My brother and I were recently talking about the myriad factors that go into pop stardom — the ratio of hard work to talent, the degree to which an ineffable “it factor” can propel a career — and this sparked a secondary discussion about the general public’s perception of and relation to its biggest stars. An uninformed consumer, one who doesn’t pay attention to specifics about the music industry, might attribute success in the pop world to luck or consider a pop star’s talents to be innate gifts that needed no work to cultivate.
But this narrative, we said, was at least partially by design: the fans want their pop stars to have a mystique so they can imagine that they, too, would be stars if only given the natural musical ability. The pop star serves as an avatar through which the audience can live out their own dreams and project onto them their various emotions, convictions, and fantasies. This is not a criticism or value judgement; art exists to reflect the human experience and that function is served by the entertainment industry.
Anyway, sort of on the topic, have you heard of Your Face Sounds Familiar?
This is a show that proves that not anyone can be a pop star, by making otherwise talented people literally embody real pop stars.
It’s sometimes called Sing Your Face Off, as the title varies across the 47 (!!) countries where it airs, but the premise is the same: celebrities vie to see who can best imitate bigger celebrities in a singing competition. The contestants are assigned their pop star challenges each week by a “randomizer” machine, which I’m sure is as random as Jimmy Fallon’s bullshit Wheel of Impressions that always manages to land on impressions the guest has previously shown a knack for.
It gives me no pleasure to report that this premise did come to America. It didn’t last long, which is surprising, as I would have thought the public was clamoring to see NBA player Landry Fields impersonate Pitbull.
The U.S. version went all-in on prosthetics for their costuming, but other countries settled on that intense contouring makeup that YouTubers do to “transform” into other people from certain angles in certain light. Either way, the result is people who can’t really sing and/or dance doing both to perform well-known hit songs.
“Well, this is all fun and fine,” you’re thinking, “assuming it never turns into a blackface thing.” Oh, it definitely turns into a blackface thing! Spare yourself the search results and trust me when I tell you that audiences worldwide love to see their country’s stars perform as Nicki Minaj.
Oh, and six countries have launched a spinoff where children are the contestants instead of adult celebrities. It’s fascinating! For instance, how does this baby so perfectly emulate Taylor Swift, an American adult pop star?
I feel icky about child performers in general, but this one seems to be having fun. Kids love imagining that they’re pop stars even more than adults do! If an infant must compete in a nationally televised singing competition, at least this number is adorable and age-appropriate.
This same tot, however, also performed as Ariana Grande in a performance I do not want to spread further on the internet. The application of Ariana’s Sexy Adult Baby aesthetic to an actual child did not make me feel good. It made me feel concerned for all involved. Pop stars and pop songs are often overtly sexual, and I am not comfortable with young girls being sexualized in that way! I would certainly not like to see young girls performing a song as raunchy as, say, “Lady Marmalade,” imitating the bordello-set video while singing about a dalliance with a sex worker.
So how should I feel about the fact that these are three young boys in wigs? Besides confused? It feels like a weird thing to make your child do on TV when they are too young to consent to things. But on the other hand, they do slay. They absolutely crush it. The TNT Boys perform most of their songs in drag, so I’m assuming they enjoy it and that’s cool and fine. Young boys should be allowed to wear feminine clothes if it makes them feel good, although — again — I would discourage dressing any elementary schoolers in corsets and fishnets for other reasons. But they’re ridiculously good performers. I would embed all of their videos here but it’s pretty hard to find any without blackface.
Some kids do not seem to be having as much fun. Depending on the country, some kids have to perform songs made popular in what is absolutely not their first language. That’s a big task for anyone, especially children performing for a home audience of thousands!
I can’t account for cultural differences, so I can’t say if Your Face Sounds Familiar is a good idea in some places but not well-executed here. I tried imagining how I would improve the concept to work in America, and I came up with some tweaks: don’t make kids do it, do away with the randomizer conceit and just let them pick songs they want to perform, and just let them lip-sync instead of sing.
Anyway, that’s Lip Sync Battle, it exists and even has a kids spinoff, so we as a country are already on top of that idea. Also drag performances exist. So. The concept isn’t new. I do miss the title Your Face Sounds Familiar here.
I will continue to be very invested in the pop stars I like, feel weird when I analyze the general concept of pop stardom in society, and look forward to the TNT Boys growing into a full-fledged boy band with phenomenal international success.