Perhaps you first met JD Samson when she replaced Sadie Benning in Kathleen Hanna’s Le Tigre, making the rare transition from stagehand to bandmember and writing songs like This Island highlight “Viz.” Perhaps you first heard her production work on Christina Aguilera’s Peaches featuring electro album cut “My Girls,” or maybe you stumbled across recent performances by her new group, MEN, at Brooklyn Bowl or Union Pool. Perhaps you’ve never met her at all. No matter where you fit in, make sure you make it to this gig at Knitting Factory.
This isn’t a Hanna show, per se, but rather a project to fund a film about her. The riot grrl goddess will be fetted in song by progeny (Care Bears on Fire) and influences (Kim Gordon) alike. No word about a cameo from the woman of the hour, but she can still pick up a last-minute DJ gig here, as she proved adept at spinning when she recently opened for the Raincoats at the MOMA. Someone might want to tell her now that the Christina Aguilera collaboration was a nice idea but Le Tigre is long overdue for another album.
“She doesn’t sing that way because she’s had it easy.” This is how Tess (Cher), the long-suffering owner of the nightclub at the center of Burlesque, defends her new star, Ali (Christina Aguilera), to the club’s jealous, deposed marquee attraction, Nikki (Kristen Bell). The same phrase could substitute as a marketing mission statement for Aguilera herself, who, throughout her decade-long adult career, has deftly incorporated triumph-over-trauma into her brand.
Aguilera’s narrative, presented to the world via lyrics, music videos, and interviews, begins with an abusive father and single mother, moves on to battles with depression and bad body image, and has recently been updated to include now-mother Aguilera’s very public divorce. Through it all, she seems to repeat a pattern: Admit crippling vulnerability, as in the hit ballad “Beautiful,” and then boldly, bitchily, and nakedly (often almost literally) embrace the pain, as in the single “Fighter,” in which she thanks an unnamed tormentor, because “If it wasn’t for all of your torture, I wouldn’t know how to be this way now, and never back down.”
Programmatic by design, Burlesque flattens Aguilera’s inherent thorny appeal—the persona that’s at once obnoxiously “provocative” and sympathetic—by laughably casting her as the 21st-century, torch-signing equivalent of Ruby Keeler in a hodge-podge of Busby Berkeley plots, with none of the Depression-era style or social critique. Aguilera’s innocent Ali is a small-town orphan who shows the audience her audacious singing talent over the opening credits, and then Greyhounds it from her tiny Iowa hamlet to Hollywood. There, she pounds the pavement looking for work and ends up at Burlesque, where she instantly becomes entranced by the stage show: highly gymnastic, quasi-comic lip-synch routines set to standards, performed by a cast of homogenous young things in sailor-motif underwear-as-outerwear. Ali might be impressed, but business is hardly booming, and it’s easy to see why: Burlesque lacks both the reliable base appeal of a real strip club (while the costumes are skimpy, they rarely come off), and, with Tess the only member of the company who dares to sing live, a personal touch. Ali (and the viewer) knows she can out-sing the recorded vocal tracks, but she keeps her talent to herself while working her way up from waitress to dancer.
Running an unconscionably extended 116 minutes, Burlesque is nearly half over before Aguilera is allowed to be Christina Aguilera. When she finally shows Tess and crew what she can do—singing Etta James’s “Tough Lover” without accompaniment—it’s the moment the movie’s been desperately waiting for. Time stops, audiences both on- and off-screen simultaneously get tears in their eyes and shivers down their spines and gigantic boners, and the film’s many flaws temporarily fall away.
But only temporarily. Burlesque, directed by Pussycat Dolls creator Steve Antin from a script credited to him and reportedly worked on by Diablo Cody and Susanna Grant, is so hampered by its influences that it wastes its primary asset: its superstar. Instead of leading with what Aguilera does best—belting, vamping, spotlight hogging—the movie shoehorns her into a rehashed backstage musical conceit: Good girl is tempted by bad guy, ultimately resists, becomes a star, finds love, and saves the show. (The fact that naïve Ali’s flirtation with the dark side is signified by her newfound proclivity for limited-edition stilettos and Herve Leger dresses is both hilarious and incisive.)
