I switched to Channel 10, the local ABC affiliate, for most of Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, billed as the 45th annual and hosted by former American Idol MC Ryan Seacrest — as it’s been every year since Clark himself got too old and sick to do it. I’m old enough to remember when this was considered an alternative show to the conventional New Year’s Eve presentation on NBC featuring Guy Lombardo (though Lombardo’s record of “Auld Lang Syne” was still the first thing you heard after the Times Square ball dropped to herald 2017) instead of pretty much the mainstream New Year’s Eve, filled with popular performers most readily known to people about one-half to one-third of Charles’ and my ages. They actually ran the show from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. — five and one-half hours, since they pushed the pause button at 11 p.m. so the local stations could spend the next half hour doing their news shows — but I only watched it from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. (when they had a second drop, this time the giant fleur de lys that heralds the New Year in New Orleans). It’s a measure of the sheer inanity of the spectacle that hosts Ryan Seacrest and Jenny McCarthy spent so much time babbling with various people in the Times Square crowds and elsewhere (as usual, this show cut confusingly between New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Las Vegas and the Caribbean island of St. Maartens) that there were only 17 musical performances during the 3 ½ hours I watched.
The segment I saw opened with a song called “Welcome to My House,” a sort of half-breed song-meets-rap number by someone who calls himself Flo Rida (very clever — not), and then cut from Flo Rida’s L.A. performance to what turned out to be the best song of the night, Demi Lovato’s “Confidence (What’s Wrong with Me?)” from St. Maartens courtesy of a tie-in with Celebrity Cruises. Though it seemed odd, to say the least, to be hearing a song in the modern pop idiom with virtually the same message as “I Have Confidence in Me” from The Sound of Music, which Joyce di Donato had sung on the New York Philharmonic broadcast, Lovato tore into the song and sang with real emotion that eluded most of the other people on the program. Then they cut back to L.A. for Lukas Graham’s “Seven Years,” a sort of cross between “It Was a Very Good Year” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” in which the 20-something Graham flashes back to his childhood and forward to his expectations of the future — Graham is a baby-faced young man, obviously being pitched at the teen-idol audience, though for my money his blond piano player was way cuter than he was! Then the show cut back to New York City for a rock song by the band DNCE which I couldn’t identify, and after that John Legend turned in quite a good performance on the song “Love Me Now” from L.A. The show stayed in L.A. for the next artist, Shawn Mendes, with his hit “Treat You Better” — he’s got more vocal chops than Lukas Graham but is pretty obviously aiming for the same teenage straight-girl audience — and then Fifth Harmony, a group of five women of whom I joked, “They’re each hoping that they’ll be the one who breaks out of this group and becomes the next Beyoncé,” did an O.K. song called “That’s My Girl” I probably would have liked better if the performers weren’t so obviously flaunting their sexuality. Back in Los Angeles a performer named Mike Pozner did a song called “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” which took a rather odd tack for an anti-drug rock song: it basically said, “You don’t want to be me, standing up here being a rock star and singing songs about my drug use.”
Then the show paid tribute to George Michael by showing a clip from a 1983 episode of American Bandstand featuring him and Andrew Ridgley, jointly known as Wham! (you remember); the song, “Young Guns Go for It,” didn’t have much but the duo was infectious and the spontaneous “feel” of their performance (even lip-synching to their record, the notorious standard practice on Bandstand) was a sharp contrast to the over-studied, over-produced performances we were getting from all the live acts. After that the show featured “country” artist Thomas Rhett (“country” in quotes because, like so many “country” performers today — especially the men — what he was playing was actually what in the 1970’s was called “Southern rock” and owed far more to the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd than Hank Williams or Johnny Cash; his only concession to “countricity” was a wide leather guitar strap embroidered with letters the ABC cameras didn’t get close enough for us to decode into a word) in a medley of “T-Shirt,” “Vacation” (a slovenly song which made Madonna’s identically titled one from the 1980’s seem like a masterpiece by comparison) and “Die a Happy Man” (which I’d seen Rhett do on the American Country Music Awards and been quite impressed by — though the singer he name-checks in the lyric is Marvin Gaye, and earlier the titular T-shirt of “T-Shirt” had been by Guns ‘n Roses, it had more of a traditional country “feel” than his other two songs). The last song before the news break was Panic! At the Disco’s New Orleans performance of a medley consisting of “Victorious,” “God, I’m a Mess” and “Fake I.D.” The frustrating thing about Panic! At the Disco is that its lead singer has a marvelous cabaret-rock voice recalling early Scott Walker, but he and the rest of the band don’t give him songs worthy of a voice like that; the latter two in particular sounded like the pseudonymous “Richard Cheese”’s lounge-music parodies.
