Friday, December 22, 2006

On The Success Of "Hannah Montana"

Interesting article from the Wall Street Journal:
As a result, some of the biggest sellers of the year -- from Disney's "High School Musical" and "Cheetah Girls" soundtracks to the "Kidz Bop" series -- are those aimed at the grade-school set.

By contrast, longstanding industry staples like rock and even hip-hop have far less commercial potential. "When we sell 150,000 albums from a new rock group, we think we've set them up pretty well," says Bob Cavallo, chairman of Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Music Group. The "Hannah" soundtrack, meanwhile, sold nearly 274,000 copies last week alone.
Kylie Questions

Friend Walt sent a Christmas card with two questions regarding the Australian Kylie concerts:
  • Was I the oldest person there?
No, actually there were all ages present. The oldest people I spotted were about 60 years old. Many people treated the concerts as an occasion for an all-ages girl's night out. I saw lots of groups where one or two middle-aged women shepherded five or six teenage girls - mothers, their daughters, and their daughter's friends. Normally, one wouldn't expect such an age range at a rock concert, but Kylie's early start (she started appearing on Australian television by age 11 - 1979!) gave her an early, loyal cohort of fans - critical to success! It makes you appreciate the potential of youth-oriented media outlets, like the Disney Channel of today, in creating the stars of tomorrow!

(Interesting Wikipedia article - I didn't realize that INX's reference to 'Suicide Blonde' is a direct reference to Kylie.)

Even though I wasn't the oldest person there, as an American, I was clearly outside the normal demographic. I got two reactions from people in my immediate vicinity. At the first concert I attended, I talked to two girls, about 16. They were VERY impressed that I had made the trip to see their idol and I sensed nothing but the greatest warmth from them. At the second concert, I talked to two college students, about 20, and they also were surprised, but they were also curious about what I was doing there, in order to properly categorize my 3-sigma scatter point in the demographic distribution. They asked if I was one of these rabid fans who pursue their favorite pop star around the world, and I disappointed them by saying no, it was just that Kylie doesn't perform in the U.S., so, as a fan, I had little choice but to travel overseas.

After the concert, on the train, I talked to a couple, also about age 20, and I told them I suspected Kylie doesn't perform in the U.S. simply because of economics - her fans are too scattered to make renting an arena profitable. The girl found this explanation wholly unsatisfactory: surely she could pack an arena in San Francisco! Maybe - who knows? - but Kylie's entire career arc has relied on avoiding the U.S. as much as practicable. I'm not sure why, although I have a theory....

But first, question two:
  • Did Kylie's illness affect her performance?
I think that was the question lurking at the back of everyone's mind. Kylie's career as a Queen of Pop has meant celebrating some of the most evanescent elements in popular culture. Using math-speak, suffering breast cancer is completely orthogonal to that history, to say the least. How could it not affect her performance?

Kylie's team had to make several critical decisions. They didn't want to revamp the "Showgirl" concert tour, since large sums had been spent on costumes, but a year-and-a-half gap was too long to avoid doing so: they HAD to release the European "Showgirl" DVD, for cash-flow purposes, if nothing else. So, they had retool the show for Australia, taking into account Kylie's condition. Fortunately, the show was already a costume-heavy extravaganza, so hiding scars was fairly-easy, but that meant sinking new sums into costumes and rechoreographing the show. What made the whole project feasible was the loyalty of the work force - the dancers, musicians, techies, etc. - and the loyalty of the audience (apparently of the hundreds of thousands of tickets sold, only several hundred refunds were made).

I saw an edited version of the European "Showgirl" show on the flight across the Pacific, and I was trying to mentally compare what I saw (sometimes with binoculars) onstage with that broadcast. I suspect Kylie was a little less active in the Australian show, but not in a way that seriously-compromised the entertainment value of the show. For example, there is one scene in both shows, set (oddly enough) in a 50's-era American baseball team locker room. Kylie and a weightlifter/dancer interacted in the European show (if memory serves), whereas in the Australian show, Kylie sang while seated upon a pommel horse while a gymnast performed behind her - more restful. The Australian DVD will come out shortly, and I suspect more people than would admit to it will carefully compare and contrast the shows to see what has been lost (and maybe what has been gained).

