Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sing Live and Let Die

I know I've been a bit on the Pink bandwagon lately, and I'm not going to apologize for it either. Pink happens to be an artist I've always admired and one of whom I've always counted myself a fan. The only thing screwing that up a bit is that until Funhouse I can't say I've been the hugest fan of her actual songs...I just like how she performs them. Now that Funhouse (and, to a lesser extent, Try This and I'm Not Dead) is around, however, I have seen the glory of enjoying watching and/or hearing Pink perform as much as what it is she's performing. I think she's one of the most accurate and musically gifted live performers, even if her voice is not as sparkly clear as one might think of as ideal in a pop singer (that "one" would not include me, for the record), but she is also one of the best studio performers, and one who really understands the difference therein (Madonna is another who keenly gets this duality). Give a listen to Funhouse with headphones on in a relatively quiet space and hear how much is going on in tracks like "Bad Influence" or the title track. Then go back and listen to "Split Personality," the very first track on her debut album, Can't Take Me Home, and see how Pink has been a master of the recording studio since day one.
That's another reason it's so exciting to see someone like Pink perform live: it's in many ways a different song from one she's recorded but in just as many ways her performances feel right - often so true to the recorded version that it's hard to notice that there is indeed a vast difference. Take her VMA performance of "Sober," which she sang - live - while high in the air on a flying trapeze. The visual metaphor wasn't terribly subtle, but it was rather thoughtful, and best of all, she sounded great.

Then, on Sunday, Pink scored a huge hit at the Grammy Awards and made 26 million American viewers simultaneously wish they'd shelled out for a ticket to the now-wrapped Funhouse Tour when, dressed (and I use the term loosely) in a nude-ish leotard wrapped in...well, you know, it kind of looked like a cleaned-up version of the ace bandage Lady Gaga wore at the American Music Awards, she took to the skies (or at least the ceiling) again, this time singing gorgeous ballad "Glitter In the Air" while spinning around wrapped in a silky white sheet and spraying numerous hairdos with water. Some YouTube commenters held the performance as falling within the top five Grammy performances in televised history, and while I can't personally vouch (having avoided the awards since...ever) who's to say the raves are wrong?

And yes, she sang live. On Pink's Twitter page today the singer countered the supposed "debate" on the verity of this claim by saying she is "100% against" lip-synching, and I have to say that anyone who thought she was lip synching Sunday night has no ear for the supposed plague on live performance that he or she should make such claims. It's not like Pink's performance was studio recording-style perfect, but that's what gave it the charm and gravitas the number had.

I'll be clear: I don't mind Britney Spears lip synching at her concerts. No one is (or should be) going to see the Circus tour thinking they're getting Britney raw and stripped and singing live; they're going for the burlesque show Spears is known for putting on, and doing so like a pro, I might add. Britney is not known for her voice; she's known for her music and her visuals. You can argue that this does not a pop musician make, but then you'd be ignoring the joy of contemporary pop music: it is whatever the artist wants it to be, and what the audience is there to accept. Hooray for Pink and Madonna for being able to bring a unique and enjoyable aesthetic to live and recorded performances, and hooray to Susan Boyle for sounding fantastic live even if she doesn't live up in the studio, and bravo to Britney Spears and Rihanna for churning out some great studio recordings even if you might not want to hear their voices all the time in a live performance. Do we get mad at Daft Punk for not bringing their vocalists to concerts? No, we go to hear and see them mix and mash up what they have in the studio for our live pleasure. So why do we hold Britney, whose music is meant to be enjoyed much in the way Daft Punk's is (but with better visuals), to the standard we hold Beyonce or Christina Aguilera or such artists whose sound is more applicable to live performance?

That said, Pink deserves a hell of a lot of credit for excelling at both studio and live performances. She is a true virtuoso of pop music, and merits that kind of admiration. I wish people would stop getting confused, though, about whether Pink is singing live, just because she sounds fantastic: these are probably the same people who could look at a top-notch philharmonic playing Beethoven fifty yards from their seat at a concert hall and think there was a recording playing and the musicians were just very good mimes. I also wish that, when faced with such ludicrous misstatements, artists would simply shrug it off and go out and kill their next performance, knowing that the people who matter - those who really know the difference - know whether or not they were singing live, and that this fact may or may not matter to everyone.

Until that day, Pink...you really killed. Bravo.

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