There is a certain delicate art to reviewing new videos by people who don’t like you. When you’re in this business (what could to an extent be termed “show business”), there is a measure of politics involved. You have to walk a tightrope that is being true to your review by making an honest assessment of content, but also, not piss off the bigger heads involved because they are the gatekeepers to the content creators. That being said, Tay Zonday covering “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is just awful.
So Tay (or anyone else) doesn’t think I am picking on him unfairly, note my recent review of a “YouTubers React” video by the Fine Brothers, in which I say that Tay is the best of the participants. Tay is neither dumb nor untalented — I just don’t happen to think that his “true calling” lies in YouTube music videos.
See, the beauty of “Chocolate Rain” some five years ago was in that it was this oddball guy singing an oddball song that seemed to have no clear meaning. It was a perfect storm in the early days of YouTube and, as such, became a revolutionary and even important event in YouTube’s transition towards a viable social media tool. “Chocolate Rain” gave us all hope that if this goofy guy with the deep bass timbre could achieve a sort of fame, well then, by God, so could the rest of us. To his credit though, the vast majority of his “emulators” could not equal Zonday’s achievement, which gives indication to just how unique a talent the man is.
Here’s the thing though: Tay has struggled to repeat his success not because he is terrible at singing (he isn’t, he’s got a perfectly competent voice), but because he set the bar so incredibly high on his initial attempt, I don’t think he can achieve such success again. This is how one-hit wonders are created. Ask the Numa Numa kid how his follow-up videos have fared. There was once a dialogue between the author Joseph Heller and a reporter that is particularly apt in this situation. The reporter asked Heller if he was upset because he hadn’t been able to write a book as good as his early effort, “Catch 22.” Heller smartly responded, “Has anybody?”
Now how can I call a performance awful if I have already admitted that the singing is competent, and it would be no stretch to call the original song a classic (even if it has some dark origins)? Easy, Zonday’s performance itself and the overall aesthetic of the video are hilariously creepy. On radio, the song would stream past acceptably — perhaps listeners would find Zonday’s voice jarring in its depth, but it is not so far off Bing Crosby’s tenor as to make it unpalatable. But YouTube is a visual medium, and Tay, with his single-shot close-up, is not doing himself any favors. Also, there is this digital overlay of a Christmas wreath surrounding him that makes me think “public access television” bad.
I don’t know if Tay is intentionally hamming up the visual effects and his uncomfortable stoicism to achieve that “so bad it’s good” distinction or what, but when coupled with that voice, it all comes across as unpleasantly weird. Perhaps he is an adherent to the maxims of Andy Kaufman in that he plays only to entertain himself. And if that is the case, Tay Zonday is my hero. But I don’t think that’s the story at all. When I watch this video, I see only an awkward man earnestly trying to win back your love. But if that is the best way he knows to go about it, he’s got a tough road ahead.
I don’t fancy myself a Simon Cowell-type, nor am I a contrarian by nature. I certainly wish Zonday no ill will and heartily endorse that if he feels his passion is music, well then by God, he should pursue it wholeheartedly and be swayed by the criticism of none (let alone some pissant writer). But my passion is offering my unvarnished and honest commentary, and that too is worth pursuing.