But as far as singing by itself went, I detected no weakness - she is probably singing better than ever!

I suspect Kylie's illness has accelerated several trends that were already evident in her career - a classicist tendency you normally don't see in musical theater. She is relying more and more on fashion as time goes on, particularly her favorite, Italian fashion, in the mode of Dolce and Gabbana. Her videos are becoming increasingly "arty", even abstract. Her longtime collaborator, William Baker, had been rumored to have been exasperated with her for supposedly 'playing it safe', but it may simply be a difference in artistic vision - fortunately Baker reunited with her for this tour (she does better with him there).

(Actually, Baker has written that he tends to see clothes as direct representations of ideas, so the use of clothes to represent abstractions probably makes him uneasy.)

Oh yes, my theory (wholly original)! When you look at the movie "Xanadu" (1980), you see many elements that pre-figure Kylie's career: Gene Kelly's last major movie (the 'dying' tradition of Hollywood/Broadway), together with fashionable disco dancers (massed on rollerskates!), and with the ingenue Australian (Olivia Newton-John) as the reincarnation of Kira (sounds similar to Kylie), an ancient Greek goddess of music and dance (classical tradition). I just bet she went nuts when she saw that movie, as a precocious 12-year-old! She decided she would appropriate the entire tradition - the whole tamale! - and relocate it to its natural home, Melbourne, and she would reign as the Queen of Pop. And it would be FUN!

Interestingly, in Kylie's videos, you rarely see specifically American settings or references except as nostalgia - almost nothing after about 1980.

The vision suffered a little in the execution - she had to relocate to London, and America, particularly in the persona of Madonna, has proved to be not quite as dead as it might have looked from the distance. (She had the grace to cover Madonna's "Vogue" on this tour - the first time she has ever acknowledged the voracious American on stage, and very much very fashion-conscious). Still, considering everything, she has succeeded, as much as could have been done, in what looks like was originally a very ambitious plan. And there are other international female starlets out there too, using Kylie's experience as a guide. Imagine the swarms of ambitious starlets in Bollywood, or in Latin America, trying to make a difference! The American musical theater tradition moves offshore, and changes in unexpected ways!
All That Musty Polyester

Stockholm gearing up to build an ABBA museum.
More on John Derbyshire....

And his health insurance woes:
Christmas is a time to think of the neediest. Although I think that the free market is the best philanthropist, every year at this time I make a tax-deductible $20 charitable donation to some worthy cause against my better judgment. ... But who?

Then I stumbled over this tragic story on The Corner, which brought a tear to my eye. Conservative pundit and humanitarian John Derbyshire received some devastating news this Christmas: "My health insurer has just notified me, in a brief form letter, that my monthly premiums are to rise from $472.33 to $857.00 on January 1st....

My heart went out to Derbyshire....

You might expect liberal bloggers to feel some compassion for what he is going through, but instead they have reacted with shockingly uncharitable glee, gorging themselves on Schadenfreude pie. "Was he somehow unaware that his own principles leave him with no grounds for complaint when something like this happens?" sniffed Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings. "You see, John, there is this thing called the "'market,'" Brad DeLong explained with just a smidgen of condescension. A Washington Monthly reader wrote: "I've heard people say a conservative is just a liberal who's been mugged. Then maybe a liberal is just a conservative who suddenly got this in the mail."

Are liberals really living up to their principles when they seem to care so little about Derbyshire's tribulations? That is why I would like to challenge them to consider making John Derbyshire their charity this Christmas....

