Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached “peak celebrity busking.”
Erykah Badu's short, inconsequential stunt in Times Square this week officially puts an end to the fun. Why, it seemed like just yesterday that violinist Joshua Bell—who performs Oct. 24 in Santa Rosa—donned a cap and T-shirt, entered a Washington D.C. subway station and kicked off a string of celebrity busking moments.
First, there was the heartwarming video of Lenny Kravitz joining a New Orleans choir for his hit song “Fly Away.” Innocent enough. Then Paul McCartney “busked” at Covent Garden (meaning: he announced it on Twitter an hour beforehand) with a stage and professional sound system, playing solely new material as a promotion for his new album. Not to be outdone, Tom Jones followed suit, singing in Covent Garden as a promo gimmick for his team on The Voice.
And now we have Erykah Badu, who this week sang in Times Square anonymously and received just $3.60 from passersby. The internet, of course, was all too quick to jump on this so-called injustice and rail against the clueless tourists in Times Square who failed to recognize one of the greatest soul singers of our generation.
Mind you, I love Erykah Badu, but her schtick, and especially the subsequent false internet outrage trumpeted loudly for cheap pageviews, leaves a lousy taste in my mouth. First of all, Badu only sang for four-and-a-half minutes. Do the math, and that's $48 an hour; not bad. Secondly, she didn't perform songs so much as get in people's faces, improvising lines about how she needed money because she didn't want to get a job. That's not exactly sympathy-building material—to say nothing of the fact that Erykah Badu is a very successful singer, certainly not destitute, and declaring herself to be poor is at best tacky, and at worst, insulting to real buskers who don't have a roof over their head.