Burlesque, like Chicago before it, offers dispiriting evidence that the Hollywood musical is stalled at weak imitation Bob Fosse. Cabaret is clearly Antin’s guiding reference, with the similarities going way beyond the superficial (the hats, the garters, the chair dancing). Antin confines each musical number to the stage, weaving in off-stage narrative—there’s even a post-consummation love ballad illustrated with scenes from the bedroom, a la Cabaret’s “Maybe This Time.” What worked as a dialectical tactic in that film, creating ironic tension between the worlds onstage and off-, here feels like a tacit admission from Antin that he doesn’t have enough faith in the audience’s ability to watch an unbroken performance, to read story and character development into the song and dance itself.
To be fair, it’s not like he’s working with Kander and Ebb. Burlesque’s songs were written by a wide variety of producers and performers (Aguilera co-wrote just three), and not only is there no consistent creative throughline, but they serve no storytelling function—in fact, most songs were mixed like standard club tracks, rendering specific lyrics incidental. The film’s catchiest tune is “The Beautiful People,” bizarrely based on a Marilyn Manson sample. But Antin treats it like a throwaway, using the song to back a scene that takes place outside of the club, so even though Aguilera sings it, Ali doesn’t.
Fred Astaire used to insist that his onscreen dances be shot wide and virtually uncut, so that there’d be no doubt the performers were doing it for real and not faking it for the camera. Antin takes the opposite approach, fragmenting each number into quick glimpses of gestures, so that we get no sense of how the dancers are moving through space. What you remember when it’s over is the impact of Aguilera’s voice, but not what she’s singing; montages of body parts, but not the choreography; and Aguilera’s face, music-video-trained to hold a close-up so emotionally exaggerated, you might even call it a burlesque.
After all, they have that Cher connection. End of story.
But that’s not really what the interview (done by writer Natalie Hope McDonald) is about anyway.
Mainly, it focuses on my gig judging the Mr. Gay USA pageant in Philadelphia this weekend — what the title means; what I’ll look for in a contestant; and what it’s going to be like to be doing this alongside the A-List: New York boys.
Yes, the guys and I will be bonding ever so tightly as we get together to judge other people.
Burlesque stars Christina Aguilera and Cher, and the gays still aren’t satisfied? Clearly, the only thing missing from the new film is dick. That’s why Mimi Imfurst headlines a cast of drag-theater stars to mount Boylesque, a parody of the film before it even comes out. The action is moved from a glamorous nightclub in L.A. to a seedy gay bar in Akron, Ohio, where a small-town boy meets the world’s worst Cher impersonator and doors begin to open. Tearjerker? Maybe.
A week before the long-awaited (by sick gays) Cher/Christina Aguilera film Burlesque opens in November, there’ll be a drag spoof version of it at the Laurie Beachman Theater!
Yes, things happen very quickly nowadays, and in fact, the creators have gotten ahold of the film’s illustrious screenplay and liberally sprinkled some actual lines from it into their show, while making it about the hopes and dreams of drag queens trying to make it in the big city.
In this version, the big city is Akron, by the way.
Exhausted by its excess, we near the end of Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight” with a Polow Da Don–produced electro-mayhem bridge, synthesizers growling from the windows to the walls. If you’re following along with the video on YouTube, this would be the part where Xtina sucks a diamond-studded bondage gag and mounts some beau. But on record, she sounds more like she’s just finished clobbering a punching bag, fists still taped, when she deadpans, in a winded whisper, “Yah—I needed that.” Whew.
It’s an interesting admission, or maybe a justification for the preceding three oversung and oversexed minutes, wherein Christina—always up for oversinging, oversexing, or both—claims to be “doing things that I normally won’t do,” among them “feeling fine.” Left unasked is the question of whether you needed that—the bondage theme, the 10-octave tantrum, the synth war, all of that—but don’t expect the rest of her new album, Bionic, to inquire, either. The Excess Question has hounded her at every step on the road to Madonnadom, from her Mickey Mouse Club dalliances of yesteryear to the s/m club of “Tonight.” First with Britney, then with Gaga, the unfairly compared blend-in blonde has had to out-audition other star-kids since her Disney days, and continues to break glass like the judges have their pencils out.
