Like most of the TV-viewing public, I enjoy a good Carpool Karaoke segment. It’s always fun to watch wildly famous superstars enthusiastically chair-dance to their own hits, like dorks. One of the most endearing things about most celebrities is how hard they work and how deeply they commit to their jobs, and when they transfer that workaholic commitment to something as ridiculous as singing along to their own songs on a road trip, it’s usually a good time.
But the longer Carpool Karaoke sticks around, the more gimmicky it gets. More and more, James Corden and The Late Late Show have started to abandon the original appeal of the segment — the spontaneous sing-along vibe that makes it fun — in favor of scripted out-of-the-car interludes that make it clear how artificial the whole scenario is.
As a case in point, Tuesday night’s Usher edition featured a slew of topical/pop culture-referencing segments in between songs. First, Corden and Usher got out of the car so that Usher could teach Corden how to walk in the club, in what appeared to be a reference to the time in 2010 when Usher, then Justin Bieber’s mentor, hired Bieber a swagger coach to teach him how to “do swaggerific things.”
Second, they pulled over to clean Usher’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star, in an apparent nod to the woman who recently tweeted pictures of herself cleaning Donald Trump’s star and single-handedly launched the “nothing but respect for MY president” meme. “Please be respectful of the star, guys,” Corden instructed the watching crowd. “Walk around the star of Usher.”
As late-night interview segments go, this is all fun-enough stuff, by which I mean it was not actively unpleasant. There are certainly many worse things Corden and Usher could have referenced (Usher is currently being sued by a woman who claims he exposed her to herpes, which would not have made for a breezy late night television sketch).
But as a Carpool Karaoke segment, it took time away from the spontaneous fun of the whole idea, which is to watch celebrities nerd out over music. There's a reason that the most iconic moment in all of Carpool Karaoke history is Adele flawlessly rapping Nicki Minaj’s verse of “Monster”: You get to see torch songstress Adele channel all of her emotiveness into declaring that she is a motherfucking monster, and it’s both utterly unexpected and deeply satisfying — you never would have guessed that Adele knows all the words to that verse, but now that you do, doesn’t it feel right?
Carpool Karaoke has been chasing that high ever since, but every time it adds a new scripted segment, it ends up a little further away.