We’re back with another episode of My Little Pony: Chronicles of The Friendship Princess! Actually, this one decides to pull back on Twilight and instead seems to be an Applejack centric episode with an emphasis on music because apparently three Equestria Girls movies just aren’t enough! Will this penultimate adventure into the world of song and dance be the perfect lead up before the season finale, or will it land with a resounding thud like many episodes have this season? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins with Applejack whose delegating tasks to other ponies for the purposes of setting a stage for a music festival that’s happening in Ponyville. She’s apparently good at setting up stages due to the fact that she’s organized rodeos in the past… and I guess that we’re supposed to ignore the fact that she couldn’t do this exact same thing in Made in Manehattan. Then again, that was a solo project and maybe there’s a pony around here called Roadie Hooves who knows about setting up sound equipment (powered by magic I’m sure). Anyway, with her help things seem to finally be coming together for… Pony-palooza. Really? Right off the bat with the puns?
Despite Twilight’s frighteningly exhaustive list of acts for the concert (how long is this damn thing supposed to be!?) it turns out to be incomplete because Pinkie Pie has just secured the greatest pop star in all of Equestria which is Countess Coloratura (Saphire Shores being the second). So wait, is she a vampire opera singer or something? Applejack seems to be just as confused as I am as to the identity of this supposedly world renowned pop icon which apparently labels her as a philistine in this universe, similar to only being able to name ten Taylor Swift songs in ours.
The tables swiftly turn however as the more Applejack learns about Coloratura, the more it seems that she actually knew her when they were both young (coincidences are magic) and they were good friends at Camp Friendship which even in this universe sounds like a hokey nightmare. In those days, Coloratura was not the pop diva she appears to have become in recent years (the list of demands Pinkie Pie has to fulfill for her to show up is staggering) and was simply known as Rara to Applejack. Wait, her name is Rara and she’s the biggest pop star in the world? Huh. I wonder what famous musician this “Rara” pony will end up being modeled off of.
Alright, so their reference point for the Countess here is Lady Gaga (to the point that I’m sure her name is also a reference to the character Ms. Gaga played in American Horror Story) which is an interesting element to introduce here, especially with this being a music focused episode. I mean, The Simpsons already did it, but go ahead and try to name something they HAVEN’T done already. Her glamorous entrance is somewhat blunted by the introduction of her manager who looks distressingly like Andy Dick named… Svengallop. Seriously. Svengallop. Oh that’s nothing! The dude’s original name was Pony Baloney! Why not just name him Scammy McBad Pony!?!?
This is where the episode starts to show us what it will ultimately be about, and I’m not sure I like it. The Countess is walking through the concert area, gives her fans ‘hoovsies’ (is that supposed to be a reference to Little Monsters or something?) and even acknowledges Applejack as an old friend of hers, albeit it briefly. The whole time though, Applejack is just rolling her eyes and huffing and puffing about how she just don’t get this whole ‘pop star’ thing and having to be nice to hundreds of people of day which makes one to one personal interactions almost impossible. Uh… Applejack knows the Princesses. Hell, she’s an ELEMENT OF HARMONY! How is she so unsympathetic and judgmental about someone living the celebrity life style when she should be aware of what that kind of situation is like!? I might have less of a problem with this if they didn’t try SO hard to make The Countess and Svengallop so overwhelmingly arch and cliché in this interpretation of a pop star. The Countess can’t spare time for quality interactions (because HUNDREDS of people want to talk to her) and Svengallop in a preening and mincing stereotype of a high maintenance and snobby manager. They even go with the whole ‘rock stars are overly demanding’ cliché with the requisite reference to the brown M&Ms (in this case, separated cherries). COME ON!! We exonerated Van Halen for that shit YEARS ago!! They put that random clause in their contracts as a way to test if the promoters actually read the entire contract which was an issue they kept running into when trying set up their enormous concerts in the eighties. That doesn’t seem to be the case here though because Svengallop is CLEARLY a giant prick and only requested these things to be insufferable and demanding.
