Friday, August 26, 2011

Pop Goes the Mousey

So, once again, I need to make a confession. Despite being unabashedly obsessed with pop culture, I am somewhat of an elitist about it. And I get pretty vicious about stuff that I'm not a fan of. Tom and I have gotten into some pretty heated conversations because neither one of us really has a filter when it comes to saying what we mean and meaning what we say. On top of that, we have wildly different tastes when it comes to most things- save Disney, of course. That's where our fandom converges and it's partially what brought us together.

I'm so surprised! I had no idea these huge
sparkly Mickey ears would be here, too!
That being said, one of the things that has irked me the most over the past few years is the new crop of Disney Channel stars and the mania that surrounds them. Recently, I have come to the realization that it's just my inner Carl from Up taking over. Who knew that you could get curmudgeonly at age 30? I moaned on about how Disney used to give us stars like Hayley Mills and Annette Funicello and now we get Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez? What the what? Back when I was growing up, they even gave us Xtina and Brit Brit. Grumble, grumble, blah blah blah.

One of the things I am most adamant about is that you should never judge anything before you have given it a fair shake. I realized lately that I have barely listened to any music by or watched TV shows starring these kids. It's been all blustering and knee-jerk reactions. In the interest of equity, I decided to give some of their music a chance and I was actually kind of surprised by what I discovered.

Firstly, let me say that if I look at it objectively, Hayley and Annette are not exactly supernaturally talented singers. Both have made it very well known that they did not consider themselves singers and were rather uncomfortable behind a microphone. I love listening to my Let's Get Together with Hayley Mills CD. It was part of a series, called the Disney Archive Collection, of classic albums that were re-released on CD in the late nineties in limited editions and are now out of print. They are all awesome, but the Haley Mills album holds a very special place in my heart. Check out this track from the CD.

Not exactly a masterpiece. And it's very typical of the album's sound. Hayley Mills singing is really just Hayley Mills speaking rhythmically. And I adore it. Never once did I ever dare to say, "Um, dude. She can't sing." The voice was not the point. The personality was. Her music is charming and instantly takes me to another time and place- one that I was never even alive during- and I love it for that.

Hayley Mills is like comfort food for my heart. There's something so adorable about her and the sound of her voice instantly puts me in a good mood. I am waiting very patiently for some of her unreleased Disney output to see the light of day on DVD. I am particularly a fan of Back Home and Parent Trap Hawaiian Honeymoon, which were both Disney Channel movies from the nineties. I am extremely tired of watching them in ten minute sections of YouTube, thank you very much.

Annette has an extremely similar effect on me, though not quite as strongly as Hayley does. Disney studio composers the Sherman Brothers, of Mary Poppins fame, wrote the hit "Tall Paul" for her when she was rocketing past the other Mouseketeers as the breakout star of The Mickey Mouse Club. Annette's voice was so small, they had to find a way to beef it up. They had Annette re-record the song several times and layered the vocal tracks to create what became an icon sound for the performer. Not much different than the auto-tuning and other forms of studio magic used today, huh? Once again, nostalgia does much to cover up the flaws.

Once again, this is not challenging, boundary pushing music from an extraordinary vocalist. It's pop music. It's frothy, fun, silly, and geared towards young people who aren't concerned with the sturm und drang of adult life. I am actually a huge fan of pop music. I love a great piece of fluff (Katy Perry) and challenging, forward thinking pop (Robyn) in equal amounts. So why was I being so hard on the latest crop of Disney talent?

Baby as Yoda. I say yes!
I think it probably started with Hannah Montana. The title alone triggered my gag reflex, though it did inspire a hilarious Amy Poehler punchline on the Weekend Update on SNL.

Amy: One of the hottest concert tours in the country now is Miley Cyrus, the star of Hannah Montana. While the least popular? Yoda Minnesota. 

Ha! Then there was the fact that the premise seemed posed to encourage young girls to aspire to be famous as validation for their worth. What happened to shows for kids where the kids we saw were just like us? I also had bad memories of her Achy Breaky dad from his mulletastic days. He made me think of unhappy times filled with huge, Confederate flag bumper stickered pickup trucks and cammo cap wearing country punks flipping me the finger and calling me "fag". These were the days before I learned to embrace my Southern heritage. Miley Cyrus seemed to me an awkward, not particularly talented, young girl who was famous because she was lucky enough to have a famous dad with good connections and a need for cash flow.

Wow. Reading that last paragraph makes me sad about what a total douchetool I was being. Hayley Mills had a well-connected dad, actor John Mills who starred in Swiss Family Robinson, who helped her get her break. Annette was an awkward everygirl who emerged from the Mouse pack out of sheer luck. Kids just gravitated towards her. There's no solid answer as to what it was about her. She had that intangible something that drew other kids to her. I still haven't watched an episode of Hannah Montana, so it's ridiculous for me to pretend to know how it handles the subject fame. And no one has any control over my past associations with ignorant rednecks. It was never fair of me to judge the poor girl so harshly.