If they do, they’ll all come to the same conclusion: Forget Lady Gaga. The basic threat to Christina’s identity is her own voice, the little circus trick living in her throat that regularly rumbles up to caricaturize the singer with ruptures like “mmrg-ya-ya-ya-yeah!” (Think “Lady Marmalade.” Briefly.) On Bionic, one of these outbursts is endowed with unexpected meaning when the exclamation “Woohoo!” on the track of the same name alludes to where “you put your lips where my hips are”—”Licky, licky,” she adds, in the interest of clarity.
But if her melisma usually seems vapid or indulgent, that’s just the Excess Question again, and as she makes abundantly clear across Bionic‘s 18 tracks, she’s going to give it to you anyway. Not only that, but she’s going to re-define, mid-giving it, who you’re getting it from. “Call me the supernova,” she insistently raps on the title track’s twitchy space-age rhythms, but wait: How do you spell that? “X-x-x-t-t-t-i-i-i-n-n-n-n-n-a,” stutters cyborg Christina, a sex machine programmed to assert its flawlessness. “Take me just the way I am,” crows a slightly more humanoid Christina over wistful shaker rustles on the ballad “I Am”—”I need you to see me,” she asserts, describing her unseen essence as “a lioness,” “naked,” and, of course, “beautiful.” Take her as she is, unless she takes herself: On the concise, synthed-up catwalk strut “Vanity,” she interrupts the proceedings to hum “Here Comes the Bride,” then snarls, “Now, I take myself to be my Lawfully. Wedded. Bee-itch!”
Go on, girl, I suppose. “I make myself so much wetter,” she remarks on “Vanity,” but isn’t that the problem? Impressive as the moxie pumping through Christina’s cold, careerist blood may be, the spectacle of a superhuman bedazzling herself with her various prowesses (singing, sex) leaves scant room for the outside world. On her American Idol–debuted “You Lost Me,” an ex-boyfriend—read: an outsider—causes her most vulnerable, un-bionic moment on the record: “You left me neglected,” she belts. But take note: She’s less vexed by what he did (“couldn’t keep your hands to yourself”) than what he lost (“me,” i.e., the high-note-gurgling bee-itch he’ll never lawfully wed.)
Her universe expands on “Elastic Love,” wide enough to accommodate two people. (That would be Christina and a wishy-washy crush whose “spastic love” is “like a pencil trying to write and you’re erasing me.”) The real amorous game, though, is between her and M.I.A., swapping sing-song-y rhymes and playground chants over the beat’s blips and bloops. It’s a fun duet, suggesting a two-girls-at-play theme that doubles in size when the significantly more regular folks in Le Tigre dial down Xtina’s Xcess on “My Girls.” Together, they cheer: “My girls, we’re stronger than one!”
It’s true. Remove her girls at play, and you’re left with Christina at work, pounding out precisely produced club-pop that moves bodies, if not spirits. On “Desnudate,” the entire throbbing, horn-squealing hook hangs on a suggestive moan—”nn-uh,” roughly—but damned if it doesn’t sound more like exercise than sex. As a creature, Christina is wound and rehearsed too tightly for the ups and downs of amour, but is just right for aerobics, which is why, despite all the comparisons to belly-throated pop sirens, the diva whose craft hers most deftly recalls is none other than James Brown’s. Like that other sex machine, Christina’s art is and is about hard work: labored yet cathartic drudgery that sweats, groans, and even hollers, but never loosens. When, amid the buzzsaw synths and handclaps on “Prima Donna,” Lil Jon exhorts y’all to “work yo’ body,” it sounds more like a call to shed pounds than bump or grind. She and Jon make a natural pair, really, the Prima Don and Donna of the guttural grunt: the hardest working-out people in show business, moving inert American bodies in a supposedly sexual but naggingly meaningless outburts of nn-uh‘s.
