Over the ages, the brave souls who dare to make a career in the performing arts are now and then struck by the anxiety of being at their best in front of a live audience. If it’s a performer’s nightmare to have their moment of stage fright captured for posterity, the age of social media is a treasure chest of fear. YouTube has opened viewers up to familiar and unfamiliar moments of performance anxiety from around the world, and Spectrum Culture is there to guide you through these anxious times.

“You’re the Only One” – Brooke Shields

The oft-maligned actress gave her strongest and most natural performance in Louis Malle’sPretty Baby, in which she was essentially playing herself: an exploited 12-year old. Shields matured into a statuesque beauty, but her early career was a case study in bad parenting. This undated clip shows a still vulnerable young woman whose awkward movements have the bearing of someone being watched by captors who have forced her to perform.

“Shine On Me Woman” – John Kincade

The English group Kincade hit the European charts with the single “Dreams are Ten a Penny,” so frontman John Kincade put in plenty of time in front of a camera. But this moment from his solo career shows a performer momentarily uncomfortable with the spotlight, his swaggering routine marked by uncertain glances and tentative movements. There used to be a longer clip of this appearance available on YouTube, in which Kincade descended from the stage to walk through a studio audience, a look of abject terror on his face.

“Caravan” – Van Morrison

At his prime, Belfast’s rock ‘n’ roll poet was capable of transcendent, nearly mystical performances, but he also had a reputation for stage fright. In this 1978 performance from The Band concert film The Last Waltz, Morrison starts off in good form, but the look on his face changes as he becomes more and more aware that he’s missing his marks. Even the mighty visionary gets scared in the face of demons.

“Poupata” – Michal David

The Czech pop singer’s 1985 single was promoted with a clip that showed an attempt at new wave fashions that fell flat. But more alarming than the outdated fashions were the young gymnasts who perform their stiff martial routine with all the grace of a classroom threatened at gunpoint. The girls aren’t the only ones who appear in danger; at one moment, the bushy-mustachioed bassist seems to be looking for an escape route.

“Ghostbusters” – Ray Parker Jr.

As this list has shown, lip-syncing does not necessarily prevent stage fright. In fact, it can leave an artist figuratively naked, without even their own voice to hide behind. This German television appearance catches the Raydio front man seemingly unprepared to sell his purloined blockbuster hit in a sea of chroma key ghosts.

“Together We’re Strong” – Mireille Mathieu and Patrick Duffy

One longs for the kind of variety shows that used to take a nighttime soap opera star at the height of his fame and pair an untrained singer with a chanteuse who has reportedly recorded over 1200 songs. Duffy, then starring as Bobby Ewing on “Dallas,” never had a chance. In this 1983 performance, his pained, furious eyes are clearly throwing daggers at his agent offstage, while Mathieu gamely plays along as if this ironically titled duet was a good idea.

“Ich … Dich” – Manni Holländer

Born Manfred Herten, the German singer-producer leading this 1985 synth-pop brooder has the sunken eyes and thousand-yard glare of the hostage. His band-mates and fellow props seem equally lost, one of the angels behind him shedding a captive tear. But the mastermind appears to be the angel mugging for the camera by a statue. This unusual confidence in the face of their comrades’ sorrow seems to be the mark of an uber-fan who has demanded that his favorite band perform an unholy angelic charade.

“Feuerwerk” – Stefan Remmler & Nina


Better known as one third of the synth-pop group Trio, Remmler intended to perform this song as a duet with Nina Hagen. He instead found a nine-year old girl whose parents agreed to let her shave her head (to resemble Remmler) and appear as this robotic space traveler. The performance recalls humorist David Sedaris’ characterization of the German language as one in which a harmless request for cake sounds like an order to “Cut the cake and lie face down in that ditch between the cobbler and the little girl.”

“Michelle” — Alex Damiani

Damiani made his name in Italian soap operas in the ’70s before he launched a minor singing career. He seems to be shaking off the cobwebs as he approaches the stage for this 1981 television appearance. But his body language remains that of someone painfully embarrassed by his voice and body, as if ordered to perform against his will.

“Le Téléphone Pleure” – Claude François

Born in Egypt, François was a prolific French singer who met an untimely death in 1978 when he was electrocuted in the shower. He only lived to be 39, but through the magic of YouTube you can see a talent that transcends the language barrier. This colorful split-screen video is, one hopes, merely a dramatization that suggests a kidnapping; one doesn’t imagine that the exuberant François was ever afraid to perform. But that poor girl.

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