YouTube Hall of Fame: George Michael, a Knife-Throwing Mom, and a Space Armadillo
Bill Simmons: I’m ashamed to admit that I watched some of VH1 Classic’s 30th anniversary celebration of MTV two weekends ago. OK, I watched most of it. Fine, fine, I DVR’ed all 12 hours and ripped through those 12 shows like a fat kid plowing through Halloween candy. MTV Classic not existing might be our single biggest television failure — you can’t even believe how many iconic musical and pop culture moments that channel produced until they’re randomly flying at you in a totally haphazard manner.
Jay Caspian Kang: Agreed. There needs to be a station where I can watch Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” GNR’s “Patience,” the “Ladies Night” collaboration between Missy, Li’l Kim, Da Brat, Left Eye and Angie Martinez, and “Mr. Wendal” all in a row. Also, I need to be able to judge my adolescent crush on Kennedy in hindsight.
Bill: You can judge your entire puberty in hindsight. Did you know Madonna’s performance of “Like a Virgin” at the 1985 VMA’s caused me to sprout my first chest hair? Seeing that again — and the possibility of seeing other things like that again — was what had me so hooked. At one point, in the span of 35 minutes, I saw Radiohead perform “Creep” at MTV’s Beach House (check out Thom Yorke’s hair), Chris Rock crushing his 1999 VMAs monologue (I loved the part when he starts making fun of J.Lo’s ass), three Nirvana “Unplugged” songs (the last great Cobain moment), and the highlight of Tom Green’s career (a hidden-camera gag when he painted two females having oral sex on the trunk of his dad’s car, then tried to give his dad a ride to work). I remembered most of these moments. I definitely did not remember George Michael’s performance from MTV’s 10th Anniversary performance in 1991.
Jay: I guess there was some truth to the whole “MTV generation” tag. Something about the styling and the slightly rebellious tone of MTV during the ’90 really made it stick in the collective adolescent memory. Actually, if I ever start a cult, I’m going to base it on old music videos. It’s going to be like Scientology, but for even stupider people. Instead of going back through your past to unlock forgotten traumas, I’m going to just preach therapy through pop music nostalgia. Instead of asking something like, “So, what happened back then that is hurting you now?” I would ask, “What was your happiest memory of Mr. Big’s ‘To Be With You?’” Or, “When you first heard Nelson’s ‘After the Rain,’ what were you doing?” Then I’d play 20 nostalgia videos on a big projector and charge insane prices on concessions and merchandise.
Bill: I like this idea — if we can have a sports psychologist, then we can definitely have a music psychologist. George Michael’s music doesn’t really trigger anything from my past except two things: The “I Want Your Sex” video had a bunch of supermodels, and whenever “Freedom” came on during a party when I was in college, girls would scream happily and start dancing with each other in their heavy sweaters. (It’s the same reason I didn’t mind Erasure in college.) Two fond memories, right, Mr. Music Psychologist?
Jay: That’s why the cult will work! Girls in small colleges in New England are the most depressed species of living thing on God’s green earth. If “Freedom” can make them happy enough to stop what they’re usually doing (frowning into keg cups and talking shit about Cindy’s black pants) and dance, you can start a cult with it. I’d call my cult, “Like a Prayer,” and I’d start every sermon with, “Life is a Mystery … Everyone must stand alone. I hear you call MY NAME!”
Bill: We’re getting away from George, he’s getting pissed. This “Freedom” performance was his greatest moment ever; these five minutes trumped anything the other George Michael ever did on “The Sports Machine.” The first few seconds threw me off; I just assumed we were headed for an awkward live performance shot out of a time warp. Poor George looked like he was going through a phase — like he was trying to distance himself from the Wham! era and maybe even hiding his sexuality a little. That led to him wearing a backwards Raiders hat and a leather jacket. I don’t think it was a good idea for George Michael to dress like Ice Cube really ever, but especially in 1991. So it’s really hard to take him seriously as the song kicks in. And then the song kicks in.
Jay: The Raiders hat is definitely the best detail of that video. Here’s another question I would ask my followers: “Why did MTV blur out the Raiders hats in rap videos, but didn’t blur them out in the George Michael 10th Anniversary performance?” My next question? “Do you think George Michael wore that hat in 1991 because he was the only white guy on stage with about 20 black backup singers?”
Bill: George was definitely overcompensating. There’s no question.
