Pondering the Beautiful and Complicated Contradiction That Is Josh Groban and His New Song “Brave”


I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you, dear reader, are probably not in the Josh Groban demographic. I’m not exactly sure what the Josh Groban demographic is, but I’m almost certain it doesn’t involve reading blogs, or knowing what they are. My guess is that Josh Groban fans stick to the Missing Child Prayer Alert/My Google Won’t Download corners of the web. I’m not in his demographic either, but for some reason I find Josh Groban fascinating.

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He’s a man of contradictions. Actually, just one contradiction: his music, in the jargon of serious criticism, sucks. It sucks in the plainest and most classic way; it Michael Bolton sucks; it Celine Dion sucks. It’s almost adorable that something could still suck so quaintly in the 21st century. On the other hand, he seems like a genuinely cool, funny, self-aware and handsome guy. It’s tough to reconcile, like when MTV would do specials where they rode around in Blink 182’s van: at first you think, Wow, I could totally hang out with these hombres, but then they play a clip of their music and you remember why you’ve been calling in bomb threats to all their concerts.

There must be some good reason for it. Groban is with-it enough that he ought to be able to listen to “You Raise Me Up” and go, “Hey, my song huffs mad doo,” but still he persists in lame-o schlock for boring people. I don’t know why. Maybe he thinks he’s typecast by his bellowing voice and loveable face, or maybe he’s just a super good grandson and he wants to make nice songs that his family can be proud of at Christmastime. My best guess is that he’s got his niche, he makes his money, and he goes home and listens to Einstürzende Neubauten.

Considering all my Groban ambivalence, I’ll try to be fair in my review of his new single, “Brave,” from his upcoming album All That Echoes (grammar watch, homie: should be All Those Echoes). It would be easy enough to kick around the square-ass popera dweeb song from my lofty perch in the hep bloggo catbird, but I’ll focus on the positive.

The Basic Merits of “Brave” by Josh Groban

  • As a song, it’s very realistic. If a friend started singing it, I wouldn’t say “hey, that’s not a real song.” There are instruments and everything, and Josh Groban fully sings the thing. The why is a little hazy, but the what is crystal clear: this thing is a song.
  • I cannot rule out that Josh Groban put some genuine feeling into this track. For starters, it’s difficult to move that much air through your vocal cords without experiencing a sensation. I think I can relate to what Josh Groban is feeling: it probably feels like a sort of controlled, beautiful yelling, and I’ve done about a third of that. I bet he also feels like he’s going to make a lot of money (which I can’t relate to, but it seems great!).
  • If this was played at really low volume in Macy’s, it probably wouldn’t bother you. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even notice. But if you did, in that context, it would sound correct. Be careful, though: it’s like a sprayed-white Christmas tree covered in blue lights and tinsel– works fine in the bank, but you might not want it in your house.
  • There’s a certain cinematic quality to it, like the closing credits of a Disney movie. Maybe not Disney, but at least one of those well-timed equivalents meant to confuse grandmas into renting the wrong video. This could absolutely be the soaring closer to one of those things. “Brave (Theme from Art Frisney’s The Hunchback of Public Domain).”
  • If you listen to it two or three times, like I did for some reason, there’s a chance it could get stuck in your head. A real “earworm,” like that terrifying Night Gallery episode. Then again, it could also get stuck in your head if you bought the physical CD single and hired a dude to wing it into your dome. I might recommend the latter over the former.
  • The lyrics have a very positive message of confronting your fears head on, weathering the storm of self-doubt and achieving your dreams through courage and determination. I was so impressed by the track’s poetry that I even submitted the words to Rapgenius, with some fairly straightforward explanation.

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