Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Michael Jackson vs Beyonce

I cant't believe I'm writing this!
At the end of each class I try to give a little taste of American culture. I have been listening to Chinese teens go on and on about Michael Jackson. He is big here. I hear his songs all the time. I have mixed feelings about this very talented pop star who peaked over 20 years ago. I basically think of him as a very weird pedophile drug addict who was an awesome entertainer in his prime.
I felt I should give the kids what they want, so I downloaded some videos of him in his prime, in concert. But I also felt they should get the hottest music star today, too. So they got Beyonce. They got a five minute performance from each, starting with Mr. J. I mostly showed a live show in Budapest of him doing the song, “Thriller”. It’s fun. It has dancing corpses and skeletons. I showed several different shows of Beyonce.
It’s a great contrast in styles. Both are (were in his case) great singers, dancers, and entertainers. Both draw enthusiastic, massive crowds. Then the contrast gets interesting. He spends a lot of stage time standing still, my favorite being the Jesus on the cross pose, while his fans go nuts. He soaks up the adulation, like a solar panel in too short pants. It feeds him. When he is finished sucking up the love, he gets going. Great moves, and singing. However, he NEVER smiles, or really connects with the crowd. In fact, his I-can’t- get- this- bowel- to- move grimace is what you get. Is he enjoying himself?
Beyonce, on the other hand really loves it onstage. She connects with the crowd, and she exudes serious sex appeal. The boys in the class were mostly gape mouthed during her performances. In fact, I was a little worried that her stuff might be a little too risqué for the post Mao era, but I could always say, “Hey this stuff is from American TV”. I also like to point out the fact that her band is all women, and that she is the number one performer in America. He on the other hand, is a dead has been.
However, straw polls seem to indicate that the androgynous dead guy is still more popular than the sexy, R&B diva. I asked one of my students why MJ has such star power in China? He told me that Chinese young people like weird. Chinese entertainers are pretty tame. Even Hong Kong and Taiwanese stars are tame by comparison. They like his weirdness! Okay! Now I kind of get it. Marilyn Manson, I don’t think, has the right kind of weirdness. They like the pop tunes, but want strange. It has been an education for me, too. And I came out of this really liking Beyonce.