Last night Anne Hathaway and Jimmy Fallon converted some rap songs into lounge music*. I was afraid that there might be some lame mocking of rap, but that’s not what happened. The main joke seemed to be the sheer oddness of lounge performances, especially the awkward, contrived sexual tension between the pianist and the singer and the bizarreness of the popular songs they choose to perform. Live lounge music is basically karaoke done by professionals instead of drunken strangers. It’s wrong in principle and even worse in execution.
What was specifically interesting to me was how thoroughly Fallon and Hathaway managed to convert the rap songs into lounge music. They genuinely sounded nothing like the originals. The cadences, deliveries and general affects were profoundly different despite the lyrics remaining unchanged. A lot of people – especially the people over at Rap Genius and sometimes Reddit- insist that lyrics are the most critical part of rap songs and implicitly music in general, but I think that performances like this and perhaps even remixes in general thoroughly disprove that argument. There is a constellation of things happening in this performance and the lyrics are just one, tiny dimension.
Lyrics vary in significance from artist to artist (within rap and across genres) and I definitely would support the notion that lyrics have a heightened significance in rap, but lyrics aren’t everything. More importantly, as this performance demonstrates, how we experience lyrics is profoundly affected by other elements of songs. Anyone who has ever been to a live concert and enjoyed it despite a crappy sound system or complete ignorance of the music being performed can definitely agree. Even better, if you watched this video and knew nothing about the original songs, yet were unable to identify them as covers of rap songs, you can agree. Rap music is so much more than words on a page or just words. Talking about music is only worthwhile if we realize this and listen comprehensively, not just closely.
Lastly, damn Anne Hathaway can sing.
*The video is labeled as “Broadway versions” of rap songs, but I think that’s a mistake. This is definitely lounge singing.