Juliette Barnes had a busy morning. She had to get her picture taken in front of a row of green screens. She had to get Deacon Clayborne to join up on her tour, which meant leaving a lusty message on his voicemail about recording “Undermine.” She had to get some cheese. (Not the kind that comes in blocks, either. Her assistant asks: “You mean the processed kind?” “The good kind,” Juliette responded.) Then she had to look at the pictures from the shoot. The post-production team replaced the green screens with clouds, making Juliette look like a beautiful angel smirking in the heavens. “Those whitening strips really worked!” said her assistant. Juliette Barnes stared daggers at her assistant. If we could have seen a thought bubble over her head at that moment, it would have said: “I wonder how those whitening strips will work on my teeth after I bite your head off and drink your blood to stay young forever.”
Last night’s episode of Nashville made it clear that Juliette is at the absolute peak of a certain kind of stardom. She’s young enough to be a teen sensation and old enough to be a lusty sex symbol. She’s untouched by scandal. She’s a showbiz professional who can still act like an ingenue. And she has all the money in the world and doesn’t need it for anything besides cars and fedoras. By comparison, witness Rayna James and her mayoral candidate hubby Teddy. They’re juggling two children who are both young – which is to say, juggling two dependents who will require several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of private schooling in the next decade. They’ve got a big house, a tour, a mayoral candidacy, and the typical wide assortment of very-rich-person holdings. And they are not bringing in any money. “Your assets are not liquid,” is how their financial advisor described it. (On Wall Street, the phrase “Illiquid Assets” is synonymous with “Armageddon.”)
Her managers asked her – once again – to think about going on tour with Juliette, but Rayna refused. Three episodes into the series, the Rayna-Juliette Tour seems like an inevitability – unless the first season is just about Juliette dancing around town in her Daisy Dukes while Rayna wrinkles her nose in disgust. But on the other hand, the Rayna-Juliette tour is also an intriguing running temptation for both singers. Rayna would bring Juliette a much-desired whiff of country authenticity, officially announcing her place in the canon of Nashville royalty. Juliette by herself gets one night in the Garden; Rayna would get her three nights. In turn, Juliette would bring Rayna teenagers, and therefore, money. Problem: They both hate each other.
You can look at Juliette and Rayna as separate points on a stardom graph. Juliette is currently high on the first wave of her fame; Rayna is much further along, and is currently at a low point. Meanwhile, far behind them and much lower than either of them, you find Scarlett, who was busy preparing to record a demo session with Gunnar. They had to record in Scarlett’s house – because, according to Gunnar, “My dog hates blondes. Who knew?” Which meant they ran right into Avery, the Prog-Country-Anti-Pop-Retro rocker boyfriend. Gunnar complimented Avery’s most recent performance, telling him: “Your guitar tone reminded me of ol’ Link Wray.” (In Nashville, complimenting someone on their guitar tone is like telling someone with a new haircut that their teeth look nice.)
When you look at the Scarlett, Juliette, and Rayna subplots through the prism of stardom – wanting it, having it, and trying desperately to hold onto it – the way the episode crosscut between them became even more interesting. Scarlett tried recording for Watty White, but choked. The audio equipment confused her: “It sounds like I’m hearing myself from across the room.” It got so bad that Watty asked Gunnar to record with a new girl. It didn’t matter, said Gunnar: We’re just trying to sell these songs to the highest bidder. Cut To: Juliette, singing in a lavish recording studio that looks like an architectural collaboration of Frank Lloyd Wright and Steve Jobs, demanding the sound engineer to turn up her echo just a li’l bit. She’s not just recording a potential new hit. She’s breaking new ground, leaving behind the bald Swedish androids who usually write her songs and collaborating with Deacon on a song which speaks directly to her own experience. (“Undermine” is about her mom, maybe – more on that later.)
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