Over the past six weeks, Leon Bridges has been at the center of one of the biggest stories in Dallas music in recent memory. On Christmas Day, it was announced that the 25-year-old R&B singer from Fort Worth had been signed to Columbia Records. It was a huge accomplishment.
But long before that news broke, the buzz had been building. In photos, articles, comments and hashtags, folks started calling Bridges "The Truth." The question is, what do we really mean when we call him that, and should we actually be doing it?
Here's what I think is True about Leon Bridges: He has a strong, clear, honest voice, and he has mastered relatively quickly a particular sound from the past, one that is apparently very near and dear to many, many people. In addition, I have never seen a more attentive audience than one that's gathered to hear him play a solo performance.
It's kind of magical the way a crowd will actually put down its collective phones, shut the fuck up and listen to the deliberate, measured cadence and nostalgic honesty of Bridges' songs. The crowd that sees Bridges isn't just polite, it's reverent; because even those snapping Instagrams of him are probably posting them with effusive hashtags in between songs. Truth be told, I think Bridges makes appealing music, made even more appealing by the warmth and crackle of the vintage recording equipment used on his record.
On top of that, he's unfailingly nice and conscientious. Very obviously, there is a popular demand for an artist of that kind of natural caliber and easygoing demeanor who is as throwback as one can get without traveling to the past and kidnapping someone. (That Leon Bridges comes from now and not way back then would completely blow Bill and Ted's minds.) Even his Columbia deal sounds retro: Rather than the workaday origin story of a band getting signed after slogging from one vacant club to the next over the better part of a decade, his tale harkens back to the music industry archetype of an A&R guy hearing a hot new sound and more or less plucking its maker from obscurity.
Bridges can meet that audience demand in spades, and he's even managed to cultivate a style that looks exactly the way he sounds. But to that end he is pretty safe, and if KXT could dream up a platonic ideal of a local performer to champion, they'd invent Bridges if he didn't already exist. Likewise, Columbia now has a young dude playing old music, and his image is an easily marketed package. That he's on-point with the fashion picks and can legitimately sing and write hooks are bonuses that make Columbia's promotional job that much easier.
So there's a lot that Bridges has going for him, and it's not hard to see his appeal to a label. The recognition is deserved. But that still doesn't explain what makes him "The Truth." If it's his voice, I've got bad news, because dorky old Luke Wade has a better range, and I watched a dude at a karoake night sing circles around him. Is it his clothes? It's great that he looks like where his sound comes from, but so do the Roomsounds, Steel Bearing Hand and even notable corporate party disco cover band Le Freak, and Gorilla Vs. Bear wouldn't touch them with a zillion-foot pole.
And I'll give him this: Nobody else is doing exactly what Bridges is doing, and if that's what the world really wants, then it doesn't want to hear what I think about it. To me, "The Truth" lies in the way a performer moves an audience, but none of the breathless enthusiasm for Bridges' truth will be applied in the same way to Terminator 2, Spacebeach or even someone like Jessie Frye. They may inspire people to go apeshit at a show, but you won't find a writer or photographer tagging an IG about it with #thetruth.
What "The Truth" seems to mean here is some sort of fetishized nostalgia, the idea that something old and familiar like a Sam Cooke song is somehow more authentic than a comparatively new counterpart. When we say "Leon Bridges is the truth," what we're saying is we're nostalgic for something everyone knows, but that nobody is reproducing. Maybe that stuff was "The Truth" when it was new; now it's just nice to hear. But authentically recreating the past isn't the truth; it's just a matter of being really into antiques -- and that, in the end, doesn't seem like giving Bridges his due.
So let's lay off on "The Truth." It's time to give Leon Bridges a chance to be what he really is: Leon Bridges.
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