This morning, while I scoured the internet for amusing content to write about, I had an interesting conversation with Lu Galasso over at Inching Towards Mediocrity. We were discussing the nature of artistic talent, and he wondered aloud why so many successful actors and actresses in this day and age seem to believe that just because they're good on screen (or at least financially successful thespians) means they're entitled to shoehorn themselves into a recording career. Upon reflection I had to agree with him: while they're both “artistic” pursuits, acting and singing haven't been synonymous for probably decades. Sure, guys like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin could do it, but those guys form the basis of what we define as “cool”, so that's a pretty high bar to set for today's lackluster “talent”.
Unfortunately, in the present day, the prevalence of post-production engineering software like ProTools allows even the worst of us to sound passable through the speakers. But no amount of EQ fooling about can mask a distinct lack of talent in today's round-up, featuring my personal top five actors or actresses who should never have been allowed into a studio.
Before I get to the good part (the castigation you've come to know and love) I'll preface it by saying there are a few artists you're not going to see on this list. While I think we can all agree “Will2K” was unfathomably embarrassing, the Fresh Prince got his start as a musician, not an actor, so he doesn't make the cut (also, “Parents Just Don't Understand” was awesome, so I'd feel bad giving him shit for his later efforts). No, this list is dedicated to people who “made it” as on-screen performers before they made the ill-informed decision to go into the studio. Ready? Good. Here we go. In no particular order:
Bill Paxton, “Martini Ranch”
As an actor, Bill Paxton's career has been remarkably noteworthy: he's been appearing on screen since the early 80s, the highlight of which my generation will remember as his iconic performance as Private William “Game Over Man” Hudson in James Cameron's Aliens. Other performances of some distinction include storm-chaser Bill Harding in Twister and love interest Simon in True Lies. I like all three of those movies, and I like Paxton on screen.
What I don't like is Paxton in the studio. His two-man outfit Martini Ranch, formed in 1982 with singer/guitarist Andy Rosenthal, has been compared to Devo in terms of sound, but frankly the few tracks I managed to sit through without clawing off my ears embodied everything I hated about mid-80s new wave pop. Check out this unbelievably over-budgeted music video for the “hit” song “Reach”, from the EP of the same name (thanks to correspondent James “Jimmy-Jim” Herbert for the video link):
If you managed to watch the entire thing, I tip my imaginary cap to you, because I got bored around the same time the song finally started. The video tries desperately to tell a story – I guess “Thriller” was still fresh in everyone's minds, because Bill and Andy pulled out all the stops on “Reach”, even going so far as to hire James “I'm The King Of The World” Cameron to direct it – but in a battle royale between Jackson's zombie backup dancers and Bill's ambiguous Deadwood-meets-Culture-Club pseudo-actors, my money's on the Moon-walking dead (too soon?).
Oh, and did anybody else notice Bill's incredible teeth? That's either several thousand dollars worth of dental work, or else his biological parents were Tom Cruise and a shark.
And an interesting aside: they're making a musical (called “Musical”) to be directed by Carl Weathers, coming to a direct-to-DVD bin near you this year. Sort of like Frailty.
Lindsay Lohan, Solo Artist
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Does anybody else remember that sweet, demure young lady who befriended a wayward Volkswagen all those years ago? Actually I just looked it up on Wikipedia; apparently “all those years ago” translates to “five years ago” - Hollywood's ability to chew up and spit out young starlets with such incredible efficiency never ceases to amaze me. And further – what the hell is wrong with Disney? What monstrous designs are wrought in the Magic Kingdom that bring about the kind of Beauty-to-Beast transformations we've seen in Lohan and her ilk? Something is rotting in the state of Mickey, I tell you that much.
Interestingly, much of Lohan's “musical” career revolves around her constant run-ins with the paparazzi. Here's a tip Lindsay: if you don't want people spreading “Rumors” about you, maybe you ought to lay off the coke and Cristal every now and again.
As with the last one, if you managed to get more than a minute into this uber-pop club-a-dub-dub shit festival, I applaud you. Ironically.
According to a recent press release, Lohan isn't going to stop until she becomes a legitimate pop star, whatever the hell that means. In fact, she's even recorded a song to that effect, cleverly titled “Can't Stop, Won't Stop” which was recently “leaked” to the internet. She denies leaking it herself, but let me be the millionth person to call bullshit on that obvious press op. Heads up Lindsay: if you wanted to record a decent album, you should have done it before you went to rehab – albums always come out better when you're messed up. Don't believe me? Ask Mick Jagger, if you can keep yourself from leaping gamely on his Jumping Jack Flash for five seconds.
Bruce Willis, Solo Artist
Of all the actors on this list, I didn't see John McClane on it. Apparently I was wrong: action man Willis, like honourable mentions Kevin Costner and Keanu Reeves, has also dipped his toe in the Pool of Bad Ideas and released not one, but two albums. And a best-of. How you can do a Greatest Hits record (pithily entitled “Classic Bruce Willis”) when you've only released two albums? Two cover albums, no less? The great George Carlin once said that white people have no business singing the blues – it's their job to give people the blues, not to have them – and I tend to agree. Listening to Willis stumble soullessly through the Motown classic “Respect Yourself” was almost as embarrassing as his performance in Armageddon. Almost. See for yourself:
If he mixes drinks as shoddily as he sings that song, not even I would drink at that bar. How about you respect yourself, Bruce, and never do this again?
