Thursday, October 22, 2015

Duets That Suck: "Seeking faith and speakin' words"

Duets: they can be teh aweSUM or they can suck. When the chemistry works (Queen & David Bowie; John Mellencamp & Meshell Ndegeocello; Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield) it is ah-MAY-zing. When the chemistry sucks... well, you get songs like this.

"When You Believe" / S. Schwartz & Babyface
"When You Believe" was written for the film The Prince of Egypt. There was so much drama around the song, its Oscar nomination and the Oscar telecast performance that it's hard to believe the song is so fucking boring.

Painfully boring.

Prior to recording the song together Mariah Carey's Butterfly album spent 21 weeks on the Billboard Top 20 Albums. Whitney Houston's The Preacher's Wife OST sold 6 million copies.

Mariah was still on track to become the best selling female artist of the millennium and had not yet committed the atrocity called Glitter (fun fact: the original title was All That Glitters which is also a title related to our next sucky duet). Whitney was still enjoying the glow of the hugely successful movie/soundtrack grand slam of The Bodyguard and had not yet told Diane Sawyer that "crack is whack."

At the time both women were superstars with unarguably two of the best voices in the history of popular music. It's unlikely either of them went into this project for any reason other than genuine interest.

Whitney, on working with Mariah, in Ebony: "We had never talked and never sang together before. We just had a chance for camaraderie, singer-to-singer, artist-to-artist, that kind of thing. We just laughed and talked and laughed and talked and sang in between that ... It's good to know that two ladies of soul can still be friends. We talked about doing other things together, enterprise-wise, which is cool, because she's got a good, vivid mind, that girl. She's a smart lady. I really like Mariah."

Mariah, on whether there was a rivalry between them, in Vibe: "We never had any issues between us. The media and everybody made it an issue."

Mariah said there was no sense of competition between the two, and Whitney called Mariah smart. Anyone's bullshit detector picking up something? Me neither.

Meanwhile, still in Hollywood, the song was submitted for consideration for the Best Original Song category for the Academy Awards. The Prince of Egypt, it should also be noted, was the first animated feature for Dreamworks SKG, the media company founded by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Katzenberg took a lot of talent, animators and musicians, when he left Disney; those same musicians were the members of the Academy that nominate the Best Original Song category. Despite how impossibly boring the song is, it managed to secure a nomination (from the people who performed on the song) and Disney's animated feature that year, Mulan, did not (unusual for Disney). Drama.

Previous Oscar and Grammy winner Steven Schwartz submitted his name only as songwriter, omitting Babyface. The rationale: there are 2 versions of the song included in the film, a shorter version featuring some lyrics in Hebrew used in the context of the movie and with vocals by Michelle Pfeiffer and Sally Dworsky; a longer version replacing the Hebrew with additional lyrics and sung by Mariah & Whitney that played over the end credits. While both versions were eligible, and including Babyface would have, in no way, diminished Schwartz's recognition, he opted to omit Babyface. 
"I'm in a very unfair situation, and I don't think it just happened this way. I am not eligible because I think someone purposefully made me ineligible."--Babyface, LA Times
The trade publication ads placed by the studio (the primary way of campaigning in those days) listed Babyface as a songwriter. Drama.

Guess which version was performed at the Oscars? (Hint: not the one with Hebrew lyrics)

Mariah and Whitney agreed to perform the song together live on the Academy Awards. Whitney called in "sick" for the first scheduled rehearsal. The phrase "bullshit story" may or may not have been used to describe the excuse. Drama.

A young female singer was recruited to replace Houston and rehearsed the song with Mariah. During the first run through Mariah forgot the lyrics and the young singer diva-ed out on her part of the song. The phrase "inappropriate and unnerving" may or may not have been used to describe situation. Drama.

Another rehearsal was scheduled for both Mariah and Whitney. Both women struggled to remember lyrics and hit their notes. A revised version of the song with new lyrics and bridge was written and arranged by, wait for it, Babyface. That would be the version performed on Oscar night (or would it? [it would]).

The dresses symbolized humbleness
and simplicity... seriously.
For Oscar night two similar, but not identical, white dresses were obtained. Houston's white dress was said to be crumpled in a ball next to the trash can when a producer for the Oscars went to her dressing room to try to convince her not to pull out of the night's show. Drama.

I have no idea if any kind of pharmaceuticals, medicinal or recreational, were used to convince Whitney to get up, get dressed and get her ass on stage, But she did. And the performance didn't suck. But omg drama, amirite?

Despite going on to win the Oscar (and you probably forgot it was an Oscar-winning song if you ever even knew it was), Entertainment Weekly called it sappy as fuck (I'm paraphrasing), insipid and forced; they gave it a C-. The songs that get a D must cause nightmares. Allmusic called it "unexpected -- and unexpectedly dull." Snap.

What could have been the 90s' version of Donna Summer & Barbra Streisand ended up a big bag of suck (and a huge side of drama). 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here is a good duet for you my love....
- steph