Jay: A cranky side note: I don’t think this performance could happen in 2011. George Michael would’ve been outed long before he came out, the Raiders hat would’ve been nixed, and they would’ve thrown at least 1½ other races out on stage. Some a-hole producer would have made him medley the song with “Faith,” and during the transition, Elton John and his piano would be rolled on stage.
Bill: Congratulations, you just came up with a special American Idol theme show for next season. By the way, I judge all contrived live performances by how they would have killed on Idol. Had Adam Lambert done this exact same performance two years ago — sans the Raiders hat, obviously — not only would it have brought the house down, Simon Cowell would have self-combusted. There just would have been Simon shrapnel everywhere.
Jay: I’m mostly impressed with how happy and confident George Michael seems on stage right here. Like he’s having the time of his life, isn’t he?
Bill: Agreed. I don’t know what to make of this performance. It’s brilliant. I finished it thinking, “Was George Michael totally underrated? Was this guy one of the best performers of his generation and I had no idea? Or was this a random event that didn’t mean anything — like if Jason Terry scored 52 points in a Finals game, and we left the game saying, ‘Wow, Terry was red-hot, what a game!’ and that’s all it meant?” You’re the guy who broke down the greatest divas of all time, you’re the guy who just created a music psychology cult … you tell me what to think.
Jay: He scores pretty highly on the Divas scale because he had snappy hand motions, weight fluctuations, drug problems, rehab dramas, a legitimately great singing voice, and commercial success. This MTV moment would’ve scored something like a 160 out of 200 in the Iconic Performance metric, which is pretty strong. (Whitney’s Super Bowl Star Spangled Banner was a 200/200, whereas Jordin Sparks’ American Idol winning moment as a 3/200). He even does well in the “Aging into a Drag Queen/Wearing F#@$-ed Up Hats” metric, where he’s just a smidge below Celine Dion.
Hurting George Michael was the fact that he never really took the listener on an emotional journey. That’s the biggest demerit you can accrue, really. Without that emotional tie, you won’t be memorable enough to attain true diva status. (WELCOME TO YOUR FORGOTTEN LIFE, BEYONCE circa 2025!!! #teamkellyclarkson)
It’s too bad they don’t have HGH for singers because George Michael has the perfect setup for one big comeback song, a la Cher’s Believe. I guess Auto-Tune kind of is HGH for singers, but given that his deficit is an emotional one, it’s hard to imagine that some catchy T-Painish club hit would really change George Michael’s status.
If we’re closing the book on him right now, I’d say he rates a little below TLC. Both had long careers, a few classics, crazy behavior, and the charisma to make you smile 15 years after the fact. Being just below TLC is a pretty damn good career, by the way.
David Jacoby: If you were ever worried about screwing up your kids by giving them milk with hormones in it, just click on the above clip for a taste of Louella Gallager’s parenting methods and you’ll immediately feel better about yourself. Today, you’ll get arrested for not putting your children in a car seat. In the ’50s, you got applause for not decapitating them with throwing knives.
Chuck Klosterman: I saw this during MTV’s 30th Anniversary programing and was reminded of how much I love it. I like the way the people converse.
Dan Fierman: Apparently this performance occurred at a benefit for breast cancer awareness. Let’s live blog it, shall we?
0:06: Please note the sign reading “MUSIC” in big bold blue letters above this band. It is the last time this term will come into meaningful play for the next four minutes and 31 seconds.
0:18: Do you think these guys all called each other to match their jean color before the gig? Is that their signature? Or are they JUST THAT IN TUNE WITH EACH OTHER?
0:42: You have to appreciate a man who is willing to do the fake reverb. “No, dude. No need to bring the wa-wa petal. I got this one. Seriously.”
1:25: My friend Gabe McKinley: “Coldplay has hit rock bottom.”
1:42: Just a spectacular sequence, as the camera pans between the bassist and the guitarist, both of whom are mouthing the lyrics and very obviously still royally pissed about the fight that they had in the van on the way over about who should be the lead singer.
1:58: Crucial moment. The disgusted-at-self headshake. It’s starting to sink in: This isn’t going well. It’s not going to get better. We may be totally, irrecoverably boned.
2:40: Oh no.
2:55: Oh god, no.
3:28: Look at the veins standing out on that guy’s neck! The effort! The self-disgust!
