Evening Standard - ES Magazine
IS BORING NOW A COMPLIMENT?
Not long ago, it was the most brutal put-down in the arsenal of insults, but Hamish MacBain finds there’s growing pride in being dull
Have you watched Louis Theroux Interviews: Stormzy yet? If not then you really, absolutely, definitely should. It’s on iPlayer and it is brilliant: a top-of-his-game master getting further under the skin of another top-of-his-game master — and easily the most important British pop star of the past 10 years — than anyone has before. Spoilers to follow, but… actually just stop, go and watch it, then come back.
To slightly malapropiate an annoying — even by Twitter standards — Twitterism: I’ll wait.
So the key revelations were, as I see it, that a) Stormzy, 29, doesn’t eat rice or potatoes while on tour, and only busts out the nuts and seeds on a special occasion. That he goes to church a lot. And most of all, that he cannot wait to get married and start a family, so much so that, down the road from his current bachelor pad, he is building the dream family home in anticipation of starting said family.
This, by traditional rock ’n’ roll metrics, makes Stormzy boring. Not just boring by nature, but aspiring to be — and dedicated to being — boring. And he is far from alone in the music field. Last week, Adele revealed her ‘plan for 2025’ was to study English literature with a view to becoming a teacher. Harry Styles? Compare him to Bowie some may, but I can assure you: 1970s Bowie would rather have gone to dinner in a tracksuit than release a song called ‘Treat People With Kindness’. Harry’s brand of androgyny is less swashbuckling, alien-dominatrix sex lizard, more ‘This blouse is perfect for drying tears on while I stroke your hair. And if you promise to forget about him, you can borrow these earrings for a first date with someone who deserves you.’
None of the above is meant as an insult. All of it is meant as a compliment.
“POLITICS LOOKS LIKE IT MIGHT NOW BE BORING FOR A BIT, AND WHAT A BLESSED RELIEF THAT IS”
‘Traditionally, “boring” was always the most brutal put down you could level at someone,’ says Cuthbert Langley*, psychotherapist and author of Why it’s Cool to Be Boring These Days. ‘This is largely because, for early millennials and people older than early millennials, “boring” conjures up those long, pre-broadband school summer holidays of viscerally dull, never-ending days in suburbia. Now it’s different.’
It certainly is. Let’s take, as an example of mid-Noughties non-boringness, Russell Brand. How would you describe him? Unkempt hair, a fondness for self-aggrandising and pretentious quotations, seemingly always off his rocker and unable to keep his dick in his pants. Fast forward to 2022. Which populist leaders of recent times could this accurately describe? And which rightminded person would want to be them?
Privately, you imagine, Sir Keir Starmer must be miffed that domestic politics is now sensibly haired and well informed technocrat versus sensibly haired and well informed technocrat. Call it ‘Tidy Sideparting Energy’. Politics looks like it might now be boring for a bit, and what a blessed relief that is.
In sport, there’s a World Cup coming up fast, and nobody is shouting ‘LAD!’ at the images of Jack Grealish stumbling out of some hellish Manchester nightclub. They’re aghast that he is not meditating in unison with the rest of his teammates, willing himself to put in the best collective performance they can. We rejoiced at footage of the Lionesses getting off their faces… but only once the trophy had been lifted.
On TV it’s about Laura Kuenssberg, not Piers Morgan. In cinemas, Lesley Manville, Olivia Colman, Brendan Fraser. ‘Seriously — I’m boring,’ says Fraser, in line for a Best Actor Oscar next March. ‘I like red wine. I’m a wannabe camera geek in my personal life.’
The ancient, traditional notions of non-boringness — chaos, unpredictability — have in the past few years, like everything good, been nicked by people you would cross the street to avoid. Peacefulness is good. Honesty is good. It’s as though we have come to the realisation that, actually, you don’t need to go through the string of toxic-but-exciting flings before you get to the steady-as-she-goes relationship; you can just calmly cut to the chase and curl up on the sofa and watch The Repair Shop. Being boring is the new not-being-boring, and the world is a much better place for it.
*I completely made up Cuthbert Langley, psychotherapist and author of ‘Why it’s Cool to Be Boring These Days’. But I think his point rings true. It’s kind of exciting to make up lies. It’s probably boring to admit that you did. But it feels good.