Dammit, Glee. Quit hogging the posts!
I don’t intend to catalogue all of the events of “Vitamin D” (which ended with a double doozy — I know I’m gonna love Sue, the blythely devious cheerleading coach played with aplomb by Jane Lynch, mixing it up with the glee club; I don’t feel similarly about Emma’s impending nuptuals). I will say, though, that I liked Kurt’s alliance with the girls and Rachel’s alliance with pregnant cheerleader Quinn (who is dating Finn, Rachel’s crush). I also happen to think kids who abuse pep pills are funny. Ask Lisa Simpson. Or Jessie Spano.
What I will highlight briefly is that I thought the show’s use of mash-ups were interesting and fun. I highly doubt that kids these days are stringing together Usher with Bon Jovi for strongly-regulated school competitions (my killjoy hunch is that Ohio, much like Texas, has a regulatory body that rules what songs are acceptable or legal to perform). However, that this increasingly ubiquitous format has become so mainstream that no one really seems to care if Danger Mouse pairs Jay-Z with The Beatles or Girl Talk combines Notorious B.I.G. with Elton John speaks to how drastically the way we hear music has changed over this decade.
Or does it? Because the other interesting thing tonight’s made-for-TV mash-ups made clear to me is how similar this is to a time-honored musical tradition: the medley. That the songs just happen to be from different artists opens up the suggestion that popular music is in constant dialogue with itself, contending generic conventions and its attendant identity baggage along the way.
As tonight’s episode was a battle of the sexes, I will keep in character and side with the girls. While I usually do this anyway, I think their mash-up was way better than the boys strained Danny-Zucco-by-way-of-The Strokes routine to Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” and Usher’s “Confessions,” which just played too faux macho and triumphant. Also, I think I heard a bit of AutoTune doctoring with Finn’s solo, which is an automatic dq. You better bring it next week, fellas. ;)
I think the girls totally brought it. Mercedes’s selection is Beyoncé’s “Halo,” perhaps an essentializing choice for the show’s lone African American character, but a lovely ballad nonetheless. It is paired with female-led band Katrina and The Waves’s “Walking on Sunshine,” a zippy new wave ode to urgent, addictive sexual ecstacy. I even like the mismatched yellow dresses fine. Initially, they brought bridesmaids to mind instead of girl groups. But I reconsidered after thinking about how the wardrobes may reflect each girl’s personality. Also, I wonder if the sunny color, which alludes to both songs, is a conscious choice to provide contrast to the myriad of dreary social and economic issues that Rachel hilariously rattles off to the judges prior to the girls’ performance. I wouldn’t put it past these girls, and don’t it feel good?
I’m assembling my thoughts on Anna Sui’s Gossip Girl-inspired clothing line for Target. Since I might bitch about synergy, normalizing skinny, gendered body types for young consumers, and the great malling of America at some point in that post, I thought I’d post a wonderful alternative to these at-this-point rote grievances by highlighting Gossip’s “Dimestore Diamond,” a new song off their soon-to-be-released Songs For Men. You can listen to it here (oh, and should you choose to click on the NPR link, maybe say hi to Lightning Bolt, Dead Man’s Bones, Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down, La Loup, and BlakRoc).
In this very sexy, rocking song that does a great job bridging the band’s bluesy origins with its more recent new wave leanings, a woman (who may or may not be engaged in the world’s oldest profession) is praised for her ability to maximize the fashionable potential out of thrift store togs, cut her own hair, and make her own clothes. Who says you have to rely on high-end fashion or commercial retailers to put together a fly outfit? Here here!
Also, given that “everybody knows” the things this diamond does to please, I can’t help but wonder if she lives in a small town. Perhaps I’m projecting Searcy, Arkansas — the band’s hometown origins — onto the song, but it’s hard for me not to read the song’s narrative as being informed by issues of class and place. This brings a few things to mind for me.
1. In a Bust interview, lead singer Beth Ditto talks about growing up a working class, closeted Southern girl and how, if she hadn’t left her hometown, she may have stayed in the closet, gotten pregnant, gotten married, and lived a lie.
