino used to do… Check out his Brother to Brother and Storm at Sunup albums… I still fan myself listening to his voice (don’t judge me, lolololol)

    Gino Vannelli – I Just Wanna Stop (From “Brother to Brother” Album)

    • LOL, I like him too. My fav song of his is “Hurts to Be in Love”.

      • Chile, don’t get me started on some Gino, lol… good soul music comes in all shapes, sizes, forms, etc… hoping our undercover soul man begins one day to own that side of his prodigious talent and releases an album of soul songs… Shoot, I’d have enjoyed a cover album of classic soul songs from him instead of the last couple releases, but what do I know?

  27. GG so good to see you!

    hoping David pulls out all the stops upon his return.. and yes anything like Marvin Gay would be great!
    way I see it he doesn’t have anything to hold him back
    his mission will be complete.

    • HUGS KIMK! Hope one day soon to see you and more fans at a David show. Just have to take it a day at a time I reckon till then 🙂

  28. One more Gino and I gotta go – the floodgates have opened, I’m raising my hand and testifyin’ all over the place listening to the Brother to Brother album again lol… it still holds up… the song below is I think his last charting hit in the US… a gem. Great voices never get old. Gino, take me awayyyyyy 🙂

    Gino Vannelli Living Inside Myself

  29. Wow. Some really good music videos posted here today.

  30. hell0g0rge0us

    As always, GGDoors, it’s sooooo good to hear from you when you post on my blog. Welcome back, girl! 😀

  31. hell0g0rge0us

    HG, after reading this, I’m afraid I don’t know what “soul” is. I need you boo is … soul?

    Did I say that? Anon, you poor thing. I sometimes worry about your comprehension skills. Are you sure you can keep up?

%d bloggers like this: