Who says actresses shouldn't sing?
Scarlett Johansson, doe-eyed dream girl of nearly every nerd in the country, has released an album of Tom Waits covers. Jena Malone has invented an instrument (yes, you read that right) called the Shoe, (yes, you read that right as well) and started to record her own music. Zooey Deschanel has teamed up with M. Ward and recorded an album under the monker "She & Him".
Ladies, this is a case of knowing your fanbase all too well. These three could well be the indie-rock fanboy's choice for the newest version of a sad-ass Charlie's Angels, but what makes one think that just becuase indie kids like their movies that they'll like their records, too? If I wasn't so sure that these three (there are many more, I'm sure, these three are merely figureheads for the trend) were honestly trying to do this becuase they wanted to and believed in it, I would mark this up as a cash-grab not seen since the likes of Elvis' movies and Kiss' lunchboxes.
Let's go one by one, shall we?
First up is Deschanel. Now, although I don't care for her sardonic "real-life kinda post-modern girl" schtick, I will say that I think she's the most believable actress of the group. While I may not LIKE her style of acting (or is the the type she gets cast as?), her films aren't without merit, but she is better as a supporting player, in my opinion. So, while it may seem as though I'm letting her off easy, her project is the best. The most tuneful, the least self-indulgent, and the one that could certainly lead to second and third albums. So what's the problem? It's almost completely uninteresting to me. Indie-pop by numbers is still by numbers, no matter who might be writing or singing it. Would I give a pass to a band who put this out? Nope. Why should I accept less from someone who has never done this before. OK, she has played music before, but I have the suspicion that Ward is due a lot of the musical credit for this one, and until Deschanel puts out an album that's pretty good and just called "She", I'm sticking to my guns. Zooey, I don't really like your acting, and I don't really like your music, but you seem to be doing this honestly, so if you're going to bother doing this, can you please do it just a bit better?
Jena. Jena, Jena, Jena. Where do you get off? First off, duct-taping a bunch of instruments, amps, and audio equipment together does not in any way constitute "inventing an instrument". If it did, I would have made a fortune on my "harmoni-saxo-dolin". But naming it "The Shoe"? Screw you. Pitchfork defended you by saying that you couldn't be categorized as an "actress-turned-musician" because you weren't really a very successful actress. Please add "musician" to that list of things you weren't very successful at. I used to work at the company that distributed your label, and when we got a box of your first 7", we put it on only to have it met with tears of laughter. And that's from a bunch of people that distribute stuff like K Records. Seriously. Yes, you were in Donnie Darko, voted by this 14-year-old as "the greatest movie of all time, ever". But the scenes with you in them just distracted me from the rest of the movie with your sullen "weirdo pouting" passing for acting. And I even liked that movie. But this isn't about your acting, this is about your terrible, terrible music. There will come a time when someone must draw the line between "experimental" and "bullshit". And I know which side of the line you'll fall on. What makes me sad is that you really, really believe in this thing you're doing. Cat-scream vocals and "arty" electronics matched with "outside the system" touring locations like outside a mini-mall. I'm not even mad, I'm just disappointed. Please quit this while you can, so you can go back to underwhelming everyone with your film career.
And what about Scarlett? She sorta started this whole thing, right? I mean, like, this wave of it. "Indie girls with vanity projects" is actually probably now going to be the new name of MY recoring project. But let's run down the timeline, OK? You announced that you were going to record an album. Pitchfork and their ilk then rejoiced. You announced it was going to be comprised of Tom Waits covers. Bloggers had to run for their collective notebooks to cover up their excitement. Then we saw a clip of you singing backup for the Jesus and Mary Chain at Coachella that was so off-key I don't even have a witty remark for it. The record comes out, and we get a collection of flatly-sung, emotionlessly-performed Waits covers that make me long for Rod Stewart and the Eagles to come back and cover your ass. And I HATE the Eagles. Don't get me wrong, it was a nice try, but if I heard this without knowing what it was, I'd tilt my head to the side like my dog does when she's confused, say "Huh, that's a Tom Waits song!", and then walk right out of that bookstore at the mall. And what about producer David Sitek or TV On The Radio? "Taking an otherwise pedestrian sound and making it interesting" sounds a whole hell of a lot like what he did for TV On The Radio, Scarlett, you have parlayed an incredible film career from a mere two good movies that happened to enthrall the film-criticising internet world. Take away Ghost World, and especially Lost In Translation, and your path is littered with gems like Home Alone 3, The Perfect Score, The Island, Eight Legged Freaks, The Nanny Diaries, In Good Company and Match Point. You were certainly fine in The Prestige and The Black Dahlia, but nobody actually saw you in that Woody Allen movie you did. So 3-4 arty dramas don't really give you justification for what you've bothered to do. If you did nothing but high profile emo films, I might be a little more lenient, but I watched The Perfect Score on cable one afternoon, so I feel like I'm justified to say all this. Look, I like Tom Waits, and with all that auto-tune, you do sorta sound like Kanye (another post for another day...), but just do me a favor, OK?
Don't do it again.
[Edit:I was going to include Milla Jovovich in this list, but she's getting on in years, and is a Euorpean bohemian ex-model werido, so she didn't really fit the bill of "Starlets Making Music". I just wanted to mention her in this article so that I could bring up the point that if anyone should stop, she's included. I still haven't forgiven this chick I knew in college MAKING me listen to her completely awful albums.]