On and On
“Glee Rocks!” So proclaims a handmade sign, held outside a concert venue as fans await a New Jersey installment of this year’s Glee Live! summer concert tour. For Gleeks, it does rock. And in the Glee universe, no one else matters.
Belief is the key to Glee. This point is made crystal clear in Glee the 3D Concert Movie, which opens on the singers’ version of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” That belief structure is a delicate, if massive, business: essentially, the singers perform, the fans respond. The movie doesn’t so much connect Gleeks to their objects of worship as it frames (not so) various declarations of that worship. Those declarations are probably heartfelt, certainly enthusiastic with the cameras turned on them. They’re also indications of how Glee works—as a kind of industry unto itself.
A brilliant repurposing machine, Glee here appears via swooping 3D cameras, the performers redoing numbers from the TV show, and fans remembering their experiences of watching the TV show. Fans tell how they came to see themselves differently, because, you know, the show opened their eyes to accept others as well as themselves. Alongside many anonymous testimonials, the movie provides three special interviewees, whose stories unfold in pieces, intercut with concert footage and occasional backstage interviews with the performers—in character. It’s a loop of fantasy and belief that remains, as they say, unbroken.
So, even as Brittany (Heather Morris) typically extols her physical virtues (“My breasts really look good and they’re in 3D”), the film cuts to a fan with bright-dyed red hair, introducing her Glee pizza party, complete with Glee board game and oh yes, her self-description as a girl with Asperger Syndrome who once was shy and prone to meltdowns, but who now has self-confidence and friends. She owes it all to Brittany, she says (even as the online petition continues, to introduce a character with Asperger Syndrome onto the show).
As the film cuts back to the singer, now performing her own fantasy, as Britney Spears writhing and lip-syncing to “I’m a Slave 4 U,” the circles and layers of who wants what—or even who “U” or I might be—are a little dazzling. On stage, in New Jersey, Brittany wears a facsimile of Britney’s 2001 VMAs show jungley green (with exposed midriff and sans snake). Her dancers help her to perform her slavish devotion, their choreography and sheer number distracting (maybe) from lyrics that might need to be explained to seven-or-eight-year-olds in the arena audience by their happy khaki-slacksed dads. Morris performs Brittany who performs Britney (that is, reprising her number from the Glee TV episode, “Britney Spears,” on which, by the way, Britney appeared as a guest!). Fan girls perform Brittany or maybe Riley or maybe Britney, who performs Madonna, who never pretended to be original anyway.
Pitching from one stage performance to the next, the movie doesn’t pretend much either. It assumes. It assumes Gleeks will follow, assumes the reprising of the TV show numbers is delightful and even thrilling (repetition inculcates belief, right?). And if you can’t get to New Jersey (or wherever else the Live! Tour goes), you can get to a theater, and pay extra for the 3D, and sing along because you know all the words because because because … you have heard all of this before.
Some of you have heard it more than once. When Rachel (Lea Michele) acts out her Streisand fantasy (singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade”) or Finn (Corey Monteith) does “Jessie’s Girl,” the camera cuts to parents in the arena, who smile and sway and sing along, with their kids or not. Some will be remembering Rick Springfield, who never quite looked like a high school football quarterback and who bent his pop song just a little bit, so it didn’t sound quite so squeaky as when Finn sings it. The girls in the audience want to be wanted “like that,” even if they’re 10 and don’t know quite what “that” can mean.
Likewise, when Kurt (Chris Colfer) croons “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” (in a delightfully low-key performance, compared especially to all the American Idol-style belting everyone else does), he reaches out his hand to listeners (girls seem to make up all those in reach). This is the kid whose adorable outness at McKinley High School inspires a second Glee the 3D Concert Movie interview subject, Trenton, to remember how he was outed—brutally—in eighth grade. Now, he smiles and wears Kurt’s t-shirt, the one that reads, “Likes Boys.” He’s transferred to another school where he’s appreciated and taking theater classes. He also walks along the sidewalk with one of his new friends, a perfectly delightful girl.
This is the sort of aspirational cuteness the movie manages repeatedly, pointing to how great it is to be different, but not too much, and—perhaps more complexly—how great it is to copy someone else in order to declare that difference. And so the movie follows the TV show, endlessly consumable, as are the gear and magazines, the fan forums and apps, the comic books and the Comic-Con appearances. And as Gleeks consume, they believe, like Gaga’s Little Monsters, that they’re remaking themselves in new ways, declaring their individuality en masse.
You know, like Artie, the paraplegic guitar player played by the non-disabled Kevin McHale. The stage show and now the movie revisit the number from the episode “Dream On,” when Artie got up and danced to “Safety Dance,” with a flash-mobby backup crew. Like Brittany’s fantasy, or the one performed by Mercedes (Amber Riley) and Santana (Naya Rivera) when they sing “River Deep, Mountain High,” alongside dancers who shake their rumps like Tina Turner once did.
Maybe it’s the cheerleader outfits that make this shaking seem less plainly inciting than Turner’s back in the day. Or maybe it’s the assumption made by Glee, that any sort of belief is okay, as long as it’s yours.