Singer/songwriter Michael Bolton participated in a Reddit AMA ("Ask Me Anything") yesterday, and it was nothing short of glorious. As it turns out, it also serves as a potential instruction manual for fellow singers with beautiful blond hair and complicated public images. Namely: Taylor Swift.
It isn't exactly "cool" (in the most obnoxious sense of the term) to like Michael Bolton. Case in point: 1999's Office Space. For those unfamiliar with the movie, there is a scene where a character named Michael Bolton laments the fact that he shares a name with a "no-talent ass clown [who] became famous and started winning Grammys."
So this is the image with which Michael Bolton found himself saddled. It's difficult to gauge how much of an impact this had on Bolton, who -- despite what fictional disgruntled office employees and their ilk might feel about him -- has always had his own devoted following and his many awards to keep him cozy.
Nonetheless, a funny thing happened: Michael Bolton got us to laugh with him. In 2011, Bolton appeared in a Saturday Night Live/Lonely Island digital short that was amazing and weird and funny and almost infuriatingly catchy. It's apparent Bolton had a blast making it and wasn't afraid to go against the clean-cut image he'd had for so long. (Although this wasn't always the case.)
Which brings us to yesterday's AMA. Bolton was asked about Office Space pretty much immediately, and gamely responded "that movie is hilarious...but I'm still the real Michael Bolton!" And that he hopes he can be in Office Space 2, should that ever happen. He also shared behind-the-scenes footage from the Lonely Island shoot, talked about his work against domestic violence, discussed a possible return to his hard rock roots, introduced us to his spirit animal, spoke very frankly about his past legal issue, and shared some fun facts.
Basically: He was amazing, managing to be self-deprecating while still exuding confidence in himself and his work, open without oversharing, and silly and lighthearted without coming across as hammy or forced.
Taylor Swift should be taking notes.
Now, it is of course unfair to compare two different artists willy-nilly (see: the strange and completely media-fabricated dichotomy between Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway), but Swift is an artist who is currently dealing with an image "issue" that would benefit greatly from following Bolton's approach.
Vanity Fair magazine, as you may have read, asked cover model Swift about the fact that her love life -- a topic mined for tabloid fodder and album lyrics alike -- had been the punchline to a joke Amy Poehler and Tina Fey made during the Golden Globes. Swift responded by paraphrasing TV host Katie Couric's paraphrasing of a comment once made by Madeleine Albright: "There is a special place in Hell for women who don't help other women."
In Bolton, we have an example of someone whose image -- that of an offensively inoffensive pop rock crooner beloved by moms who dance with elbows akimbo -- had taken a beating in pop culture. Yet, he had enough confidence and belief in his work that he was able to not only take the teasing in stride, but embrace it. While all popular artists hire teams of professionals to expertly manufacture an image they'd like to portray, the strings are much, much too apparent in Swift's attempts. Bolton's handling of his public image feels more organic, less forced. He seems like someone who is simply having a great time -- regardless of whether or not people have always wanted to join in.
Swift is obviously a savvy businesswoman, but she would do well to distance herself from her product -- her image -- to gain perspective. Have fun. Do good work. Relax. Embrace good criticism, discard the bad. Do more, better work. And have more fun. And maybe just, like. Climb on a boat and croon about pirates.