Single Review: Gwyneth Paltrow “Bette Davis Eyes”

Bette Davis Eyes
Album: Duets Soundtrack
Year: 2001

On the karoake stage, everybody is a star. For about five minutes, even the most shy person in the room is catapulated to superstardom as they sing their favorite song. Even me.

At my high school all-night party for graduating seniors, I noticed their was a karoake booth set up. I told my best friend, “I’ve got to do this.” My best friend and I pored through the pages of the book. I couldn’t decide and I told him, “pick your favorite singer and that’ll be my song.” He liked the idea and said his favorite artist. Then, I chose a song which both of us would sing our lungs out to as we hung out.

I was first “singer” for the night. The cafeteria was empty. There were a few people milling around but mostly everyone was at the card tables outside or talking in the hallways. As I started, the few people who were waiting for their turn began to sing along. Then, I got into it. My voice got a little louder (perhaps the loudest people had ever heard me speak) Out of the corner of my eye, I saw people coming from the card tables outside the cafeteria crowding around the entrance to watch. Then, I began to get self-concious. Luckily, there was only a minute or so left to the song. Later that night, I heard from one of my teachers, “you’ve got a good voice” and told me other faculty members were asking who was the girl singing on stage.

It was really fun and I think I surprised a lot of people in my class that night. Although I find it ironic it was one of the most quiet girls in the class who was to start karoake.

Celebrities are no exception, either. In the movie Duets, Gwyneth Paltrow achieved her dream of being a pop singer by performing Kim Carnes’ 1981 hit “Bette Davis Eyes.” Sort of.

Like the original, guitars open the single. However, it’s much brighter and peppier. Drum beats are added in the background, making it like a dance song. Gwyneth Paltrow is meek as she talks about the young woman she’s met with Bette Davis Eyes. She’s intimidated by the woman’s aggressiveness. (“Her hair is Harlow gold, her lips sweet surprise….she’s pure as New York snow, she’s got Bette Davis eyes.”)

The drums kick in high gear and are more pronounced than the original. Paltrow copies Carnes’ phrasing of the word “precocious.” However, she seems self-concious of her own modesty and looks up to the charismatic young woman. (“And she’ll tease you, she’ll unease you…she’s got Greta Garbo’s standoff sighs, she’s got Bette Davis eyes”).

Paltrow glows as she talks about the young woman’s wanton sexuality. (“She’ll let you take her home, it works her appetite….until you come out of the blue, she’s got Bette Davis eyes.”). There’s a slight lyric change. “Whets” from the original becomes “works.” Considering it’s synonym, it doesn’t change the meaning.

She shrinks into her own skin, fearing the young woman’s ability to read people and reveal what other people don’t want to know about themselves. However, she still likes the attention the young woman receives from men.A part of her wishes she could be like that, too (“She’ll expose you, when she snows you…all the boys think she’s a spy, she’s got Bette Davis eyes.”) Paltrow lingers “eyes,” giving a glimpse of some individuality which otherwise been nonexistent.

In the third verse, she finally delivers “precocious” in a worshipful manner and not in Carnes’ style. (“and she’ll tease, she’ll unease you…all the boys think she’s a spy, she’s got Bette Davis eyes.”).

During the instrumental section, horns and keyboards are added to the drums which were in the original version. The horns and keyboards create a whimisical, giddy tone, matching Paltrow’s awe.

Paltrow sings “she’s got Bette Davis eyes” several times over, extending the ending by a few lyrics.

Unlike Carnes, Paltrow is enthralled with the young woman, marveling at her sex appeal and audacity. Paltrow hopes to learn how the young woman came to be that way and talks her up to all her friends.

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