Sunday ushers in the Year of Metal Tiger, which sounds like a golf club. That’s actually appropriate, because things look auspicious for Tiger Woods — as long as he can keep his dick in his pants.
Just in time for Chinese New Year, the Voice offers up this celebrity-centered translation of what’s in store for all you furry animals. We’re basing it on the teachings of none other than the Feng Shui Grand Master himself, Singapore-born Tan Khoon Yong.
Let’s start at the beginning, with those of you born in the Year of the Rat (1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008): Your advice for 2010? Pray hard, and pray often.
You have a rough road ahead. Being a rodent, you tend to run and hide from big things. That’s not the game plan for this year. You need to find some courage and bluff your way through this year’s maze. Only through sheer self-confidence, and, well, assholery are you going to find your way to the cheese. Be brave, be a jerk, stay supremely self-assured, and you won’t end up some pussycat’s lunch. If people bitch and moan about you, put on earphones and turn up the volume. In for a bumpy ride: Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, David Duchovny, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford
Year of the Ox (1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009)
Barack Obama, an Ox, won the presidency in the Year of the Rat, which was a very lucky year for him. He took office in his own year, 2009’s Year of the Ox, which sounds just perfect, doesn’t it? Actually, it predicted disaster: when you meet your own year, Tan Khoon Yong tells us, you challenge the Grand Duke Jupiter God, and although we aren’t really sure what that means, it sure doesn’t sound good, does it? Well, that’s all over with now, and the GOP can really start sweating. Tiger and Ox get along just fine, and Obama should have a monster year. For all you Oxen out there, just keep this in mind: Don’t mix work with pleasure. You tend to work too hard, you lose focus, and your health suffers. Find time to chill. And men, treat your wives well and keep your eyes off the cute cows at the office. Ready for a bull market: Susan Boyle, George Clooney, Mos Def, Heidi Klum, Barack Obama, Meg Ryan
Year of the Tiger (1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998)
Sorry, Tigers, but you’re fucked. The Feng Shui masters say you’ll be offering up a challenge to Tai Sui, the Grand Duke Jupiter, or God of the Year, and with every freaking thing you do, you’ll have to watch your back. This is not a year to take chances, and if things aren’t going your way you’re going to feel like crap. All the time. But don’t lose hope entirely. This is a year to count on yourself, because you won’t find help from others. Create your own opportunities through careful, logical planning, and count on your imagination for ideas. Be cautious and wise, and you can give Grand Duke Jupiter — and everyone else — the finger. Who’s in deep shit: Tom Cruise, Jenna Jameson, Jay Leno, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Sanchez
Year of the Rabbit (1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999)
The lovable hare. Your charm makes you popular, and you feel good, but you might be looking for trouble. The new year should start with a plan to fix some lingering problems. Why? Hare men tend to cheat. And when you’re both rabbits — we’re looking at you, Brangelina — well, the tabloids may be in for a banner year. It won’t surprise anyone to learn that Tiger Woods is a randy rabbit, but if he’s really determined to change his ways, this year is on his side. Rabbits, stop trying to charm the rest of the world and use your powers instead to improve things at home and at work. And get some sun. Vitamin D can be the difference between a gloomy or glorious year. Who needs some beach time: Angelina Jolie, Michelle Obama, Conan O’Brien, Sarah Palin, Brad Pitt, Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods
Year of the Dragon (1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000)
You self-obsessed lizard, you thought everyone was having a shitty 2009. Well, there has been a recession on, but things were tougher on you than others. And you aren’t getting a break any time soon. Yes, it’s another tough year for the dragons, and watch out for unpleasant surprises, all related to your usual shortcomings (you know what they are). But fuck it, don’t listen to this prediction. You did survive the worst recession in a generation, and if you did that, you’ll be fine. Cheer up, Smaug. Keep your wings tucked and your head down: 50 Cent, Courtney Cox, Bret Easton Ellis, Courtney Love, Liam Neeson, Reese Witherspoon
