By Geoff Edgers
What if it had been Prince? And please, don’t pretend the Purple One wouldn’t have lowered himself to do “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.” He did the Super Bowl. He made “The Rainbow Children.” I know what we think Prince would have done: either throw down his ax in disgust and exit left, or launch into a majestic, a cappella “Let It Be.” He certainly wouldn’t have pranced around in a leotard explaining himself.
But even if a technical malfunction revealed Prince relied exclusively on a Peabo Bryson backing track, there would have been barely a backlash. Mariah Carey’s trainwreck, in contrast, sparked a hundred variations of the “what-else-ended-Saturday-night… Mariah’s-career” joke across the tubes. Let’s start by cutting her some slack. Not everyone can turn a hamburger into steak tartare.
I’ve never been a Carey fan but I get why she’s important. She reinvented the diva, leading to the new generation that leapt from Christina Aguilera to Taylor Swift to Beyoncé. Most of those modern divas adapted that role and empowered themselves to become different kinds of artists, which is why I’m more likely to throw on their records than, say, the “Glitter” soundtrack. But let’s not forget Carey’s standing as a commercial powerhouse.
I am not enough of a Mariah Carey expert to tell you whether she can still pull off notes from 2006, let alone 1996. But Saturday’s performance was no Milli Vanilli incident. Backing tracks and lip syncs are standard for big, televised public events. It’s hard to do quality sound control for the audience that really matters: the folks at home. If you think it’s about sub-par talent, consider that when you see the Boston Pops performing the National Anthem at an NFL playoff game, they’re almost never playing live. And I don’t hear anybody accusing the French horn of faking it.
So after Carey’s mess and the weird, downer decision to play a clip of Wham!-era George Michael on the broadcast, it made me think of all the time spent lamenting the many artists we lost in 2016. With our Facebook feeds about as diverse as a Promise Keepers rally, it felt like cool, essential hipsters were dying at an unprecedented clip — which we all know they weren’t.