Someone should thank Cyndi Lauper for giving the social media world the gift it most cherishes: a target.
For those who missed it, Lauper’s performance last Thursday on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve was one of those nights she’ll want to forget.
She performed a short, awkward duet of “True Colors” with Billy Porter, then soloed energetically and sometimes off-key on an EDM version of “Hope.”
For most of 2020 this wouldn’t have mattered, because most artists spent 2020 singing in the shower after virtually all performance venues shut down.
Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve airs on ABC, however, a national television network, so a lot of people saw it.
This was unfortunate for Lauper. It was better than a bottle of Dom Perignon for the Twittersphere, which lit up with comments like these:
“She sounds like a mentally deficient version of Bjork.”
“Cyndi Lauper and Billy Porter just sounded like two 8 year olds putting on a ‘show’ for the adults with the intention of asking for a sleepover after.”
“Someone come get grandma.”
“Cyndi Lauper’s performance has now officially become the worst thing to happen in 2020.”
“It’s drunk aunts night in Times Square.”
“Cyndi Lauper is the real-life Moira Rose, only worse.”
“I want whatever Cyndi Lauper was on.”
If you distill this tiny sampling of Twitter comments down into artistic criticism, these folks have a point. Lauper probably sounds better in the shower. You and I may sound better in the shower.
This was an off-night, and there could be a dozen reasons for it. It was cold. She hasn’t sung a lot this year. Who knows about the acoustics? It’s weird looking out at a dark, almost empty Times Square. She’s 67 years old. Even for pros, some nights things don’t click.
That isn’t what thousands of watchers immediately took to social media, especially Twitter, to contemplate. Their aim was to amuse other social media followers with a clever line about what they were seeing.
This is not a new phenomenon. Television viewers have been swapping one-liners with their family and friends at bars and in living rooms since television was invented. It’s a dead certainty that ancient Greeks leaned over and made sarcastic remarks to their fellow Greeks when an actor flubbed a line in the first performance of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.
It’s time-honored and, let’s face it, it’s fun. It enhances the sense of shared experience.
The difference is that Aunt Michelle’s crack from her wing chair circulates to a contained audience. A tweet can go to dozens, hundreds or thousands of people, which increases both the spread of its wit and its power to sting.
True, that could also be said of old-school print criticism, some of whose practitioners have been known to venture into the personal rather than the artistic.
The difference with print criticism, which is not an absolution, is that when John Simon criticized actors in New York magazine by sneering at their weight, his name was on the criticism. The majority of tweets and other social media postings come under pseudonyms, allowing the writer to taunt someone while avoiding any accountability.
Whatever its point of origin, the practice feels a bit cowardly and if the response to that is “Chill, Grandpa,” you can’t get around the fact that taunting someone who has no way of responding is a form of bullying.
There’s also this: Even a personal attack clever enough to be amusing invariably leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.
To be fair here, a good number of social media responses to Cyndi Lauper’s New Year’s Eve gig focused on the performance itself, calling it “the perfect ending to 2020” or musing that it might finally douse a similar firestorm from a couple of years back when Mariah Carey’s lip-synching fell out of synch.
“Cyndi Lauper’s performance just told Mariah Carey’s performance to hold my beer,” someone tweeted. Now that’s funny.
Others tweeted that they love Cyndi, but they wondered what had just happened. Fair question.
Cyndi Lauper, in any case, won’t have to go into therapy to survive this. The girl with the New York accent, the rainbow hair and a hundred bracelets became an enduring pop star many years ago. She wrote Kinky Boots. She’s supported the right causes. She’s sung standards. And she’s got musical chops. Ask the late Miles Davis, who recorded “Time After Time.” She doesn’t need a defense.
In fact, I’d bet almost anything that if three-quarters of the people who impressed their friends with flaming tweets about Cyndi Lauper were to somehow run into Cyndi Lauper, they wouldn’t say a word about New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. They’d say they’re huge fans and ask if they could take a selfie with her.
“And I’ll see your true colors shining through . . . .”