After the news break the one musical performance we got before the ball (all 12,000 pounds of it — watch the scene of the Times Square ball-drop in the 1933 film Mystery of the Wax Museum sometime and note just how much cruder and cheaper it was back then!) dropped was by Mariah Carey, reflecting that she’d been the first performer to do a number live from New York City as part of this show in 2005. This year her performance was embarrassing: she did O.K. with “Auld Lang Syne” at the beginning but then totally fell apart on her next song, “Emotions,” forgetting virtually all the words and just looking blankly in her sheer outfit that seemed made to look as much as legally possible like she wasn’t wearing anything at all. (Later, when Fifth Harmony returned, I asked Charles, “Would it be possible for this show to feature a singer who didn’t dress like a hooker?” “You’re missing the point,” said he, and I conceded that to him, saying that as a Gay man I watch country-music shows at least partly to see young, tall, rail-thin, hot-looking guys in very tight jeans!) She recovered a bit for the final song in her medley, “We Belong Together,” but it was clear from the “Emotions” fiasco that she not only sings to pre-recorded tracks of her own voice, but that at least last night a malfunction in the pre-recording left her at sea, unable even to remember the words to her big song, much less project them in any meaningful way. USA Today even has a story on their Web site about the fiasco at http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2017/01/01/mariah-carey-botches-nye-performance-leaves-stage/96056408/, and one social-media contributor grimly joked, “2016 has claimed another victim: Mariah Carey’s career.” (Actually she’s survived worse fiascos than this, including the 2001 film Glitter, which came out just before the 9/11 attacks, a juxtaposition which prompted Jay Leno to joke, “They say that terrorists hide out where no other people are, so they should be looking for Osama bin Laden in the theatres showing Mariah Carey’s movie Glitter.”)
After the ball drop Charles and I kept the program going for another hour as the focus shifted to New Orleans, where they were going to do another ball drop — this time a giant fleur de lys (there was mention that this is the insignia of the New Orleans Saints football team but not that it originated as the national emblem of France in the Middle Ages) atop a building in New Orleans being hailed as a symbol of urban renewal 12 years after Hurricane Katrina. The show also picked up Lionel Richie from Las Vegas (where he belongs) doing an extended version of “All Night Long” that seemed to incorporate several other songs during its hyperthyroid running time — it’s probably unfair to Richie personally but I’m still bitter that he won the 1984 Grammy Award for Album of the Year over two deathless masterpieces, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. and Prince’s Purple Rain. Then the show shifted back to L.A. for three numbers in a row: “I’m Worth It” by Fifth Harmony with rapper Kid Ink (this, on top of Mariah Carey’s see-through outfit, was the number that prompted my “Can’t they have a woman singer on this show who isn’t dressed like a hooker?” comment to Charles), a Shawn Mendes song called “Mercy” that like a lot of modern-day pop just had me thinking of a much better song that did the same trope decades ago (“Have Mercy, Baby” by the awesome Clyde McPhatter and the Dominoes from 1952), and a surprisingly good song called “Life Goes On” by Fergie, who’s often been treated as a joke but turned out to be one of the better singers on the program, and doing one of the better songs.
The last thing Charles and I watched on the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve concert was a two-song medley of “Talk Dirty” and “You Got Me” by Jason Derulo, whom Charles had heard of because the P.A. system at the Vons store where he works had been playing a commercial featuring him promoting Coca-Cola. Apparently his voice just came on and said, “Hi, I’m Jason Derulo,” as if we were all supposed to know who that was (much the way the great comedienne Elayne Boozler used to joke, “You know who I’d want to be? Rula Lenska,” after the person bearing that name started doing food commercials on TV and introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Rula Lenska,” as if we were all supposed to know who that was), and he made a brief rap about how great Coca-Cola was (both Charles and I are Pepsi people, and I savored the irony that during the Rio Olympics, when there were all these commercials bidding us watch the games while enjoying a Coke, I thought, “I’m watching the Games and drinking Pepsi”) and there was a snippet of one of his songs. This left Charles understandably curious as to whether Jason Derulo was any good, and he turned out to be a tall Black man who’d be nicer-looking if he’d lose the ridiculous (but probably profitable as a trademark) Mohawk haircut he wears. His big thing as a stage performer was he seems to have mastered the spin Michael Jackson used to do — and James Brown did way before him — though the comparison that occurred to Charles was former Prince sidekick Morris Day (“It’s Morris Day without the great tunes,” said Charles — of course the great tunes were mostly written for Morris Day by the omnipresent Prince!) — and both his songs were unnerving pickup songs that, like a lot of modern-day pop by male singers, seems to treat women as if they were meat. (Well, judging from how the last election turned out, that seems to be a popular attitude among American men right now.) Maybe that’s one reason why in today’s music I find the women artists consistently more interesting than the men!