I just got into Live From Daryl’s House, the awesome little web series where Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates has musicians over to his house, cooks dinner and eats dinner with them, and then jams with them in his living room. It’s particularly cool to see Hall, a terrific white soul singer, duet with Cee Lo Green, who embraced his inner soul singer later in life, on “Cry Baby,” and to see how good they are when they’re riffing off each other:
I really think one of the better results of the internet for entertainment has been the proliferation of projects that put artists in juxtaposition with each other. It may not be a hugely revenue-generating project to see Cee Lo and Daryl Hall hang out, or to watch Marc Maron and Jeffrey Tambor riff off of each other for an hour, but it’s incredibly useful as a consumer of music and comedy to see what artists can get out of each other in a conversation that I as an interviewer probably couldn’t.
And I also wonder if innovations like this have managed to create an interim career tier for artists. Doing the WTF podcast is probably less stressful and more career enhancing for Maron than gigging around smaller comedy clubs would be. Daryl Hall can tour as much as he wants, of course, but this gig lets him bring collaborators to him once a month and to build a product that doesn’t have a clear place elsewhere. That’s lovely for the artists involved, and it’s also wonderful for us as consumers to have products that don’t fit neatly into other categories, that can be cut to a length that makes sense, and distributed flexibility. I was never someone who had incredibly fidelity to the album in any case (though Cee Lo is always an exception for me), and it’s nice to have options like these on the market instead of them, or in addition to them.
The video for Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Ni**as in Paris” isn’t exactly something we’ve never seen before:
Visually, it’s a clear descendant of both the Gnarls Barkley video for “Crazy”:
And the ghostly big cats seem like they probably strolled over from the menagerie on the set of Frank Ocean’s video for “Novacane”:
But “Ni**gas in Paris” does a really nice job of showing us a pulsing crowd that almost seems to be undergoing mitosis looks from the perspective of the men on stage. There’s something profoundly disconcerting about the way a normal audience suddenly splits into wild geometry or the passage through the crowd is suddenly full of horror-movie sets of identical twins. If this is what the world looks like when you’re an insanely famous person, it’s a lot less appealing than it looks from the outside.
The numbers for The Voice have been big over the past couple of days, even without the boost from the Super Bowl: 17.7 million viewers tuned in last night, and a 6.6 rating among the coveted adults between the ages of 18 to 49. It makes sense that the show is doing well. Two episodes into its second season, The Voice is improving on its strengths, providing a real debate about American popular music.
Because the judges actually have to compete against each other, the candidates are doing something smart: in cases where more than one judge turns their chair around, they’re actually asking questions. They want to know why the judges were compelled by their singing. They’re curious as to whether the judges think they should stick within a genre and build a strong identity there or try to transcend it. Blake Shelton’s been winning candidates over by appealing to the ones who truly want to be country stars, while Adam Levine and Cee Lo Green have been pitching themselves as coaches who don’t want to see their artists get limited. The judges’ answers aren’t as good as the candidates’ questions yet, but I hope that’s something that they’ll improve on over time. And the fact that those conversations are happening at all are an encouraging thing for people like yours truly who have everything from OutKast to Toby Keith in their playlists and who want to see these genres in conversation. Because they already are, whether American Idol acknowledges it or not.
Do we still need more of that stylistic diversity represented on the stage? Of course. But I like that there’s a singer with opera training on Christina’s team, and I’m holding out hope, as Cee Lo promised me at TCA press tour, that we’re going to get an MC, too. If The Voice can walk the line between increasing the stylistic diversity of its singers without tipping over into novelty act territory, it’ll just become a more interesting show. And now that we’re over the initial novelty of seeing superstars woo contestants, the show will only get better as those competitions get more fierce and specific.
One thing that came up with varying degrees of productivity in last week’s post about Donald Glover’s casual misogyny, and that was raised in the reaction to some comments that made Doctor Who‘s Steve Moffat the target of online ire was the that individual women behave in really rotten ways, and so shouldn’t rappers et. al. be able to complain about it? And of course the answer is yes. A lot of great art has come out of women doing men wrong and vice versa. The trick is to do it without suggesting that all women are golddigging bitches, or declaring that as reparations, you ought to be allowed to go out and have sex with absolutely anyone you please without having any obligations to anyone you sleep with. As with most things, revenge and complaints about being mistreated make for better art the more specific and creative the narratives get.
