Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Spanner 10.5: Battle of the Pop Idols

...from previous

Chaos Angel Spanner — Chapter 10: Fashion Meltdown
Part 5: Battle of the Pop Idols (Revision 3)

25 september 2014.
Bremerton High School has a Performing Arts Center that serves as the regular home of the Bremerton Symphony Orchestra when they’re not playing the Admiral Theatre downtown. Tonight there’s a talent show scheduled, and the theatre is crowded with teenagers wearing the uniforms of several schools. Many students with odd talents or no talent at all have signed up, though not all of them were judged good or suitable enough to make it.

But the big draw is the grudge match that Minty Fresh has declared against Shira at the last second. Her lawyer, Marshall Brinkman (the Governor’s nephew), pointed out Shira’s new song out to her; she was so horrified and enraged that Shira would post a song just to sexually harass her that it was either sue her or challenge her. Marshall suggested she sue. But Minty said, “I so am better than that amateur,” and decided to challenge her. After the talent show, Karen will perform a song of her own, and then it’s war.

Act follows act on the stage for most of the show. Some of the kids on stage are really talented, like the bugle boy from Kingston and the classical cellist girl from South Kitsap and the hip-hop dance team from Olympic. Others are just big egos under the delusion that they have talent, like the Cool Girl from Central Kitsap who thinks that gaudy yet comfortably trendy style alone guarantees pop idol status but can’t sing a lick, and who reminds Shira uncomfortably of her patronizing stepsister Lovie Thorndyke. Shira predicts she will be a success once some Svengali producer buys her soul and provides her with style consultants and an autotuner. At the end, the judges rule that the top three are, in ascending order, the bugler, the hip-hop dancers, and the cellist. Many cheers, some crying contestants and parents both happy and sad, the smiles of the winners, and then the contest is over. The backstage band take their places: Shira’s older and even more notorious half-sisters Charlie and Desiree Richter-Thomas on guitar and keyboards, school librarians Kitty Carlisle on bass and Sally Hatfield on drums. They do their last-minute fine-tuning on their instruments. At last, it’s time for the main event.

As the lights go dark again, everybody waits breathlessly for Karen’s song to begin. The curtain opens and the spotlights illuminate a rainbow set. The music that plays over the PR system is light pop that is bouncy and positive without being saccharine like too much DisneyPop and J-Pop can be. Karen dances onto the stage; behind her, two lines of girls in white T-shirts and knee-length shorts run on from opposite directions. She wears the same T-shirt, but with an unpleated miniskirt. The design on the T-shirts is an abstract design of a rainbow-colored world surrounded by angular silhouette children; it says “Youth for Peace.” All the songs she’s written relate to her strong Buddhist beliefs and her organization’s worldwide peace activism. As her dancers move in near-perfect unison behind her, she sings in her sweet voice:
Too many people suffer in silence
They cry and hurt and struggle alone
Too many people lash out in violence
They hurt each other too close to home
It’s up to us to be each day
Examples of a better way

Friends across the world!
Youth united in harmony!
Friends across the world!
Let’s come together as friends for peace!

Youth is a difficult time for some
There’s so much pain we must outgrow
But it’s the time that we become
Creators of the world we know
Let’s be capable people now
So with our lives we can show them how

Friends across the world!
Youth united in harmony!
Friends across the world!
Let’s come together as friends for peace!

Youth of the world, let’s get together
Young friends as one in harmony
Let’s all join hands as friends forever
Create a new world for all to see...
The song is catchy enough that people in the audience get up to dance in the stands and clap their hands to the beat. By the time Charlie and Desiree finish their instrumental duet, the audience are ready to sing along.
Culture and education are
For not the few but everyone
No matter if we’re near or far
The fight for peace has only begun
Let’s get together for peace today
And show the world a better way...

Friends across the world!
Youth united in harmony!
Friends across the world!
Let’s come together as friends for peace!

Friends across the world!
Youth united in harmony!
Friends across the world!
Let’s come together as friends for peace!
Karen and her dancers come up to the front of the stage, hold hands, and bow together. “Thank you, everybody! I love you all!” she cries out, to a thunderous standing ovation.

