Monday, November 23, 2009

In the Shadows of Our Younger Selves

i didn't want to blog about the american music awards (AMAs).  i really didn't.  but something significant struck me about a couple of the performances.  there were at least 3 women (2 of whom are generally praised as icons) who in many ways were competing with their former selves while on that stage.

janet jackson opened the awards show with a medley of some of her up-tempo hits and her latest single, "make me."  though her attire left everything to the imagination (i just had the brilliant epiphany that maybe the bucksin 'fit was a nod to peter pan, for her brother.  that wasn't a joke.), for the most part the choreography was a throwback to the janet we all know and love.  and i think that's what made the performance odd for me.  she's certainly evolved as a person and a woman.  why don't we get this in her new music and her stage show?  one might argue that she's catering to a younger crowd (not the near-30-somethings and older who make up the majority of her fanbase), but the poor sales of her last 3 studio albums (the most recent didn't even go gold) should suggest that might not be a good game plan. interestingly, i thought her single "twenty foreplay" foretold of what the more mature janet might produce.  it was demure yet sexy, classic in its hat-tip to the legendary dorothy dandridge.  that was 1996.  i'm not always right.


after writing that last paragraph and taking a mental trip down janet's memory lane of entertainment greatness, i've decided to not devote a lengthy paragraph to jennifer lopez and her performance.  that one's too obvious.  "...not in the same league, don't shoot at the same baskets" -jay-z.  i'm right on this one.

that brings us to whit.  ms. houston gave her highly-anticipated performance of her latest single, "i didn't know my own strength" to a slew of viewers, some praying for the best, and surely some praying for disaster.  what we all got was something in between.  whitney has definitely lost her famous powerhouse voice to drugs and hard living.  and in their joy that she was able to come back from rock bottom (stop), many viewers praised her underwhelming performance as if her comeback had actually reached their expectations.  and maybe it did.  but the song was dull (and not just because robert "'r' is for fill-in-the-blank" kelly wrote it), and her vocal delivery rarely accomplished more than a speaking voice.


what's my point?  i have a couple.  i think we're often expected to be who we've been.  as people.  as artists.  as [insert myriad roles here].  and i think that's unfortunate, especially when we've grown beyond our younger selves. "people keep talkin 'bout 'hov, take em back'. i'm doing better than before; why would i do that?" -jay-z.  somebody should really make me stop quoting him.  another point is that once artists have reached "icon" status, we often are so overwhelmed by the memories of their ascent that we're not really paying attention to the person before us now.  on one level, that shows respect for the artist's greatness.  on another level, it's an insult for us not to continue to expect actual greatness.  and when (hear that, universe?  when) i'm so fortunate as to reach my own desired level of greatness, i don't want anyone to let me off that easily.  mj blew audiences away to the very end (and beyond) with his performances, not just with his legacy.

evolution is beautiful by nature.  and once we as a culture embrace it wholeheartedly, our idols will be able to more gracefully do the same.

be.  fly.
rhythm

12 comments:

naila said...

Adriana Evans has a song - Former Self, i think all women should internalize it

rhythm said...

i can't find a free link anywhere. link me or email it to me?

Jay Fitty said...

Great blog...I didn't see the performance but I saw her GMA performance and I realized the star we once knew is gone as well. But I hope she finds a way to reinvent herself and (maybe) write her own music. The reason why Jay-Z has and Michael Jackson was able to consistantly 'blow us away' as you said is because Jay always does and Mike always did expect greatness from themselves. Most celebs and even us 'regular' folk don't always expect greatness of themselves. That's when the star starts to dull and Whitney's star dulled the moment she felt drugs were more important than her career. A reinvented Whitney living in the now, not in the past, I think, would still be great because she would be real. Real people make mistakes, real people fall down, real people get old and are not like we were 10-15 years ago. The great ones find a way to be great even as they get older and further away from their 'glory days'.

Black Root said...

Therein lies the irony of what the perception of a 'good' artist is.. If you grow too much as an individual and evolve with you passion you can be deemed by many as 'weird' or 'going left' i.e Electric Circus or The New Danger..or Even Gnarls Barkley..(I'm very Cee-Lo biased btw)... If you maintain the same style you had that made you popular with little variance you become DMX..or if you are lucky.Raekwon.. Great album.. but it took him 10 years to make damn near the same album twice... I'm sure he isn't still cooking drugs in the kitchen..c'mon dog.. your almost 40.....Your best bet as an artist is do it for yourself and what you feel your intended purpose is. Share your talents and harness your inspiration...

Anna Renee said...

Great blog Sister! And a great post. I love your definition of SisterGarten. I was a bit nervous for Whitney as I know people have great expectations for her. I was a bit embarassed by her lost voice, but exultant for her found self! I think the danger for artists is when they become too good! Then we tend to idolize them and make icons of them and demand that they compete with our unreal expectations of perfection. Whitney tells me by continuing to sing that she has triumphed and some things are lost on the way to winning the war! She's found her garden!

rhythm said...

great points by all. and welcome to the new sister- (and brother-) gartners.

LoudPen said...

Man, I thought Whitney killed it. Not in the Superbowl performance of 80s kinda way but I think that's the best I've seen her look & sound in awhile. I know you expected more, but, if that's the case aren't you somewhat contradicting yourself? I mean, in the post you eloquently stated that artists need to grow & change and accept their evolved selves.

Well, sadly Whitney's growth and change happened after a "dark" period of her life, therefore, by that assessment it's impossible for her to sound the same.

I mean I think she sounded good for who she is now, which according to most is a woman who overcame drug abuse, so in essence she has evolved. It seems that most are more so disappointed b/c the AMAs proved that the Whitney we once knew & loved is gone (vocally) and she has been replaced by a regular (b/c she didn't sound bad IMO) singing voice.

Lovin the blog! Sorry I had to come & contradict your point, debating is in my DNA!

rhythm said...

thanks for your thoughts. actually i didn't expect more so i don't feel contradicted. but i'm almost always open to debate.

and no, whitney didn't sound "bad," but she didn't particulary sound good either. that same performance from a non-"icon" would've gotten torn apart.

DShanX said...

Well written and pretty sad! I think another point is none of these women crafted their own sound. It's hard to evolve when you never had your own voice. I think Janet's the only one who's ever penned her own song out of the three. So now you're getting placed with writers and producers almost half your age trying to give you a new sound. Janet should have took it to Vegas ten years ago. She would've killed it!

Max Reddick said...

Whaddup Rhythm? *waves and moonwalks in a circle* You have truly outdone yourself with this post. I sometimes believe that we all have our own unique vision of what our favorite artists are, and when they step outside that vision, we are left scratching our heads. But I really love that line "evolution is beautiful." We have no right to expect artists to remain in the same place. In fact, we should encourage our artists to evolve, to explore the full range of their artistic capacity. And as they evolve, so should we.

Someone once told me that if a year from now you look down and find that you are in the same spot you were when that year started, something is terribly wrong. We should forever endeavor to grow, to evolve, to forever move toward that mark of a higher calling.

i.am.fly

Max

rhythm said...

max, i love that "i.am.fly." so much i can't even focus on the rest :). oh, wait. i can focus on the moonwalk.

The Company Man said...

Its unfortunate that this happens. Streets Disciple, Hip Hop Is Dead, Lost Tapes, Untitled, GodsSon, Stillmatic -- pretty impressive run for Nas, but no one appreciates since he made Illmatic.

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