Archive for December, 2013

Pop perversions offer holiday hijinks

Posted in Bent Notes Column with tags , on December 16, 2013 by Todd

lady-gaga-muppets-holiday-spectacular-ABCI had fully intended to write this month’s column about the artists recently nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the virtues, or lack thereof, of the bands and solo artists who will be honored at the Hall’s 29th annual induction ceremony on April 24.
But then….well, a Thanksgiving night miracle occurred, a production of such flabbergasting wrongness, miscalculation, and unbalanced brilliance that I was forced to not only scrap my original plans but also rethink the entire structure of what I had heretofore assumed to be the natural order of holiday entertainment.
I speak of the “Lady Gaga and the Muppets Holiday Spectacular,” a nationally televised variety show that, I can only assume, was meant to recall the feel good, family entertainment of yesteryear. Or perhaps not. To be frank, I have no idea what this blitzkrieg of the bizarre was meant as: A showcase for Lady Gaga’s songs? A family holiday special? An adult-themed parody of family holiday specials? A promotion for the Muppet’s new movie, “Muppets Most Wanted”? A political statement on the acceptance of gay culture in American entertainment and society at large? A drug-induced fever dream of holiday psychosis?
Who knows?
What I recall is this: As myself and members of my immediate family lounged in my mother’s living room following our annual Thanksgiving feast, the television screen was suddenly filled with the robotically lascivious gyrations of international press hound and self proclaimed freak Lady Gaga, accompanied by a familiar and beloved sight from my childhood—the Muppet band, better known as Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, bashing and swinging ferociously in accompaniment.
My immediate reaction was that we had stumbled upon something that should not have been, like a three headed cat or a talking snake. My family members were similarly confounded. “She’s disgusting,” offered my brother-in-law. “What…is this,” asked my aunt. My mother, who was sick and barely conscious, probably thought she was hallucinating the entire thing.
To be honest, I have no real recollection of the sequence of events that followed, only brief snatches of image and sound: Gaga, reclined queen-like, surrounded by her fawning Muppet court as Pepe the King Prawn strokes her leg; Gaga in animated conversation in the Muppets dressing room, wearing a blazer with, clearly, nothing on underneath; Gaga performing in a flannel shirt and no pants, a ridiculous bouffant wig flopping around on her pointy head.
If I remember correctly, there was an underlying romantic theme to the show that centered on Gaga’s apparent unresolved feelings for Kermit, the Muppets lovable frog leader. This culminated in one of the most profoundly uncomfortable duets I’ve ever witnessed. As Kermit sat by himself at a piano on an empty soundstage, Gaga joined him and persuaded the clearly nervous polliwog to accompany her in a rendition of her song “Gypsy.”
And then he asked me,
He said, “Baby, why do we love each other?”
I said, “Honey, it’s simple.
It’s the way
that you love and treat your mother.”
Yikes.
The other duets featured more conventional singing partners but were no less odd. Joining Elton John for a melody of his classic “Benny and the Jets” and her latest single “ARTPOP” Gaga unveiled a bug eyed, 1000 yard stare that was either calculatedly weird or simply the result of various drugs crashing around in her system. A performance with actor Josh Gordon-Levitt which reversed the male/female singing roles in the Christmas chestnut “Baby It’s Cold Outside” was so stiff that Gaga nearly went sprawling down a flight of stairs in her ludicrously oversized heels.
The running interview segments were no less unsettling. I seem to recall beloved Muppet Gonzo answering the question “What do the holidays mean for you?” with something about “juicy foods and sweet liquids” before offering his opinion on the joys of “putting tapioca down my shorts and sliding down the chimney.”
Frankly, the entire production had the feel of something thrown together at the last minute by a half dozen producers who each had a different idea of what the show was supposed to be. Even the irrepressible Fozzie Bear seemed to be in a confused stupor. The only ones clearly enjoying themselves were the ever-present old men in the balcony, Statler and Waldorf, who mocked the performances and stars unmercifully.
For the big finale, Gaga joined famed drag queen RuPaul for a bejeweled romp through Gaga’s “Fashion” followed by a full Muppets sing-along on her song “Applause.” If I recall correctly, the only Christmas song performed by the Muppets was a grunting, beeping defilement of “Deck the Halls.”
“We’re witnessing history,” my cousin’s son commented, slack jawed, and I’m still not sure that he wasn’t correct. The further I get from the thing, the less it seems like a freak aberration and more like a moment when something suddenly seeps up in bold Technicolor to infect a beloved mainstream American institution, the moment the cute frog with the wobbly singing voice finally told Miss Piggy to take a hike back to the barnyard.
Though my confusion about the intent of the show remains, I’m left with the feeling that there should be more specials like this to offer an antidote to the antiseptic misery of the holidays, to give us all something to laugh, gawk, and cringe at. And for anyone upset at the Muppets for their choice of holiday themes, just remember the name of their original pilot, which aired in 1975: “The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence.”
Happy Holidays!

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