Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Kanye, Miley and the death of the diva

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 11:48 AM EDT, Thu October 10, 2013
Miley Cyrus became a household name for families when her Disney Channel television show, "Hannah Montana," premiered in 2006. From there, Cyrus quickly rose to pop star fame and has been changing her appearance ever since. Miley Cyrus became a household name for families when her Disney Channel television show, "Hannah Montana," premiered in 2006. From there, Cyrus quickly rose to pop star fame and has been changing her appearance ever since.
HIDE CAPTION
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: "Diva" once applied to people with long records of achievement
  • He says the term now is used for many who are famous for being famous or early in their careers
  • LZ: True divas are people like Leontyne Price, Barbara Streisand, Meryl Streep
  • Kanye West calling himself a "creative genius" rules him out of the diva category, LZ says

(CNN) -- In the third act of the opera "Aida," there is an aria, "O Patria Mia," that begins, "Oh, my country, I shall never see you again."

On January 3, 1985, after Leontyne Price sang those words, the audience at the Metropolitan Opera House stopped her with a four-minute ovation. Price first performed at the Met 24 years earlier, and this night, this performance would be her last on an opera stage.

During the curtain call, she was showered with flowers and confetti as the audience applauded her performance, and career, for 25 minutes. She stood there, beautiful, gracious, mouthing the words "thank you" to admirers who clearly did not want to see her go.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what a diva looks like.

I'm not sure when the meaning of the word went from someone with the talent and life journey of Price to the cast of "The Real Housewives of (insert city here)," but I know its erosion epitomizes all that is wrong with pop culture today: Oscar nominations surrendered to actors for carrying a tune, singing competitions judged by people who can't really sing, celebrities who are famous for being famous.

Kanye West is "a creative genius," but the fact that he repeatedly needs to tell people that makes him more of an anti-diva. True divas don't need to self-promote. That's what their loyal subjects are for.

Price didn't request a 25-minute ovation. Her moment commanded one.

Leontyne Price of the Metropolitan Opera in a dress rehearsal for \
Leontyne Price of the Metropolitan Opera in a dress rehearsal for "Aida" at the Paris Opera on February 1, 1968.

"I'm trying to exhibit good taste," Price said of her goodbye. "I prefer to leave standing up, like a well-mannered guest at a party."

I long for the day when phrases such as "good taste" or "well-mannered" are uttered, let alone displayed, by the people we refer to as divas today.

We've always had bubble gum and fluff and raunch, but we used to recognize those things for what they were. If being a talentless bad girl is what pays the bills, fine ... but we never used to refer to these train wrecks as "divas."

If it sounds as if I'm blowing things out of proportion, consider this: There is a reality TV show called "R&B Divas" with a cast filled with one-hit wonders. It's as if eye-rolling has become the only qualification to be considered a precious gem.

The reality is, today's "divas" are more likely to be pieces of charcoal: mass-produced, quick to flame out and apt to leave behind a filthy residue on everything they touch.

The reason why the notion of a "diva" was reserved for the main female singer in an opera company, like a Price or Jessye Norman -- who sings in German, French and Italian and served as the inspiration for the 1982 film "Diva" -- is because the level of talent these women possess was thought of as rare and thus made their demanding personalities tolerable. Their recordings, treasured; their presence, captivating; their performances, transcending all others.

Think Streisand, Houston, Streep.

Today, we use the word so frequently, hardly anyone knows what it means anymore.

For example, after this year's Grammys, Buzzfeed listed its 16 greatest divas moments and included the pitch-challenged Taylor Swift -- twice.

An ABCNews.com headline actually read: "Kim Kardashian's Diva Delivery."

Entertainment Weekly once named Rihanna "Diva of the Year."

The very existence of such an honor should provoke nausea, because there are not enough true divas in the world to sustain such an annual award.

Bit by bit, we have replaced art that is meant to be slow-cooked art with that which is microwavable (and forgettable). Thus our movie theaters are dominated by remakes and sequels, best-selling authors plagiarize, belching is considered witty.

VH1 Divas is a fundraiser music showcase created to support the Save the Music Foundation. The nonprofit was designed to help restore instrumental music programs in public schools after so many were lost due to budget cuts. In the beginning, the "divas" who performed were along the lines of Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Mariah Carey ... voices that were iconic, even if you didn't particularly care for their music.

In the latest installment of the series, Miley Cyrus was among the headliners.

Miley Cyrus. Diva.

No, I don't think I'm overreacting.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT