Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Pop comfort

"You don't feel at all sorry for Britney?," Joseph asks the teenage girl sitting at our table on the first day of Coachella.

"No!! Why? She messed herself up. And she didn't donate anything to help out after Katrina."

Joseph nods--a nod of acceptance rather than agreement. The girl doesn't know that this is Joseph Kahn, someone who helped shape Britney's pop image in her heyday.

I do feel sorry for Britney Spears.

It's less a mere case of her abandoning her fans than it is of her fans turning their back on her product. Everybody needs somebody to hate. It's a fool's version of self-worth. Celebrities are prime targets because it's easy to not look at them as real people. Those with success are the easiest targets of scorn. When the world's impotence gets directed at Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, of course it makes them lose their minds. They're built as products by the people, and destroyed with even more glee.

If I walk down a busy street in Halifax, maybe 1 in 100 people will let me know they recognize me from that drawing in The Coast where I look like a stoned Rabbi. Everybody in the world knows who Britney Spears is.

You're also responsible for killing Anna Nicole Smith.

As I wrote in my review of Vacancy, our Culture of Celebrity is also a Culture of Death.

After the Britney Spears chat at Coachella, we got up to see Peeping Tom, Mike Patton's most recent musical act. Peeping Tom's CD is ok, but on stage they're really on fire. Patton's variation of cooing, barking metal, and Jim Carrey elasticity is backed up with a female chorus and Dan the Automator.

"You guys want to hear a funny joke?," Patton shouts into the crowd. "The Arctic Monkeys!"

But this represents a troubling pop attitude as well. Speaking as a Patton fan, and someone who 8 years ago would identify as a big Patton fan, I'm troubled by the tendency to place the artistic value of one brand of pop music over another, based on its compatibility with a person's taste. Patton is a master at what he does, but the artistry involved calls more attention to itself than what Kelly Clarkson does. It's the whole Spielberg-dilemma: The filmmaking mastery is often invisible, so dull critics assume it isn't there.

Just as it was necessary to digitally adjust the size of Clarkson's booty in a video, Mike Patton delivers to an audience that expects a certain thing. It's a hard style of music to catch on to, but once you manage it becomes comfortable. A real challenge for Patton's listeners would be to give them a song that could make them cry.

The same goes for Bjork, who headlined that night. First stepping out on stage wearing a dress flowing from a white, spotted cushion hat, that made her look like a cross between ancient royalty and the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man, she got the crowd into her weird trance with her new single "Earth Intruders."

Surrounded by a sea of people, I looked around me to see what other Bjork fans look like. I was expecting something weirder; they're the general Coachella population. Bjork was giving us our anticipated dose of Icelandic quirk... exactly what we want from a Bjork concert.

After certain songs she would enthusiastically intone into the microphone a too-cute, "Zhank you!!"

It was a great performance, but I was more challenged trying to make my way out of the crowd to get an early start on the parking lot exodus than I was by anything on stage. (A plan which turned out to be completely futile, since finding where you parked at Coachella is the reason Al Gore invented the needle in the haystack analogy.)

It felt like a half-mile walk out of that crowd. The three most difficult factors with trying to squeeze out of a festival performance early are the assholes who will do anything to not let you by, not knowing how frequently you're expected to say "Excuse me," and avoiding the stoned people that think it's smart to lie on the ground at night. Girl I stepped on: I'm sorry, but you're stupid.

The music from the stage was a strangeness that felt much more comfortable.


Phil Raymond said...

Nice post. What other bands did you catch?

Also, does Joseph have an Entourage?

Mark Palermo said...


I saw Amy Winehouse and (sort of) Interpol. It was 100 degrees, and there's a hike between stages.

An entourage? Hmm. He has a loyal group of friends. But I think he could survive Coachella without the entourage if need be. Joseph Kahn is a self-contained eco-system.

SMS said...

Great entry, as for the “invisible artistry” remark I agree. I sometimes don’t think the artistry is invisible it’s just that the people who define or canonize films or music sometimes pay no attention to anything that is considered “pop”. Here is an example: I work at an independent record shop in the heart of the suburbs. Now the majority of our customers are big music fans. Many of these music fans pay little or no attention to contemporary “pop” music. They are the disciples of Dylan and purveyors off all that is “good music”. To them Britney was garbage for the masses with no artistic value or substance. That was until Richard Thompson covered “Baby One More Time” on his songs of the millennium concert. All of a sudden the song was dragged out of the garbage by these snobs and declared a well written pop song. So maybe all that Spielberg needs is a shot by shot remake of ET by Gus Van Sant.

Mark Palermo said...

SMS, that's a good point about the people who define these things. There's a certain level at which they're comfortable looking for artistry. If it's something that fits too nicely on the pop market, not many of them make the effort.

BIG Nikki said...

That girl IS stupid! ha ha
But I kind of think Brittney Spears is too. Thank goodness I am not a pop star.