Year of the Snake (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001)
Things look good for snakes, but don’t get pleased with yourself just yet. Serpents tend to celebrate success with sexual adventure, and some of you will be determined to turn this into the Year of the Slut. Down, boy! Try to redirect that energy into your career or something, because giving in to your impulses is not a good idea this year. Who’s champing to whore around: Mike Bloomberg, Tina Brown, John Edwards, Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Mayer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey
Year of the Horse (1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002)
Healthy as a horse? Tell that to Barbaro. Yes, it’s going to be that kind of year, Seabiscuit, and you better watch it. Trouble is looking for you, and it’s your health that’s likely to suffer. Avoid disputes, particularly anything involving documents that have your name on them, and gallop away from a deal that isn’t guaranteed. That said, a modest investment in real estate might be wise, and whatever you do, donate some charity or at least some blood while your health still holds. Constitutionally challenged: Halle Berry, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Cynthia Nixon, Gov. David Paterson, Kristen Stewart
Year of the Goat (1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003)
So long, bad luck, here comes good fortune. If Steve Jobs knew what was good for him, he’d have delayed introducing the iPad until after Chinese New Year (and given it a better name!). At least he’ll have a good chance to gain some weight this year. Goats are in luck: other people will favor them this year, and they’ll find assistance from places they didn’t expect it. But Billy, don’t be a show off. Play things right, and you’ll gain back more than you lost last year. Not scapegoats this year: Anderson Cooper, Benicio Del Toro, Steve Jobs, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Musto, Liev Schreiber
Year of the Monkey (1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004)
Monkey, your cycle of good luck has run out. Like the Tigers, you’re also offending the grand god of the year, and 2010 looks like twelve months of suckage. But monkeys often find ways to outsmart their misfortunes — except that they’re also accident prone. So figure things out with that nimble and creative mind, but don’t take risks or you’re likely to slip on a banana peel. In the jungle this year: Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Aniston, Daniel Craig, Salma Hayek, Jason Schwartzman, Will Smith
Year of the Cock (1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005)
We know, we know, it’s always the year of the cock, at least in the Village. But this year, seriously, you roosters have much to crow about. The stars have all aligned, and you need to make your big moves RIGHT NOW. Andrew Cuomo? Nothing can stop you, certainly not the likes of David Paterson and Rick Lazio. The feng shui masters say that this is the year for cocks to lay the foundation for a brighter future (and yes, they really do talk like that, so stop giggling). Don’t mess up this opportunity. Be smart, but be bold. Who wins: Beyonce, Gerard Butler, Andrew Cuomo, Jay-Z, Spike Lee, Taylor Momsen, Gwen Stefani, Tila Tequila
Year of the Dog (1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006)
Sorry, puppies, you’re in the doghouse this year. Not only is your luck poor, other people are going to shit on you all year long (and not pick up after themselves!). But look, there’s only one way to deal with it: Don’t complain, don’t whimper, take your losses in stride, and stay out of other people’s business. Don’t drive yourself insane waiting for your luck to turn. There’s an end to this, and it’s just twelve months away. Until then, just take it like a mindless, happy puppy. Bad dog, no biscuit: George W. Bush, Kelly Clarkson, Bill Clinton, Joseph Fiennes, Queen Latifah, Anna Paquin
Year of the Boar (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007)
Boars have had it tough. Hard work didn’t pay off for political pigs Eliot Spitzer and Hillary Clinton in 2008. Last year, 2009, was also supposed to be a lousy one for porkers, but somehow David Letterman watched it happen to the other guys. For the rest of you pigs, 2010 might just be your year. Shrug off the uncertainty and make this a year you take a chance. Sure, others think you’ve been beaten — but now is the time to surprise them with your resilience. Spitzer wants to run again? Do it, man, and not just in your socks. Who gets a break: Lance Armstrong, Hillary Clinton, Nicky Hilton, Mila Kunis, David Letterman, Ewan McGregor, Eliot Spitzer