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Jai Yen

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Tag Archives: celine dion

there’s been an interesting little tit for tat on teh blogs re: the rehabilitation of “Don’t Stop Believin'” as a hit for the ages (now available as totally awesome for the first time in the UK!). I think Scott’s right on point, here: a lot of popular music, back in the halcyon days of the great authenticity divide, was considered illegitimate solely based on the performer’s close ties with the industry. As these associations become eroded by time, the keepers of the pop/rock pantheon – largely including contemporary creators like David Chase – can capitalize afresh on the song’s genuine awesomeness without tapping into that aversion to big industry names. 2005 brought Journey back to younger audiences in a big way, not just thanks to the White Sox, but also Lauren & Stephen (fwd to 2:30 for a clip of the moment in the show. ah, how fan montages skirt copyright infringement….)

and the Family Guy bit where peter & pals sing the song at karaoke, and really, an endless string of college keg parties (if i could count the number of times…).

we know well enough how the advent of p2p filesharing and streaming video exonerated listeners of mainstream pop music from listening to the wrong thing, since we no longer have to pay money to the big bads in order to jam out to our bad goods. this, of course, also opened the door to major label top 3’s by indie tastemakers, and brought along with it the rap against rockism. funny, though, how many of us still feel guilty of our guilty pleasures regardless of money spent, signaling a sense of ethical value tied to music that goes beyond economics! there’s a lot to untangle with the ethics of musical taste; i’ll suffice it to say here that our lingering guilt for liking cheesy pop music is probably not without good reason. it is also largely responsible for the biggest prank in internet history. (…and another pop gem’s awesomeness hath been restored!)

so here’s an oldie-but-goodie that hasn’t yet triumphed anew:

in 1996, céline epitomized soft rock bombast, and thus everything that was wrong with mainstream music. now that hipsters have come to realize that smooth music really can rawk, it’s only a matter of time before this one blows up. which is to say, if it hasn’t already – i’ve already been led through a dozen or so sing-alongs with this song over the last couple of years, which has led me to believe that most people actually really love this song, deep down. granted, i hang out with more gay guys than the average american, but still – you bust this out at your next karaoke night, and just see whose devil horns shoot up first. because, friends, this song is EPIC, just like journey is EPIC and lady gaga’s videos are totally EPIC and this song too was so incredibly wtf EPIC!!!

EPIC-ness has caught on in a big way over the last few years, but you wouldn’t be caught dead in the mid-90’s sacrificing the indifference of your ironic hipness to the gods of the monster ballad. now, though, an epic quality is a boon: it evinces the balls that were ne’er to be found in the cynical nineties and early-oughts. not the balls of mortal men, mind you – i’m talking the balls of a performer who can carry the drama of a song through sheer force, through the bedazzling spectacle of vocal acrobatics and soaring guitar leads. let’s stick with my sexist metaphor for a while: these here balls might be contrasted with the brain of the songwriter that lends drama by different means: through a sly chord progression, or a poignant lyric, or what have you. what’s long been denigrated in music history is the songwriting brain that instead lends force to these balls, stroking them and caressing them in all the right places so that the performer might propel the song into the stratosphere of high melodrama juuuust at the right moment. in the case of céline, this happens right at 4:33 in the video – that “baby! baby! baby!” just hits so perfectly, right at the tail end of a lengthy chord progression stretching out the tension to beethovenian proportions, just as the tempo slows dramatically, readying the listener for the full rush of satisfaction that comes with the recognition of a chorus returned. this isn’t (just) a cheap pop trick – it’s a classically engineered narrative climax, a peak in the story told by sound in motion.

high drama in pop music has a long history of denigration, from country to soft rock to musical theater, as something that signals unrefined taste and sentimentality. high drama also has a longer history of artistry and admiration, from grand opéra all the way back to, oh, right, THE EPIC BALLAD. i reckon that its disparagement within pop music spheres, like that of journey, has to do with its close ties to industry, ties that are being remade all over the place currently. surely the ties will take hold again in all the wrong ways, but for the time being, it would be nice to appreciate just what is so great about big drama in big music. my boyfriend and i got into a tiff a couple weeks back on this point: he was of the mind that dolly parton’s “i will always love you,” like most originals performed by the songwriter, was better than whitney’s, and just because whitney could “sing the fuck outta that song” doesn’t mean that she did it better. to which i would agree that, yes, singing the fuck outta any song doesn’t automatically make it better, but what about singing the fuck outta something that needs to be sung the fuck outta? turns out that dolly’s song was conducive to the stop-and-start magic of whitney’s recording that, in my opinion, transcends dolly’s. (to be fair, dolly’s recording has way more heart, where whitney’s only has flair.) whoever arranged this song for whitney deserves a medal (although i imagine they’ve already made a fat dollar on the song, so whatevs) – starting off with whitney’s solo voice at the beginning was a brilliant stroke in itself, but the way it leads up to that caesura at 3:09, only for whitney to bust it open in a key one half step up, is a masterstroke in suspense and release. and then there’s whitney’s vocals (R.I.P.), coasting on effortless melismas and embellishments, sailing easy into the money spot – there are balls, people, and then there are whitney’s balls.

i’d be interested in reading and discussing more about what makes high drama good, as opposed to cheap – something broadway and opera fans know a lot more about than i do. in related news, i’ve got carl wilson’s book on céline and bad taste on the reading docket. i wonder if he talks much about the depreciation of big drama in pop tastes?

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