Well at least now it’s time for her to rehearse which gives them a chance to paint her in a more positive light. After all, getting the top performer in all of Equestria is worth all these necessary hoops simply for the quality of the performance, right? Well… the song is pretty good here and does indeed sound like a modern pop song, but the lyrics are a bit blunt. By blunt, I mean it’s like Jonah Hill’s slam poetry scene in 22 Jump Street, only these are supposedly her REAL lyrics while Jonah Hill was taking a piss out the whole idea (“SLAM! YELLING! SPECIFIC POINT OF VIEW ON THINGS!!”). She’s saying things like “Razzle Dazzle”, “Glitz and Glam”, and “It’s a spectacle” which aren’t lyrics. THOSE ARE MAD LIB DESCRIPTIONS!!
I will give this scene credit though for a couple of things. I doubt this was their intent, but I like to think of this song as a take on Lady Gaga’s Applause which is a great song but can be boiled down to “I’M SO AWESOME!! ME ME ME!! SCREW THE HATERS!!” and the comparisons between that and this are actually pretty funny. Also, because they made this as accurate to a pop song as possible, this has to be the most overtly sexual thing the show has ever done. There are SO MANY dude ponies in leather and mascara thrusting at the camera! It’s kind of amazing that the show wouldn’t cut corners here or soften the edges too much. I don’t THINK anyone’s gonna throw a hissy fit about this (even from the biggest cultural busybodies) but it does feel WAY different from anything the show has done so far.
I guess the big problem with this scene though is that the weak and insincere lyrics were purposefully chosen so that Applejack can continue to sneer at the whole idea of pop music and now has something specific she can point at which is that the trappings and spectacle are getting in the way of this pony being the performer she SHOULD be, without all the clutter that everyone else seems to like, but she finds objectionable. This isn’t helped by the fact that Svengallop immediately comes in after the rehearsal to take credit for ALL the glitz and glamor (and presumably the thrusting dudes) which once again puts all the pop star accoutrement in a negative light. It ALSO strips Rara ownership of her own image which I’m PRETTY sure is NOT the case with Lady Gaga.
I’ve been pretty hard on this episode so far, but things actually get MUCH better in the second act where Rara’s trying to be the best pop star she can be while Svengallop is trying to ruin the concert for very petty reasons. I guess he doesn’t like that she’s sticking to her schedule (meeting with the school fillies) and that other people are happy about it? I don’t know, but this is also the first time that Appleajack isn’t all huffy about Rara’s current life style because she genuinely enjoys spending time with the kids. It’s just too bad that her manager is, as stated earlier, a massive jerk wad.
Applejack tries to convince Rara of Svengallop’s awful behavior, but she barely gets a word in before she starts criticizing her creative output. This doesn’t sit well with Rara considering how much work Svengallop puts into his job, so she doesn’t believe her and storms off in a huff. Eventually though, Applejack is able to convince her to try and trick Svengallop into revealing his terribleness by pretending to cancel her charity events and seeing his reactions. Sure enough, the dumb bastard is overjoyed at the prospect of not helping people and is caught on… magic camera? He’s caught on SOMETHING berating Pinkie Pie to adjust the schedule and whatever else he feels entitled to.
Now the dude was definitely a scumbag, so I agree with tossing him out on his ass and I even like that there are some actual consequences for doing so. Without him there, there’s no one to ensure that everything is set up properly for the show which is going to make it nearly impossible for Rara to give a true Countess Coloratura concert. My problem is how they resolve the issue. It’s not SURPRISING that they went this route considering how the rest of the episode went, but it still REALLY annoys me. Applejack, who I will remind you, is the ONLY one who didn’t care for the stylistic and heavily produced pop songs, convinces her that she’s not being true to herself when she’s Count Coloratura (a persona crafted by a bad guy instead of the performer herself) and she’s better off performing without all that. I can see the point here. I’m sure there are LOTS of pop stars who didn’t like the image crafted for them *cough* Miley Cyrus *cough* but the ONE pop star I would NEVER believe feels that way is Lady Gaga. The problem is that I feel the execution here is lazy which leaves room for unfortunate implications. First of all, the performance she decides to give out of costume (and as Rara instead of Count Coloratura) is a piano ballad. Her character has been VERY obviously crafted off of Lady Gaga, and since we’ve never had an indication until now that she could even play an instrument, it feels like they are making a direct reference to the video from NYU before she became famous where she played a piano as Stefani Germanotta which is her real name.
