I’ve never cared for Alicia Keys. “Fallin'” may be the song that launched her career and got butchered at countless American Idol auditions, but “frontin'” is the verb I associate with her. Yet articulating these feelings means checking any impulse to serve as the race police. Where does a white southern girl get off calling a New Yorker of mixed racial heritage a phony?
A few months ago, I was tipsy in my house. The Grammy nominations were announced, and I went on a rant about the Arcade Fire. Deeming them Grammy bait, this dovetailed into me yelling about Taylor Swift and then, as if the heavens parted, I announced that Alicia Keys is exactly like Swift. My reasoning was that they both project an air of authenticity that I think makes them even more artificial. They also let Grammy voters feel really progressive for championing young women and artists of color, even though both artists do very little to upset traditional notions of gender and race. Also, it don’t hurt that they’re pretty and align with conventional (re: white) beauty standards. Or something like that. You’d have to ask my partner what I actually said. He thought I had a point and should explore it in a post, but he probably also thought the drunk lady needed a nap.
Shortly thereafter, I attended a bachelorette party. Back at the hotel, one of the guests put on As I Am as we were getting ready to throw lingerie at our friend (I bought a gift card to a local fetish boutique; I’m liberated, but I’m not the friend who buys you drawers). “Superwoman” came on and one of my friends mused “I really like this song.” Given the proceedings, and that the honoree was a friend from the college feminist group I was involved in, it was somewhat in the spirit of the evening. I think I gave said friend a reassuring nod and poured myself a margarita.
In theory, I like “Superwoman.” It’s got a nice message. I thought it was cool when Keys performed it with Queen Latifah and Kathleen Battle at the American Music Awards a few years back. As a feminist, I should like it. But I just can’t get into Keys. I’m bracketing off her film career, though I do want to see Smoking Aces and The Secret Life of Bees at some point. I do like one Keys song, which is also off As I Am. “Teenage Love Affair” is pretty catchy. But my enjoyment has much to do with “(Girl) I Love You” by the Temprees, which Keys’ hit generously samples from. The strings, groove, and backing beat all inform Keys’ track and make it irresistible. Keys’ vocals fluctuate between gleeful innocence and carnal grit. The lyrics, though trite, suggest expressions of teen female sexuality too complex and conflicted for the virgin/whore binary.
But I’m not fond of the video, which repurposes Spike Lee’s School Daze. The source material is a disquieting film about the political life and troubling race and gender relations at a historically black college. The clip is a sweet love story between two college students (played by Keys and Derek Luke). Luke’s character registers as sensitive because he leads demonstrations for AIDS relief in Africa (he also lines up with Keys’ charity work). Vaughn Dunlap’s anti-aparthied efforts in School Daze didn’t suggest he was an enlightened male. Like many progressive males, his activism often engendered deeply ingrained chauvinism, misogyny, and elitism.
People treat Keys like a Serious Artist when I think she’s silly. When the press dubs certain musicians as Serious Artists, I’m automatically incredulous and looking for threads to pull (I did come around on Joanna Newsom and Antony Hegarty, though). Molly Lambert recently compared Keys to fellow New Yorker Billy Joel in a write-up on “Un-thinkable,” which placed 64th on Pitchfork’s Top 100 Tracks last year. I get the comparison–they’re piano-playing balladeers with an Empire state of mind. It’d be pretty cool if Keys had a defunct metal band in her closet, though I’ll take her Cosby Show cameo.
More than anything, Keys reminds me of world-class showboater Céline Dion, who is completely artless about how her big dumb feelings play out on stage. Keys’ scenery-chewing performance of “Adore” during the Prince medley at the BET Awards? Totally a Dion move. Actually, I’d really like to see Dion roll around on a piano. Wait, no I wouldn’t. Okay, yes I would. Keys doesn’t have Dion’s pipes, but she pumps love songs with such empty bombast that it becomes ridiculous. Maybe I just filter too many things through irony. Or maybe I think there’s something hollow about her performed earnestness. It’s probably both. Back me up, Maria Bamford.
