The more cynical among us would insist James Blunt's one-hit-wonder
status is a fate well-deserved. A vapid song so pandering and puerile,
"You're Beautiful" was curse enough to those who find soft rock, adult
rock, easy pop, and the like an anathema in any of form. Two successive albums found him trying to extend his success, but
lukewarm reviews and diminishing returns threaten to make him a has-been
a mere half dozen years after initially making his bow.
And yet, some
might suggest that Blunt is guilty of much more, that his supposed
paean to an unnamed lover was really an homage to himself, a
narcissistic exercise in indulgence meant to highlight his undeniable
good looks, an image that served to affirm his marketability and pop-idol perfection. Self-indulgence seems to reign supreme. In the "You're Beautiful" video,
the subject turns to suicide when he's shown taking a plunge from a
cliff and leaping into the sea. And face it, what's more self-indulgent
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than making the choice to end it all?
Count Weird Al Yankovic among those ready to mock Blunt's hubris, real or imagined:
Of course, vanity's always been an essential element in rock and pop, from early showoffs like Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry through the self-involved exhibitionist tendencies of Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Elton John, and finally onward and upward to the outright obnoxiousness of Lady Gaga and Kanye West. But Blunt -- to put it bluntly -- would seem to define an entirely new genre of self-absorbed behavior. One might easily imagine him recording his hit while gazing longingly in the mirror, easily imagining that his newfound legions will cherish every lingering glimpse. Casually macho, with his bare hint of a beard and longish, neatly coifed locks, he projected a boyish appeal that belied his Army experience and athletic interests. He had the look of innocence and vulnerability, one that doubtless appealed to the nurturing instincts of swooning teenaged girls and longing middle-aged women everywhere.
It would be foolish to suggest Blunt wasn't aware of these attributes when he fashioned a song that could easily serve as his own affirmative anthem. It's not surprising either that his personal life is the subject of speculation and that he's been reluctant to reveal any hint as to who he hangs with. In a tabloid world where a star's every move is subject to speculation, Blunt's refusal to reveal his object of interest makes the possibility of nascent narcissism that much greater a possibility. It also follows that Blunt's closest confidants are his mother and father, who also happen to manage his affairs and guide his career
Of course, this entire discourse is mere speculation, but there is evidence to be found in a few developments. When he recorded his first album, Back to Bedlam -- from which his hit was sprung -- he spent time in Los Angeles and resided for a while with actress Carrie Fisher, to whom he was introduced by a mutual acquaintance. Fisher subsequently offered him her bathroom as the setting for Blunt to record another song for his first album called "Goodbye My Lover." Was a longing gaze into the bathroom mirror his means of shoring up confidence or even seeking some sort of consolation? Or was it inspiration for "You're Beautiful," the song that's forever become his theme?
Further proof: When he attended the University of Bristol, his undergraduate thesis was "The Commodification of Image -- Production of a Pop Idol."
Need we say more?
It should be noted in postscript that Blunt recently shed his mod locks and shaved his facial hair, resulting in a drastic makeover that seemed to moot his striking appearance. Maybe it was an effort to distance himself from his pinup past, one in which being beautiful was seen as only a momentary fixation. In his case, beauty is only one hit deep.
James Blunt will perform a free concert for WRMF-FM (97.9) at 7 p.m. Saturday, January 29, at Downtown at the Gardens, Palm Beach Gardens. Click here.