London's bizarre Olympics closing ceremonies: 5 talking points

The Spice Girls, Jessie J, and Queen all helped close the curtain on the 2012 Games, taking viewers through a frenzied recap of British pop-music history

Spice Girl reunion
(Image credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

After weeks of heartbreaking competition, breakout stars, and not-so-secret partying down in the Village, the 2012 London Olympics finally came to an end Sunday night. And London pulled out all the stops to ensure the Games went out with a bang, taking worldwide viewers on a hectic race through British pop music history, featuring cameos from some of the biggest stars throughout the decades. The much-criticized extravaganza was something of a "greatest hits" collection, says Mark Sappenfield at the Christian Science Monitor, like "the world's most expensive episode of Britain's Got Talent." How did the Brits fare overall? Here, five talking points:

1. The event kickstarted iTunes sales

During the opening ceremony "the soundtrack played a supporting role to the spectacle," says Alexis Petridis at the Guardian. But in the closing ceremony, the music was "significantly foregrounded," and organizers stuck with big acts doing their biggest hits. You could argue that they were trying to play it safe, "but equally, if you've got to have Liam Gallagher, you might as well have him singing 'Wonderwall.'" And a strange thing happened after the performances, says NME: Oasis, Elbow, Jessie J, the Spice Girls, and more all experienced a "massive" surge in sales on iTunes after performing. What better way to re-ignite their careers?

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

2. Russell Brand's cameo was a travesty

The event unfolded smoothly at first, with performances by The Who, former Wham! singer George Michael, and Annie Lennox. And then the inexplicable happened: Comedian Russell Brand came out dressed as Willy Wonka before randomly lip-syncing along to the Beatles' "I am the Walrus" atop a psychedelic school bus. It was a "low point in pop culture," says Rich Juzwiak at Gawker. "It's Snow White-at-the-Oscars bad." "Culturally, we have gone from Gene Wilder to Johnny Depp to Russell Brand playing Willy Wonka," says the Wall Street Journal. "By 2018 he'll be played by Stephen Baldwin."

3. There was way too much Jessie J

The event's director, Stephen Daldry, had "provincially popular songstress" Jessie J perform the Bee Gees' "You Should be Dancin'," perform her own hit "Price Tag," appear again alongside Taio Cruz for his signature party track "Dynamite," and — if that wasn't enough — turn up at the finale for a highly coveted guest spot, joining Queen to belt out "We Will Rock You," says Chris Willman at Yahoo. The Twitter-verse was incensed by the pop star's ubiquity, even creating the hashtag: "f**king Jessie J." "There is no cold shower quite like the one that occurs when the surprise lead singer for a climactic Queen run-on turns out to be Jessie J," says Willman.

4. The Spice Girls' appearance was unsatisfying

There was "plenty to puzzle over [with] last night's closing ceremonies," says Amanda Dobbins at Vulture. But the show's "most anticipated" event went off without a hitch because the Spice Girls "nailed their reunion segment." It was certainly the highlight for some people, says Yahoo's Willman, but the performance "seemed hurried and almost squeezed in." The girls all entered in separate taxis, and got out just long enough to perform a "photo-op version" of their hit "Wanna-Be" before climbing on top their individual taxis for a mobile rendition of "Spice Up Your Life." There wasn't any interaction to speak of, no chemistry. "They agreed to be reunited, but they apparently never agreed to perform together."

5. NBC outdid itself with more questionable edits

Legendary songstress Kate Bush, who didn't actually appear, re-recorded her only song to go Top 40 in the U.S., "Running Up the Hill," and gave it to Olympics organizers "so people could do weird things with their bodies," says Juzwiak at Gawker. Of course, NBC decided to edit that segment out for U.S. viewers to squeeze in more commercials. But the network's most egregious edit came, says the Huffington Post, when it abruptly cut away from the closing ceremony to air a one-hour preview for its new show Animal Practice. "Angry fans took to Twitter almost immediately to vent their dissatisfaction, a practice that has become somewhat habitual during the 2012 games."

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.