1. Use a specific name: The single best example of how to do this right comes from a woman, the great Erykah Badu. “Tyrone” uses specific names to call out individual perpetrators of generic behavior. “Now every time I ask you for a little cash / You say no but turn right around and ask me for some ass” or obnoxious famewhoring are sins lots of people are capable of perpetrating. But by calling out a specific person for committing them, the audience can absorb the idea that these are bad things to do to a partner, and even join in the condemnation of Tyrone’s pal, without tuning out because they assume they’re being accused:
2. Use singular pronouns: Maybe I missed this, but apparently some folks thought Cee Lo Green’s “I’m over that snooty golddigger” anthem “Fuck You” was sexist. I’m not persuaded by that argument: it may be unattractive that some people date or marry based on what their partners can provide for them, but it’s undeniably true that some do. That said, the fact that the song’s set up so Cee Lo is talking to a specific person for most of it, and talking to one other person in the “fuck her, too” line. It ends up reading as specific and appropriately targeted anger rather than a generalized condemnation of women in general:
3. Use specific anecdotes: Now, I’d never say that Kanye West has uniformly charming attitudes about women or anything. But he tends to use very precise details in songs about his conflicts with women. In “All of the Lights,” which I love, he explains that “Restraining order / Can’t see my daughter / Her mother, brother, grandmother, hate me in that order / Public visitation / We met at Borders / Told her she take me back / I’ll be more supportive”:
It’s the combination of Borders, which gives us all an immediate imaginative hook into the scenario, and the hierarchy of folks who hate him that make this something more than a generic complaint about a custody dispute. It’s funny and sad all at the same time. Even if I think Kanye sounds like a creep, the shame of only being able to see your daughter in public at a chain bookstore resonates.
Similarly, there’s that verse in “Golddigger,” a much less sensitive and more paranoid song about the dangers of sleeping around when you’re rich and famous, where he says, “I know somebody paying child support for one of his kids / His baby mamma’s car and crib is bigger than his / You will see him on TV any given Sunday / Win the Superbowl and drive off in a Hyundai / She was suppose to buy you shorty TYCO with your money / She went to the doctor got lipo with your money…18 years, 18 years / And on her 18th birthday he found out it wasn’t his.” The verse makes me feel gross because I’m embarrassed by the prospect that any woman would do something like that. It’s a horror movie. But the specificity is precisely what makes it frightening — unlike the idea that all women are out to get at Kanye’s money, the idea that one woman could do something like this is plausible and unnerving:
4. Unless you’ve suffered a completely inexplicable driveby wrongdoing, admit culpability and build a narrative. OutKast’s “Miss Jackson” is a perfect non-sexist She Done Me Wrong song in almost every way: specific names, a single woman (bringing this nicely full circle, Erykah Badu), singular pronouns when you’re not using a name, marvelously illustrative details. But it’s also about a relationship where both parties failed. “I wish I could / become a magician to abracadabra off the sadder / Thoughts of me, thoughts of she, thoughts of he / Askin’ what happened to the feelin’ that her and me / Had, I pray so much about it need some knee pads,” Andre reflects. The Big Boi verse that follows is intensely bitter, claiming that “Jealousy, infidelity, envy / Cheating, beating, and to the Gs they be the same thing,” but even if his sins are exaggerated, he doesn’t really deny that they’re real:
Can someone just give Cee-Lo Green a contract to write a Hairspray-style period musical already?
I saw The Help last night (about which much more to come tomorrow) so I’m particularly in this space, but I would love to see a great-looking early ’60s period piece starring African-American characters as something other than than the soundtrack to or catalysts for white people’s moral awakenings. That’s not to say that white people didn’t play a role in the Civil Rights movement, or that they didn’t pay terrible costs for doing so. Of course they did. But at the end of a big struggle, there’s a difference between feeling good about yourself for participating, and being able to work, or eat, or take the bus wherever you’d like without fear of violent death. I’d just like to see something where a black character gets the makeover, the guy, the ’60s-ified soundtrack, and, if it’s that kind of story, credit for a civil rights victory.
But if it’s not, that’s OK too. It would be a mistake to tell a race-blind stories set in the ’60s, but that doesn’t mean that every single story about African-Americans at the time has to be primarily about the Civil Rights movement. I would love to see what Cee-Lo, who seems substantially invested in proving his period bona fides, did with some sort of mandate like this. OutKast’s bootlegger musical Idlewild was, I thought, an interesting but imperfect experiment. I’d like to see more people working in this space, trying to figure out how to tell different kinds of black stories — and, as a musical theater nerd, to keep pushing for hip-hop’s place in the musical world. Especially if it means more dancing Jaleel White.
Cee-Lo Recording A New Goodie Mob Album |
I have enormous weakness for Cee-Lo Green, who I think is so patently wonderful that I forgive him any amount of selling out and any duets with Gwyneth Paltrow. But I’m very happy to hear that he’s recording a new album with the group that first got him noticed, Goodie Mob. With OutKast on seemingly indefinite hiatus as a two-man project, maybe it’s time for another Dungeon Family group to get their time on the national stage.