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Movie stars and music

Coleman Collins | Tuesday, December 8, 2009

 Pretty much since there have been movie stars, there have been movie stars making music. And it needs to stop. It nearly never turns out well for anyone involved.

Let’s take, for a moment, the classic example of Scarlett Johansson, who seems to be the poster child of disappointing celebrity releases. Her problem seems to stem from the fact that due to her celebrity, she manages to get herself in the most ridiculously precarious situations ever when it comes to making music. Her first album — as in, the very first record she ever recorded ever — was a collection of Tom Waits covers produced by the imitable David Andrew Sitek (of TV on The Radio fame), which featured two of the three members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a couple of members of TV on the Radio and two guest vocal tracks by David Bowie. For all intents and purposes, it should have been the most awesome album to come out that year as far as anyone who has ever read Pitchfork is concerned. 
But it wasn’t. And worse than that, the biggest problem with it was the supposedly central player: Scarlett. Even worse than that, she was actually kind of good. But therein lies the problem: to make an album that reflected the caliber of her collaborators and influences, the album that everyone was expecting (and deserved) she would had to be of the same caliber. Kind of good does not cut it when you have David Bowie popping in for a guest vocal. 
She managed a repeat offense earlier this fall when she released her second album, which was an album of duets with Pete Yorn inspired by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot’s duet albums from the 60’s. What a good idea! What a disappointing execution.
In short (partially for all of those readers who I totally lost in the dozen musicians I recently referenced), she uses her celebrity to make these amazing projects happen with some really amazing talent, and then cannot cash the check that her ambition wrote. Couldn’t write a check that was cashable by her skills? Cash any checks at a bank that wasn’t hers? I lost myself in that metaphor there, but I think you get the picture.
Basically, it comes down to this: if you didn’t get famous for your music, it’s very unlikely that you can manage to pull off a crossover success (notable exceptions being Olivia Newton John and Zooey Deschanel, both of whom had singing bits in more than one movie they were in), because even if you manage to have a really great idea for a record AND get a ton of really great people to work with you on it, it’s massively hard to live up to the awesome that you’ve surrounded yourself with.
Or, you know, you could just put out an awful record to begin with after working with no one of notoriety at all, Jennifer Love Hewitt.