I'm not denying she has looks, and talent, and a silky-smooth voice which can seduce even the most cynical listener. I'm not denying she's almost certainly a better role model for the new generation than... well, scratch almost any Top 40 star. I don't even belong to the school that thinks the Fugees set hiphop music back several years through the way they became famous (i.e., off of other people's songs--kinda like a slightly friendlier, more worthy version of Puff Daddy). I like her version of "Killing Me Softly"--it has such a range, grace and space. But The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, worthy of five Grammys and countless inches of gushing, purple praise from critics who obviously haven't encountered a true hiphop artist in their stunted white-boy lives? Please.
All Lauryn Hill managed with her debut solo album was to make Joan Armatrading more acceptable, slightly update Stevie Wonder's Innervisions funk style for the '90s, smile sweetly, and say absolutely nothing. (Her lips look great on the CD booklet, though!) Miseducation has about as much to do with hiphop, or with soul, as 'N Sync or Everclear do--and is just as visionary and soulful (i.e., not at all). You think the people who vote for the Grammys are really gonna give their cherished (meaningless) awards over to someone who upsets the status quo? You think they'd give it to someone with less than model-good looks? Please.
Miseducation is a good pop album--possibly a great pop album--with all pop's attendant gloss and flaws and saccharine goodness. Nothing wrong with that, either--but did the commentators and TV pundits go apeshit over Brandy, or over the Spice Girls' wonderfully energetic Spiceworld? Miseducation goes down so easy while you're listening to it, you ain't even aware it's playing. Every edge has been rounded off, every corner duct-taped down. It's child--and adult--proof. Compare the Roots' magnificent new The Return To Innocence Lost, a chilling masterpiece likely to garner little praise among the chattering classes. No comparison.
"Come on baby, light my fire/Everything you drop is so tired/Music is supposed to inspire/So, how come we ain't getting no higher?" Lauryn asks on the self-examining "Superstar." You tell me, Lauryn. Post-MTV, nothing has changed--money and units shifted still count for everything, and anyone who pretends otherwise is a fucking liar.