Friday, December 04, 2009

Carrie Underwood

What's interesting about Carrie Underwood is that, even by American-Idol-winner Standards, she's an incredibly postmodern creature--Baudrillard's map with no territory beneath.

When I first heard "Before He Cheats" on the radio, I thought it was pretty awesomein its own way: forceful tune, nice and vengeful (especially appreciate the bitchiness of "his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive"), and the way that each explication of betrayal is preceded by "right now he's probably," creating some doubt as to whether this infidelity is really happening, or whether she's just a crazy person (I sort of think that might not be intentional, though--the video doesn't really support that interpretation).

So I like the song, but I also think it's kind of hilarious, because who does she think she's fooling? (okay, that's not really a fair question--who do her handlers think they're fooling, is more the point). I hope it's not overly condescending of me to say that Underwood menacingly walking in slow motion in sunglasses with a baseball bat is about as convincing as a little kid playing dress-up.

So the song's totally artificial--so what? But the bigger point is, she does all sorts of different songs with all sorts of different moods, and while there's no reason why a performer can't stretch like that, with Underwood, whether she's sounding vulnerable, wounded, playful, brassy, vengeful, whatever--there's always a palpable sense of calculation about her. "Okay, here's the one where she shows her feminist side. But don't worry, foax--here's the one where she gets anodynely religious!"

I have no reason to doubt that she is a perfectly amiable person, but there's really no way to tell, since in her music, she's never anything more than a blank slate. As a performer, there's just no there there. It's all surface. Occasionally the songs work in spite of this: in addition to the above, I can't help liking "Some Hearts;" I know it's nothing all that special, but there's a good chorus (even if "side" and "times" DO NOT RHYME, DAMMIT), and I like the wordplay of "some hearts get all the right breaks." "Last Name" is also good, and so is "Flat on the Floor"--but man alive, songs like "All-American Girl" and "The More Boys I Meet" make me long for the sweet embrace of death.

You can enjoy this stuff if you keep your distance, but the idea of The Children growing up with stuff this synthetic as their soundtrack strikes me as highly dubious.


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