Last Night: Jay-Z, Eminem, and the Celebrity Cult of the DJ Hero
The economy isn't entirely moribund, it's just that the real money's in wish fulfillment. At least that's the logical conclusion gained from last night's star-scarred Jay-Z and Eminem concert promoting DJ Hero, the latest sure-to-be-blockbuster installment of the Guitar Hero Franchise -- an event that suggested that alternate titles for the game include So You Think You Can Be a Celebrity DJ? How to Press the Space Bar to the Delight of Millions, and Who Wants to be DJ AM? The only things missing were a Samantha Ronson sighting and an impromptu Girl Talk mash-up.
Maybe General Motors could've shredded those Chapter 11 forms had they adapted to real 21st Century trends: school-bus sized SUV's are out, reality show access and apertures into the lifestyle of the rich and famous are the new cash crops. So what if the game's definition of being a DJ hero merely means pressing a few buttons at the right time, to the right beats. That's not much more than what DJ AM does, and the guy's become the most famous space-bar slinger of the Serato era. Granted, dating a celebutante or two, escaping a plane crash, and palling around with the drummer from Blink 182 certainly help.
Even AM himself admitted to the horde of media herbs assembled on the "black carpet," that "I'm going to wake up tomorrow, and realize that not only did I get to do a set with Travis [Barker] tonight, but I also got to DJ for Jay-Z and Eminem. It's going to feel like a dream. It already does." Which is all well and good -- he seems like a nice enough fellow, and inevitably somebody even lamer would probably snatch his spot as disc jockey du jour should he decide to pack it all in and head to some Arcadian area free from paparazzi, where angels coo nothing but mash-ups of AC/DC and Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison."
They were all there last night, the Hollywood cognoscenti. Lording over the balcony of the Wiltern, lured by free food and drink, and the promise of Slim Shady and Sean Carter. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire swaying to "Swagger Like Us." Christina Aguilera, Nicky Hilton, and Kim Kardashian trying to pretend that they're in on Eminem's jokes. Matthew McConaughey, taking a break from his rigorous schedule of bicycling and recycled rom-coms. Ryan Philippe. The Osbourne girl. Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz, and nearly the entire cast of Entourage, ostensibly unaware that the HBO cameras weren't rolling.
Of course, none of the big names deigned to walk the carpet -- and for good reason. Between the Simple Jack questioning line proposed by most red carpet reporters, the throngs of adoring acolytes surrounding the metal cage, and the onslaught of reality television detritus that stalks the runway, it's enough to validate Nathaniel West's darkest laments.
A reporter drops her tape recorder and batteries splay out onto the ground -- she emits a cochlear-crushing scream audible in Beverly Hills. Publicists walk the row, eying writers warily, approaching only if their outlet is deemed worthy. Guitar Hero girls shimmy about, clad in fishnet stalkings, halter top, and enough ghoulish eye shadow to make Elvira seem modest. A putatively famous girl in a pink boa is asked who her favorite celebrity DJ is. Without hesitation, she answers "Ryan Gosling." Apparently, the Director's edition of The Notebook, finds him seamlessly enmeshing Duke Ellington and Duke Da God.
Travis Barker's there -- but he doesn't usually do interviews, only opting to speak with a few camera crews and Rolling Stone. Nonetheless, the hired geeks hound him persistently for a quote or two, as though he were prone to dropping nothing but Gnostic parables. On a man-date with the lead singer of Blink 182, Pete Wentz -- leather-jacket clad and looking like a fey Fonz -- is rambling about his new mixtape. Meanwhile, I'm rambling about how I need to renegotiate my contract with hip-hop. I didn't ink a long-term agreement in 1992 to watch The Roots and Jay-Z work with asymmetrically-haired and asymmetrically gifted emo twerps.
The gossip mag gaggle in close proximity asks Kim Kardashian whether or not she thinks Jon and Kate (of Plus 8) should stay together. She answers, "definitely, they have so many children." Simon Rex wanders by in "hey, remember me," mode, and the same gossip girls ask him to name "something with your hands that you're good at doing." He retorts, "grabbing girls." I wonder if the pair is going to make an impromptu sex tape. Can C-list celebrities resist that sort of temptation when placed within closed confines? And what are their thoughts on Sonia Sotomayor's philosophy towards judicial restraint?
Inside, the vibe is equally bizarre, conforming to Murphy's Law of Los Angeles: the more coveted a party invite is, the douchier its attendees. I see a guy grab a hopelessly siliconed Kimora Lee Simmons clone: "Excuse me miss...but I'm a casting director..." He whips out an aluminum tin to remove a business card, dusts off the remnants of weed debris and hands it over to her.
Moments later, I overhear another goon introduce someone, "I'd like you to meet my manager." Seconds later, I eavesdrop from elsewhere, "This is my agent -- the best in Hollywood." When I finally hear the introduction, "this is my wife," it somehow seems like the most romantic thing since Heloise and Abelard.
The show itself seems secondary to the spectacle, but Jay-Z does a yeoman's effort to earn the half million dollar check he probably collected for the appearance. Backed by a three-piece brass section, two guitarists, a keyboardist, and of course, DJ AM, he manages to triumph over the rock band arrangements as sludgy and unyielding as a cup of NesCafe. Jay's dressed down tonight -- baggy black jeans, ubiquitous dark shades, leather jacket, and a black t-shirt that looks vaguely like the Slipknot logo; he opens with "U Don't Know," and proceeds to rip through a 45-minutes greatest hits set.
Though it's strictly pay-for-play, he's surprisingly energetic, sweating profusely in the pale blue stage lights and touching on everything from Reasonable Doubt's "Can I Live," to American Gangster's "Blue Magic," and "Pray," to his freestyles over Young Jeezy's "My President," and Lil Wayne's "A Milli." Though the backing band tends to drown his vocals in industrial sheet-metal riffs, "99 Problems'," Rick Rubin-doing-Weezer, sends a hypodermic infusion into the crowd. Even a guy with an Eraserhead haircut is completely losing his shit, rapping along to every word. Though his studio output might not retain the same brilliance it once had, there's no mistaking that few can match old brown eyes' ability to rock a party.
Briefly leaving the stage, Jay returned once more to trade verses with Eminem on "Renegade," which galvanized even the most jaded observers, despite Shady's mic being turned down too low for most of the performance. Turning in an abbreviated set, Eminem's performance was diametrically opposed from Jay's "give 'em what they want philosophy."
While the audience clamored for past glories, an always intense Marshall Mathers performed an abbreviated, alternately great, ultimately uncomfortable set, almost strictly culled from his new Relapse record. "3 a.m." and "Underground," are good songs, but rhymes about jerking off to Hannah Montana, flanked by visuals of tombstones, gothic steeples, kidney-colored clouds, didn't exactly set the crowd on fire. While "We Made You," and "Crack the Bottle" seemed to amuse but clearly lacked the resonance of his earlier, un-performed singles.
By the time, Shady closed with "Lose Yourself," the crowd resumed aspiratory function and once again whipped out their iPhones and Blackberries to start taking videos and snapping pictures. Over the new few days, the agencies of Beverly Hills will be flooded with a torrent of thank-you e-mails. Tonight, a whole lot of celebrity DJ careers were born. Take that, Ryan Gosling.