Not that Billy Joel is above being a silly goose. What is boomer pablum like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” if not dead serious and, thus, sublimely silly. Damn you, Cola wars!
There’s also something insidious about the racial politics of Keys’ critical success. Upon arrival, I was always suspicious that the press and music industry embraced Keys in response to Lauryn Hill’s rapid artistic decline. In 1999, Hill swept the Grammys. By 2002, Hill went into hiding and Keys was the lauded newcomer. Both dropped out of Columbia, won Best New Artist, and had the burden of model minority status to deal with. But Keys was the one with a steady career. She latched on to political causes that relied on institutional reform rather than radical action. Hill made one of the best records of the 90s and then promptly got branded as crazy, in part for questioning a racist music industry. One fit in, the other dropped out. Given her status, Keys was able to assert an urban black female identity, so long as it was diluted and palateble to a white audience. She did this largely through sartorial choices and in generic identification that could accomodate a mass audience.
I would imagine the presence of Keys’ white mother eased some people’s concerns. It certainly seemed to give her allowances. When she wed Swizz Beats, who was married when they got together, few raised an eyebrow. The rumor mill was not so kind to Fantasia Barrino. But I’m not making any pronouncements that Keys plays up her blackness or projects a studied black authenticity. I will say that I think it is a performance, and one I don’t particularly care for, but will leave it at that. Stronger claims are dangerous. I have no right to assume how Keys conceptualizes her identity.
Furthermore, I don’t know how one negotiates mixed heritage and issues of passing and representing. Having seen friends work through it, I can gather that it’s a fraught ongoing process but refuse to offer judgment over something I can never experience. Nor am I intending to blame Keys for benefiting from institutional racism, as I’m sure she could tell me some stories. What I am saying is that there’s something profoundly unsettling about a music industry that treats talented black women as replaceable. I am also saying Keys has benefited from this system. As has Beyoncé, an artist I like but gave me pause after she donned blackface and performed for Hannibal Gaddafi.
I don’t have a tidy conclusion to offer. I’m still struggling with why I don’t like Alicia Keys and what racist underpinings might inform my disdain. I’m tempted to chalk it up to having little regard for a competent musician championing love one bland pop song at a time, but I know it’s never that simple.
Late last year, a reader sent me an e-mail asking what my thoughts on the Lykke Li’s “Get Some.” Truth told, any news about the Swedish singer’s forthcoming Wounded Rhymes was hovering my mind’s periphery. I knew it was coming out soon and that she contributed a song for Twilight‘s New Moon soundtrack. I liked her first album Young Novels. I thought it was interesting that “I’m Good (I’m Gone)” was sung by the season nine cast of American Idol in one of their embarrassing car commercial music videos. But that was really the extent of it. So when the reader pointed that Li refers to herself as a lover’s prostitute in “Get Some,” I was pretty bummed and surprised I hadn’t heard about it. At best, it gives detractors more ammunition to claims that indie recording artists are the quickest to sell out.
Look, I’m not here to knock prostitutes. I’m starting on the second season of Deadwood, and Trixie is one the show’s most interesting characters. I understand that several feminists have spoken in defense of their work, including a lawyer friend of mine who wrote a really stunning piece of legal writing on the subject when she was in school. I recognize that many people go into prostitution on their own accord and derive pleasure and self-empowerment from their work. As their work often gets collapsed in with human trafficking (which is an altogether different matter and should be eradicated), we should recognize that sex workers are real people who are providing services. Frankly, I think they should get health benefits and union rights like other professions do in the states. But I also feel beyond uncomfortable with a society that places a dollar value on exchanging sexual favors with paid strangers.
