Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Kanye, Miley and the death of the diva

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
October 10, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
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
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1146 GMT (1946 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT