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I don’t normally watch award shows. Years ago I was a dedicated viewer to the Academy Awards, and would poke my head in on the Emmys and Grammys occasionally, but all the shows became so much over-produced schmaltz that I just couldn’t sit through them anymore. These days, thanks to the lovely wasteland that is the Internet, I can get the complete winners lists, criticize the red carpet couture, and view any interesting highlights without having to suffer through the whole tedious three hours of fake smiles, polite clapping, and crappy elevatorized music. Sorry, Broadcast TV – I’m just not that in to you anymore.

lady_gaga_wireimage-510499332-kevinwinter

Photo: Kevin Winter/WireImage.com https://www.grammy.com/photos/lady-gaga-85

So I watched Lady Gaga’s Grammy tribute to David Bowie today, well after the fact (you can view it yourself here). At first I was just going to put a few thoughts on Facebook and leave it at that. But, as usual, there ended up being too many words and especially too many links to really be practical for that forum. Hence, this week’s rant for all you lucky readers.

In a nutshell, it didn’t work for me. When I first heard that Lady Gaga had been tapped to do the tribute, I was thrilled. I admit to being a fan. Much like Bowie, she had to resort to antics for attention before people realized there was actually talent there. Kind of a sad statement for our world, but it’s been that way for so long I’ve given up hoping it can ever change. For those of you who only see the crazy costumes and behavior, you need to check out her duets with Tony Bennett (like this one here), or – better yet – go watch her Super Bowl performance of our national anthem (here). It’s not just tough to sing because it’s our anthem, but the vocal range is really demanding and she nails it. Sadly, she didn’t do the same for Bowie.

I think the biggest problem – besides being more over-produced schmaltz – was Gaga trying to BE Bowie. Her costuming, make up, and even mannerisms were all straight from the early Bowie catalogue. I thought she was off to a good start with “Space Oddity” and the facial projections – that was cool stuff. But she proceeded to go off the deep end with the rest of the performance. Too much, too flashy, too desperate.

And just because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, doesn’t make it the best. I can’t imagine how tough it must be to try and produce some sort of fitting tribute to such a giant in your industry. I know Gaga was indeed attempting to give Bowie a proper salute. But no one can ever be Bowie but Bowie. He became a performer because no one else was singing his songs, and the few who did couldn’t do them the way he thought they should be done. He became a rock icon because he had a singular vision and never swayed from it, touching millions along the way and influencing generations of artists through to the end of time. He can be copied (usually badly), but never duplicated.

Also, in reviewing the songs in the medley, the “newest” one featured was “Let’s Dance.”[1] That was released in 1983, folks. 1983! Bowie had over thirty more years of career after that. Thirty more years which included seven extensive tours[2], ten more solo albums (none of which rated less than Silver in Britain[3]), and numerous awards (including two Grammy’s and a BRIT for Best British Male[4]). Why did less than half of his storied career get acknowledged? Why are we only remembering Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke? His later albums are just as good, IMHO, and this “oversight” just seems to cater to the crazy antics and costuming and not the talent.

You want to see the real Bowie? Go get David Bowie: A Reality Tour. I’d recommend buying the DVD because I like watching things over and over, but you can also rent it through Amazon here. This is how I want to remember Bowie. He’s relaxed and having fun and at the top of his game, giving a two-and-a-half hour show that would exhaust people half his age (he was pushing 57 at the time). There’s no flashy costumes, no hoards of back-up dancers, no crazy make-up, no over-dubbing or auto-tune or any of that other production crap the current crop of “singers” depend on. Just a great voice, a hot band, and a lifetime of incredible music.

Lady Gaga was a fitting choice for the tribute. But her approach was all wrong. She could have still done her face projection thing, but used pictures from his entire life as she sang. And then sung only two songs: “Space Oddity” (his first hit), and “Lazarus” (his last). Sometimes going small can be really big, and that kind of approach would have been a lot more attractive to me.

I don’t think Bowie would have been insulted by her performance, or embarrassed. No, it would have been far worst than that – he would have been disappointed. And we all know how terrible a feeling it is when we disappoint someone we really care about. Someday maybe Lady Gaga will realize the mistake she made and will finally blossom into her full talent. Until then, we’ll just have to make due with the likes of David Bowie. Pardon me, I have a concert to go watch again.

 

(PostScript: I didn’t see it until after I had written the above, but Duncan Jones [Bowie’s son and a brilliant filmmaker in his own right – go see Moon!] had a rather interesting response to Gaga’s performance as well on his Twitter account. You can see it here. Ever the gentleman, I suspect his note is a much more succinct version of my meanderings. But that’s just my take on it. YMMV and all that…)

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bowie_discography

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_David_Bowie_concert_tours

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_music_recording_certifications

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_awards_and_nominations_received_by_David_Bowie

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