2. As a tangent, Ditto’s interview also makes me think about Kurt from Glee, FOX’s new dramedy that is starting to get really good. In last night’s episode, Kurt finds himself as a place kicker for his school’s football team, as well as coming out to his butch, widowed father — all because of the power of Beyoncé (and man, talk about a text that plays with lip syncing, dis/embodiment, trying on identities, and drag — put your hands up, Winona Ryder). These are two brave acts from a young man who (at least for now) finds himself stuck in Lima, Ohio.
3. And finally, taking points 1 and 2 together, I wanna give a hug to all the closeted kids I knew in high school who didn’t feel safe with who they really were then (and maybe some still don’t). I hope wherever you are, you’re shining like the real thing.
I was a choirgirl. From sixth grade until I started grad school, I was in some kind of singing ensemble. When I was a teenager, I was in all of my high school’s musicals and hoped to one day be on Broadway. Chamber choir. Church choir. Pop choir. Texas All-State Choir. Concert and Sight-Reading. Solo and Ensemble. Voice lessons. Recitals. Running clinics for my mom’s junior high ensembles. E-T-C. This was my life.
It’s perhaps no surprise that I have a bit of a vested interest in Glee, Fox’s new TV series that focuses on a high school glee club in Ohio. The network ran the pilot after American Idol last night. Here are my thoughts.
First, the pros:
1. I will watch Jane Lynch in anything. She’s awesomely funny and brings some butch swagger to every project. She’s already my favorite thing about the show. I love her take on the tough, unimpressed cheerleading coach.
2. I love that Mercedes, the full-figured African American glee clubber, demands to sing lead and refuses to be in the background. The actress, Amber Riley, can really sing! I also like that she’s quick to announce whiteness, referring to the ensemble’s jock ringer as “Justin Timberlake”. Oh, and she wears cute outfits. I especially liked her sailor outfit at the end of the pilot when she insists on managing the glee club’s wardrobe. I was in charge of our choral program’s wardrobe senior year. I anticipate hilarity to ensue.
3. I think Kurt, the gay boy in glee club, has potential. He is stereotypical, but shows promise as a complex character. Some might think it’s cliched to have a gay teen in glee club but, eh, I knew three gay guys who were in the musicals, including my first boyfriend. It’s a safe space for some of them. Also, I liked Kurt’s rendition of “Mr. Cellophane” from Chicago because a) it’s ironic, as he’s totally not — he’s out and proud and b) it’s poignant, because he’s bullied and unpopular.
4. They totally nailed the characterization of Rachel Berry, the glee club’s aspiring ingenue. She’s determined, alert, ruthlessly perky, consumately professional, and more than a little insecure. And actress Lea Michele, a Broadway veteran, has got pipes!
And then the cons:
1. I can do without director Will Schuester’s totally unnecessary love triangle between his materialistic, castrating wife and Emma Pillsbury, the perfectionist guidance counselor with the cute haircut and wardrobe. UGH. SO OVER LOVE TRIANGLES. If they cut this, Mr. Schuester could actually be shown directing the glee club.
2. Since this is TV, the characterization of glee club is a little far-fetched. These kids have a full band, which seems too expensive. Our pop choir was accompanied by our harried choir director on piano. And a fancy rival school has the girls in a flirty polka-dotted dress when they sing Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” that seems too expensive and flashy for the average high school show choir. Especially since I’m imagining the girls in this emsemble to have multiple outfits. We just had one black and gold dress and jacket, bless us.
3. I doubt the average high school show choir could get away with singing a song like “Rehab” anyway because of the “mature” subject matter. Again, TV is fantastical.
4. While I like Mercedes and Kurt, they’re pretty broad and tokenistic. As is Tina C., the Asian American girl who, apart from a stutter, has absolutely no defining characteristic. Oh, she does sing Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” for her audition. I can do with never hearing this song again.
5. Finn, the football star with the gift of song is even more boring than Chris Klein in American Pie. But these guys usually are.
6. Speaking of Finn, I don’t remember choir membership being such a form of social suicide. We had male and female jocks in choir. Several members of our cheerleading squad were featured dancers in the musicals. It wasn’t so much the refuge for the school’s social outcasts as the show chooses to depict it.
7. I don’t love the singing. Overall, it’s very pop. Too nasal, too pinched, too thin. Breath support should come from the diaphram instead of the chest. The singers should drop their jaws and round their mouths. But, it came on after American Idol, so it doesn’t surprise me. Singing has to be commercial here.
Still some work to do, but I’m willing to spend a bit more time with it in the fall.