Hear me out — I love amateur live performance as much as the next guy. There’s something about going to a bar, open mic, party or drag show and listening to burgeoning (or dwindling) talent and having a good evening. Maybe you talk to the performer afterward and find out they’re a cool person. Maybe you come back home afterwards and decide to become a groupie. Maybe you watch their rise to fame and say, “Hey, I knew about them before everyone else did.” I’m all about that.
There’s an issue, however, when the performer is already famous. James Corden’s “Drop the Mic,” which premiered Tuesday, Oct. 24 on TBS, is a corny little segment where two celebrities of varying relevance duke it out in a rap battle. Corden, who has a very specific affinity for musical competition, has taken already taken a similar series (“Carpool Karaoke”) to Apple Music in 2016. Like “Carpool Karaoke,” “Drop the Mic” started as a segment on “The Late Late Show,” but after increasing popularity and demand from celebrities for the opportunity to rap battle, the series has become its own being.
Corden himself does not host the series, although he does appear in the first episode. In an effort to cast a broader net to attract viewers, the series has recruited Hailey Baldwin (“Love Advent”) and a haggard-sounding Method Man aka Clifford Smith (“The Deuce”) to anchor. The pair of second-generation Hollywood-family ingenue with a short resume and Wu-Tang Clan member-gone-actor is as confusing to me as it is to you. However, both Baldwin and Smith carry their weight and hype up the audience of “Drop the Mic.” Baldwin is fresh and enthusiastic and Smith is engaging and in-control. I can’t be mad at professionalism.
The show itself is broken into two separate battles. Each celebrity gets three opportunities to disrespect their opponent through the brutal power of spoken word, before Smith reigns everyone back in to decide the winner. Victory is synonymous with the magnitude of applause, but Smith himself has the final say on who is the real winner. Before the battle can really begin, however, the program switches gears from the high-energy set to a promo reel, essentially, which highlights the career of the participants. It’s a huge break in tone from the program and reminds the audience that the series stems from a talk show, where celebrities come to promote their new projects. And, in reference to this specific episode, does Halle Berry (“Monsters Ball”) really need to be introduced? Does Usher? We’ve all heard “Yeah!” and “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love.”
When the rap battles finally start, it’s all a matter of stage presence. James Corden goes up against Halle Berry in the first set, and both exchange a couple of awkward blows. Nothing is really that biting or personal, and both recite the lines without the slightest hesitation. I’m curious whether or not the studio has a couple ghostwriters working. Then comes Usher versus Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”). By no surprise, Usher blows Anderson out of the water. It’s not so much his rhymes, but his confidence and aura that give him the upper hand.
As a promotional TV show, “Drop the Mic” does its job. It gives celebrities another platform to broadcast their new stuff and keeps it fairly light and fun. But if you’re looking for genuine, enthralling musical performance, go elsewhere. While these people are professionals, not all of them grew up rap battling. Besides, isn’t it more interesting when something is really at stake? If you’re looking for captivating performance, go to a local venue. Give a small artist some more attention. It will be good for you.