When Bad is Good

Striving for what’s traditionally considered “great” in art is overrated as an objective virtue.

Which is a sentiment that can be applied to basically any aspect of a piece; the “quality” of an artistic attribute cannot be evaluated separate from what function it may serve within the overall work, and sometimes, paltriness is not only an asset — it’s the point.

For fear of treading into illegibly abstract terrain here, musicals can ground us in handy elucidation.





What constitutes a “great” singing voice is treated as the gospel truth, but the composers’ Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile AND Spirited demonstrate how conventionally-deemed “weak” pipes can be wielded into a strength.

Even with the aid of autotune, Javier Bardem can’t sing. BUT, channeling the showmanship of his character, he compensates for this lack by pushing the charm of his performative personality into hyperdrive. IN ADDITION, his underwhelming chords provide an unspoken explanation as to why his character has never achieved success as a song-and-dance man, and why he reacts to the silky smooth sultriness of Lyle’s (read: Shawn Mendes’) crooning like mana in his career’s desert.

There’s no similar dramaturgical justification for why Spirited‘s cast of A-listers fail to belt Broadway away, even though Pasek and Paul’s music resides shamelessly in that shameless register (said with nothing but love; for their inevitable return to the stage, may I suggest a collab with the director who most firmly shares this residence: Casey Nicholaw).

Could professional singers make the songs soar? Sure. But the distinct thespian charisma of Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds — the foundation upon which their global brands are built! — doesn’t grow on trees (nor does their commercial appeal, essential to funding artistic endeavors of this scale).

Would hiring ghost singers to dub their numbers have solved this “problem?” You know it. But ask yourself: would whatever is gained from this arrangement really trump the intruige of seeing how these superstars muscle through? Who doesn’t want to hear them try? The indefatigable, iconized spirit (heyo) of their effort can’t help but shine through.

They’re famous for a reason…even if singing will remain not one of those reasons.

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