4:01: CLASSIC eyebrow raise from the bassist. The total, “I guess we just power through, but dude …” moment.
4:07: BLUE FLAME MOTORCYCLE SHIRT! BLUE FLAME MOTORCYCLE SHIRT!
4:27: Patronizing applause. Roach-like scurrying off the stage. A single, sad “Yay.”
4:31: And … fin.
Molly Lambert: The Mystery of the Flying Space Armadillo.
Lane Brown: A long time ago, back before publicists or decorum were invented, nobody gave better interviews than Bob Dylan. Would he show up (allegedly!) under the influence of heroin? Let Martha Quinn do his makeup? Completely ignore questions and draw a caricature of the reporter? You never knew! Here’s a relatively lucid TV interview from 1984, conducted shortly before Dylan split for lifeguard duty.
Katie Baker: I was originally going to link to this video, taken in late 1997, of Steve Jobs introducing Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign in front of some sort of branding or marketing audience, because I’ve always loved the “Think Different” commercial with an embarrassing passion. (Fun fact about it: It was quicker and easier than usual for them to obtain the rights to lots of the images because Joan Baez was Steve Jobs’ ex-girlfriend and Yoko Ono was his former neighbor.) Watching Jobs talk about Apple and comparable like Nike in 1997 is like watching clips of Shaquille O’Neal on the Orlando Magic — he’s basically already at the top of his game, and yet you know he’s going to go so much higher.
If I sound like a fangirl, I am: My relationship with Apple goes back to my youth, as most dorky connections with teams or bands (or technology corporations, as it were) tend to do. In other words: I totally went to MacWorld Boston in 1997, man. I was 14, so I didn’t spring for the fancy tickets that got you into Steve Jobs’ keynote speech. But here’s the video of what happened that day in that room.
It’s hard to explain how big this was and is. Like, thank god Twitter wasn’t a thing. Bailed out by the enemy, Microsoft! Apple Computer was at that point not long for this world. Management was a disaster, a conveyer belt of visionless CEOs. Market share languished, especially once Windows 95 snatched all the Apple-y things from Apple and took off. (That they were even willing to help Apple was largely to shield themselves from a monopoly situation.) The Newton was — hahahah, aw, the Newton. Apple’s share price went to somewhere around 12 at one point. In 1996 BusinessWeek put it straight on its cover: “The Fall of an American Icon.”
The reaction from the crowd here at MacWorld is beautiful to watch. I think my favorite guy is the one who shouts “Noooo!” several times around 2:46. They’re angry, but they get that they’re otherwise doomed. They can’t believe Steve Jobs would do this to them — and at the start I kinda think they think it’s maybe even a prank — but they hold fast to their love: Note how desperately they laugh at his bad jokes throughout. And as much as they jeer Microsoft and Internet Explorer when the words come up on screen, they can’t quite be so impolite to a videoconferenced-in Bill Gates, who smiles like he’s some sort of paternalistic commissioner, the (shudder) lovechild of David Stern and Bud Selig.
The “Think Different” ad campaign, which preceded by a few months that trippy plastic blue iMac that your parents probably still have in the guestroom, is widely considered one of Apple’s great turning points. But it was a month or so earlier at MacWorld that everything began to take shape. And I just love that the rebirth of one of the world’s biggest companies was initially premised around so basic a storyline — Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
Sarah Larimer: This is a video of a goat singing along to Usher’s “Papers.” Do I really need to keep typing? OK, FINE. Is Goat Usher better than Person Usher? Maybe, right? Goat Usher is certainly a rare talent. Which part of this video do you get tired of first: The “bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” or the actual song? I think the song, but then again, I really like goats. Sorry, Usher. Whatever the case, “Goat sing with Usher” is definitely an upgrade from what I guess is the 1.0 version of this video (hat tip: Grantland intern Sam Schube): Goat Yelling Like A Man. That’s just annoying.
David Cho: I don’t have kids, but if I did, I would be embarrassed and ashamed that these kids were so much better than my kids, who have now been rendered essentially worthless.
Previously: YouTube Hall of Fame: Sheep, Kurt Loder on the Internet, and Dating Advice From Dr. Paul
YouTube Hall of Fame: Tales From the NBA Lockout, an Angry Keith Richards, and Shark Week Memories From January Jones
YouTube Hall of Fame: Brawling Bruins, Marshmallow Tests, and the Latest Jamaican Dance Craze