Humans, Posthumans, and a Detergent Ad


Forget that “opera-trained” hoodoo that sur rounded Mariah’s early years. First of all that’s a code to cajole the easily impressed and class-conscious into taking some low-falutin’ pop singer seriously as an ARTIST (see also Pat Benatar ’80). In Mariahcase the code is also spozed to naturalize her, as if she ever sounded human. In 1991, Mariah had a vision of love that only dogs and computers could hear. She was the test case for a singing machine, the pilot project for a decade of proliferating digitech muses. No coincidence that she appeared at the same moment as Simians, Cyborgs, and Women by theorist Donna Haraway, who didn’t know from Top 40 but knew all about the posthuman.

And the beauty part is how much room the posthuman leaves the humans when they roll up. Mariah’s “Heartbreaker” (hey! That’s a Benatar title, isn’t it? There are no coinci dences, pal) is a fine turn with Jay-Z, akin to “Fantasy” minus classic sample and ODB’s “Me’n’Mariah go back like babies and pacifi ers” couplet (which led to all kinds of crazy shit like Ol’ Dirty’s spare moniker “Big Baby Jesus” preparing for a later “Mariah/Messiah” rhyme). The remixed “Heartbreaker” is also a duet but now it’s phenomenal. Only it doesn’t involve Miss Carey, pairing Da Brat with Missy Elliott in a blithe spitfire duel. Mariah just deploys half a hook with implacable perfection. She probably thinks she’s human. Hey, so did Harrison Ford’s replicant heartthrob in Blade Runner.

But, you’re thinking, this is not a character we’re talking about but a REAL PERSON. Per haps I should mention that similarly real per son Sean Young got cast as said character not for her thespian genius but cuz the cinematog rapher admired her “wonderful, light, creamy, highly reflective skin.” Kind of sick. But Mariah, who surely calls her own shots, cast herself. I dunno. Maybe she’s more like the title charac ter in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Cyborg (who is a woman—in a stretch, the star plays a human), programmed to achieve the mission objective: in this case, replace Madonna as the chart-
toppingest female evah. Mariah is a vocal technology in cutoff jeans, and like all terrifying brilliant irresistible cyborg lovers, she keeps on coming back incessantly.

Meanwhile, Ol’ Dirty Bastard gets more human every day and it just hurts. “Got Your Money” stumbles between Vaudeville and Bed lam looking for a personality that won’t melt down. Riffing through all possible put-ons (he’s his own posse), Russell Jones ends up in the skin of Slick Rick the Ruler. On loan from “Bedtime Story”: wandering cinematic narra tive, tumbling left-hand keyboard hook. From “La-Di-Da-Di”: exaggerated singsong plus, à la Charles Dickens, “he do the police in different voices.” But this is black humor, motherfucker; even “La-Di-Da-Di”‘s carefree narcissism is gone, and Emcee Rickie D’s “conceited bas tard” is now just old and dirty. ODB loathes his role more each second; by the end you just wanna hide all the guns around his house. Despite or maybe because of how intense the shit gets, the song’s as powerful as anything on the radio, harder to turn off than it is to sit through.

If every song’s an autobiography, “Chemicals Between Us” is easy reading. Surviving on the distant memory of when grunge mattered (or when Britain was voguish, or when cute bad boys were allowed to be from countries other than Disneyworld), Bush bet their return on a single that begins “I want you to remember.” Remember what—1994, with its dead heroes and dead history? You must be high. Oh, that’s the point. This isn’t a song about two lovers, it’s about two years that can’t look each other in the clock-face. Not while sober, anyway.

Late entry for worst song of the year, pseudoautobiography category: Remember the party in Say Anything when Lili Taylor busts out her acoustic for a bad boyfriend-blues that basically involves keening “Joe lies” over and over while clumsily alternating the only two chords she knows? Beth Hart seems to have mistaken that scene for an instructional video; “L.A. Song” revolves around the line “he lied and he lied and he lied and he lied,” complete with Lili-esque guitar work. Hey Beth, that was a COMEDY, OK?

Late entry for best future detergent ad: Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That,” in which the young Tim gets barbecue sauce on his shirt. Conjuring first love as if the seduction were happening NOW is why they came up with rock’n’roll in the first place: to nail the struggle of most every 17-year-old between excessive emotions and the most awkward, naive ways of articulating them, and the way the imbalance electrifies and distorts the world. That’s what Elvis sounded like, and Chuck Berry, and the Beatles ‘. But rock learned all these fancy words and complex chords and had to be about something else and that’s fine. That’s why we keep Nashville around.