Don't yell at Leighton Meester about 'Gossip Girl'

Hotly Wanting

By Gibson Johns, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 24, 2015

“Is Chace Crawford a good kisser?!”

Leighton Meester, of “Gossip Girl” fame, was at The Magic Bag in Ferndale, Mich. to perform songs from her debut album, Heartstrings. She wasn’t there to be incessantly hounded with questions about her days playing Blair Waldorf on a television show that ended three years ago. The question, which interrupted her demurely telling the audience about her tour, prompted Meester to stop mid-sentence, pause and then signal for her band to begin the next song.

And so the tone for the night was set by a handful of drunk postgrads in the pit.

To be fair, the “Gossip Girl” references are to be expected at a Leighton Meester concert. Moments like this, unsurprisingly, happened multiple times on Monday night. Blair Waldorf is “Gossip Girl” ’s most recognizable and beloved character — which is a statement that held true during the show’s heyday and still holds true today, as the Queen B of the Upper East Side’s legacy is upheld by her pervasiveness in meme culture and on Tumblr. But the audience’s incessant yelling about that era of her career quickly turned disrespectful, and it made the dynamic between Meester and the audience quite uncomfortable.

Regardless, throughout her 12 song set, Meester’s vocals were clean, breezy and sometimes twangy. They proved that her foray into music represents more than just another bored actress with easy access to the industry mindlessly trying her hand at music. She has real talent, real perspective and real intentions. Her influences — Stevie Nicks, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon — weren’t surprising, as it was clear that they’re the types of women she was striving to emulate both in tone and aesthetic.

Her and her band’s performance style was at once casual and serious, almost recalling a jam band performing for themselves in one of their parents’ garages. With a flannel shirt tied around her waist, Meester frequently took sips of coffee from a travel mug and often had her eyes closed when she was singing, seemingly forgetting for a moment that there was an audience of almost 300 watching her. She was in the zone.

The all-male five-piece band that backed her meshed well, and their presence proved comforting to Meester. (She may or may not have proclaimed that her “bassist is bae.”) Most notably, her album’s producer, Jeff Trott, who was also behind some of Sheryl Crow’s earliest hits, was there and impressively jumped between instruments.

What may have held Meester back the most from truly connecting, though, was simply the fact that the material from her debut left a bit to be desired. Other than a few standout tracks — “Heartstrings,” “L.A.,” “Good for One Thing,” — they proved to be a bit one-note in a live setting, which made for especially forgettable moments when compared to the handful of strong, engaging covers she sprinkled throughout her set (Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man),” The Cardigans’ “Lovefool” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” as the show’s rousing encore).

Considering the popularity and mainstream appeal of “Gossip Girl” and the oft-forgotten “Country Strong,” Leighton Meester’s other career choices have been a bit all over the place and generally unsatisfying. She was in the campy thriller “The Roommate,” the odd dramedy “The Oranges,” Adam Sandler’s “That’s My Boy,” Selena Gomezcs childish but fun “Monte Carlo” and a few other barely-seen films. Musically, her biggest hit has been her collaboration with Cobra Starship, “Good Girls Go Bad.” She has released a few folksy covers here and there, and she had an underrated song with Robin Thicke.

Point being, for all of the obvious talent that she has, Leighton Meester has shown little to no direction throughout her career. And I’m not sure where the Heartstrings album and tour truly fit in. Perhaps it has been about not getting the material right — a tour on which the covers she performs outshine the songs from the album it’s promoting, films that appear promising in trailers but end up disappointing. But, judging by her reaction to the crowd’s reaction, it’s also about her feeling stuck in the giant shadow that Blair Waldorf cast down on her from the steps of the Met.

She’s almost gotten it right again — and this tour is certainly a step in the right direction — but Leighton Meester still hasn’t come close to matching the peak of her “Gossip Girl” days. Maybe she doesn’t want to; maybe she just wants to create music that she enjoys and doesn’t care about the public’s — and “Gossip Girl” fans’ — approval.

If that’s the case, then let’s just hope that she’s having fun doing so. And judging by her show on Monday, she’s at least doing that.