When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong: Acoustic Edition
Dave Chapelle teaches us that the art of "keeping it real" may sometimes go awry. According to urbandictionary.com, this occurs when "in the act of keeping it real, the outcome is unexpected and usually has a negative effect on the individual who decided to keep it real."
Singer-songwriters are not immune from this phenomenon.
Photo illustration by John Seaborn Gray
1. John Mayer's Confederate Flag-Toting Wiener: Did you know that John Mayer's dick auditioned for the lead role in American History X? Just kidding, but by his own account, it would don a Klan hood if it could.
In a Playboy interview this year, Mayer was asked if black women have ever "thrown" themselves at him. He responded by saying: "My dick is sort of like a white supremacist. I've got a Benetton heart and a fuckin' David Duke cock. I'm going to start dating separately from my dick." Umm. Gross. And offensive.
After an onslaught of backlash from the likes of Talib Kweli, Margaret Cho and Ice-T, Mayer apologized for his statements on Twitter. Just when we started to think you were kind of cool for your spot on Dave Chappelle's "White People Dancing" skit, it turns out your wiener wanted to lynch him.
2. Lauryn Hill Cries... A Lot: Lauryn Hill's meteoric rise off the success of 1997's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - undeniably one of the most important albums of the '90s, and probably of all time - culminated in 10 Grammy Award nominations and solidified her place as a voice of the burgeoning neo-soul movement and of a generation. All at the tender age of 23.
Post-Miseducation, Lauryn threw herself into self-imposed banishment, spurning a controlling label and the demands of living up to her public persona. She resurfaced in 2001 for a taped performance for MTV Unplugged 2.0 before a small studio audience, performing 13 new compositions.
The performance was marked by her frequent asides to the audience on the pressures of fame and her time soul-searching. She openly cried on a couple of occasions when speaking on her husband and children. Critics were divided on the performance. USA Today gave it 3 and a half out of 4 stars. But Rolling Stone called it "a public breakdown."
We personally think the critics were a bit rough on Lauryn. Why don't y'all try going from "that one chick in the Fugees" to one of the most gifted artists of a generation seemingly overnight?
Please come back, Lauryn. We miss you.
3. The MTV Unplugged That Almost Wasn't: The 1989 debut of MTV's Unplugged almost didn't happen thanks to the members of Squeeze who clearly didn't quite get the memo. On the day of the premier, frontmen Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook showed up with electric guitars.
Producer Alex Coletti said: "Very funny, guys. Where are the acoustics? It's unplugged." Difford and Tilbrook looked at each other dumbfounded. Luckily the entire crew's scramble around town turned up a couple of acoustic guitars. Reading apparently isn't Squeeze's strong suit.
4. Nelly Furtado Puts The "S" In Snooze: We get it, Nelly. Sophomore albums are generally a drag. Especially coming off the heels of the successful experiment with an eclectic, multicultural, yet radio-friendly sound that was Whoa, Nelly! But to follow it up with the acoustic snore that was Folklore was essentially shooting yourself in the foot.
Nelly attributed the mellowness of her follow-up to her pregnancy for the duration of its recording. Granted, DreamWorks Records was too busy being subsumed into Universal Music Group during the album's release to focus on promotion, you can't blame a mere 11 weeks on the charts, i.e. suck, on the baby forever.
5. Alanis Gets Happy: Looking back on the mid-'90s, we loved Alanis for one reason and one reason only. She was one angry little bitch. Although her label expected only to make enough to fund a follow-up album off Alanis' debut, Jagged Little Pill was an international supernova commercially and culturally, spawning five chart-topping singles and a legion of would-be Lilith Fair line-up fillers.
Then came 1998's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Women with dartboard collages of their ex's face, primed for the first single were confused as to why Alanis was thanking everything from India to silence on "Thank You." We all were.
Watching the "Thank You" video we all collectively asked: Why is she naked? Why does she emanate that eerily warm, serene glow? And why does she sound so calm and dare we say...happy?
Whatever it was, nobody liked it. SFIJ tanked. Maybe we had all gotten wind that Dave Coulier, aka Uncle Joey on Full House, was rumored to be the older man Alanis "went down on" in a theater. *shudder*
6. Jewel's Failed Attempt at Irony: After a string of four successful albums, Jewel opted to stray away from her pop-folk sound for 2003's 0304. The liner notes of 0304 indicated that she strove for a "dance, urban and folk music" fusion. Don't worry, that description confuses us too.
"Intuition," the second single off the album, featured a dance-oriented beat, synthesizers, and a highly sexualized Jewel - wet T-shirts and cleavage aplenty. However, her lyrics - focusing on obsession with celebrity and materialism - made clear that the song, and image portrayed in the video were meant to be ironic. (Take note, Alanis).
But many didn't quite get the joke. 0304 was Jewel's worst-selling album up to that point.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.