I don’t know if you guys are watching The Voice? I am not, for the most part. I assume most people aren’t because it’s never really gained water-cooler status, even on the Internet. But I’m not that mad at it when it happens to be on. I like Cee-Lo’s bawdy jokes! (Maybe they should offer him a sitcom. I bet you anything he would take it. “Cee-Lo Green is a private detective in Cee-Lo on the D-Lo!” I’m already sold.) But anyway, last night, during one of the show’s patented “song battles,” two singers from coach Christina Aguilera’s team fought it out over who could perform a more compelling version of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box,” with respective aid from the most obviously qualified helpers, Jewel and Lionel Ritchie.
The face that Jewel makes when Lee is doing that to “Heart-Shaped Box” is so great. “Am I not pronouncing the words enough?” No. No you are not. But also, you are kind of pronouncing them WAY too much. (Spoiler alert: he is about to find out that he is going to be a baker for the rest of his life.) In a way, it’s even more useless to have Lionel Ritchie as your guide in a situation like this, having him explain that you “need to find the meaning” in lyrics that I would be sort of shocked if he himself actually found meaning in. (He has an amazing “Hey!” face tough. Always did, he’s even stunned by it.) I actually do believe that Jewel, and especially Christina (I’m surprised to say), have a meaningful connection to the material. I’m weirdly kind of interested in what they might do with it, even? But we’ll get to that in a second. Here’s what the kids did to it. Watch through your fingers, maybe?:
So many LOLs. That dork squeaking “broken hymen of Your Highness, I’m left black” while his family cheered him on was weeeeeeeeeeeird, everybody! And Lindsey trying to do 90s pop diva syllable stretching jaunts on lines about “meat-eating orchids” is some amazingly surreal shit if you can let yourself just soak in the weirdness, w/o kneejerk, Internet-exaggerated “They are raping my childhood!” hyperbole.
But the best part, and the best part of my day maybe, is re-watching country star Blake Shelton’s puzzled look, hearing him mocked, by Adam Levine no less, for being a square who missed the 90s, and then responding with his pick for creepiest all-time song: “Monster Mash.”
“This song about the monster party is giving me the CREEEEEEEPS, y’all. Why can’t it be a song about a regular party? Oooooh, is that onion dip haunted? I am chilled to the bone!” – Blake Shelton
But, really, as bad as this was, I can’t let myself indulge in getting too worked up about it. It’s a music crit. cliche (which happens to be true) that what makes interesting cover versions interesting is an artist finding a new slant on it, teasing out meaning that existed in the text before but wasn’t the main thrust of the original recording. That’s what all these singing competition shows claim to be doing, yet exactly what I never see them do. Instead they just force kids with unformed artistic voices to “imbue meaning” into stuff that obviously means zilch to them, and guess what, it ends up very bad. But this argument was lost a long time ago. These shows will continue to be wildly popular, until they aren’t. While we’re stuck with them, I actually wouldn’t mind the song pool being expanded a bit more, and for more dark, idiosyncratic songs to slip into these shows, get ruined. I don’t want our beloved 90s alt-rock—or, projecting forward, likely candidates like Arcade Fire, or Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or whoever—to be excluded from this stuff, and walled off in a little nerd cave for only the true believers. At least some people will be confused and interested enough to be led to the better version, right? Blake Shelton, maybe? What if somebody did a really interesting version by accident? I think the cross-breeding can’t be that bad for anyone, honestly.
And also, this is a low bar that really only means that we were all living persons in the 90s, but it makes me feel some kinship to Jewel and Christina Aguilera for a second, that they were this unironically, unapologetically enthused for such a dark, weird song. Why don’t you give it a shot ladies? If it means something to you, maybe it’ll come through in the song? Put your career on the line instead of some kid’s, how about?