I admit I know next to nothing about current popular music. When it comes to recognizing artists and songs, I dropped out somewhere in the 80s. In fact, I have a recurrent nightmare that I’m a contestant on Jeopardy’s Tournament of Champions, and way ahead of my two challengers. Then comes the final Jeopardy category: Today’s Top 50 One-Name Artists. Luckily, I awaken just as I’m about to write Liberace.
Although I have no clue about what is broadcasting through the ear buds of some 16-year-old, I haven’t failed to notice a general escalation in weirdness. It appears that it’s no longer enough to have talent. In fact, talent may not necessarily be required if you have a really good schtick.
(For those uninitiated in Yiddishisms, schtick is a GermanYiddish word that literally means “piece,” but in common usage refers to a gimmick or someone’s signature behavior.)
I’m desperately fighting the urge to say “in my day…..” for all of the obvious reasons, but I can’t help but think of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and all of the other greats who just got up there and sang! But to be fair, we had our share of performers like the above-named Liberace, and Elvis, who were famous as much for candelabras, gaudy outfits, and sequins, as their talent.
The modern music business seems to be a breeding ground for schtick. I have only to think of some of the most popular divas over the recent years, like Cher, Madonna, and Cyndi Lauper, whose constant reinventions made you believe that every day could be Halloween. And Michael Jackson? Great performer, but also no shortage of gimmickry, white gloves and all.
Which brings me to today, to the one I had regarded as the current Reigning Queen of Schtick, the highly gifted musician and singer, Lady Gaga. That is, until a week ago, when I happened to watch Saturday Night Live.
I’ve been a fan of SNL since its inception in 1975, when staying awake past 11:30 on a Saturday night, or any other night, for that matter, was not the insurmountable challenge it is today. Currently, I might make it for five minutes of the opening skit, then it’s lights out. But I digress.
For some unknown reason, on this particular Saturday night, I was wide awake. Okay, so maybe I was a little bit curious to watch Donald Trump, who was hosting, deliberately try to be funny. Or maybe it was the sausage pizza I had for dinner. I’m not sure. But one or the other was a sufficient stimulant.
What followed was the appearance of an apparition on the stage, which, judging from the shape of the body, I guessed was a woman. I say “guessed” because I never saw her face. She was wearing a white, long, straight-haired wig with bangs that hung down past her nose. Where the bangs stopped two cartoon-like Betty Boop eyes were painted on either side of where I figured her nose was located. This of course assumes that her face was actually constructed in a manner consistent with human anatomy. (Above photo shows similar outfit in blue.)
(In light of her mysterious identity, I found it odd that she chooses to call herself “Sia.” Is this her given name, or merely part of the schtick. Hey, one wants to call out, I can’t see ya! Haha!)
Oh, and let me not forget the giant black bow that sat on top of the wig, which, for some reason, conjured up images of Minnie Mouse. A short coat dress and very tall boots completed the outfit.
I have to admit I was both mesmerized and highly befuddled. Why would someone choose to look like she was just deposited on earth from a space ship? Was she a practitioner of some exotic religion that had not yet become mainstream? An escapee from Disney World? Or merely on her way to Comic Con?
I believe she had a nice voice, but I couldn’t really tell. She had a tendency to mumble in a Dylan-like fashion, but I could occasionally make out I’m alive; I’m still breathing, which was a giant relief since her bangs were covering her nose.
She was accompanied during her performance by another woman in a similar wig, but whose face was exposed. This poor woman appeared to be suffering, a conclusion I drew from watching her writhing, jerky movements, and the amount of time she spent on the floor. I thought someone should have immediately called 911. But in retrospect, I believe she was dancing.
I was intrigued. I forgot all about Donald, and did some checking into Sia. Where have I been? It seems that Sia (aka Sia Kate Isobelle Furler) is a currently very popular and prolific singer-songwriter hailing from Australia. She hides her face, she says, because she doesn’t want to be recognized. She doesn’t want to be famous. So she sang at the Grammy Awards, standing in a corner, body turned to the wall.
Sia — your persona as your “anti-fame manifesto?” Really?
If you’re so fame-phobic, why do you choose to perform before thousands of people? You can just keep writing songs for others to perform, while you yourself sing only in the shower, or along with your car radio, with the windows closed, like the rest of us.
But, hey, what do I know? After all, here I am writing about you. And I highly doubt you’re composing a song about me. So I guess schtick pays, and pays well.
And like Liberace, Sia is no doubt “laughing all the way to the bank.” That is, if she removes her wig long enough to find her way.