As a feminist, I’m ambivalent about prostitution as a profession. However, I’m really not okay with female pop stars self-identifying as prostitutes in their songs, particularly as misguided attempts to gin up controversy, construct blockhead metaphors about the power dynamics of female sexuality, or be edgy. I get that Li is Swedish and thus may have a different outlook on it than this ugly American. However, though it’s perhaps meant to be perceived as transgressive, women playing the whore ultimately seems like such a safe play. It presents the illusion of confronting taboos around sexuality, but casts women in the societal roles ascribed for them. This is why I’m probably not going to get much out of the penis P.O.V. shots that await me when I get around to seeing Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void. Maybe by the time they appear, I’ll have fallen asleep or smashed my television.
It’s a tenuous connection fraught with racial difference, but Li’s single made me wonder why I celebrate Rihanna’s sexual frankness or am more accommodating of Keri Hilson’s gleefully explicit “The Way You Love Me.” I think we still might live in a culture where black women declaring and demanding sexual gratification on their own terms is unfortunately really unsettling for many people. Though I certainly hope that these women are recognized for more than their libido, I’m glad their pleasure doesn’t seem to come with a price tag.
Five days ago, Chloe Angyal wrote a piece for Tiger Beatdown entitled “Miley Cyrus < Betty Friedan: On the Search for a Feminist Pop Star.” Springboarding off The Frisky’s Jessica Wakeman’s assessment that Miley Cyrus’s new single and accompanying music video for “Can’t Me Tamed” is empowering for girls, Angyal chided some critics’ need to claim female celebrities who project even the slightest sense of self-empowerment as feminist. She also called into question whether or not feminism and pop culture can ever really go together. As a fan of the site (it’s on my blogroll), I of course read it and RTed (follow me @ms_vz).
I’m right with Angyal on most of this. I had just read Rachel Fudge’s essay “Girl, Unreconstructed: Why Girl Power is Bad for Feminism” that a Girls Rock Camp Austin volunteer forwarded, so I was certainly in the right headspace. The line “It’s tempting, but ultimately misguided, to try to make feminist mountains out of girl power molehills” particularly spoke to me. Also, I was also frustrated by Wakeman’s piece, as it assumed that pop music and MTV were the portals through which all girls take their cues, thus absenting girls who don’t have access, reject these offerings, or perhaps find some middle ground. Also, I thought the clip was a blatant attempt to reinvent a girl pop star into an “adult” artist who equates edge with wearing lingerie and smudged eyeliner.
However, I took issue with some of Angyal’s argument. Kristen at Act Your Age left a great comment outlining the lack of actual girls’ perspectives in feminist criticism. She also pointed out that pop music is still often assumed as the bad object against which punk and riot grrrl fought and superceded, a bias we confront in our work with GRCA by trying to dialog musical genres with one another in our music history workshops. But I thought I’d add a few additional concerns. Originally, I was going to post them as a comment to the article. However, it’s been nearly a week since the article was published — a lifetime in the blogosphere. Plus, I figured I could work through some of these issues here and reassert this blog as a communal space for feminist exchanges about music culture.
1. Angyal’s major critique seems to be less about who gets labeled a feminist role model and more toward who does the labeling. To me, she was lobbing her complaint at writers who want to argue the progressive powers of pop music with minimal consideration for enlightened sexism, capitalism, division of labor, corporate enterprising, branding, media saturation, and taste engineering cultivation. I say “here here.” But then I also do this sort of analysis myself. What’s more, I’d like to think I do it on both sides of the mainstream/underground divide, where the lines continue to blur. I know I don’t have the clout or name recognition of more prominent feminist bloggers, and perhaps I’ll cultivate it with time. But I’m here, and so is this blog.
I think Angyal might also be frustrated with how quick writers are to jump on Tweeting trends and topics that guarantee high SEOs. I may be projecting, as this is something that bothers me and I rebel against. Often, I find myself recalling and revisiting bygone or obscure texts to argue their historical merit or dialog them with the present. If I do write about current popular texts, I don’t have much interest in covering them quickly at the expense of evaluation time. I’m not sold on the idea that trends = cultural relevance any more than I am that Sleater-Kinney is inherently better than Nicki Minaj. While I have upon occasion covered a person or topic that was popular and got me some hits, I only did it when I felt I had critical insights to lend. Thus, it can be frustrating when I get traffic because a bunch of people were Googling Megan Fox, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Taylor Momsen, or Miley Cyrus, as has happened to Kristen. On the one hand, hits are great. But those figures are bloated and misleading and may misrepresent my work, because this blog has only sporadic concern with what’s of the moment. But when it does, I hope I treat it with a consistent critical rigor. After all, there truly is no perfect text.
