The peak moments of last night's Empire were undoubtedly Cookie's gif-able ass flash and the surprise cameo in the final scene. But this episode also tackled a very real phenomenon: the dilemma of the aging artist. Enter Courtney Love.
In a shrewd casting choice, Love plays drug-addicted singer Elle Dallas, a vet in the game who's in danger of being dropped from Empire Records. While Anika thinks her career isn't worth saving, Cookie's willing to bring Elle out of the dust of irrelevancy by managing her and overseeing production on her next album. "I won't sleep until you're back on the charts," says Cookie.
At first, there's pushback from Elle, who requests Hit Boy or Timbaland as collaborators because she only works with top talent. She doesn't want her career "handed over to an ex-con." Lucius reminds her that she hasn't had a hit in ages, which is what we call real talk. How long can one cruise through on legacy? It's clear from the beginning that Elle could easily be stand-ins for artists like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston or Toni Braxton. Love herself says she drew from Carey, Houston and Stevie Nicks for the role.
Elle makes a true-to-life statement that the music industry too flippantly discards its older artists, which reminded me of the scene in Knocked Up when Leslie Mann's character tries to get in the club and the bouncer (Craig Robinson) tells her, "I can't let you in 'cause you're old as fuck. For this club, you know, not for the earth." Labels make this assumption that "selling" an aging pop star is more difficult because they're too old for this.
It's tougher when said artist is in denial and clinging to their past self. It turns out that Cookie is the only one who can relate to Elle on an emotional level and chip at the facade because they're in similar comeback positions. Still, Elle gets antagonist when Cookie visits her at a hotel where Elle's shooting up with a junkie, a familiar storyline for Love. Elle tells Cookie she's "been clean for years."
Cookie's able to knock sense into her, but once Elle gets in the studio, her voice is shot. (It's hard not to compare her struggling notes to Houston's attempted comeback and the Voice that never bounced back.) Elle's vocals are so bad that the engineer says he can make it work if he splices together separate sessions.
Elle is delusional. After Cookie tells her, "Stop pretending to be who you used to be and be who you are now," she miraculously pushes through after the pep talk. Maybe Cookie should be a real-life consultant.
Other notable moments from last night's episode:
—It opens with Cookie trying on outfits to the soundtrack of Lil Kim's "Jump Off," which used to be my ringtone. Cookie thinks the anniversary rose means Lucious is trying to woo her back. At the least, he's definitely playing with her emotions. At a family dinner to celebrate Lucious and Anika's engagement (why was Cookie invited to this?), Cookie throws a fit and ends up storming out in her Sable fur and lingerie, but not before showing her ass and saying, "Oh, and Anika, this is an ass."
I'll take this scene as a visual response to all the white-ass praising and the alleged booty revolution.
—Update: "Drip Drop" is still a hit
—Lucious is forced to come clean to his business partner Vernon about killing their friend Bunkie. As Lucious tries to justify the shooting, Vernon says he should've come to him sooner. It's a great depiction of their brotherhood and nice to see Malik Yoba get a chance to act.
—After Cookie tells Jamal's boyfriend Michael to prepare for Jamal's breakthrough, Michael starts showing signs of insecurity. Cookie wants Jamal to find someone on his level. Then in an interview, MTV correspondent Sway, as Sway, asks Jamal: "Soon Jamal Lyons is gonna be a contender, so how does your lady feel about that?"
—Prediction: Cookie will finally get some action with the new hired head of security, Malcolm, played by Derek Luke, who I couldn't stop picturing as Diddy.
—Another true-to-life conversation happens when Hakeem plays his latest song for Anika. Jamal rolls in and says, "You write a song about how much you hate women it makes you look like a little bitch." Lucious counters that the song will get women dancing and Anika downplays it as just metaphors. Cue "Loyal."
—When Hakeem says, "I'm drunk and you brilliant," while talking to Jamal and Cookie in the club, that sums up their dynamic. It's like if Chris Brown and Frank Ocean were brothers.
—At the end of the episode, Raven-Symone pops up at the Empire headquarters. She plays the mother of Jamal's alleged daughter. Her name on the show is Olivia. Goodbye.
Image via Fox