2012 London Olympics Closing Ceremonies: A Celebration for the Ages

August 14, 2012
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The conclusion of the 30th Summer Olympiad in London, England was everything a worldly audience could have hoped for and more. Matching the magnificence and grandeur of the Opening Ceremonies but adding a flare of free-spirited fun, the event incorporated a red-hot lineup of the finest in British music, encompassing a diverse taste of genres from every generation – making the spectacle a marvelous show with something for everyone. Artistic director Kim Gavin crafted a celebration for the ages, making it a flawless way for London to pay their tribute to Olympic history one last time before saying their farewells.

Scottish singer/songwriter Emeli Sande opened the show with a short, albeit powerful ballad. Drifting in on a float as the start to a spectacular parade, she wowed the audience with her vocals, backed only by a piano. As her lyrical voice wove through the arena, the crowd was given a glimpse of the set, which had been decorated with the icons of London – Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Bridge, and the London Eye among them. The stage itself had been arranged to form an enormous Union Jack on the floor, which was both fitting and impressive.

Following Sande’s opening ballad, Julian Lloyd Weber performed a beautiful number on the cello, which served as a nice complimentary piece to the ceremony’s introduction. The soft and soothing orchestral sound was followed by actor Timothy Spall’s rendition of Caliban’s speech from The Tempest, which was soon echoed by the arrival of cars, trucks, and bicycles across the stage – all of which were covered in newsprint penned with the words of Britain’s greatest writers.

Arriving into the stadium atop a float similar to Sande’s, 70’s ska group Madness performed their hit “Our House”. Groups of dancers lined the perimeter of the arena, sporting bright blues, oranges, and pinks to match the light-hearted air of the performance. Described by a commentator as a “disco at the end of the wedding”, Madness achieved exactly that, using humorous elements such as a marching band dressed like the Royal Guard and a saxophonist in a kilt getting lifted high into the air.

Following Madness came electronic duo Pet Shop Boys, who soared in on geometric bicycle floats. Serenading the crowd with “West End Girls”, the artists wore metallic suits and conical black hats, which put an eccentric flare on the performance.

The celebration of British music continued with the introduction of red-hot boy band One Direction, who belted out their smash hit “What Makes You Beautiful”. Taking a pause near the middle of the performance, the five-part group descended their float onto the stadium floor to bring the audience closer to the action. One Direction’s harmonious melodies were a crowd-pleaser (particularly for the teenage girls), and the performance itself  was upbeat and fun to match the mood of the night.

Next came Stomp, a fascinating assembly of colorfully dressed men and women who made musical instruments out of ordinary objects. Making music out of trash can lids and brooms gave the performance a very urban feel, and the enormous group was at once stunning and entertaining.

Following the arrival of the athletes into the stadium, a beautiful tribute was made to music legend John Lennon. Poised in front of the Olympic torch, an angelic choir sang Lennon’s “Imagine” while enormous puzzle pieces were fit together in the center of the stage to form a profile of Lennon’s face. This served a touching finish to the incredibly inspiring and peaceful rendition.

To elevate the tempo once more, George Michael came next, performing his hit “Freedom” and sporting a leather jacket and sunglasses. Though lacking the choreography  of previous sets in the ceremony, Michael’s performance did feature a choir of women with powerful voices, which gave a very appropriate backing to the feel-good number.

Flying in with a motorcycle entourage as part of the Mod Movement (the ceremony’s tribute to British fashion), indie rock group Kaiser Chiefs gave an impressive cover of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”. The performance was accompanied by a vibrant light show that included Brit-themed projections across the audience.

To give the ceremony a gothic feel, Annie Lennox came soaring in on the bow of a skeletal ship adorned with enormous wings. Wearing a long-trained red dress and with a chorus of dancers surrounding the ship (all with fierce makeup and gothic ball gowns), Lennox put on a punk performance that was at once theatrical, dramatic, and magnificent. She seemed to be sailing over the arena floor, giving the lasting impression of a punk-rock opera singer ready to wow the crowd.

Next came indie rocker Ed Sheeran, poised atop the stage in something only he could pull off at the Olympic Closing Ceremonies: a hoodie and jeans. Backed by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and musicians Mike Rutherford and Richard Jones, Sheeran put on an intimate cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”.  The raw vocals were classic Sheeran, and the acoustic collaboration soon became a beautiful and intimate tribute. As the song continued, a tightrope walker crossed overhead in a stunt to recreate the famous Wish You Were Here album cover.

Russell Brand achieved a laid-back, free-spirited tone with his Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory performance and follow-up rendition of The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus”, while Fat Boy Slim made an entrance through an enormous blow-up octopus as dancers in neon outfits lined up along the stage.

Top 40 favorites Jessie J, Tinie Tempah, and Taio Cruz performed their upbeat hits of “Price Tag”, “Written in the Stars”, and “Dynamite”, respectively, from the confines of cruising convertibles. As a follow-up, they joined forces atop the stage to belt out the Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing”.  Jessie’s powerful vocals were an interesting mix with the classic pop/rap tones of Tempah and Cruz, as a dance crew resembling a flash mob performed an entertaining disco number on the arena floor.

Next came one of the most anticipated acts of the evening. For the first time since 2008, the most popular girl group in history was reunited once more. Performing a medley of “Wannabe” and “Spice Up Your Life”, the Spice Girls were top-notch with power vocals, fun outfits, and good energy. It was clear the group hasn’t lost their touch – something that the audience seemed to agree with, as it went crazy during a performance that certainly spiced up the ceremonies.

To tone down the mood a bit after the Spice Girls’ explosive reunion, Beady Eye gave a pleasant and reflective performance of “Wonderwall”. The symphonic sound and smooth beats of the smash hit got the audience swaying in time to the music and singing along – a remarkably beautiful sight.

Monty Python’s Eric Idle arrived on the scene next with the thoroughly entertaining “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” sketch. With dancing gladiators, rollerblading nuns, and the random intervention of Indians, it was a refreshing, humorous addition to the show. To end the performance, Idle welcomed an enormous entourage of performers, including bagpipe players and singing angels, before the song ended with a bang (literally) as someone got shot out of a cannon.

No tribute to British music would be complete without a nod to the legendary Queen, which was precisely what the world got as the Closing Ceremonies’ penultimate performance. The band assembled onstage in a dramatic showcase of “We Will Rock You”, joined by Jessie J, who belted out the lyrics while incorporating a taste of her individual flare (such as her glitter bodysuit) and quirky personality. The set’s instrumentals electrified the crowd, amplifying their energy to maximum power with ease.

And lastly, emerging in matching outfits as a magnificent phoenix structure rose above the crowd, the iconic pop group Take That drew the jam-packed, explosive show to a tender end. As the flame inside the Olympic Torch was extinguished, Take That performed “Rule the World”, an empowering anthem that was especially appropriate for the moment. The extinguishing of the torch is always a beautiful, significant piece of an Olympic Closing Ceremony, and the five-part British group did it justice. As fireworks erupted around the stadium and  he shimmering orange flames went out, the show was brought to a stunning and touching end.

Overall, London’s Closing Ceremonies did what the Olympics and Closing Ceremonies in general are meant to do – bring the world together. For three spectacular hours, the world came together as one through the singular force of music. Music is something that unifies us all – something that can be appreciated across the globe and which enables barriers to be broken down. Through the celebration of Great Britain’s best in musical offerings, London succeeded in unifying the world – and hey, it was a pretty awesome show at that.

 

-Shelley DeHekker
@shelleydehekker

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