Thursday, February 6, 2014

Divas vs. Queers

What happens when openly gay singers dare to cover songs made famous by divas?

The Song: "Wrecking Ball"

It was the second single released from Miley Cyrus' fourth studio album, Bangerz (2013). It peaked at number one in nearly a dozen countries. Okay, go ahead and argue that Ms. Cyrus, all of 21 when she recorded it, does not qualify as a diva. All I can tell you is that she appears to be following the modern diva template provided by Madonna (and feebly adopted by the likes of Britney Spears). Cyrus has made a controversial music video (see below), done some crazy look-at-me-look-at-me shit on awards shows and routinely changes her look. She seems determined to make you forget she was ever Hannah Montana, the titular character of her successful Disney Channel series. Sounds like a diva to me.

It took five (five!) people to write "Wrecking Ball" -- Ms. Cyrus was not one of them -- and it received mixed reviews, even backhanded praise. PopMatters called it "the kind of broad mainstream song that shows you how to properly build up to a chorus before hitting us over the head with it." The Los Angeles Times suggested that the track proved she "isn't just a twerk-bot programmed to titillate," but added, "Cyrus' singing throbs with what feels like an embarrassment of emotion." I'm pretty sure that's not a compliment.

And then there's the video. Miley emotes a lot, swings a sledgehammer and rides a wrecking ball. She's wearing a tight little sleeveless shirt, some underwear and a pair of Doc Martens. At first. Eventually it's just the Doc Martens. I sincerely wish I'd been a fly on the wall when she and the director discussed how much better the video would be if she licked that sledgehammer. Decisions like that are what takes a project like this from bad to so bad it's awesome!

At the time of its release I remember telling a friend that "Wrecking Ball" isn't a bad pop ballad. I mused aloud that maybe someone who doesn't need to bludgeon their child star past to death should take a crack at it. Behold, Eli Lieb. The openly gay singer takes a stripped down approach to the song that feels a lot more organic, honest and heartfelt. It's a very satisfying marriage of man and electric dulcimer... an instrument he plays, not licks. (Though to be fair, I realize lots of people would enjoy seeing him play his dulcimer while just wearing a pair of Doc Martens.)

Eli Lieb (photo courtesy of his Facebook page)

Eli Lieb's music is available on iTunes and his website. You can check out more of his videos on YouTube.

To see the first entry in the Divas vs. Queers series (featuring Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" reimagined by Matt Alber), click here.

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