The worst part is Bruce once showed promise as a musician, or at least as a kitschy William Shatner-esque musical parody. Anybody ever see Hudson Hawk? His rendition of “Swinging on a Star” is still in my head, ten years after seeing the movie for the first time. Stick to covering Bing Crosby and maybe we'll talk, but for the love of your remaining hair, leave Motown alone.
Paris Hilton, Solo Artist
Two-point-three million copies sold. Aside from the sky rolling up like a scroll and four fellows on horses showing up, I'd say that's as clear a sign as any that we're in the End of Days. You can fill in your own Whore of Babylon joke here (highbrow humor alert!), but I think we can all agree that in terms of Being Famous For Nothing, Paris “That's Hot” Hilton tops the list.
But Being Famous For Nothing isn't easy. It's hard to find something to stick with – and therefore Paris has tried her hand at more jobs than lovers (ooh, snap) – she's gone from model to actress to singer with a host of other projects in between including a book deal of all things. Yeah, I was pretty shocked too, until I found out it was an autobiography, which basically involves a ghostwriter sitting down to listen to a few days of her whore-ramble before transcribing it into something vaguely literary, probably with a pink cover, and selling it for an outlandish price to vacuous wannabe socialites. And the cycle starts anew. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
Take “Stars are Blind”, the hit single from her debut album Paris: an abysmal blend of dance-hall sentiments, saccharine pitch correction and reggae. Yeah, you heard me.
Bob Marley is spinning in his grave so fast, they're going to find his corpse in China. I didn't think I'd heard it before, but upon listening to the track for this article, I suddenly recalled being subjected to it when it came out in 2006; I can only assume I went out and dosed myself with rohypnol to erase the ear-rape from my memory, leaving me groggy with only a vague sense of having been aurally violated.
Why, why, why do people keep falling for this shit? At least other pop stars can hold claim to being marginally attractive: this woman looks like somebody stuck a Barbie doll in Omri's magic cupboard (obscure literary reference) and then dumped the result in a vat of fake tanner, hair dye and entitlement. In fact, the only picture of Paris I've ever been able to find even vaguely arousing was this one:
and for that I have a middle-management position in Hell reserved for me. Don't worry; if there's any justice in the afterlife, Paris will be getting me coffee for eternity to make up for all the years she should have been doing just that on Earth. Get the fuck out of the studio and learn to type, you evil harlot.
Jada Pinkett-Smith, “Wicked Wisdom”
Rounding out our list is one of the more curious examples of poor studio decision-making I encountered in my research: Jada Pinkett-Smith, better known as Mrs. Fresh Prince. Yes, I can definitely see why Will2K married this gem: she does all the same things he does (acting, music, etc.), except she sucks at all of them. When Will Smith wakes up one morning to find that he's finally been rendered culturally irrelevant, he can at least take solace in the fact that he's still superior to the woman brushing her teeth beside him in the bathroom.
In addition to her stunningly mediocre acting (to be fair she looks good beside Keanu Reeves – then again, who doesn't?) she also fronts a stunningly mediocre heavy metal band called Wicked Wisdom. The best way I can describe it? Amy Lee fucked Janet Jackson and they had a miscarriage. Don't believe me? Check this out:
Thank you Jada; I am, in fact, bleeding all over you. From my ears.
The amazing part is Ozzfest head Sharon Osbourne found something redeeming about this decidedly boring, pedestrian act and decided to put them on the OzzFest lineup in 2005, much to the chagrin of OzzFest fans, many of whom showed up to the band's performance just to turn their backs to the stage. Granted, they were probably there to see Korn, so their musical taste is already suspect, but when Korn is the lesser of two evils, you know you're experiencing a very special kind of hell.
To paraphrase Dylan Moran, this sounds like a million fire engines chasing ten million ambulances through a war zone, and it made the empty chair next to me hemorrhage.
Oh, and did I mention they played eight dates in 2004 opening for Britney Spears? I. Rest. My. Case.
What Did We Learn?
Simply put, trying to find existing celebrities who foray into music and achieve some degree of success is like trying to find the cleanest part of a dirty ass. Thankfully, a few surprisingly-decent performers lent some credence to the idea that a Jack (or Jill) of all trades still exists in today's fetishized celebrity culture.
A lot of you might have been expecting to see Steven Seagal on my list – in fact, he was the first one I wrote down. And then I listened to some of his band's work, and I was shocked: not only is it slickly-produced and well-written, the Man of Peace Who's Ready For War can actually sing. I'm sure if he pushed his vocals beyond his half-octave range he'd sound patently silly, but he knows just where to stay to make himself come off legit. If you want to renew some of your faith in the “best and brightest” of entertainment, here's the music video to Steven Seagal's runaway hit* “Girl, It's All Right”. Maybe, just maybe, it is.
Alex James is the head writer at State of Affairs and can regularly be found
singing show tunes in his shower being a bad-ass rock star on stages across Toronto and the world.