2. Since there is contention between mainstream and indie culture, I’d like to point out that the matter of identifying as a feminist is just as much a concern in the underground and on the fringes of music culture as it is under the mainstream’s spotlight. As a feminist music geek who tends to root for the underdog, I’m often faced with the reality that many of the artists I love — indeed, many of the artists who pointed me toward feminism — don’t identify as feminists. Björk and PJ Harvey don’t, nor does Patti Smith. Rappers like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and many others don’t either, though for reasons that perhaps speak more to racial exclusion, as feminism tends to be a white women’s domain. There are many artists I like whose feminist politics I don’t have a grasp on, including forward-thinking women like Kate Bush, M.I.A., Joanna Newsom, and Janelle Monáe.
There are also artists who do identify as feminist who give me pause. Courtney Love has used feminism to validate her outspoken persona and rail against industry sexism. She has also used it to justify getting plastic surgery, an argument that I take issue with because it obscures class privilege, ingrained beauty standards, and weakens the political potential of choice. Lily Allen has employed the term at times, though her actions and behavior at times suggest that she extols the supposedly feminist virtues of being a brat. Lady Gaga is only starting to claim any identification with feminism. Even confirmed feminists like Sleater-Kinney, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Le Tigre, Gossip, and Yoko Ono — who I admire a great deal for their musical contributions and political convictions — should be subject to scrutiny and considered as individual feminists rather than as a monolithic representation of who a “good” feminist is.
Also, rather than considering pop music as an endpoint or part of a binary, it should be dialoged with other genres and mediums. Recently, Anna at Girls Rock Camp Houston dropped me a line asking about my thoughts on new criticism against Lady Gaga from Mark Dery and Joanna Newsom. As their criticisms questioned her supposed edginess, called out her obvious indebtedness to Madonna, and argued over a lack of musical songcraft, it immediately recalled recent sound bites from Michel Gondry, M.I.A., and Grace Jones deflating the pop star’s artistic inclinations.
I’m of two minds about these detractors’ comments. On the one hand, I still agree. In the year since I first posted about Gaga, I’ve essentially gathered greater nuance for the pop star while still arriving to the same conclusions. Save for a few hits (“Beautiful, Dirty, Rich,” “Bad Romance,” “Monster”), I still think her music is fairly boring and could have much more political bite than it actually does. I thought her American Idol performance of “Alejandro” was overblown. It’s also a fair point to bring up how Gaga lifts from other cultural texts, just as Madonna has throughout her career. And like Amanda Marcotte, I think there are lots of other interesting female musicians doing work we should be following. I mean, is it really a crime not to find Gaga interesting? Does Gaga have to be the female savior of pop music? Can we not look elsewhere? Also, in the cases of Newsom, M.I.A., and Jones, do we have to assume that their criticisms are just examples of female cattiness?
Yet something about these comments smacks of the idealized notion of art vs. commerce, with Gaga imitating one while supposedly embodying the latter. So, I call bullshit, because it’s not like these musicians and this video director don’t also dabble with both. Also, how would they speak of, say, Karen O, another female musician who makes femininity Marilyn Manson grotesque. Would they simply sniff that she did it before Gaga? Would they give her the point because she’s mocked art stars while also being one?
In short, feminism is tricky from all sides. It’s not one thing and it’s never perfect.
