Monday, January 1, 2018

Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, 2017-2018 (Dick Clark Productions, Ryan Secrest Productions, ABC-TV, 2017-2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The PBS Great Performances tribute to Leonard Bernstein ended at about 10:45 — they ran out of program to fill their time slot (a refreshing change from previous years, when they’ve actually run the closing credits under the final number and cut it short when the time slot ended!) — which gave me the chance to shift to Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on ABC, which started out in the 1970’s as a kinda-sorta counter-cultural alternative to Guy Lombardo’s telecast (I remember my mom joking to me, “They invented New Year’s just so Guy Lombardo could keep working”) but now has become the big Establishment New Year’s TV celebration, complete with well-bundled reporters shivering in Times Square (this year the temperature was minus 7° Fahrenheit, the coldest on record) as they do interviews with the people on the street who’ve come out to see the mega-ball drop. In the 15 minutes between the end of the Bernstein concert and 11 p.m. — a sort of witching hour on American TV because whatever else is being shown has to come to a screeching halt so the local stations can put on their news programs — I got to see one act, Portugal … The Man (presumably called that to distinguish him from Portugal … The Country), with one of those high androgynous voices (I think the woman singing with him on the choruses — her part was too prominent to be considered a backing vocal but she wasn’t really a second lead, either — was in the same key he was) doing a quite lovely modern-day dance ballad called “I Feel It Still.” 

The remainder of the 15 minutes was taken over by dumb person-on-the-street interviews (ask someone who’s standing out in -7° weather, “How do you feel?,” and the answer you’re liable to get is, “Cold”) and even dumber commercials. For the 11 to 11:30 period in which ABC and the other American networks switched to their news shows, I switched to the Telemundo New Year’s Eve telecast, also based in Times Square but with a whole different set of acts lined up, all (not surprisingly) singing in Spanish; Zoom & Lennox doing something I think was called “Enduagame”, Victor Manuelle (that’s how the chyron spelled his last name!) announced as performing “La Sonora del Juventud” (though I suspect that was his group name) and doing a medley of old-fashioned salsa that didn’t sound very much like music of the juventud to me but was still appealing; and Jencarlos, a single-named male performer, doing a song called “Doré, Doré” which showed that even pretty mainstream modern dance-pop can still be enlivened by Latin percussion. After that interesting cross-border interlude I switched back to ABC at 11:30 and got two songs by Mariah Carey, going back to the origins of her career for “Vision of Love” and “Hero” (alas, not “Butterfly,” which is my favorite Mariah Carey song by quite a stretch), before the ball dropped at Times Square and the hosts rang in 2018 and Charles and I imbibed Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider to toast a year in which, as he put it, “the reality-based capitalist party regains control of Congress — we hope.” Through a freak of ABC’s scheduling, the first song I got to hear in all of 2018 was Britney Spears doing “Toxic,” which is supposed to be about her getting trapped in a beautiful garden but one in which all the plants are poisonous. It’s also supposed to be a metaphor for a “toxic” relationship — something Ms. Spears ought to be an expert on by now! — and it struck me as the sort of song that could have been really powerful if it were performed by someone with an actual voice instead of a computer re-creation of one. Then Kelly Clarkson came out looking surprisingly zaftig (and reminding me in that department, at least, of Adele, who became one of my favorite modern-day artists the moment I saw her on TV looking pleasingly plump and not having starved herself to look like she just got liberated from a Nazi death camp) and singing her song, “Stronger,” which I like even though I think it’s a shame no one connected with it credited Friedrich Nietzsche with the inspiration for the lyric (“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”).

After that came BTS, whom I’ve encountered before — with a name like that I keep expecting them to be rappers and instead they’re a Korean boy band (though some of them have bleached their hair blonde and done everything they could short of plastic surgery to look as un-“Asian” as possible) who sang a hit, apparently called “Mike Drop,” in a mishmash of English, Korean and gibberish. I found them considerably sexier than I usually find boy-band members and loved the way they moved on stage even though their song was pretty much disposable pop. Then came Khalid, another person I would have assumed from his stage name was a rapper. Wrong on both counts: like Prince, Khalid uses his real first name professionally (his last name is Robinson), and he’s a heavy-set African-American 19-year-old with an appealing neo-soul voice good for novelties like the one he sang last night, “Young, Dumb and Broke” — though I had to look up the song on Khalid’s official YouTube page to find out what it was called. For the last item Charles and I watched before we turned off the TV and crashed, we got to see two songs beamed in from New Orleans by a group called Imagine Dragons (I can never forget what Charles said the first time we watched them on TV together; when they were introduced Charles wisecracked, “Well, you have to imagine dragons — they don’t really exist”) doing a song of theirs called “Thunder” which I’d heard before and another one, “Believer,” I haven’t. They’re billed as a rock band but are actually a fusion of 1960’s rock and modern-day dance-pop — essentially “Thunder” is a dance-pop record with a 1960’s-style rock guitar solo spliced in (much the way I remember, when I first heard the term “house music,” I tried to figure out what it meant from listening to a few examples and finally concluded, “They just splice a Bud Powell-style jazz piano solo into the middle of a disco record!”) — and, like a lot of other acts who turn up on shows like this, I like them but not well enough to buy their CD’s — whereas more impassioned current singers like Maren Morris and Alessia Cara did knock me out enough to get me to get their CD’s despite my ongoing joke about myself, “Mark, when was the last time you bought a CD by someone who’s still alive?”