This week Barbra Streisand released “Love is the Answer,” her first studio album in four years. This new album is a collection of old-timey jazz standards like “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” produced by Diana Krall, meant to recall Streisand’s early days as a club singer. The one small, intimate show she did to promote the album last week at the Village Vanguard is another such throwback, although the ratio of attendees (less than 100 of them) to media coverage (articles everywhere!) surely must have set some sort of record.
I can’t confess myself a major fan of her music, but I have always admired Streisand for more than her extraordinary pipes. For one, she succeeded as a diva and a sex symbol without ever renouncing her Jewish looks or identity. No nose job, and she’s played Jewish characters galore — one of whom was a Yeshiva boy, no less. For another, she’s never shied away from her gay fanbase, one major part of her adoring throng of listeners. Streisand got her start in gay clubs long before Lady Gaga was even born. And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, like her beloved character Katie in “The Way We Were,” Streisand has never backed down from expressing her political views, loudly and unabashedly. (This NFSW remix of Streisand’s famous shut-down of a heckling fan reacting to the singer’s anti-Bush skit is still a YouTube favorite).
In a cultural climate that often punishes women in entertainment, particularly beautiful ones, for having opinions or being outspoken, she has stood firm. And because of all of the above characteristics, mixed with her outsize fame and massive sales, Streisand has been subject to the expected smears and mockery. But she continues to do things her way and thrive, a symbol of triumph for all outsiders.