I’ve been through a number of ice-breaking sessions where people have named their first record purchases and noticed that many, perhaps most, pick out some naff ballad. Normally they’re rightly embarrassed and it’s this embarrassment, of course, that’s supposed to break the ice. So given this consensus that ballads are embarrassing, why do people persist with them?
Current worst offender, and provoker of my current irritation, is Daniel Bedingfield with his Nothing Hurts Like Love nonsense. It’s a real shame, because when he sticks to pure pop, like Gotta Get Thru This, he does a fine job and clearly has some talent. (Which is more than you can say for his sister, Natasha, who’s taken the Pink school of song writing to another level and doesn’t even sing ‘her words’, preferring to simply read out a series of clichés. Is there a secret dictionary of clichés that they’re all given upon the spotting of their talent?)
Anyway. In discussing ballads Wikipedia says, ‘A ballad is a narrative, rhythmic saga… almost inevitably catastrophic… simple repeating rhymes….’. Note the emphasis on simplicity and catastrophe, which practically guarantee a ballad will be over emotional to the point of embarrassment. Here lies the appeal to first time, inevitably teenage record buyers who find emotions difficult to handle and impossible to control. Ballads are, by definition, embarrassments that should only be listened to by the immature.