[Forewarning: this isn’t an in-depth, analytical post, but it’s something that I wanted to discuss. Just go with it.]
Last week, I attended an Ingrid Michaelson concert with my sister. This is nothing that’s out of the ordinary, as we average attending at least one concert every six months. That average would probably be less if Cincinnati wasn’t such a concert dead-zone, but that’s a different story. By the time I left the venue, I was in awe. Never in my life have I seen a performance that was so much fun, and where the artist was so completely open with everyone in attendance.
I’ve been to a lot of concerts over the years, from concerts in tiny venues where the stage is roughly the size of a postage stamp to a memorable concert at Millennium Park in Chicago that turned the lawn into a sea of people smashed together enjoying great music on a summer evening. Each one has it’s own vibe, and that usually depends on the artist who is performing. One common feeling I’ve experienced at all of these shows is that the artist is in fact putting on a show. It’s not their real selves up on that stage, performing for a crowd. It’s a persona they adopt to survive the show. We all do it. We all have our professional selves, and our personal selves. I’m not sure if perfection is expected from you at work, but for me, my yearly goals are to have 90% accuracy in my work. More often than not it’s much higher than that, but I’m not expected to be perfect. Why do we expect it from musicians?
I actually did a tiny bit of research before writing this post. If you Google various forms of the phrase “musician forgets lyrics” or “musician messes up on stage” and you’ll find a lot of results. You’ll find lists of artists who have forgotten lyrics, to YouTube videos of performers tripping and falling, sometimes falling off-stage completely. One list had it all, ranging from “Usher Gets Kicked in the Face” (it was #9 out of 10) to the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl. In those instances, it’s performers putting on a show with 90-95% accuracy. Sure, they sang most of the songs correctly, and did the right dance moves, but they slipped up somehow. That slip up is the only thing that people remember. However, it is the professional side of the musician that slips up, and you hardly ever get to see personal reaction behind it.
Last week, I believe everyone who was in attendance was treated to seeing the real perform Ingrid Michaelson on stage. So what happened? To put it simply, she had a really bad night. Don’t get me wrong, it was an excellent show, and I wouldn’t change a single thing, but that’s probably just me. A few songs into the set, Michaelson went to perform “Winter Song,” one of my all-time favorite holiday songs, if it can be called that. After starting it off, Michaelson cut the song off mid-chorus. She wasn’t a fan of how fast her bandmates were playing it, insisting that it needed to be slower. They started the song over, and Michaelson promptly forgot the lyrics. She made a joke, played it off well, and quickly regained her composure and finished out the song. I was surprised, but not at all angry that she had forgotten the words. No big deal, it happens. A couple of songs later, she did it again. This time, it was during “Parachute.” This one was even better, as she started rapping to make up for not knowing the words. She at one point rapped the phrase “monster mash.” It was amazing. Some other concert-goer was fortunate enough to catch the fallout on video [found here].
In the aftermath of forgetting the lyrics a second time, that’s when a truly imperfect, and almost normal, human really began to shine through. After the moment in the video where we hear exactly why Ingrid Michaelson was so forgetful, the show changed. Don’t get me wrong, the show before that was fantastic, forgotten lyrics included. Some people walked out, possibly because they had an early morning the next day, or because they were truly disappointed that the performer couldn’t remember words to songs she had written. I was thrilled. After that moment, she became human. Not some musician up on stage that we couldn’t really relate to, but a normal person who had bad days and who messed up. The professional performer was gone, and the person behind the professional took her place. The audience engaged more, clapping, dancing and cheering louder and harder with each song. We’ve all been there. We’ve all done something embarrassing in a meeting or in front of other people. Today, I walked over to talk to a coworker after having forgotten to zip my pants. She and I both noticed. Stuff happens. We empathized with the person on the stage, and in response we supported her. I wish it was something that happened more often.
After the show, my sister and I waited several minutes before heading to the car in order to avoid traffic. We happened to pass by the tour bus on our way back to the car. There was a short line of people on the sidewalk waiting for autographs and whatnot. As we walked by, we overheard Michaelson’s tour manager telling the crowd that she wouldn’t be signing anything tonight, as she was already on the bus. My guess is that the professional performer was able to downplay forgetting lyrics twice and having to start two songs over a couple of times. I’m not so sure that it was something so easily dismissed behind closed doors. From all accounts, it sounded like she wasn’t in fact on her bus, but still inside, and simply wasn’t up to signing autographs or taking photos. I doubt she beat herself up for long, however, as later that evening, she tweeted this. I wish more shows were like the one I attended last week. I also wish that we would stop holding public figures to such impossible standards. I’m not on top of my game 100% of the time, so I’m not going to get upset and walk out if I happen to catch a musician when they aren’t at their best either. Have you ever been to any kind of performance where some sort of mishap occurs? Have you ever forgotten something basic while doing your everyday job, played it off like it was nothing, and beat yourself up over it afterwards?