The World Won't End

Last week's edition of Ask the AV Club kicked off with the following question:

Is American Idol bad for music? Specifically, will AI take us to the point where an entire generation will largely listen to and identify with anesthetized, focus-grouped pop music written and composed by studio rats, sung exclusively by flawless, mass-approved performers?

The answer he got from Noel was pretty right-on:

The real danger of American Idol—if there is a danger—is that the young kids who grow up wanting to be on the show will pick up only on the superficial qualities that allow its contestants to go far. As much as the judges cry out for "originality" and urge everyone not to "play it safe," it's obvious that curvy women in skimpy outfits who sing 20-year-old Top 40 hits with lots of flashy vocal runs can count on winning praise and votes, week after week.

Now, I'm well aware that American Idol is its own thing, but I think its impact in the long-term is similar to TV variety shows in the '70s and Star Search in the '80s. Meaning, this is just entertainment and a sign of its time in culture. You could pose this question to previous generations and merely replace AI with words like "disco" or "MTV."

In the case of American Idol, as seen season after season, it is not necessarily a credible, star-making machine. If anything, AI is like a cruel, tongue-in-cheek joke for cynics, fluffy entertainment for those that want to be entertained and something naive teenyboppers can go nuts over. I'm pretty sure these teenybopper fans will eventually become what former New Kids On the Block and Backstreet Boys fans became: normal, well-rounded human beings who are often embarrassed that they were fans.

Yes, AI is a force in our modern culture, but it's not the only force. If anything, it seems like a scapegoat. Hence why I find another part of Noel's answer to be very dead-on:
I'm starting to believe that most of the people who get up in arms about American Idol don't watch the show enough to know what they're talking about, and are really railing against what they imagine it stands for.

It's true: people imagine AI stands for across-the-board, bland mediocrity. However, AI is not the only way people can gain exposure to their music careers. The show's popularity seems to infiltrate all aspects of life, but not everybody watches the show. The 12-year-old learning to play Led Zeppelin and Metallica riffs is probably not going to become brainwashed by the fabricated sounds coming out of AI's contestants. I'm pretty sure American Idol will be a motivator to this person much like Donnie & Marie were to anguished teenagers in the '70s, New Kids On the Block were to anguished teenagers in the '80s, and the Backstreet Boys were to anguished teenagers in the '90s. Good music will always be around, but so will prefab pop.

Thinking about friends and family I know, there are a few former New Kids On the Block fans in the mix. I wouldn't say they were the type that cried at the sight of them, but they were definitely fans. Did their perception of what made music popular get tainted forever? No, because they were just coming of age and learning about music and life in general. (I think puberty had something to do with it as well.) Instead, with age, they gained a better understanding of themselves and the music they listen to. One is still at bay with what she hears on the radio. Another listens to a wide variety of music, from hip-hop to crusty post-hardcore. Their time as New Kids On the Block fans was a mere blip in their overall life as music fans.

So, those are my two cents. American Idol may make a lot of people watch Fox a couple nights a week, but they are not ruining the whole world of music for everyone. It's a part of the music world, but it's more in the pop culture/entertainment world than the legitimate world of music.


I just want to comment that you make it seem as though the majority of fans of NKOTB, BSB, or whomever are or should be embarrassed that we were fans.

I'm not. Still a fan, by the way. A lot of us are. But even ones that aren't recognise that it was what was popular during an era.
Random Kath said…
Yup, I'm not afraid to admit I was a Madonna fan - her first album was the first cassette I think I owned. I'm also not ashamed to say that durung a run in the late 90's/early 00's, Mr. Random and I totally got into watching a lot of Backstreet Boys/NSync/Britney/Christina/Blink 182 videos. This was when MTV would rerun TRL (w/ Carson Daly!) in the evenings and we just thought it was fun, mindless catchy pop. And when I hear the music today, it just makes me remember - "man, weren't those days FUN, when that was all we had to worry about? . . ."

I'm sure Idol fans will look back on these days with the same bit of bafflement and nostalgia . . .
Anonymous said…
I'm still a Backstreet fan and obviously have NO problems with admitting that fact. My musical tastes have EXPANDED since my teens to include new genres and artists but my love for good vocal harmony is quite intact-thank you very much.