It’s just not true. Everyone older than 60 isn’t immediately ready to yell “You kids get off my lawn!” at the drop of a Lipitor. Nor do all of them pride themselves on the volume with which they can yell “You call THAT music?”
Time for some clarification – and a holiday here from solemnity. As proof, I offer one man’s “American Idol,” 2015 edition – a personal and alphabetical consideration of some people who, for good or ill, seem to take up a lot of space down there in the infotainment mosh pit. It goes without saying, fame in the 21st century is different than it was in, say, 1945 or 1965 or 1995.
Let me admit that I may well have misconstrued everything significant about the following people. Even so, in alphabetical order:
Justin Bieber: Until he and Toronto’s ex-mayor Rob Ford stepped into the limelight, I’d always thought of Canadians as being much too polite and tasteful for the rest of us in North America. Then those two came into our view. There’s no point in trying to be fair to Justin Bieber but let’s try anyway just for the sake of our own virtue. He’s not without musical talent. He was a bit of a prodigy in that regard. He is, otherwise, a perfect illustration of how asinine a kid can become with too much money and power and attention and too little common sense and personal dignity. He is, like Kanye West (see below), someone likely to cease being famous in the next decade. Many of us won’t be around to read or see the remorseful 2030 interview with him but if you are, pay attention.
Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon: Too bad the kids are splitting up, don’t you think? As the host of “America’s Got Talent,” Cannon depends on our good graces out here in front of the tube. Carey, on the other hand, can be a super-diva and star-zilla for eternity if that’s what she wants. She’s loaded. You hate to actually root for a divorce but, hey ...
Kelly Clarkson: She could always sing. No one would argue that. Now that she’s become a poster child for everyone fighting idiot “fat shaming” in American media, I’m happier than ever that she’s around. She doesn’t drive people nearly as crazy as Miley Cyrus (see below) but she, too, seems to disturb the right people in the right way for the right reasons so that they can’t help saying dumb things in response.
Miley Cyrus: I’m with her. She ticks off all the right people and she’s pretty funny doing it. When Will Smith, Jada and the kids all looked on in horror at her ersatz smutty TV duet with Robin Thicke on Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” I thought it was hilarious. As a singer, she’s got great pipes and, as a grossly exploited Disney child star, she’s got a terrific and instant disrespect for “the starmaker machinery of popular song.” She’s an interesting kid – not always deft at how she goes about it but I like her.
Lady Gaga: My favorite American Idol these days. I was a convert long before she blew everyone away doing her Julie Andrews tribute at the Oscars. Her outrageous theatricality doesn’t really fit in with Tony Bennett in duets, but the fact that she’d want to in the first place bespeaks much genuine musicality and cultural sensitivity on her part. Add to all that her own music, which can be hugely appealing, and all the things she stands and fights for (rights for everyone) and against (bullying) and you’ve got an American Idol I can get behind, even when she’s wearing a dress made out of raw meat.
Ice-T, Ice Cube, LL Cool J, Eminem and DMX: In other words, all the rap idols of yore who have, with commendable success, turned into actors. What I’ve tried to say about many of them is this: The attitudinizing that rappers do onstage is already acting of high-octane flamboyance so it’s that much easier for them to act in front of movie and TV cameras than it ever was for rock stars, even Mick Jagger and David Bowie. It’s fascinating, in fact, how quickly so many of them chucked hip-hop in favor of being run-of-the-mill TV stars. Obviously, money was the deciding factor but that, in itself, was telling.
Kim Kardashian: A symbol of exactly how invidious fame has become in 2015. Remember, it all started with a homemade porn video. Her epidermal exterior is certainly notable but how much of that is genetic and how much surgery is a matter we’re unlikely to have answered. Otherwise, there’s something interesting about an empire well into nine figures based on nothing but superhuman narcissism and just showing up. The genius here – and don’t ever doubt it – was Ryan Seacrest, the producer who realized that a reality show about the K family would actually get young eyeballs on a weekly basis. Blame him as much as Mama K (Kris) and the K kids themselves.
Madonna: In late middle age, she’s become the new Mae West, the most famous cougar of them all. What West did with a much-younger Cary Grant, Madonna just did with a combination kiss and WWE pin of singer Drake. The Internet lit up. Of how many 56-year olds can you say that? While it doesn’t make it exactly easy for parents to teach kids about boundaries and respect for others, the whole thing does continue her ancient crusade to explode double and triple sexual standards wherever they are. Her junior edition – Lady Gaga – has much better causes these days and is more profoundly musical in her affect. But there IS something interesting about a woman at her age so indifferent to extraneous dignity. I’ve been speculating for decades now that she would become an interesting older woman. It seems, at long last, that I was more right than wrong.
Taylor Swift: You’ve got to love a pop star whose act is mostly famous for dissing old boyfriends in original songs. It’s ancient practice of course but, in mega-pop, it was most renowned when done by Alanis Morrissette and Carly Simon. (Remember “You’re So Vain”?) Swift has taken it to a whole new level. She also seems to like her fans, too – or does at least enough to fake it pretty well. Good for her. I’m tired of hearing about every new hookup, on the other hand. Wake me up when she disses them in a song and I’ll try to pay attention – for 30 seconds or so.
Kanye West: They say he’s talented and his records prove it. If they say so. Time magazine just slapped him on top of their 100 Most Influential Americans list. So consider that for a while, if you will. Nevertheless, I usually wish he’d go away. Whenever he or even his name surfaces on TV for any reason, I bless the invention of the remote control device. If immortal American Idol Elvis Presley had been able to access a remote control immediately and click off the TV image of Robert Goulet on that fateful night, he might not have had to shoot his TV set to death.