Then this summer rolled around. For one reason or another, I listened to a Miley Cyrus track from a 2009. I'm sure you've heard it. It goes a little something like this.

Yes, folks. I am no longer afraid to state that two years after it was released, "Party in the U.S.A." has become my summer jam of 2011. It is kind of a perfect pop song. (It was co-written by an awesome British pop singer named Jessie J, who you need to give a spin if you don't already know her, cuz she's awesomesauce. Start with "L.O.V.E.", "Price Tag" and "Do It Like a Dude" and go from there. You're welcome.) It makes me strut down the street when it's own my ipod. It's just a breezy, karaoke-ready good time. And now it sits comfortably in my Top 100 Most Played Songs.

And as for the young lady who sings it, I have a helluva lot of respect for her. Her awkwardness is endearing to me now. I'm fascinated by watching her mature from a gawky pre-teen into a young woman trying to define herself as an artist and person. The year is different, but, once again, the story hasn't changed. Miley sexing it up a bit isn't far removed from Annette doing the Beach Party movies. And of course, what really endeared me to her was the tattoo she got in support of marriage equality and the twitter conversation that followed where she stood firm in her beliefs. On top of all that, she has a good sense of humor, as evidenced when she appeared on SNL during one of the fully hilarious "Miley Cyrus Show" sketches. She gets major snaps for that. Anyone who is able to laugh at themselves seems like good people to me.

From there, my interest spread out to Selena Gomez, from the Disney Channel series Wizards of Waverly Place, and her new album. I have become kind of obsessed with "Love You Like a Love Song".

Once again, this is a damn fine pop song. And the video is fully fantastic. This and "Party in the U.S.A." have been in constant rotation all summer. Little by little I've listened to more of their albums, and, be still my heart, they are actually pretty darn good. It makes me feel completely foolish for being so reluctant to giving them a spin before now.

I can't say that I understand the system that creates child stars, but however it works, the pattern has always been basically the same. Normal kids are plucked from obscurity and thrown into a spotlight. Some are talented, some are not. Some have that indelible spark that is capable of being cultivated into celebrity, some do not. And all of them have to grow up and navigate the waters of either stardom or obscurity. It's not an enviable position to be in and they deserve the benefit of the doubt more often than not.

Except Lindsay Lohan. I'm done with her. Emma Stone found her career and seems to be actually making something of it. Sorry.

All of this also brought back to mind a Disney Channel actor from my childhood. We all know about all of the stars who emerged from MMC. I, however, used be particularly enamored with Kids Incorporated. A few stars broke out of that show, namely Stacy Ferguson (Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas) and Love Hewitt (before she added the Jennifer). But one of my favorites on the show was always Martika. But mostly I adored her for her big hit after she left the show, called "Toy Soldiers". It's a fantastic eighties-licious pop song. Yes, I know Eminem sampled it. Please don't judge her harshly for that.

Ultimately, I think the moral of the story here is that I need to stop being such an old fuddy-duddy. Times change and unless I want to be that old dude waving his cane and griping about how much better things were back in the day, I need to get off my high horse and stay open to new things. In fact, I bought a Jonas Brothers and a Demi Lovato CD today. And maybe one of these days, I'll actually watch an episode of Hannah Montana. Preferably one where Dolly Parton is guest starring.

I shall leave you with two more niblets to enjoy while I prepare for an impending hurricane heading towards New York City. The first is part of a motivational video for teens with Mr. T called Be Somebody...or Be Somebody's Fool. No I'm not joking. This section focusing on Mr. T giving fashion advice. Nope. Still not kidding. Pay attention to the young lady following Xena and Zena, the opening duo of models. No! I promise I'm still not kidding! It's a young Martika, then known as Marta, taking the A train to fashion. It's amazing.

And lastly, if you've never seen the Bad Lip Reading videos on Youtube, you are missing out. My favorite one is "Gang Fight" based on Rebecca Black's "Friday". They take the videos, remove the sound and then write a new song based solely on what it looks like the singer is saying. This is the one that they did for Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A."

So, have you given these kids a shot? And are you over the age of 20? What have your thoughts been? Oh! And if you're under the age of 20, same question! Anybody else find themselves surprised? Or is my third-life crisis just making me find weird ways to stay young? Is Miley Cyrus my red convertible?

That's all, for this week, kids! Assuming I haven't blown away in Hurricane Irene, our next DATE Night will be on Tuesday. Hop a ride on Casey Jr. and visit Dumbo with me!

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