Although I haven't seen the movie It's a Wonderful Life in a long time, since I rented an edited version from Wal-Mart, the ending always makes me cry. If I remember correctly, at the end of the film irascible but good-hearted capitalist Mr. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore, discovers he is about to go bankrupt. So the people of Pottersville, remembering how he helped them build modest but affordable homes with loans whose interest was only a little above the market rate, rally around him. They scratch together what little money they have left after paying their mortgages to Potter's bank, and give it to the old man who is brought to tears by their generosity. So this Christmas let's think of John Derbyshire as our Mr. Potter. Let's show him that Americans really are a compassionate people.
Health care insurance issues may defy both conservative and liberal cures, because health care is often inefficient and error-ridden. Nevertheless, there is hope, particularly now, with the example that digital rectal probes can cure hiccups as well as diagnose enlarged prostate glands. The assembly-line brought us cheap cars: it can also bring us cheap health. With a regrettable loss of identity and dignity, of course, but what is that compared to saving money?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Our Virgin Mother, Flora The Komodo Dragon

Parthenogenesis can be powerful!:
In an evolutionary twist, Flora has become pregnant all on her own - with no male help. The timing is auspicious: the seven baby komodo dragons are due this festive season.

"We were blown away when we realised what she'd done," said Kevin Buley, a reptile expert at Flora's home at the Chester Zoo in northern England. "But we certainly won't be naming any of the hatchlings Jesus.

... Other reptile species reproduce asexually in a process known as parthenogenesis. But Flora's virginal conception, and that of another komodo dragon this year at the London Zoo, are the first times documented in komodo dragons. The reptiles, renowned for their intelligence, are native to Indonesia. They are the largest lizards and have no natural predators, making them on par with sharks and lions at the top of the animal kingdom.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Mt. Hood Rescue Efforts

Rosie O'Donnell, among others, think that the current Mt. Hood rescue effort is too costly. Probably so. Still, like the Sheriff says, there needs to be some capability to launch serious rescue efforts. That's one dangerous mountain!

I remember climbing that mountain in 1974. Nearly got killed. The body recovery would have been cheap, though, because tourists tend to get into trouble at the same point on the climb - just SW of the peak - and most falling bodies would tend to cluster at just a few points. They could just set up some big trampolines there and save the taxpayers a few dollars in helicopter and hospital expenses.

Don't know about these climbers, though: they were better-prepared than most. But it's so windy there this time of year! Brrr!
Land O' The Bizarre

Australian skiiers are looking at the cold front approaching Victoria's Australian Alps, and thinking it might be cold enough for some snow flurries on Christmas Eve. The height of summer no less!
Kylie Minogue Showgirl Homecoming - snippet only

Kylie Showgirl Homecoming version of "Shocked", as posted on YouTube by "suzyleigh."

It's funny, how I got into trouble for my non-functioning digital voice recorder, while these folks get away with much more, but in the end, like the Aussies say, "it's all good, no worries mate!"
Sticker-Shock Siren

John Derbyshire discovers the high cost of Health Insurance.
Snowstorm Hits NM

And the High Plains too.
Dead Deer Still Festering Over At Dick Cheney's Place

(Left: Previously-posted picture originally from Lucianne).

I wonder why there's a dead deer over at the official VP residence (the Naval Observatory)? Maybe one of those bonding rituals, or something.
Emergency Responders ... Hesitate

Small plane apparently vanishes into huge Gilroy sewage tank.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bush, And That ISG Report

Interesting commentary over at Obsidian Wings regarding Bush's dismissal of the results of the Iraq Study Group.

My take?
L'etat c'est moi!

Bush may formally be a President, but he is, in fact, a Monarch. A strange, 21st-Century Monarch who believes in the American Dream. He can be anything he wants to be, including a salmon-colored prime number, if he believes in himself and works hard enough at it. Anyone who says otherwise is probably European. Or amongst the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Things You May Not Mail To Australia

Picky, picky, picky!

  • Coins; bank notes; currency notes (paper money); securities of any kind payable to bearer; traveler's checks; platinum, gold, and silver (manufactured or not); precious stones; jewelry; and other valuable articles are prohibited.
  • Fruit cartons (used or new).
  • Goods bearing the name "Anzac."
  • Goods produced wholly or partly in prisons or by convict labor.
  • Perishable infectious biological substances.
  • Radioactive materials.
  • Registered philatelic articles with fictitious addresses.
  • Seditious literature.
  • Silencers for firearms.
  • Used bedding.
Various Kylie Showgirl Homecoming Segments

You just knew people were filming segments of these concerts, and that they'd be on YouTube soon! Surprisingly large number of snippets, actually, by several people.