The Lovers, the Dreamers, and AutoTune: Kermit’s “Duet” with Barbra Streisand Is Bad

Published: June 28, 2021
Categories: Commentary, Feature

First of all, I just want to say: I don’t like being the kind of Muppet fan who hates things released by the Muppets. It brings me no joy when Kermit the Frog, one of my favorite guys, makes headlines, and I end up despising the thing he’s making headlines for.

But this? I did not ask for this, and I do not want it. Please send it back.

I’m talking about the “new” “duet” of “Rainbow Connection” sung by Barbra Streisand and Kermit the Frog, which is featured on Streisand’s upcoming album Release Me 2. Have you heard it yet? Here, check it out:

Did you make it through the whole thing?

Here’s the story behind it, per the Release Me 2 publicity machine: Back in 1979, as The Muppet Movie was about to be released, Barbra Streisand recorded “Rainbow Connection” with the intention of including it on her album Wet, which was about to come out.

It would have been the first celebrity cover of the song, well before Willie Nelson’s, Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s, or Raven-Symoné’s. Come to think of it, it would have been well before Raven-Symoné was even born. But space on a vinyl LP is limited, so when it came to finalize the album, she dumped her recording of Kermit’s song in the swamp of unreleased tracks in favor of a Donna Summer collaboration.

Then recently, her artist’s rep Jay Landers pointed out to her that, while she’s sung with all the biggest stars in show business, she’s never sung with Kermit the Frog. So they took Barbra Streisand’s old vocals from 1979 and combined them with Jim Henson’s vocals as Kermit from 1979 to make a fake duet.

And the result sounds… terrible. It’s truly awful. Just dreadful. It’s appalling. Bad, even.

To begin with, I’m never a fan of performers being made to produce performances after they’ve passed on. There may be some exceptions, but it general there’s just something gross about using technology to create new work with a person who’s not around to agree to do it. (Remember when the Orville Redenbacher popcorn company brought back a computer-reanimated Mr. Redenbacher himself for a brief ad campaign in which he showed off his MP3 player and did modern dance moves? That was the WORST.)

It’s not even the first time this has happened to Jim Henson. Back in the early 1990s, Sesame Street’s Ernie sang a duet of his classic song “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon” with Aaron Neville. Muppet Wiki lists the first appearance of this clip as 1994, which means it was four years after Jim Henson died. But there’s his old audio track, lip-synched by another puppeteer to make viewers think a Jim Henson character is singing with a guy Jim Henson may have never even met.

Who knows if Jim Henson even liked Aaron Neville’s work? For that matter, who knows if he even liked Barbra Streisand’s work? For all I know, he may have considered “Tell It Like It Is” and “People” to be slightly overrated.

But the Streisand “duet” is worse than the Neville “duet.” On Barbra Streisand’s 1979 recording, she didn’t sing “Rainbow Connection” exactly the way Jim Henson’s Kermit did when he sang it in The Muppet Movie. The tempo is different, she holds some notes differently, and… I don’t know, I’m not a music expert, but I’m pretty sure the key is different? Or the diminuendo of the cadenza? Those are music terms, right?

Anyway, because the two recordings don’t match up, the producers and/or engineers had to edit, bend, spindle, fold, and mutilate Kermit’s track to make it match up with Streisand’s track. Sometimes it sounds like they’ve stretched him out. Sometimes it sounds like they’ve pitched him up or down. Sometimes it sounds like they’ve applied some weird filters hoping we won’t notice how different it is. I’m sure they put a lot of time and effort into it, but the result is that every time Kermit sings, it sounds like an old cassette tape of a malfunctioning robot built out of spare parts who is singing while trapped in quicksand, in a cave, with pantyhose over his face.

I’m sure a lot of people will love it. A lot of people will respond to the beauty and poetry of the song itself, and their existing fondness for it, and completely fall for it. That’s nice! I’m just not one of those people.

Why couldn’t they have left Kermit’s vocals alone and edited Barbra’s instead? Well, I’m guessing she wouldn’t have allowed that. She probably wanted her 1979 vocals to remain as pristine as possible. But I can think of other additional alternatives.

In fact, here’s my list of Things They Could Have Done Instead of Making a Fake Duet with Barbra Streisand and Jim Henson’s Kermit:

  • Record 2021 Barbra singing a duet of “Rainbow Connection” with Kermit the Frog as performed by Matt Vogel. They could both sing the same arrangement!
  • Create a new recording of Kermit the Frog as performed by Matt Vogel, singing half of “Rainbow Connection,” and pair it with the 1979 Barbra recording. They could match Vogel’s new recording to Barbra’s 1979 arrangement!
  • Write a new song for 2021 Barbra to sing with Kermit the Frog as performed by Matt Vogel. Maybe something about dreams or hope or family or going to a parade!
  • Release the previously unreleased recording of Barbra Streisand singing “Rainbow Connection” all by herself from 1979. Her fans would love it!
  • Record 2021 Barbra singing all of the Muppaphone parts alongside Eric Jacobson as Marvin Suggs on a new recording of the “Lady of Spain” bit from The Muppet Show. Muppet fans would love it!
  • Record 2021 Barbra singing a duet of “Rainbow Connection” with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. The Marvel movies are way more popular than the Muppets these days!
  • Not release any Kermit/Barbra Streisand duets. Host a double feature of The Muppet Movie and Barbra Streisand’s 1972 comedy What’s Up, Doc? instead!
  • Not release any new version of “Rainbow Connection,” or any duets, or anything. Go out for bubble tea instead!

Hey, that last one sounds pretty good. I’m gonna go get some bubble tea. Do you think I should buy one for Barbra Streisand?

Thanks as always to Muppet Wiki for images! Click here to sing a fake duet on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe –

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