What's wrong with being Blunt?
By SARAH SANDS, Daily Mail
1st August 2006
Hate figure: The public has turned against James Blunt
He writes songs you can actually sing, doesn't do drugs and has fought for his country. So why am I the only person who doesn't hate James Blunt?
What do you most remember about last year's summer holiday? Apart from the delays and the lost luggage and being stung by a vicious jellyfish, I would guess it was James Blunt's song You're Beautiful being played in every car and cafè and on every beach in Europe.
The song was in the charts for more than three months, and became a favourite at weddings and funerals. Absurdly and poignantly, Sir Elton John and David Furnish chose to have it played - by the man himself - at their wedding.
Yes, a chubby, middle-aged man with a hair transplant felt beautiful because Blunt's song made him feel that way.
Well, I'm with Elton on this one. I still like You're Beautiful. Call me infuriating, but I hum it most days. And while others fall over themselves to sneer at Blunt, I am standing firm.
This is, after all, the man who has won two Ivor Novello awards for songwriting and was named best new artist at last year's Q Awards.
Yet this week, in a survey of the Top 100 things that Britons most dislike, Blunt was voted more irritating than traffic wardens, mosquitoes or diarrhoea. In fact, he was one of only two pop singers to make the list at all - the other being the long-forgotten Craig David.
Why such fury? And why is anyone who dares to admit they actually like his music pilloried?
Let me remind you what James Blunt has achieved in his first year on the music scene. His debut album, Back To Bedlam, not only topped the UK charts, but made Blunt the first British artist to go to No1 in the American Billboard chart in nearly a decade.
At the last count, Back To Bedlam had sold around ten million copies worldwide, earning the top slot in 11 other countries.
This has made Blunt very rich, very quickly. This month, he bought a large villa in Ibiza to house his new supermodel girlfriend, Petra Nemcova.
It is true, of course, that Blunt does not have the more obvious rock star credentials of, say, Pete Doherty.
Blunt has not been to jail, he does not appear to be out of his head on drink or drugs when he performs, and his lyrics are not obscene.
He is not much of a subject for misery-memoirs, either, having been a cheerful, family-loving boy whose first career was as an Army officer because 'like any parents, mine wanted me to have a secure job with a regular wage and career prospects'.
Compare this to Lily Allen, the 21-year-old singer who has become the rock darling of this summer.
Critics write fondly of her expulsion from school, her coke-head friends, her spell in The Priory and her jaunty little number, Smile.
(If Blunt's You're Beautiful is a musical version of the film Brief Encounter, then Allen's Smile is a Social Services recruitment video.)
British rocker Lily Allen
Perhaps Blunt's problem is that he is undeniably mainstream. I saw him perform at Shepherd's Bush and the evening appeared to attract an even more solidly middleclass audience than the last night of the Proms.
Stepping over the usual doorway detritus of syringes and discarded cans were girls in pumps and brightly coloured cardies who were called Araminta or Flora. Imagine row after row of Kate Middleton lookalikes.
The girls were, of course, outnumbered by their mothers. Blunt made a wry/desperate joke about being a housewives' choice. We waved our arms about, miming every word of Tears And Rain or Goodbye My Lover.
When the stage flickered with video scenes of the troops in Kosovo for No Bravery, we vowed to knit scarves and bake cakes.
Yet Blunt is not accorded the respect of that earlier housewife superstar Tom Jones. According to the hatepoll, remember, he is more irritating than tax returns and Scientology.
This is madness. The nation is behaving like those tiresome women in magazines who try to make themselves sound interesting by declaring that they are hopelessly attracted to the mad, bad and dangerous.
What is wrong with the rational, brave and honest? Apart from anything else, Blunt is a decent person, with few rock star pretensions.
After the concert, I was taken to meet him backstage.
He had strummed away at the entire repertoire, looked tired, and was accompanied by his pleasant girlfriend of the time, Camilla Boler. (That was before he moved to Tara [Palmer Tomkinson] and finally to Petra - I think you can be his girlfriend only if your first name ends in 'a'.)
I believe we discussed Wiltshire before he was pulled away by a domineering American publicist.
There was, truly, nothing to dislike about the man. Yet this is the same James Blunt whom the babyish British public have voted more contemptible than the Crazy Frog ring tone or stepping on chewing gum.
If anyone's to blame, I suspect it is his publicists who, in their desperate bid to conceal his middle-class roots, have tried to make Blunt into something he isn't.
Last summer, before everyone had decided Blunt was a public enemy, I was trying to secure an interview with him.
The reason I was captivated by him was his Army background. I had come across soldiers who knew him and thought he was a very good role model.
Blunt's father was a Colonel, who was delighted to talk about the military connection. A fellow serving officer produced some interesting action pictures he had taken of Blunt.
But Blunt's publicists were horrified when they learned about the pictures. They believed that Blunt's stint as a Captain in the Life Guards, seeing action in the Balkans, had to be played down for fear of damaging his image.
The line they preferred to spin was that he was a wandering musician who had accidentally found himself in Kosovo.
Why so coy? If James Blunt had been promoted as a kind of General Sir Mike Jackson with songs, I don't believe that he would be so unpopular with British men, who see him as too wet and weedy for their taste.
But image problems aside, the most perverse criticisms have been directed not so much at the man as at his music.
Self-appointed style tsars (ie the web chatboards that now control whether a pop star is officially 'cool' or not) claim that Blunt's songs are irritating, derivative and simplistic.
"Oh my God!" writes one contributor to the Coolteens website, "James Blunt is so annoying he makes me want to rip my eyeballs out just to have something to plug my ears with." Nice.
Another critic laments: "Once you scratch beneath the surface of his songs, there doesn't seem to be anything there."
These are pop songs, for goodness sake - what do you want to find underneath them? The Gettysburg Address?
Surely the point about good tunes is that you can sing along to them; his songs are annoying only because they are unforgettable.
Others claim that You're Beautiful was just a one-off hit. Well, better one hit than none, wouldn't you say? One of my all-time favourite pop songs - Nena's 99 Red Balloons - was a one-off.
No, I'm afraid there's only one real explanation for the Blunt Backlash. It is nothing more sophisticated than the childish reflex that "everyone loves it, so I hate it".
Perhaps the cycle of fame will spin full circle.
Now that everyone officially hates James Blunt, wouldn't it be cool to decide to love him again?