Don't Tread On Them: Kanye Meets the Untouchables
By Dendy Jarrett |
There's an easy way to avoid self-inflicting wounds —
In recent weeks, a video floating around social media sites shows that Kanye West’s attempting to channel Freddie Mercury singing Queen’s famed Bohemian Rhapsody goes beyond “Really Bad Idea” to “Truly Epic Fail.” It’s being removed as fast as it goes up—but as long as it exists in some form somewhere, some internet whack-a-mole enthusiast will probably keep posting it instead of putting it out of its misery.
Ah, if only Kanye had listened to the sage advice given often on American Idol: There are some artists in this industry, past and present, living and not living, that you simply do not touch. They should be considered off-limits because there’s no way you’re going to come out ahead by comparison. In the case of Mercury meets West, it’s not just about the bad pitch (besides, we have Auto-Tune for that—and Randy Jackson’s equally sage admonishments about the value of not being “pitchy”). It’s about thinking you can do better, only to prove you can’t.
Some great examples of untouchables are Whitney Houston, Ray Charles, Elvis, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Aretha Franklin, Daryl Hall, Michael Jackson, Robert Plant, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Patti LaBelle, Celine Dion, Sam Cooke, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Christina Aguilera, Barbra Streisand, Marvin Gaye, Johnny Cash, and Bono…just to name a few. If you’re going to attempt to sing one of their iconic songs, you better be able to “kill it” and bring the house down—or interpret it in such a way to give it a unique, and compelling twist, as the Byrds often did with Dylan songs. Paying homage to a great singer is only a compliment if you can take it beyond eleven. If you can’t…you aren’t fooling anyone when you try to engage the crowd to sing the parts that you have no business attempting.
Some artists are incomparable. They knew no boundaries, and had no limitations. They pushed through long tours, grueling schedules, and got eaten by music industry sharks. They set the bar—so don’t even try to reset that bar unless you can raise it.
Whoever recommended to Kanye that he should try singing Bohemian Rhapsody song is this year’s winner of the Truly Appalling Career Advice award. And given the reaction on the interwebz, it may even get the lifetime achievement award before the year is out.
I’m no Randy Jackson, but if I was a judge on American Idol, I’d say don’t make the same mistake Kanye did…unless you want your YouTube video to go viral for all the wrong reasons.
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Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.