On her way backstage to the dressing room, Karen spots Minty and gasps. But Minty is surrounded by hostile bodyguards, publicists, and lawyers, so Karen has no hope of reaching her or even speaking to her. Minty, who once claimed to be a friend, only gives her a sideling look of disdain. Karen stands there stunned. When Shira taps her shoulder, she says, “Wow, I never thought success would go to her head like that.”

Shira smiles ironically. “Hey, when you sell your soul to the Man, your old friends become obstacles to your success. You can’t have no friends in business ’cuz business is war.”

“What am I to her now?”

“Competition. I’ll send you her pre-autotuned voice so you can laugh at it, then I’ll show our Minty friend what competition really is, so she can have something Fresh to bitch about.” Shira disappears into the dressing room, where her makeup artists and costumers (actually, Willa, her sister/Karen’s mother Reva, and Alex) are waiting for her.

Professional choreographers perfectly planned all the moves Minty and her dancers will make. Everything has been planned out perfectly, even the guitar solo. (Karen: “I caught her act on TV the other day. It looks mechanical.” Shira: “That’s ’cuz she’s a cog in the corporate media machine.”) The curtains go up, the dancers run on stage, Minty enters from behind the rear curtain wearing a frilly green dress with a short skirt over green elf boots, and a thousand young female voices scream for her with the volume of millions. (Shira: “I’m afraid I’ll catch diabetes just from listening to her BubbleGum crap, but I gotta stick around if I wanna own the bitch.”)

The pleasant pop bounces. Minty floats her way to the front. Everybody already knows what the song is and sings along so that the combined voices of a thousand girls not old enough for high school drown out the amplified girlish voice of their idol. The name of the song is “Love Revolution,” but the second word in the title signifies only “kewlness”; the actual song is just another standard sappy love song.
We were meant to be together
Since before the start of time
Through the rain and stormy weather
You and me, our hearts combine

We’ll sing our love while our hearts dance
Eternal as the stars above
It’s always time for a true romance
Now we’re living just for love

(Charlie [facepalms]: “Love, dove, above — wuv!” Desiree: “Wuv, wuv, wuv.” Shira laughs. Alex: “Shhh! Hold still.”)

We’re gonna start a love revolution
Every time your lips meet mine
We will create the pure love solution
Forever let our hearts entwine
Backstage, Desiree complains, “Her only two subjects: eternal love and love at first sight.”

Charlie sighs. “The same kinds of songs we used to sing when we were just like her.” Desiree groans.

Shira says, “I can just hear ’em dance ‘kee-yewl.’ It’s all so conformist.”

Charlie stands with her checkerboard Strat slung over her back. “So what are we hitting her back with? ‘Eat My Words’? ‘Trouble Up Ahead’?”

Desiree leans back in her chair. “How about ‘Failure Is the Only Option.’ That should prick her goat.”

“Good choices,” says Shira, “but I’d like to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone.”


“Let’s give her a surprise. You rehearse that new song?”
We’re gonna start a love revolution
Every time your lips meet mine
We will create the pure love solution
Forever let our hearts entwine
Nothing can stop our love divine
And we’ll be married for all time

Love — love — love!
The crowd explodes. Minty and her dancers rush off the stage with military precision. The song is cute but unremarkable. What the girls are worshipping is the glamour of celebrity which blots out the person of Minty Fresh. Minty doesn’t have the strength of personality to resist the force of the celebrity Disney Corporation has burdened her with. Shira does, and she plans to use it against her.

The lights go back up for the next five minutes. Shira is preparing for her spectacular entrance. People talk darkly about her and share rumors. What some of them seem to dread most is not so much her chosen style of music (i.e., what the media marketers of the fashion-industrial complex call “hip-pop”) so much as the styles she wears on her body. She is known to prefer styles that flatter her curves. The scandal is not so much that she wears them as the fact that she’s only fifteen.

