Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sparkles Galore

Once more, this is another Celtic Woman rant of sorts. A few weeks ago, I read the following review of Celtic Womans “Isle of Hope” show in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Unlike a die-hard fan, I actually agreed with the review and its criticism of the glam of the show. Compare this review, which was done by an American, to this one done by an Irishman back in 2006:

Quite a difference. Keep in mind that Celtic Woman is very popular in America but not so in Ireland.

After comparing the two reviews, I wondered if there was a difference in the way the shows had been promoted and if people considered the shows sappy and overdone back in 2005 when they first started touring. Sadly, I was not able to find much information in that arena because all the newspaper articles required me to sign up or pay to view them. It does appear, though, that even in Celtic Woman’s early days when it was hailed as a new Irish phenomena like Riverdance, it did have its own share of fans who did not like them being called “Celtic.” However, especially lately, Celtic Woman has not received very favorable reviews for its renditions of pop music and its lights, dry ice, and choreographed movements, being called sappy or other adjectives that would make fans want to crucify the reviewer. In fact, I’m certain that if any fans stumble upon this blog post that they’re sure to sharpen their knives and accuse me of not knowing what good music is.

Good music. What is good music nowadays? Getting up on stage and singing with backup dancers who provide some backup voices, wearing outrageous costumes, having a bunch of dry ice, and prancing around the stage? It seems this has become the norm if you look at artists like Brittany Spears, Katy Perry, and several hip-hop artists. For American Idol viewers, it would be like Adam Lambert and his performance with Kiss during the finale this week: costumes, lots of lights, and other fancy gadgets. Even though Lambert may be able to sing, must he cover up his talent with layers of fluff? That is what I will call this: fluff, extreme fluff. It is this category that I fear Celtic Woman has fallen heavily into.

Fluff in of itself is not bad always. Sometimes a little bit of fluff can be useful or nice if used in small amounts. I consider Celtic Woman’s original concert to have a little fluff, but it was not distracting and still enabled the audience to focus on the raw (albiet lip-synched) talent of the singers and Mairead’s fiddle playing. Here is a sample of their early talent:

The singer Meav is in costume (in what fans have called “the mermaid dress”), is walking across the stage throughout the entire song, there are lights that cast a dark, mysterious air over the stage, and whatnot, but the song nonetheless is beautiful and Meav’s passion for it shines through so the audience knows that she is enjoying the singing. There is mild fluff here, but I find it almost negligable because it adds more to the song’s dark atmosphere and fits in perfectly. Now sample the next video, filmed two years later:

All six girls are in various costumes, you have fire in the background, and then several choreographed movements done by all six soloists and the choir members. They walk all over the stage, twirling their skirts and smiling the entire time. Granted, this performance is different because it was filmed outside so you cannot use the lights, but I found their Christmas performance (filmed once more at the Helix, where the original show had been filmed) was even more filled with fluff and this time was sickly sweet (hence, why the Christmas DVD is my least favorite). Here is a sample of the Christmas show:

All the girls are in bright-colored costumes (not very Christmas-themed) and are certainly lip-synching to a pre-recorded track because the voices sound identical to those of what comes out of the recording studio. Not only that, but they are constantly moving all over the stage. The rest of the DVD is similar, filled with choreographed movements and fake innocent smiles.

My biggest complaint with the “A New Journey” and “A Christmas Celebration” DVDs is the lack of passion on them. Watch the original TV performance then the other two. On the first one, the singers all seem nervous and stiff, but at least they were singing their hearts out. There may be some more recent performances not that way, but Meav’s fire is gone by “A New Journey” and the entire show she looks stiff and uncomfortable and Lisa shows similar symptoms as well. By “Christmas Celebration,” Lisa is beaming (though it might have been because she was pregnant at the time) while Meav looks exhausted and distracted with no passion to her voice or her movements. I believe the passion on the first show was gone by the second and third shows because of all the extra fluff, all the movements, forced smiles, and everything else. Instead of letting the girls do as they pleased, to add their own take to the songs they chose, they told them “ok, now move here when you sing this line, then skip across the stage as the song ends.” So instead of being individual singers who are free to perform as individuals and to sing as they please, to add passion in their own ways, they become puppets, stiff puppets with no individuality.

I fear I may have gone down a bit of a rabbit trail by critiquing Celtic Woman’s three shows, but it is related to the original topic of too much fluff ruining a show. In the Salt Lake City review about the show, it does not treat Celtic Woman well, however, it does not say that the girls are untalented. I cannot remember if it was this article or another one, but someone said Celtic Woman was sappy but had a lot of talent that was being covered up by lights and fluff. This is exactly the problem: the singers’ raw talent is being covered up by lights, costumes, movements, and fake smiles. The show, while it started off with a good idea back in 2004, has turned into something fake and commerical, lights and gadgets masking the girls’ talents and making them look more like paid puppets instead of individual singers with individual talents and vocal ranges.

While I have only critiqued their DVD performances, their “live” shows on tour are much worse, in my opinion. Even though I have only watched one live show and I was in the way back, I could still tell that it was worse. The lights and choreographed movements were distracting, and just it was one mess. If the fluff had been removed from the show, I would have enjoyed it a lot more, even though I still did not like the song choices, but that is a different issue. If Celtic Woman had stuck to its original recipe of limited fluff and focused more on the singers’ excellent raw talents, then the show would be very different. Different but better, in my opinion.

Needless to say, despite this review that would be considered harsh by fans, I still enjoy Celtic Woman… as a band, not as a show. I enjoy their music, particularly from the performers’ solo CDs and from their first CD and DVD. It is on these CDs that their raw talent and their passion shine through without all the glam, and it is beautiful and enjoyable that way.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Welcome to my new blog. The purpose of this blog is to keep up with my family and friends while I'm away in Houston, Texas over the summer and also for my European trip in September and October later this year. This blog will consist of my musical rants (usually they will be about Irish musicians; you have been forewarned... haha), possibly my novel updates, or just interesting events in my life as they happen. I guess it'll all depend upon whatever mood I'm in and what I feel like writing about.