Published August 13, 2012
After the most boring Olympic opening ceremony in memory, I had high hopes for the closing. Dubbed a tour of the best of British music, I looked forward to it and wanted to love it. I really did. I was hoping I'd love it. Praying, actually. With all of the nasty Tweets and messages I received from nose-in-the-air Brits about my half-scathing, half-jokin greview of the opening ceremony, I was hoping to please our friends across the Pond with praise.
Unfortunately, I'm duty-bound to call it like I saw it. And it wasn't a disaster. There were some good moments. But there were also some performances that left my finger lingering on the "skip ahead" button on my remote control.
A bit of context. First, the closing ceremony is a nearly impossible task because it's always anti-climactic. The excitement and energy of the Olympic Games comes from the competition. The opening ceremony feeds off the anticipation for that competition; The closing ceremony is, inherently, an after-thought.
Second, it's always just too long. Three hours is a lot of time to fill. Too much by half. And as Saturday Night Live knows all too well, when you have to fill more time than you have content for, you become the victim of said "skip ahead" buttons.
The big mistake virtually every city makes is the complete disconnect between the closing ceremony and what happened the previous two weeks. London was no different, ignoring athletes and athletics almost entirely except for the parade of nations. Where was the celebration of the Olympic Games? If they had to keep it Anglo-centric, why not dazzle the audience with tributes to the performances of Mo Farah, Andy Murray, Bradley Wiggins and the entire British cycling team? That would have been awesome! The audience wants to relive some of the glory of the Games, not the glory of '80s hair bands.
Instead, just like the opening ceremony, it was an ode to British pop culture that had very little to do with the athletes and athletics for which the Olympic Games exist.
I actually loved how the closing ceremony opened, with Emeli Sande performing 'Read All About It.' The song choice was only bested by the emotion she poured into her performance. It set a tone of reverence for the two weeks of achievement that the ceremony was designed to celebrate. Fantastic!
But somehow the vision got quickly lost after Sande's brilliant performance. What could have been a moving tribute became a display of throwing musical spaghetti on a wall and hoping some of it sticks. Many of the performances were fine, the whole concept was just completely disconnected from the Olympic Games.
A parade of performers swept across the stadium floor. Madness was rolled out in their wheelchairs for their hit, "Our House." The Pet Shop Boys came out in very cool, funky chariots to snarl at "West End Girls." A bit later, Queen rocker Brian May gave us a quick peek of what we're in store for when Howard Stern stops dying his hair.
It was a lovely idea to remind us of all the wonderful contributions to music made by Brits. But watching a bunch of white-haired octogenarians squeaking through their hits of the distant past...well, after Paul McCartney's opening-ceremony disaster, I'm surprised they stuck to the plan.
Some of the acts did great and hit big. While I'm no big fan, I was quite happy to see One Direction liven things up with their "What Makes You Beautiful." They still need some lip sync lessons...but maybe Madonna can work with them on that.
George Michael was fantastic with "Freedom 90." Having triumphed over a lot of personal and health issues in the last decade (one friend said, 'Isn't he on his ninth life?'), it was awesome to see him up there performing, and he nailed it.
I also liked the hat tip to John Lennon with "Imagine." The choir, along with a mix-in of Lennon's own voice, was a very nice touch.
Annie Lennox, the Spice Girls...they were all fine, but it just felt like a Super Bowl halftime show gone awry. So many performers simply being paraded in front of the crowd with (like the opening ceremony) little story ("Yay British music" isn't a story). I could go on and on, commenting on each musical act...but that's virtually all this ceremony was: Musical act after musical act (with some nice whimsy from Eric Idle thrown in for good measure).
I did think a lot of elements of the set were quite good. The Union Jack catwalk -- Brilliant! The vehicles covered in newspaper with the words of famous British writers was inspired. And the phoenix that rose from the Olympic flame was a poetic way to end the night.
Yet the entire time I was wondering: What on earth does any of this have to do with the Olympic Games? How does this honor the blood, sweat and tears poured onto the fields, the courts, the mats, and into the pools we all watched with bated breath for the last two weeks?
I hope the folks in Sochi and Rio take note: The Olympic Games are about the athletes and the sports, they're not about you. The Brits felt the need to throw a mish-mash of their pop culture at the rest of the world to "educate" us about themselves. But, luck many history lessons in school, it was a bit boring. Don't make the same mistakes with your opening and closing ceremonies.
Certainly, introduce us to elements of what makes you and your country so great. There is plenty most of the world doesn't know about Russia and Brazil. But please, be thoughtful about the story you want to tell and what athletic, Olympic elements you want to use to tell that story. Put the athletes first, not your actors, writers and musicians.
No doubt I'll get another round of "stupid Americans just want hot dogs and guns" messages from Brits beside themselves that someone might not fall in love with anything they produce. That's fine. I for one don't begrudge anyone for their own feelings about these ceremonies; Other folks don't seem to have the same open mind.
Thankfully, the Brits did a great job hosting the Games and the athletic competitions. For that we owe Londoners and the entire country a debt of gratitude!
Plus, the athletes did a fantastic job of entertaining us for two weeks. After all, they are whom we'll remember weeks and months from now...not Old Spice.