Film & TV

Barbra Streisand’s Propaganda Walls Tumble Down

Barbra Streisand at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in Washington, D.C., April 27, 2013. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Her new protest album, Walls, is tone-deaf, self-absorbed, and out of touch.

Before Barbra Streisand got “woke” and fancied herself a political pundit-activist seeking redress for Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat, she recorded a song called “Don’t Believe What You Read,” on her 1977 Streisand Superman album. Since then, the singer has shown tone-deaf, robotic obedience to what she reads in the mainstream #Resistance press. Her new, politically assertive single release, “Don’t Lie to Me,” is addressed to President Trump, but its reproachful tone reveals the cry of a Fake News junkie.

It’s become boringly predictable to hear pop-music performers reveal their left-leaning politics. The New York Times, however, has praised Streisand’s new album Walls as “the rare instance of her political views entering her music.” This misstatement disregards the many times on past recordings when she sang out her social consciousness, rooted in a kind of theatrical humanism, expressing Love, Brotherhood, and Peace. She has milked such standards as “Somewhere,” “Children Will Listen,” and “One Hand, One Heart” for moralizing effect.

But this flagship single, for her full-length album Walls, primarily exhibits the Trump Derangement Syndrome that afflicts know-it-all showbiz types from Katy Perry to Bruce Springsteen to Pharrell, making them behave moronically. Walls finds Streisand in a privileged position, preaching from the high tower of self-involved, high-minded people who have had their worldview shaken by democracy itself — the will of an electorate that dares to differ from Streisand’s own high-flown preferences.

Streisand’s ego is infamous (the point behind “Don’t Believe What You Read” was to warn fans against media reports about herself), but this album — mixing anger, self-pity, and scolding — also confirms the egotism that corrupts contemporary leftist politics. Not quite knowing how to achieve the pamphleteering, rhetorical mode of Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces, or Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Tings An Times, or Morrissey’s Your Arsenal, Streisand is off her game, like a tendentious late-night comedian. She is as distant from radicalization now as she was from the late-Sixties student dissidence she co-opted on What About Today? — her 1969 album featuring songs previously recorded by the Beatles, Paul Simon, Buffy St. Marie, and other ’60s stars. That title suggests that Streisand, even then, was sociologically disoriented, and the liner notes revealed her desperation: “This album is dedicated to the young people who push against indifference, shout down mediocrity, demand a better future and who write and sing the songs of today. With my deepest admiration.” She was 27 at the time.

Today, Streisand admires the snowflake banshees. The singing on “Don’t Lie to Me” is phony and soulless. Her mewling incantations of op-ed sentiments recall those obsessive links to New York Times articles on her blog. She’s reciting Fake News headlines, not personal convictions, and she seems unable to tell the difference. At least when the old Streisand performed classics and well-constructed standards, you could assume that she felt the lyrics, that she was an artist. Here, it’s clear that a large part of her act has been only an act, the ultimate self-delusion.

Timed for the midterm elections, the laughable Don’t Lie to Me music video (written and directed by the narcissist director-star of The Mirror Has Two Faces) uses anti-Republican news clips to convey Democratic-party panic. An egregious clip of Obama in tears is so devoid of context that it symbolizes the Left’s own weeping, wailing, and gnashing. Activist Streisand doesn’t sing about real social issues. This is the singer whose 2010 coffee-table book My Passion for Design flaunted her one-percenter, dacha-on-the-Volga privilege; the glossy tome boasted about the private “taste and style that have inspired her beautiful homes and collections,” a far cry from the walls she condemns when built by others.

Streisand’s ticked-off, grand-dame mode reveals the pique of all left-wing political elites. (This album’s musical “conversation” demonstrates how leftists convince themselves that they alone are right.) She can’t hold a candle to the truly rare, righteous political questioning one hears on Michael Jackson’s great “Earth Song” and Morrissey’s heartrending “America Is Not the World” —  each of these historic recordings was a pop artist’s loving appeal to his audience’s highest, clearest, deepest thinking. Streisand’s tone-deaf “Don’t Lie to Me” is entirely self-centered. It’s a protest song by a demagogue who, under the guise of rebellion, insists on keeping her audience docile.

Armond White, a film critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles.

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