Sometimes casual assuredness can be a good thing: President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walking down Pennsylvania Avenue after the second inauguration in Washington, D.C., for example, was an exercise in such confidence. But other times, ill-advised casualness can go wrong, as it did during Alicia Keys' much discussed performance at the Public Inaugural Ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, one of two official inaugural balls on Monday night.
The first mistake she made was to opt for a medley, as ungratifying a maneuver as can be done onstage. Beginning by tossing off a loose version of "New Day," Keys traced out a minimal keyboard melody while singing an aspirational song about rebirth and renewal. Halfway through, though, and before she'd developed any sort of momentum, Keys switched to "Girl on Fire," except with new lyrics she seemed to have banged out with little regard for meaning.
"He's president and he's on fire/Hotter than a fantasy, longer like a highway," she sang, turning the autobiographical song of determination into an increasingly awkward presidential ode. "He's living in a world and it's on fire/Filled with catastrophe but he knows he can fly away," she went on to sing, and to my ears the suggestion here is that the president just may cut and run when the going gets tough.