Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular (NBC-TV, July 4, 2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

This year the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular was scheduled for a full two hours — indeed, there was a listing in the Los Angeles Times TV section for another hour from 10 to 11 p.m. after the two-hour show from 8 to 10 — and it was on up against the PBS Capitol Fourth program from 8 to 9:30 p.m., with a repeat showing from 9:30 to 11. I chose to watch the first hour and a half of the Macy’s show (missing the actual fireworks but seeing all the performers) and then switch to PBS for the Capitol Fourth — Charles returned home from work at 10:30 and got to see the fireworks on TV at the end of the Capitol Fourth program. The Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular began with a preposterous performance by Jennifer Lopez, doing the silly “Jenny from the Block” song I’d already heard once before — ironically also on an NBC telecast (one of the Friday morning mini-concerts they show on the Today program at the end of the week), dressed in a weird outfit that showed off her (surprisingly thick) legs: she wore nothing below the waist except high-heeled platform shoes (which would seem to make it difficult to dance with her chorus boys, one of whom was clinging so closely to her it seemed like they’d have to scrape him off) and a preposterous codpiece that looked like something Wonder Woman would wear if she were having problems with incontinence.

Then came the song that I liked best of anything performed on the show, “Most Girls,” recorded by Hailee Steinfeld and written by her with Jeremy Dussolliet, Tim Sommers, Asia Whiteacre, Ryan Tedder and Zach Skelton (I guess these days it takes a village to write a song!). Hailee Steinfeld is one of these petite junior divas in the mold of Ariana Grande, singing in outfits that look like pajamas, but the song is not only infectious, it’s an anthem of feminist empowerment that basically tells young women that they can remake their bodies — or not — because inside they’re “smart and strong and beautiful/Most girls work hard, go far, we are unstoppable/Most girls, our fight to make every day, no two are the same/I wanna be like most girls.” Right on, Hailee Steinfeld; your song is an especially needed message in light of all the anti-women hatred in this country right now coming from the White House (with that bizarre image President Trump recently tweeted of Mika Brzezinski allegedly dripping blood from her plastic surgery all over the pristine precincts of Mar-a-Lago) and filtering down through society. The bulk of the Macy’s concert took place in New York but there were cut-ins from Camden, New Jersey, where Lady Antebellum were performing — they did a song called “You Look Good” that unfortunately featured their male lead singer, Charles Kelley (I like them better when frontwoman Hillary Scott sings lead). Their name still gives me the creeps (when I first heard of them I joked, “What are they going to call their album — Slavery Was Cool?”) but I like their music even though I’m not exactly battering down the doors of the world’s few remaining record stores to get their CD’s. Then came a reasonably talented country singer named Charlie Puth doing an O.K. tears-in-my-beer song called “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” and after that a better known country singer, Brad Paisley, did a song called “Today” posed in front of a lightboard that broadcast op-art patterns behind him that made it difficult to tell where he was. He was cut in from a concert date in Mountain View, California.

Then Sheryl Crow, the oldest performer on the program, did one of her early hits, “Soak Up the Sun,” which was better than anything I’d heard on the program other than the Hailee Steinfeld “Most Girls,” and after that the show cut back to New Jersey for Lady Antebellum singing something called (at least as best as I can make out my hastily scribbled notes) “Shake My Downtown.” Then Charlie Puth returned for another O.K. country piece, “Attention,” and the show cut back to Mountain View for a more visible Brad Paisley doing a nice piece called “Last Time for Everything.” Then they brought back Sheryl Crow for a quirky song called “If I Can’t Be Someone Else,” after which Hailee Steinfeld came back for a much less interesting song than “Most Girls,” something called “You Do Things to My Body,” a provocative song about lust but considerably less appealing than the feminist anthem she’d performed earlier. The show closed with Jennifer Lopez doing a song in Spanish — I think I caught the words “matador” and “picador” and assumed it was a song about bullfighting, perhaps using it as a metaphor for a troubled relationship. This time she was dressed in an even weirder outfit than the one she’d worn for “Jenny from the Block,” a black thing with a long drape that hung over her crotch so her legs would still be exposed (why so many women singers these days feel they have to dress like high-end hookers is beyond me). Lopez’s outfit made her look like a representation of an Egyptian goddess from a Valley of the Kings tomb-wall painting, but the song itself wasn’t bad at all — I suspect that she brings more passion and soul to her singing when she can do it in her native tongue than when she has to sing in English. Overall, the program was a pretty good précis of what’s happening in American pop music today — though the only flirtations with EDM and rap were in Lopez’s opening number — and the relative youth of the performers here (Sheryl Crow, who started out in the early 1990’s, was the oldest singer on the program) indicated the demographic NBC was going for when they booked this show.