Ratchet TV: Ellen DeGeneres’s Relatable

Introducing a new column from our resident TV expert Shamir Bailey.

Ratchet TV is a new column in which our resident TV expert Shamir Bailey guides us on what’s worth watching. In this installment, Shamir asks: just how “relatable” is Ellen DeGeneres, actually? His answer, and so much more, in a moment… stay tuned!
—Annie Fell, Associate Editor, Talkhouse Music

Ellen DeGeneres is relatable. Like really relatable, especially for a celebrity. She lets you know right from the beginning of her aptly titled Netflix stand-up special Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable. It’s her return to the stage that eventually earned her the title of daytime television’s lesbian sweetheart, after taking a 15 year hiatus to dedicate her time to the talk show.

Her story and career path is nothing short of miraculous. After seemingly losing everything when she came out on her primetime sitcom Ellen, then later on the Oprah Winfrey Show, she promptly returned to television, only this time with a daytime talk show. She recounts in her stand up special how she had to dress more feminine during the early days of the show at the request of the network and producers. Ellen, who just a few years prior was blacklisted just for coming out as a lesbian, had to face her conservative lynch mob head on, and entertain them, make them laugh, and give them free stuff, all while making them feel as comfortable as possible with her being a gay. Ellen knew the only way she would be successful was if she made it a priority to be relatable, but as the time passed, and the political and social climate becomes more tense, we realize that Ellen’s groundbreaking road to relatability may be coming at a small cost to the next generation of queers.

Recently Ellen got caught in the fire of call-out Twitter for offering her show and platform up as the first stop on Kevin Hart’s apology tour. Kevin’s deep and rich homophobic past material resurfaced after it was announced he would host this year’s Oscars—and then he dropped out due to the overwhelming backlash. Ellen being the empath she is essentially absolved him for his sins in front of America and accepted his apology on behalf of the LGBTQIA community. I think it must be noted that Ellen will go down in history as a groundbreaking LGBT figure in entertainment, but she isn’t the gay pope for god’s sake. Madam DeGeneres, I know you have made a habit, nay a career, out of breaking bread with the enemy, but it’s hardly a form of activism; it’s respectability politics in its worst form, and it’s gravely dangerous. Expecting the antithesis, DeGeneres rightfully caught residual backlash from a situation she should have been abasing had she been compelled to speak on it at all.

This moderate ethos she’s adapted might’ve damaged her craft, judging by the special. Ellen has always been known for her clean comedy on mundane life. She focuses on positivity. Even at times when she gets dark—like when she recalls the death of her girlfriend when she was 21—it was basically a set-up for a joke that was ultimately about fleas and Johnny Carson. Seemingly never veering into politics or the struggles of queer life, it’s clear Ellen is fully aware of her audience. Who is that audience you ask? Luckily, Ellen throws in a ten minute “relatable” Q&A with a handful of the most “relatable” people on the planet: middle-aged straight white women. I was less than impressed by the diversity and lack of actual queers in the audience.

Young adults my age unconsciously grew up with the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Some of us aspire to go viral enough to get on the show and walk out with record deals (à la Greyson Chance, Charlie Puth, Mason Ramsay), but have we ever found her relatable? Maybe in a way like when you’re shopping with your mom and you both pull the same sweater for you to try on, but really nothing more than that—at least not to me or anyone else I know around my age. I was initially excited to hear that her special, 15-years-in-the-making return would be hosted by Netflix, because it signaled to me that she was ready to relate to the younger, edgier, and woker audience Netflix seems to entice, but it ultimately just felt like I was just streaming daytime television, complete with the audience of moms and all. I was left feeling like maybe the title of the special itself was an accidental oxymoron. Or maybe that was the underlying joke the whole time.

Part of me also has to constantly remind myself that DeGeneres is 60 years old. Her energy is spry and refreshing, something that comes in doses if at all for a young queer like myself these days. Seems to be the case with most queers my age now. Why can’t we be as gay and carefree as Ellen DeGeneres? Why can’t I just forgive Kevin Hart and go? Why don’t I have my own talk show? I’ve been out my whole damn public career. Maybe I was able to do so because of what Ellen did before me. She opened the door for us, and as quickly as she opened it, she closed it, leaving us to clean up what she lacks in nuance.

Shamir is Shamir and remains Shamir through and through, no matter what the universe puts him through. You may know the singularly named artist (think—Madonna or Cher) from his 2015 debut hit record Rachet, beloved by NPR listeners and club kids alike. After quickly rising to underground fame with his Northtown EP in 2014, the DIY pop star made a sonic splash with Rachet’s lead single “On The Regular,” a poppy banger that had extensive commercial usage. But how to follow all that up? Shamir, who came from the dusty dunes of Las Vegas, to Brooklyn’s Silent Barn, to the Philly indie scene (and all over the world in between), wanted to go back to what had inspired him from the beginning. Outsider music, country & punk. Raw and vulnerable tunes, stripped down to their emotional core. 2017’s Revelations explored a new avenue of guitar driven hooky indie rock and was widely critically praised in the US and overseas.

Shamir’s most recent releases, the brilliant Room 7” on Father/Daughter, and his self-released limited edition album, Resolution, are pinnacles in the catalog of the increasingly fascinating artist’s career. Room and its b-side Caballero celebrate Shamir’s love of country music, while Resolution is a deeply introspective look into the fabric of society and the artists’ own mind.  With these two releases he has refined his craft exponentially and done so in less than six months from the release of Revelations.