The theatre lights go down. The curtain opens. The backstage band start to play; the low slow hip-hop beat kicks in, followed by Charlie’s menacing staccato and a gangsterish buzzing punk-funk synth in E minor. The stage lights turn on and go psychedelic. Multicolored streamers and confetti rain down. And then the spotlights converge in white as the fog bomb explodes and Shira emerges out of the thick white vapor holding out her arms in a victory stance — wearing spectacular white-feathered headdress, spiky fashion-punk mirrorshades, spiked black leather minijacket, bladed black leather Batman gloves, spiked black leather bikini, high-heeled steel-buckled black leather combat boots, her trademark cockeyed smile, and video body paint — and at once the boys roar and howl and Shira’s legion of fangirls unleash a collective scream. Cory, Kio, and Dexter step up behind her dressed robo Kato and start dancing the funky robot. Shira sashays up to the microphone, violently swipes it off the stand, and proclaims: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the pop underground!” Charlie rocks the pick down her Strat’s G string, and Shira begins to sing “Melt For Me”:
You step out of your brand new car
The drama queen of the disco scene
You think you know just what you are
You make me scream and fall down to my knees

You’re cold and far like a distant star
You’re so crazy bent and like to torment
You got no idea how hot you are
You don’t know how wet you make me get

I’m the one that you desire
You’re the ice and I’m the fire

I’m too hot for you to handle
I got your key to ecstasy
You and me, we’re a ragin’ scandal
It’s plain to see you melt for me
As Charlie begins a short solo, Shira throws Charmian a wicked wink. Charmian goes cold with shock and horror, then goes hot with rage and screams. She climbs up on stage to attack Shira in a frenzy, and her sisters and their cousin Debbie follow. Lady faints into Lucy’s arms from sheer sensory overload. The song stops and the stage swarms with burly security personnel prying mean girls off Shira and the boys. The non-rocking adults in the audience flee the auditorium in panic as if it were on fire. The fire bringing the house down is, in fact, burning in Shira’s heart; they are unable to handle it and they know it.

Suddenly, the curtain closes and the lights turn back on to reveal a panicked crowd walking all over each other in their desperation to escape. Shira lands on the floor, takes off her headdress, and drops it on the stage. She peeks out through the curtain to witness the chaos. The people who aren’t panicking are calling friends and loved ones on their cellphones; some of them are calling for paramedics. Shira’s head vanishes from in front of the curtain; she goes backstage and puts on a khaki duster coat and ties the sash tight around her waist.

When she emerges from backstage and skips down the steps in to the seats, Shira sees Karen tending to the wounded. “Need any help?”

“Thanks, but the paramedics are here already.” Shira stands up and sees several EMTs and firefighters rushing through the doors to take care of the wounded. The police come soon after.

Later, in the nearby swimming pool locker room, a worried Karen showers as she watches Leila apply the special soap to remove Shira’s video body paint. “I never expected that kind of reaction to something they show all the time on MTV.”

When Leila’s done with Shira, she quickly soaps herself up as Shira spins around in the water stream to wash the last of the special soap and body paint down the drain. Shira says, “Those people don’t watch MTV. They watch the Disney Channel whenever they’re not fixating on Fox News or TBN. They’ve only familiar with the likes of Minty Fresh, and that’s what they have in mind when they think of pop music. They’ve never seen underground pop before. They probably never even heard of Lady Gaga or Rihanna, and they’re not even underground. So when I went all Stylin’ on ’em, they couldn’t handle it, and they panicked.”

As Leila rinses, she says absently, “They reacted as if it were a Rebel Styles video gone live. I should know. Shira showed me hers.”

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Copyright © 2011 Dennis Jernberg. Some rights reserved.
Creative Commons License

[Revision 2.0, 8/3/11: Edited to fit Second Revision continuity; text errors corrected.]
[Revision 2.0.1, 8/4/11: All trademark symbols removed as unnecessary; two resulting text corrections.]
[Revision 2.0.2, 10/15/11: Text errors corrected.]
[Revision 3, 10/25/11: Text errors corrected, made one other revision.]

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