Glee made its return to Fox on Tuesday, following American Idol’s Elvis night, which I thought was boring even with Adam Lambert.
In truth, I found the “Hell-O” episode to be pretty disappointing as well. The song selections were predictable. The plot was ridiculous, with its principal characters swapping love interests and getting further away from the partners they want. (Oh, and of course there was the whole potential date rape, date rape joke at the very least, situation.)
In addition to that nonsense, ”Hell-O” quickly regressed back to some of the high school dramedy’s inexcusable habits. Misogyny and racism have dogged the show from the beginning. Will Schuester makes out with a rival show choir director after discovering that guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury is a virgin. Pillsbury gives Schuester emotional space to heal from his broken marriage. Finn Hudson laughably channels his supposed inner rock star with the The Doors at Schuester’s behest and entertains the prospect of a Cheerio sandwich before “discovering” that they’re mean girls. Rachel Berry’s feelings for Hudson shift to the star of the rival glee club who doesn’t respect her. Berry leads two songs while minority characters Kurt Hummel, Mercedes Jones, Tina Cohen-Chang, Artie Abrams, Santana Lopez, and Mike (“Other Asian”) Chang once again sing back-up. Boo!
But cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester’s take on Madonna’s music video for the 1990 hit ”Vogue“ following the episode was and remains the main event.
While I often find this to be the case, as Jane Lynch is the show’s not-so-secret weapon, I found it interesting that she set up next week’s much-anticipated “Madonna” episode. I’ll admit that I find the trailer for “The Power of Madonna” to be more than a little disconcerting. Is no one going to question Madonna’s awesomeness, much less challenge the idea that Madonna’s sole contribution to women is the celebration of their sexuality? Hopefully Sylvester will complicate things, as I feel she did with her seemingly faithful rendition of “Vogue.”
On the surface, Sylvester’s “Vogue” closely recreates the look of the David Fincher-directed clip and many of the original’s signature moments. Also, having Sylvester play Madonna is inspired. While Sylvester is older, doesn’t sing, and isn’t as conventionally attractive as the show’s other female stars, she embodies the Alpha female identity Madonna represents for many fans.
But while Sylvester’s sexuality is ambiguous, Lynch is a lesbian and plays the character with the same butch swagger she brought to characters like Best In Show’s Christy Cummings and The L-Word’s Joyce Wischnia. This reminds me of how Madonna often dabbles with lesbianism. Before she kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Madonna was well-known for her friendships with Sandra Bernhard, Ingrid Casares, and Rosie O’Donnell. Madonna’s insinuation into the LGBT community also took on racial dimensions with “Vogue,” which pilfered from black drag culture with little attribution and much emphasis on the blond pop star. This is true of the music video, the song, and even Madonna’s performance of it.
The back-up performers in Sylvester’s “Vogue” are worth consideration too. Several of the dancers appear to be minor characters from the show. As they are men of color, this reifies the notion that both Madonna and Glee relegate people of color to the background. However, I did enjoy the inclusion of Amber Riley and Chris Colfer, who play Jones and Hummel. They are my favorite characters on the show and wish their talent could be put to better use than playing the sassy black girl and the gay teen boy. But, as on Glee, their knowing winks and glances often steal the show. I’d also like to point out that the music video subtly acknowledges the source material by positioning Riley alongside Colfer in the same configuration that Madonna’s long-time back-up singer’s Niki Haris was in for the original music video.
Finally, I’d like to point out things Sylvester adds to her version of “Vogue.” She doesn’t do the more physically demanding choreography featured in the original music video, most notably the floor slides. She also rejects being touched up by a make-up artist, while Madonna remains serene if bemused. Sylvester’s matte lipstick is chapped, revealing the strain of performance that Madonna’s perfectly drawn lips try to obscure. Best of all, Sylvester changes two lyrics. ”Ginger Rogers dance on air” becomes a tribute to her own gracefulness. “Bette Davis, we love you” is turned into an at-face admission that she hates Schuester, who I’m waiting for her to unfavorably compare to Jon Arbuckle.
Thus, this music video makes obvious what many of us have known for some time: Glee’s use of music may be interesting and some of the young talent is compelling if underused, but its star is Jane Lynch.