3. Finally, I follow commenter Tasha Fierce and take issue with Angyal’s supposition that Betty Friedan is an exemplar of feminism. She penned The Feminine Mystique and founded NOW. She also helped position feminism as a middle-class, college-education, white ladies’ game. She also referred to lesbian separatists as “the lavender menace,” though later recanted. Thus, just as I don’t want Miley Cyrus to be the ambassador for girl power, I don’t believe we should have one (straight, white, middle-class, adult, cisgender, able-bodied) female represent feminism. Let’s encourage discourse, even at the expense of comfort. Consider me a willing participant.
I kick off the penultimate week of “Tuning In” with my thoughts on the Crystal Bowersox, American Idol‘s lone female contestant.
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.
Sigh. The things I do in the name of research.
I finished watching the first season of Rockville CA, an irritating Web show brought to the masses via Josh Schwartz, the wunderkind behind The O.C., Chuck, and Gossip Girl. Who knew 20 six-minute Webisodes would weigh down on me like a lead balloon?
Note: After hearing lead fanboy Hunter crack whip-smart for about two hours, I will resist all urges to make a Led Zeppelin reference.
My friend Kristen brought the show to my attention, as she does with many things, after sending me this interesting New York Times piece on it.
So, I’ll be honest. I kind of have an axe to grind with the Schwartz empire anyway. Mainly because it has commodified music geekery in the most generic, bland, pretend-smart, pretend-cool way possible (shooting daggers at you, Seth Cohen).
It could be a knee-jerk reaction. Schwartz’s right-hand lady, music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, who co-produced Rockville CA and, like me, also got her start in college radio, has a job I’d kill for and know I could do so much better if I wanted to use my record collection to underscore beautifully-lit, woodenly-acted scenes of teen angst and lust. In short, my irritation could be simply reduced to “bitch took my job.”
But it’s never that simple.
Or is it? Christ, the things that are wrong with this show are so by-the-book.
1. The set-up. Oh, you know this one. If you’re seen any romantic comedy, ever, you’ve got this one down. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets . . . you know what? Not even gonna finish the sentence. You’ve got it.
2. You know the couple — Deb and Hunter — are in love because they hate each other instantly and start arguing. I don’t know where this narrative contrivance began, but this has never happened to me. Usually, if I like someone, the attraction has nothing to do with wanting to rip the person’s face off until enough people are like “hey, you two would make a cute couple” that I think “you know what, you’re right! This annoying person who I cannot stand is actually pumping my ‘nads.” No, when I purport to not find you appealing, I don’t actually want to go on a date and kiss in the rain or whatever. I actually don’t want to be seen with you socially at all.
3. Perhaps I’m being unfair about my next point in conjunction with point #2, as many romantic comedies hinge on adult couples not meeting cute, but this premise seems very high school. Especially for men, as Hunter sweats and stammers immature misogyny. Through 17 of the 20 episodes, his actions and banter seem to say, “I don’t like her, she has cooties! She scares me . . . I think my body is changing. I’m compelled to her, but I don’t know why. Foul temptress! I was much safer with my comic books, G.I. Joe figurines, and Ramones records!”
In fact, perhaps unsurprisingly given Schwartz’s involvement, this show reads like a high school melodrama. The nerdy hot girl with glasses. The pretty blonde girl who is friends with the nerdy hot girl with glasses that the male lead originally finds attractive (there’s a bit of The Truth About Cats and Dogs in there too). The unattainable hunk that the nerdy hot girl with glasses likes (at school it’d be a football player; here, it’s a bassist). The wise elder who is charmed nostalgic by all the angst and endearing awkwardness. And even though the show takes place at a venue (where the show gets its name), it could just as easily take place in in the high school gym, made all glittery for prom, or in the library, during weekend detention. I’ve been to Southern California. It’s a little dangerous and a little seedy. That’s part of its charm. This show turns it into an American Eagle ad. Or a womb. Whatever.
4. If this is what music geeks are really like, we are insufferable. By that, I mean, if we are, in fact, indexical, socially-inept, commodity fetishists. If all we do is make snide comments, droll asides, and catalogical recitations of bands and their output, we are lame. The show would also suggest that we are completely beholden to capitalism and instant gratification, blind to corporate enterprising’s hold on us, what with the show’s incessant plugging of Heineken. In short, if we are what this show suggests we are, we are sheep.
