Saturday, August 11, 2012

The 2012 Summer Olympics Soundtrack: WWAD? (What Would America Do?)

The other day I skimmed an amusing article online that re-imagined the 2012 Summer Olympics relocated to the United States. What would the opening ceremony have sounded like? According to the article, not so good. It conjured a mental image of an overblown Hollywood blockbuster-style affair directed not by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), but by Michael Bay (Armageddon, the Transformers series), and headlined perhaps by the Black Eyed Peas.

Ugh! I shuddered just thinking about it. I can't say that what I've seen and heard of the 27 July opening ceremony in London has knocked me off my seat -- perhaps I'd have to be British to appreciate the relevance of the dancing nurses, orderlies and children crowding the Olympic stage during the Mike Oldfield portion -- but I can always get behind a live line-up that includes such a diverse roster as Paul McCartney, Arctic Monkeys, Emeli Sandé and Dizzee Rascal on the main stage; Duran Duran, Stereophonics, Snow Patrol and Paolo Nutini (where has he been?) in a Hyde Park pre-ceremony concert; David Bowie, Bee Gees, Pet Shop Boys, Soul II Soul, Happy Mondays and Underworld's "Born Slippy .NUXX" on the soundtrack; and best of all, no Black Eyed Peas.

"Last Request" Paolo Nutini

I've read that confirmed performers for the 12 August closing ceremony include Take That, the Who, George Michael and Spice Girls, while Annie Lennox, Kate Bush and Pet Shop Boys, among other UK acts that excite me less, have been seen rehearsing around London. Bangkok is six hours ahead of London, but I'm so staying awake for this!

One wonders if Elton John's invitation got lost in the mail, but if I were in London right now, the prospect of seeing Blur, New Order and the Specials live at the Hyde Park after-party would more than make up for the Elton oversight.

Even with the fantastic pool of home-grown talent in the U.S., I still picture a New York City Summer Olympics opening and closing ceremony that looks more like a star-studded Super Bowl-style pop event, featuring Madonna, Nicki Minaj, LMFAO and those Black Eyed Peas as well as Lady Gaga and Rihanna, both of whom must be contractually obligated to perform at everything.

Under the guidance of someone like director David Fincher, the U.S. would no doubt produce a far more interesting and cutting-edge show (probably featuring significant contributions from his regular soundtrack collaborator Trent Reznor, a surprise Oscar winner for scoring the Fincher-directed The Social Network), but if I know my fellow Americans, they'd more likely go for the kind of commercial big-budget spectacle that someone like Michael Bay never fails to produce. Cue fast cars and multiple explosions!

Not that spectacle is a uniquely American concept. Muse's "Surival," the official song of the 2012 Summer Olympics and also the first single from the band's upcoming sixth album, The 2nd Law (due 1 October), which the band will perform at the closing ceremony, is modern rock at its most grandiose. But consider the alternative: Bay, who probably still has Diane Warren on speed dial, would no doubt have rung her up and commissioned a power ballad for Aerosmith to perform that's 10 times as overblown as "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," their Armaggeddon collaboration that's still ringing in my ears 14 years later.

"Survival" Muse

For a hint at where U.S. entertainment interests lie, consider this: NBC cut Emeli Sandé's moving performance of the Scottish hymn "Abide with Me," a tribute to victims of the 2005 "7/7" London terrorist bombings, from the U.S. airing of the opening ceremony because it wasn't tailored to a U.S. audience (the implication being that only tragedies that happen on U.S. shores matter to Americans during the Olympics), and the network aired a Ryan Seacrest interview instead. Who wants to see Ryan Seacrest during an Olympics opening ceremony? This isn't American Idol (thank God -- though a U.S. sponsored ceremony might look and sound a lot like an AI season finale, too).

How would us Yankees feel if the BBC excised an Alicia Keys-sung 9/11 tribute from a U.S. opening ceremony because 9/11 happened outside of the UK? (And I thought those Spanish translators talking over the acceptance speeches during the televised Oscars in Argentina were disrespectful.) Would anyone rather watch Seacrest interview an Olympic swimmer than hear Sandé sing? I didn't think so. America's loss.

"Abide with Me" Emeli Sandé

The UK's gain? By hiring Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting, the 1996 film that produced my favourite soundtrack of all time, to oversee the opening ceremony, the London Olympics organisers ensured a musical menu that would be inclusive, if nothing else. But how daring of Oscar-winner Boyle to sign on the guys in Underworld, the electronic act whose "Born Slippy" was the highlight of the Trainspotting soundtrack and one of the best UK singles of the last 20 years, as musical directors. Their "Caliban's Dream" might not be quite "Chariots of Fire"-caliber (the 1981 Vangelis classic was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra at the opening ceremony), but I'd like it even if it had nothing to do with the Olympics.

Georgeous as the seven-minute suite is, though, if I were an Olympian going for the gold, I'd rather do it to the unrelenting techno beat of "Born Slippy." That a song so fast, so furious, so closely associated with heroin found its way into the Olympics at all gives me a jolt of ecstasy (the non-pharmaceutical kind). You'd never have gotten anything like that in the States!

"Born Slippy" Underworld

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