December 4, 2006
Spectacle trumped talent at the 2006 Billboard Music Awards when, during several of the early musical numbers, supersized confetti spewed from modified snowmaking machines. Giant candy canes planted around the stage led one to wonder which competitor would nail the slalom event.
Along the sides and upstage, a CGI fever dream pulsates from huge screens. Upstage, indeed. A psychedelic Candyland designed to delight, amuse and distract. Was the bamboozle supposed to blind us from the sadness? Over-produced flimflam by over-caffeinated set dressers to keep us awake and watching?
Here’s my theory – the lesser divas and divos of the pop music pantheon need a little help, a little cover from the pain of a live rendition of their Auto-tuned recordings.
Take Janet Jackson’s opening number. She begins her medley with a shout-out to one of her early hits, “The Pleasure Principal”, to school the youngsters in the audience that she, indeed, was at one time relevant. Jackson then proceeds to whisper her way through her new single as she clomps arthritically through an approximation of her tired twenty-year-old dance moves. And the confetti is flying with a vengeance.
In case a flurry of postcard-sized confetti wasn’t enough to distract us, her backup dancers leap and spin around the stage like meth-fueled Cirque Du Soleil acrobats.
Young legs execute supernatural street athletics, undeterred by the drifts of colored paper that are beginning to accumulate in drifts around the stage. Instead of distracting us from Jackson’s performance, the teenagers only highlighted her lame, geriatric performance. Seriously, she looks lame – like she’s pulled a hamstring.
Then there’s Fergie, rapping in that dated singsong manner like a female Will Smith as she minces around the stage almost in time to the music. Tired rap, forgettable lyrics, confetti explosion!
A pattern is emerging. The worse the performance, the harder the confetti falls. The lights pulse more insistently, hypnotizing us. Ignore the girl and bow to your sparkly, trance-inducing master!
Just as it seems the stage walls will come tumbling down in a frenzied representation of the end of western civilization, a giant Quincy Jones appears on the back screen like a pop music oracle. Down, ye walls of power! All is not lost!
Jones introduces a quartet of rappers who actually have talent. The walls calm to bathe each rapper in his own signature color. Hmm…no confetti. Or have supplies simply run out in the face of all that earlier suckitude?
Eager yodeler Gwen Stefani bounces around the stage, manically selling her harajuku rapping goatherd mash-up. No confetti, she must be talented. Well, she is actually singing and sort of dancing. No comment on the bewildered goat.
The guys who won digital album of the year – no confetti and no background movies. They must be really talented. Well, the lead singer is playing a piano, an actual musical instrument.
Mary J. Blige performs with only a subtle screen of vertical white stripes behind her – a subliminal reference to a now defunct minimalist rock duo or an homage to postwar Italian cinema? But she is indeed confetti-free. She’d better be, she won nine times!
Now comes Stevie Wonder to introduce Century award-winner Tony Bennett. Visually, the quietest screen of the evening, a cascade of calming electric blue. Two legends. No confetti.
As for the less gifted performers who appeared tonight, the message seemed clear. They’ve already got your bread, how about a little circus?