5. Goddamn, is the music awful. A perhaps promising trapping of the show is that each episode takes place during a different concert. However, almost everyone sounds like a reduced, flattened, laminated version of some pre-existing band (usually Joy Division or U2).
And, as you can imagine, almost all these bands are comprised of white dudes. Earlimart, The Duke Spirit, and a couple others are exceptions, but I’ll bet you know what position most of the women (who are the lone female in each band) occupy. Also, Lykke Li is in an episode, which kinda bums me out, as I like Lykke Li. But I already heard “Dance Dance Dance” at a Victoria’s Secret and “I’m Good, I’m Gone” on American Idol, so she’s already been co-opted.
6. The “clever” banter. Puns are the lowest form of comedy, and any punchline based on making a play on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is lower still. Hunter is the worst perpetrator, but Deb slings her share of barbs as well. Plus, people are never that funny and quick. It was unbelievable in the first half of Juno, when all the characters were always so damn quippy. Like Dawson’s Creek before it, the dialogue is completely fictive in Rockville CA.
Kristen’s big question at the time she sent it was “Web series that codes the music geek as male maybe?” And one thing that is good about the show is that I can say “No, not exclusively.” However, I must qualify . . .
It’s true, Deb is a confirmed music geek. And a music professional as well (fresh out of college, she works in A and R; I hope she finds a nobler calling in the biz soon). Thus, in many ways, Rockville CA is a workplace comedy for her (not so much for Hunter — he basically, and appropriately, sells digital ad space).
Unfortunately, Deb’s not very discriminating, stating that almost every band playing at Rockville is “major” (a doubly-unfortunate connotation, bringing to mind both Victoria Beckham and the corporate label system; indeed, any time she says a band is “major,” she may as well be saying “ready for the majors!”).
Also, while she does get to exhibit geek savvy, like correcting her crush (Syd, the elusive bass player for Australia) when he says Ian Brown was the frontman for Teenage Fanclub (he actually sang for The Stone Roses), she is given the cold shoulder and reminded by Callie, Rockville’s leggy waitress, that guys, um, like, like to be right sometimes and, like, don’t like to be proven wrong. And while Deb vocally rejects Callie’s advice, it doesn’t keep her from looking in the mirror and taking her hair out of its ponytail at the end of the episode (I think the black-out came just before she took off her glasses).
Thankfully, Deb is not alone as a music geek, a fact that Shaun is happy to exclaim. Though Callie and Isabel, Deb’s needy friend who wears stripper heels “ironically” to seduce a musician she hooked up with previously, are a bit regressive — though both seem like true friends to Deb — Shaun has potential. For Shaun, who owns Rockville, the show may also be considered a workplace comedy. Shaun’s presence is heartening; she’s tough, smart and also a hot, older single lady (picture Allison Janey playing Kim Gordon — not the worst, right?).
However, she ends up selling out, signing her bar over to Chambers, a tow-headed poser, and his business partner, who wants to phase out the bands and bring in more DJs. This happened in the finale. I’m hoping that if the show gets a second season (and I can bear to watch it), Shaun becomes a tough entrepreneuse and fights it. I sense a benefit on the way.
By the way, while I love deejays, I take the new (evil, soulless) owners’ hope to maximize profits by bringing deejays in as a way to suggest that the artform (and its raced, classed implications) as being denigrated alongside of the show’s clear investment in rock, perhaps aligning with Lisa Lewis’s assertion that early MTV catered to “rock’s white-male bias” (see “The Making of a Preferred Address” in Lisa A. Lewis’s Gender Politics and MTV: Voicing the Difference). There’s several mentions throughout the show that rock is the supreme genre in popular music, suggesting that it is pure and authentic and ignoring the ways in which rock steals from other genres, and the white-washing that occurs in the process.
