Arts & Entertainment
He, himself ... and her?
Performance artist embodies Beyonce for all Michigan single ladies, naughty girls and bug-a-boos
By Chris Azzopardi
Originally printed 6/11/2009 (Issue 1724 - Between The Lines News)
It takes a lot to be Beyonce. More than frilly thigh-high dresses. More than hip gyrating. More than Jay-Z. It takes Neal Medlyn, a New York performance artist who's staging a by-the-numbers reenactment of the bootylicious belter's 2007 concert DVD, "The Beyonce Experience Live!" at 8 p.m. June 18 as part of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, which runs through July 5. Except Medlyn's a man. With no tits. And a tiny ass. He's bi, but married to a woman who fell for him while performing his shtick in a park's gazebo. Something tells us, come mid-June, others might fall crazy in love with him, too.
Let's get the important question out of the way: How should we get ready for your jelly?
(Laughs) Well, deep knee bends, crunches, all of those things are probably what you should do. Then a period of prayer and meditation. And then, yeah, maybe you should have one cocktail.
How long did it take you to actually get Beyonce's moves down?
Well, she does a lot less of the moves than the dancers do, so it wasn't that hard. What was hard was learning her little weird ticks, like she kind of rubs the top of her forehead a lot because, I think, that's where her hair is attached. She's always sort of wiping a little bit of sweat off there, and then that kind of robot-in-a-circle thing that she does a lot - I really don't know what that move is called. All those were kind of the ones where I was like, "What is she doing?" With the dance moves I could just have one of the dancers teach them to me, but with all those strange things I was like, "Why is she - ? What is that she's doing with that microphone?"
Right, but you definitely got her quirks down, like the flip of the bangs -
Oh yeah (laughs). There's a lot of that. I wear a wig for about a hot 10 seconds, and then it's gone.
Why do you lose the hair?
I like the idea of coming out at the beginning and setting everybody up for the idea that I was going to be doing Beyonce - in capital letters or something. But then I would lose the wig right away so then you would know that the show was going to go in a completely different direction, that obviously I don't look anything like Beyonce and that I'm not really trying to take that exact path.
Your ass isn't quite as big as Beyonce's.
Yeah, by lots of, ya know, effort (laughs).
Yes, I could tell. I was checking out your butt picture on your Web site (laughs).
(Laughs) There was a couple of times that that picture got used because people liked it, and there were definitely a few where I got an e-mail back from a photo editor that was like, "We're gonna need something appropriate; we obviously can't use that in a magazine." (Laughs) I'm like, "Oh, oops. Sorry."
You've performed as R. Kelly and Prince before, but doing Beyonce is probably the gayest thing you've ever done, yeah?
Yeah, probably (laughs).
Maybe gayer than Prince - but just by a little bit.
Yeah, he's in his own little place.
And then some of the clips on YouTube also show you shirtless - with nipple exposed.
Well, it gets hot.
I wasn't sure if you were confusing Janet Jackson for Beyonce.
(Laughs) I guess I could. But, no, uh-uh. I would call (it being on) a shoestring budget. No big elaborate gowns because I don't have a mom who makes me those kinds of things like she does.
How did you get interested in impersonating famous musicians?
My performance work has always been about pop music, just because ever since I was a kid I spent most of my childhood in my bedroom listening to pop radio and imagining all these crazy things along with the songs. I kind of grew up in the middle of nowhere, so that's what I did for entertainment. I used to do shows that had a lot of different pop songs in them, and then about five years ago I decided that it would be kind of useful for me to just focus on one person's work. They're not really so much impersonations of anybody as they are drawn from me and my kind of enthusiasm for crazy popular culture.
So why Beyonce?
Because this concert is really weird. I mean, I'd seen clips. My friend actually gave me the idea; he was over and talking about it, and he was like, "Have you seen this Beyonce concert DVD? You should reenact it sometime." I watched a real quick highlight reel that showed all the really crazy things that happened in the concert, including the whole birthday cake situation (where) they bring her out a birthday cake at the end. So I was like, that would be really fun. And then the new museum here in New York contacted me about doing a show there, just like a one-night thing, and they were like, "What would you want to do?" And I was like, "How about this Beyonce concert DVD?" So I thought it would be kind of crazy and weird to do a Beyonce concert in a museum because - well, for a lot of reasons.
While studying Beyonce, did you realize that you had anything in common with her?
Yeah, I mean we're from pretty much the same place - we're from the same part of Texas. I was really into how - for somebody who I had always thought about as poised - she's really kind of silly and crazy on stage, and she just really puts a whole lot into each show, which I appreciate. She's just kind of constructed this persona -like she can be the dutiful girlfriend, but she can also be like, "I'll cut you!" She can be all these different kinds of female archetypes, and I feel like that's kind of like the whole theatrical or performance art idiom, to be like, "Look, I'm this and I'm that, and I can go all over the place." The fact that she doesn't really explain all that, I just feel like it's a performance piece in and of itself. She's like, "I can sing a song about how I'm gonna put your do-rag on, massage your feet, turn the game on for you - and then do a number where you ask me to clean the house, and I'm gonna push a radio into the bathtub, and then you get electrocuted, and I'm gonna laugh about it." There's no cognitive dissonance between those two identities; it's just like, "I'm all those things. No problem" - in front of 20,000 people who are like, "Woooo!"
Are you saying you've got multiple personalities, too?
You'd electrocute somebody?
The Neal Medlyn Experience Live!
8 p.m. June 18
UMMA, Helmut Stern Auditorium
525 S. State St., Ann Arbor