Monday, February 26, 2018

2018 Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony (International Olympic Committee/NBC-TV, aired February 25, 2018)

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

I was working on the journal until almost 8 p.m. and then I knocked off, made dinner (a pork chop, some flavored rice and salad) and watched the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics from Peyongchang, South Korea. The ceremony wasn’t in the league with either the opening or closing ceremonies I can recall from Lillehammer, Norway — still the most elaborate and engaging Winter Olympics ceremonies I can think of — and with the official passing of the Olympic flag from the mayor of Peyongchang, Korea to the mayor of Beijing, China, where the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held, while the intervening Summer Olympics of 2020 will be in Tokyo, Japan, I began to wonder if I’ll ever live to see an Olympics that aren’t in Asia. The closing ceremony was basically a light show on the big round stage and various groups of performers cavorting on it in formations that looked like a cross between a Busby Berkeley production number and a Beyoncé video, though it was unexpectedly interesting because it revealed that there’s a lot more interesting music being played in Korea than the anodyne “K-Pop” style that is becoming a worldwide sensation.

I particularly liked the songs that combined traditional Korean instruments (including a stringed instrument that looks like a Japanese koto but is played not by plucking the strings directly but hitting them with wooden sticks, like a dulcimer) with modern Western sounds and beats, and wondered where you can hear more of this style. The big K-Pop sensation “C. L.” performed a song about “bad girls,” and she suffered from the problems that afflict a lot of dance-music artists: the “lyrics” were just a barked-out repetition of a few phrases, and the “melody,” to the extent the song had one, seemed to have come from a Lady Gaga record but without Gaga’s sense of song structure: one of the things I like about Lady Gaga is that she actually writes songs with definite beginnings, middles and endings instead of just barking out a few words over a dance beat and calling that a “song.” Naturally I couldn’t hear a song about “bad girls” without instantly making the comparison to Donna Summer, who despite locking herself into a popular but superficial style that didn’t really do justice to her voice (that’s why I always liked the slow introductions to songs like “On the Radio” and her cover of “MacArthur Park,” because without the tempo speeding up for danceability and the drum machines strait-jacketing her into a strict rhythm pattern, she showed that she could phrase like a great standards or jazz singer — one wishes that Summer had recorded some standards the way Gaga has) managed to make the “bad girls” concept considerably more appealing — and she and her songwriters/producers, Giorgio Moroder and the late Pete Bellotte, also had a sense of song structure one misses in most of the dance artists of today (Lady Gaga excepted).

There was also a number from Exo, the Korean boy band that showed up on the last Grammy Awards — earlier, when a surprisingly homely 11-year-old kid sang the Korean national anthem (or was it the Olympic anthem? I got confused at the plethora of performers thrown at me during this event, most of whom I’d never heard of previously), I wondered what he was going to look like when he got older and where the truly attractive Korean men are. They’re in Exo and other boy bands; the members of Exo (there are seven of them) are genuinely hot and considerably more butch than their opposite numbers in U.S. boy bands, and their music is lightweight but appealing and free from the affectations that have marred a lot of Westerners in the same niche (can you say “One Direction”?). The fact that they’re all killer dancers and move on stage to their own music with a simple, unaffected directness also helps, though I’m unlikely to join the estimated 1.5 million people in the world who’ve already bought their current (and fourth!) CD. The ceremonies were most impressive when they were at their most anonymous, however: the ensembles moved through the ring with a dedication and precision that makes me think someone in South Korea wanted to prove to their brethren north of the DMZ, “Hey, we can do precision parades just as well as you can!” Indeed, the bald Black guy who was NBC’s principal host for the games said that one of the most welcome developments of this year’s Olympics was how South Korean President Moon Jae-in took advantage of the proximity of the games to North Korea (Peyongchang is only 50 miles from the border) to use them as a start of overtures to North Korea. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Moon Jae-in is basically saying to Kim Jong Un, “Hey, let’s settle this like grownups and ignore that crazy orange-haired guy in Washington, D.C.”