Which brings me to race. If you’re picturing a bunch of white people bickering with one another when they aren’t kissing or playing, you’d be right. There are two people of color on the show (three if you count Isabel, who is played by Natalie Morales).
One is the doorman, Hugh, who is African American. He kinda had a promising bit at the beginning of the first few episodes where he’d freeze Hunter out of the club because he didn’t like him. This would create moments where Hunter would exhibit painful displays of white guilt by trying to seem down and then fearful that he accidentally said something racist. Deb, who is Hugh’s friend, would get him in as her plus-one. In these episodes, Hugh would be reading a different book, like The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. In other words, a smart guy with layers who wasn’t charmed by Hunter. More Hugh, please.
The other character is Annie, the Asian photographer who never speaks (the actress, Chris Yen, is Chinese American). SHE NEVER SPEAKS. In all 20 episodes, not a line of dialogue. While it’s interesting that she’s a photographer, and is always snapping shots of the bands and the venue’s denizens, having her be a silent outsider distanced by the camera kinda, you know, others her. Let’s get her to strike up a conversation with somebody. A great instance would be when Shaun threatens to set her on fire if she takes any pictures of her. Kind of an unfortunate line, as I tend to think of this image. Anyway, Annie could totally put down her camera and call Shaun out. But she doesn’t.
And that, in its way, encapsulates Rockville CA. A fair amount of promise, a lot of missed opportunities.
Last week was a bit of a whirlwind (literally, a whirl of wind), so I didn’t get a chance to properly eulogize Allison Iraheta, my pick for this season’s American Idol, who I feel had more in her.
So, there’s plenty to be sad about. In my opinion, Allison simply has the best vocals in the competition. But to add to her raw talent, she’s only 17 (something I often forget when I hear her whiskey-throated voice), one of the few girls who’s had a real shot at winning (Jordin Sparks won season six at 16, Paris Bennett was 17 when she placed 5th in season five). Also, in a season as white as this one has been, Allison was one of the few people of color left in the competition (she’s of Salvadorean descent). But I also loved her unpolishedness. She wasn’t slick, was a bit loopy, and a bit of a mumbler. And she’d always roll her eyes at Ryan Seacrest — indeed, I think I would too. Oh, and she wasn’t stick-thin and didn’t slim down like some of the other contestants (Megan Joy, I’m looking at you). I appreciated that.
And the real tragedy is that she lost after killing Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby.” And who was spared, you may ask? Danny fucking Gokey. Ugh, the worst. Apart from the fact that he sounds just like Michael Bolton, he butchered “Dream On,” the blandest song by Aerosmith, the blandest band that still endures for some reason. And if you can get through that last note, you’re made of thicker stuff than I.
I have other problems with Gokey too. If you’re watching the show, doesn’t he seem like the most self-serious, humorless, uncool, egotistical guy to you too? He cannot laugh at himself or take criticism. Seriously, anyone that concerned with having a coordinated designer pair of eyeglasses for each outfit has gotta be a jerk. He was pretty much done for me in auditions, when he seemed to using the recent death of his wife as a means with which to frame himself and set himself apart in the competition. The only joy I’ve ever really derived from his presence on the show is making his song selections be about dead wives. For example, take Motown week, when he did “Get Ready” by The Temptations. Take the opening line “Never met a girl who makes me feel the way that you do” and sub out “you’re all right” with “but you died.” Instant funny.
But, at the same time, I have high hopes for Iraheta. The AV Club’s Claire Zulkey hopes that Iraheta gets to show up Disney tween sensations like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato and show them how to really rock without the mouse (though, sadly, still within a major label system). I do too.
So, we’re down to three contestants, all of whom are adult white dudes. We’ve got the inoffensive Christian hottie-next-door (Kris), the high camp rocker that I hope kisses one of his fellow competitors on stage (Adam), and the offensive Christian d-bag (Danny). At this point, I don’t really care who wins (theoretically, I’m backing Adam, but in terms of actual preference, meh). Just please don’t let Bolton Light win. Otherwise, I might have to make like Iraheta and punch him in the chest.