Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Mostly the Last Two)

After watching the opening number of the Grammys on Sunday night, during which Elton John and Lady Gaga butchered a few songs together, I figured I would compose a rant about Gaga. Get in some work on the light bag. But the big lie is that Lady Gaga is somehow different from Taylor Swift. They just appeal -- unashamedly -- to different sects of 13-year-old girls. (Mostly when I see Gaga, I think of Chris Rock’s line: “Take off that silly-ass hat!”)

Swift took home a ton of awards, which seems odd for someone who can’t sing. Even with a bevy of musicians backing her up, her songs sounded undeniably slight. And someone should have warned her about sharing a stage with Stevie Nicks. I’m sure it didn’t alienate her real fan base, but it couldn’t have helped win over skeptical adults when it looked like Nicks had shown up to babysit. See, Nicks made music for grown-ups. And she can sing.

But really, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift just represent, respectively, the pro-wrestling-ization and infantilization of the culture, and that’s nothing new. What really stood out to me -- and to you, I assume, if you saw it -- was the Michael Jackson tribute. Holy crap. Celine Dion, Carrie Underwood, Usher, Jennifer Hudson, and Smokey Robinson shared the stage, singing in front of a 3-D collection of what looked like C-roll footage from Avatar. The song they tackled was one of Jackson’s we-need-to-ride-the-elephants-and-kiss-the-giraffes-and-hug-the-rainbows-until-the-world-is-safe-and-sound anthems. Horses stampeded toward us in 3-D while Carrie Underwood tried in vain to locate her soulfulness. Cut to Beyonce rocking out with the 3-D glasses on. The ridiculousness of show biz in those moments was almost 100% pure, not to mention ludicrously expensive. Do we really want to save the planet? If we did, we could use the money that Celine Dion spent on leg shiner that night and surely save a few acres of rain forest. (I don’t know if “leg shiner” is an actual thing, but whatever was coating Dion’s gams, it’s not found in nature.)

There was very little to like about the Grammys, or the half or so that I saw. Then I watched the clip of Pink that I linked to yesterday. Was it over-the-top theater? Yes. Was it therefore kind of cheesy? Of course. But it took courage and actual skill. Compare it to Gaga, who, if you take away the parade of tacky fashion designers who use her as a mannequin, has a couple of decently catchy choruses and the vocal and musical ability of the average American Idol finalist. I'm not saying that's nothing. Yet she’s conned everyone into naming her the heir to David Bowie and Madonna. I would never accuse those two of being subtle, but compared to Gaga’s shtick, they’re Amish mimes.


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