Half a century after the Rat Pack’s groundbreaking Summit at the Sands, the institution of the Las Vegas residency has fallen into disrepair. Outside the still-dynamic world of electronic dance music, the territory has largely been ceded to washed-up rockers and old pros with little pop-culture currency. Creatively fertile stars at the height of their popularity have not made much of a showing recently, but the game may change at the end of February, when Cee Lo Green drops his anchor at Planet Hollywood for a two-month stay.
The chart-topping soul crooner and judge on NBC’s The Voice will be staging a grand spectacle with Cee Lo Green Is Loberace at Planet Hollywood’s 1,400-seat showroom. Promising “mind-twisting magic and sexified showgirls,” Cee Lo plans to combine a concert revue “through the colorful decades of music” with a dance party. His commitment to the flamboyant showmanship of Liberace—lovingly documented in his bubble-bathed and feather-filled video for “I Want You (Hold on to Love)”—combined with a powerfully expressive, butter-smooth tenor and a gift for winsome pop with a comfortingly retro beat, should make the show a huge draw. It also makes sense as the next move in an aggressive brand-extension strategy by a man who, after spending nearly two decades as a cult figure in the music industry, is holding tight to the spotlight now that he has it.
Cee Lo’s ubiquity in pop culture came by way of an insanely catchy single with a title and refrain that couldn’t be uttered on the radio. “Fuck You” was an immediate viral hit when it emerged in 2010, thanks to the childishly satisfying sentiment sung with easy panache against a bouncing Motown beat. The song (euphemized to “Forget You” for the airwaves) hit No. 2 on the pop charts and became the 12th most downloaded song of all time, eventually winning a Grammy.
But Cee Lo, who entered the music industry as a rapper in the pioneering Southern hip-hop group Goodie Mob, had experienced this level of popularity once before. After releasing two eccentric and well-regarded solo albums that escaped any commercial success, Cee Lo joined producer Danger Mouse to form Gnarls Barkley. Their menacingly appealing first single, “Crazy,” became a sort of universal soundtrack in the summer of 2006, embraced across demographics and topping pop charts across the world. Its parent album, St. Elsewhere—full of retro funk layered with a trippy, dark mysticism—won the duo a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album. Yet their 2008 follow-up foundered, and Gnarls Barkley soon disappeared.
So Cee Lo is keeping in motion this time around, sustaining his momentum with a broad range of projects, from product endorsements to TV deals. Although he is stepping back from The Voice for a season, he recently signed a first-look deal with NBC to develop and produce scripted projects, including a potential sitcom. He has a new album with the reunited Goodie Mob in the works. He even recorded a new theme song for the NFL Network, reworking the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” into “I Love Football.”
Yet even as he embraces all the dimwitted tackiness of mainstream American pop culture, Cee Lo has managed to maintain allegiance to the freaky roots that have always made his material more interesting than a simple Motown retread. His affably eccentric persona on The Voice, complete with animal companions and unflattering costumes, won over an audience that might not have otherwise tuned in to a reality singing show.
The plans for the Las Vegas shows are promising in a similar regard. Loberace offers to transport its audience “into the incredibly creative, eclectic mind of Cee Lo Green and into the supernatural, surreal and the extraordinary.” If Cee Lo can maintain his oddball credibility within the confines and routine of a resort residency, Loberace might just shake up Las Vegas’ entertainment scene for the better.