Even if that wasn’t the intent, it’s what ended up on the screen. Lady Gaga, I mean Countess Rara is better when she isn’t wearing provocative clothing and heavily producing their music because that supposedly isn’t the real them, and so Lady Gaga, no wait, Countess Rara, should be herself by NOT pushing the boundaries or being over the top. Just sit at your piano and keep it tasteful. And it’s not just the possibly unintended visual motifs; the lyrics of her new song make it annoyingly clear what the theme of this episode is supposed to be. “I hear my voice so clearly and I know that it is right” as opposed to earlier when she incorporated auto-tune into her tracks. The song is fine and the piano work is actually pretty damn impressive, but what it all means just doesn’t sit well with me because I DON’T think pop music is any lesser than… I don’t know, a John Legend track. It also makes this doubly unsettling when they’re pushing the Gaga symbolism so much that it turns a message that could easily have been uplifting for anyone else feel like a critical slight against her.
Could she go back to being the Countess next week? Sure. Even Lil Wayne has an acoustic guitar song. Pop stars having quieter or less produced songs isn’t unheard of, but the episode doesn’t give us anything to indicate this is any less than a completely new direction for her and the whole CUTIE MARK IS SHINING BRIGHT NOW is way too blunt symbolism to indicate otherwise. Well anyway, the episode ends sweetly enough as Rara’s new song is well received by the audience and she brings up Applejack, Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo to sing out the rest of the episode!
This was a weird one for me and I don’t even know if I’ve fully been able to wrap my head around why this one bothered me so much despite it having so many great moments in it. Am I looking too close into the Gaga thing? Perhaps, but then it’s also not like the writers were subtle with this caricature of her. Was the PIANO scene reading too much into it? Maybe, but if it’s not intentional then it’s one hell of a coincidence that doesn’t exist for PLENTY other pop stars they could have based this character on. Hell, even if the piano scene could in no way be compared to Miss Germanotta’s life, it doesn’t take away that so much of what informs this character is taken from Gaga’s stage persona. Let’s even strip away the Gaga comparisons in their entirety. That’s not the root of the problem in this episode; it just ends up exacerbating it exponentially. The root of the problem is its bizarre moralizing about one particular brand of music and the unsubtle approach it takes to getting that point across. Svengallop is so damn over the top and is responsible for EVERYTHING that Applejack doesn’t like about Rara right now which is way too damn convenient and doesn’t ask Applejack to examine her feelings about this. Is clear right away what is right and what is wrong and for some reason they lumped an entire genre of music on one side of it which is weird and unwarranted. Despite this though, almost every piece of this works on its own even if the way it comes together is unfortunate. I loved Countess Coloratura and her performance in the first part of the episode as much as I loved Rara’s performance at the end of the episode. Both show two really varied musical styles that the show managed to pull of very well, even if the former felt a bit broader and less thought out than the latter. Applejack fighting against clearly evil ass hats is always fun to watch and said evil ass hat has his moments of being a hilariously over the top tool. If you’re not bothered by the things I ended up noticing throughout the episode, then it may be one of the better episodes of the season, what with its strong musical aspects and excellent guest stars. There definitely is a whole lot in here to like, but I wish that they were more careful with how this was put together. It lacks nuance which is what I thought we expected from this show, but then again it might be asking too much for the kids show about cartoon ponies to be all that subtle every episode. I might look more fondly on this episode in the future, but it just struck the wrong chord with me the first time I saw it and I hope the upcoming finale will end this season on a high note.
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