Uncovering More than Just Cleavage in Sesame Street

Pop music is a serious business. Mainstream pop stars may get away with occasionally pretending to be non-serious by cheering and giggling into the crowds, but alternative artists have to shoulder the burden of perpetually having to represent the deep, meaningful sophistication of their artwork – definitely not a laughing matter for kids. Even less so, when you continuously have to emphasize your non-commercial roots in order to distract your fans from the fact that you were quite willing to sell your song to Apple to be used in an advertisement.

Thus, it is rather unusual to hear the underground artist Feist singing “One, two, three, four” continued with “I love counting, counting to the number four. Ooh, oh,oh, we’re counting to four! Ooh,oh,oh, let’s count some more!”. “Weird Al” Yankovic couldn’t have done a better parody of “1234”, the song that became famous when it was used in an iPod commercial. Yet it was Sesame Street that gave Feist the opportunity to elaborate upon the absurdity of her original lyrics by highlighting how startingly well it serves in assists in practicing how to count.

Feist – 1,2,3,4 on Sesame Street Season 39, Episode 4161 (2007):

With “Don’t know Y”, Norah Jones had previously already demonstrated the capabilities of her jazz music to memorize the letter Y.

Norah Jones, “Don’t know y” on Sesame Street Season 35, Episode 4081 (2004):

Both pieces are listed in “Sesame’s Street’s 10 greatest musical moments”, where Norah Jones’s piece is ascribed to additionally have the quality of being able to put kids to sleep faster than any other Sesame Street song ever…

The way these two pop stars are quite willing to make fun of themselves is a refreshing change to the coolness that usually prevails in independent pop music, where in general sneering is preferred to smiling, sometimes adorned with obscene hand gestures. Curiously, poor Katy Perry has been accused by concerned parents to have imported too much “obscene” pop attitude for kids to handle into Sesame Street by wearing a flesh-colored top that dangerously looks like her real skin. However, as this following vigilant blog reveals, if you carefully pay attention, then you’ll realize that Katy Perry’s outfit merely is the peak of an ongoing trend that had already commenced with the scantily-clad Norah Jones and Feist from the previous videos (as you surely had noticed yourself, I hope you felt scandalized): Katy Perry & Other Celebrities Who Show Way Too Much Skin

Sadly, after receiving the complaints about her cleavage, Sesame Street decided not to air Katy Perry on television. This is very unfortunate because in the withdrawn video, Katy Perry takes the Sesame Song genre to new heights in her duet with Elmo of “Hot N Cold”. Her song is so ground-breaking, because both the lyrics and the video get by with much fewer alterations than the sesame-streetized songs of her predecessors. Both the original and the Sesame Street version start with spoken dialogue. In the original video, Katy Perry is about to marry, whereas in Sesame Street, she is about to play “dress-up” with Elmo – which is why she already is wearing a variation of the wedding dress with the infamously plunging neckline from the original video. The difference in her attitude is striking – when her husband-to-be pauses at the question “Do you take Katy to be your lawfully wedded wife?” she gives him a glaring, exasperated look, whereas when she herself asks Elmo “You said you wanted to play dress-up – Don’t You? Come on, Elmo, don’t you want to play?”, her look is rather frustrated-disappointed and less demanding as he makes a dash.

Both videos next merge into Katy singing and chasing her respective counterpart (her fiancé / Elmo) through a vast array of landscapes. The line “You’re Yes then you’re No” is visualized dramatically in the Sesame Street video with a close-up of Katy and Elmo looking at each other and first nodding, then shaking their heads. Both videos also end with a re-asking of the original question. In the Sesame Street video, Katy asks: “Elmo! Don’t you want to play?” to which Elmo replies “Elmo IS playing, Miss Katy!”.

Thus, while the original lyrics appear to paint a largely negative picture of Katy’s on-and-off relationship, it is Elmo’s assessment of the situation that gives Katy’s rendition a whole new twist. Stunningly, even though all artists appear to simplify their lyrics for Sesame Street, in all cases the Sesame Street versions reveal many more dimensions of meaning in each song, thus making things less simple, but rather richer and more insightful. Even more striking is the fact that of all 3 songs, the case with the lowest number of alterations between the original and the sesame-streetization is the one that adds the most to the original – by inviting to think about how similarly and differently we shape our relationships from childhood to adulthood.

Katy Perry and Elmo: Hot N Cold, scheduled for Sesame Street, Season 41, but only released on youtube (2010):

This week, be up and down, run around, fast and slow, stop and go, hot and cold, yes then no, in and out – and start to doubt: Do you really want to play, no? Or do you just really want to go, go?!?!?

Eric

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