Well, I did the opening ceremony, so it seems only fair that I do the closing ceremony as well.
I didn’t see the beginning, because I was watching something else at the time, but this time around I actually lasted to the end, even though I no more care about sports than I did two weeks ago. But then the closing ceremony was even less about sports than the opening ceremony. Instead, it was basically a big rock and pop concert with a few Olympic bits tacked on. And quite often the “official” Olympic bits seemed out of place compared to the concert bits.
And the world’s governments ever needed proof that most national anthems are in serious need of updating, the juxtaposition of the Greek and Brazilian national anthems (which aren’t even bad as national anthems go) with pop music provided more than enough. And it’s also telling that many of the athletes had an easier time singing along with “Always look on the bright side of life” than they probably would with their own anthems, though athletes usually score very well on knowing the lyrics to their respective anthems compared to the regular population.
All the bombastic “achievements of Britain” stuff from the opening ceremony has been boiled down to “We make really great pop music and have been for fifty years” (with nods to the fashion industry, the scant output of the British automobile industry) by the closing ceremony and the event was better for it IMO. Because let’s face it, the music was really good and varied enough in styles and eras that there was something for everybody. And you only had to look into the faces of the athletes to see that these people were having fun, probably a lot more fun than they would have had standing around for hours on end at a more traditional closing ceremony.
Of course, there still were plenty of moments of WTF that could only be explained by a big dose of LSD in the watercoolers of the organizing committee. I mean, Timothy Spall pretending to be Winston Churchill and bursting out of the tip of Big Ben? Russell Brand singing “I am the Walrus” into a megaphone in the middle of a psychedelic Yellow Submarine scene (I can’t argue with the sentiment that Russell Brand is a walrus, though). A bunch of approximately 14-year-old X-Factor winners being carted around the stadium on truck beds? The Pet Shop Boys cycling with weird conical hats? Annie Lennox as a sort of gothic scarecrow? Eric Idle performing “Always look on the bright side of life” surrounded by Morris dancers, a Bollywood dance troupe, an opera singer in full Wagnerian Valkyrie get-up, a troupe of bag pipe players, cancan dancing Roman legionnaires and more weirdness than you can shake a stick at? Now I loved that bit, but it was still incredibly bizarre. Or how about Fatboy Slim DJ-ing in the middle of a giant translucent squid? And what was the squid thing supposed to be anyway? Cthulhu?
The song selection also had several moments of “Has anybody ever listened to the lyrics?” and plenty of songs with weird or unsuitable connotations. There were the great depression rock ballads of “Wish you were here” (“Your heroes were ghosts…” is not a line that fits a stadium full of people many view as heroes) and “Wonderwall” (which is one of my all-time favourite songs, but nonetheless classic depression rock). There was George Michael’s “Freedom”, which he explicitly wrote to throw off the restrictions of the teen pop idol image the record industry had foisted on him, a song which Robbie Williams covered ten years later with the same intention. There was the rebellious nihilism of The Who’s “My Generation” and “Teenaged Wasteland” (which most of the young athletes will probably know best as the title song of CSI New York, where the rebellious tone is just as inappropriate). There were the two songs from Tommy, a film which is basically a scathing criticism of the sort of consumerism and star cult exemplified by mega sports events like the Olympics. A children’s choir singing John Lennon’s “Imagine”, a song which does fit the whole peace and brotherhood spirit the Olympics are supposed to celebrate. But does anybody think that John Lennon would have been happy to be associated with such a commercialized event? And lets not forget that “Always look on the bright side of life” is a song about resignation and death and making the best of bad things that is sung at the crucification. So again the music was providing a sly and very critical commentary of the whole Olympics.
As for the performers themselves, the representatives of the current British music scene quite impressed me, even if it’s not the sort of music I normally care for. I particularly liked Jessie J. who was not on my radar at all except as some pop starlet. But she held her own very well singing “We will rock you” with the two surviving members of Queen, particularly since she was given the unenviable task of singing against the memory of Freddy Mercury. Muse and the Kaiser Chiefs were good as well, but then those are artists I already liked. Meanwhile, the really old stars, people like The Who or Eric Idle, were impressive, simply because they were still able to rock a whole stadium in spite of pushing seventy. But the nineties stars – The Spice Girls or Take That or even Oasis (or whatever they’re calling themselves these days) – just looked depressingly middle-aged. When the Spice Girls appeared on stage, I thought “Wow, there’s enough Botox in those faces to poison the whole city”. Take That were visibly bursting from their suits. And even the Gallagher brother who was on stage (I’ve never been able to tell them apart, sorry) looked distinctly aged in the close-ups – and I was a big Oasis fan at the time. I guess it’s because The Who or even the Pet Shop Boys and Annie Lennox have always been “old” to me, even though I liked or loved their music. But I remember Take That or the Spice Girls or Oasis being young, being at around the same age as me (Take That and Gallagher are a bit older, the Spice Girls a bit younger) and now they’re suddenly no longer young.
I liked the fact that Rio de Janeiro, the 2016 host city, was allowed to present itself. This seems to be a new thing, because I don’t remember any other appreciation of the future host city than the handing over of the Olympic flag from previous closing ceremonies. As for the presentation itself, it basically hit all of the carnival and samba clichés that people associate with Brazil in general and Rio de Janeiro in particular. The glowing headdresses of the native dancers looked a bit weird to the point that I thought, “Wait a minute, why are the Brazilian natives wearing glow-in-the-dark condoms on their heads?” until the camera gave us a close-up. However, I really liked the dancing street sweeper.
Finally, did they German commentator really have to make a remark insinuating that the Kenyan athletes are doped while three Kenyan and Ugandan marathon runners were receiving their medals during the closing ceremony? There’s a time and place for doping allegations, but the closing ceremony is not it. Besides, does anybody else find it disturbing that most of the doping allegations are made against black and Asian athletes, but rarely against white athletes? The only case where the German commentators made doping allegations against a white athlete was a Kazakh bicycle racer and that guy had already been suspended for doping during the Tour de France earlier. Honestly, it just left a bad taste in my mouth.