Skip to main content

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.

Popular posts from this blog

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Catherine Wheel

Originally posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2006 Despite managing to release five proper albums, Catherine Wheel was one of those bands that always seemed to slip past the mainstream rock crowd. Yes, they got some nice airplay in their day, but people seem to have forgotten about them. You may hear “Black Metallic” or “Waydown” on a “classic alternative” show on Sirius or XM or maybe even on terrestrial radio, but that’s about it. For me, they were one of most consistent rock bands of the ’90s, meandering through shoegazer, hard rock, space rock and pop rock, all while eluding mainstream pigeonholing. Led by the smooth, warm pipes of vocalist/guitarist Rob Dickinson (cousin of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson), Catherine Wheel featured Brian Futter on lead guitar, Dave Hawes on bass and Neil Sims on drums. They weren’t a pretty-boy guitar band, but they weren’t a scuzzy bunch of ragamuffins either. Though the band hailed from England, Catherine Wheel found itself more welcome on American air

Hello, Control

I'm still a big fan of iTunes . I haven't tried Napster , Urge or eMusic as I've been perfectly happy with Apple's program ever since I downloaded it two years ago. However, an annoying new feature has come up with its latest version, 7.0. Whenever you pull up your music library, a sidebar taking up 3/4ths of the screen appears plugging the iTunes Music Store. Why is this an annoyance? Well, first and foremost, since you can't close the sidebar, you can't escape it. I believe a music library is a private collection, a spot away from the music store. So what's the need for constant advertisements and plugs? To provide a better visual, let me describe what I see whenever I pull up a song in my iTunes library. When I listen to "This is a Fire Door Never Leave Open" by the Weakerthans, I see a graphic for Left and Leaving , the album that it comes from (and available in the iTunes Music Store), along with a list of the Weakerthans' other albums,

Best of 2021

  Last year, my attention span was not wide enough to listen to a lot of LPs from start to finish. Too much went on in 2020 to focus on 10-15 albums, so I went with only a couple to spotlight. Well, 2021 was a little better, as I have a list of top four records, and a lot of individual tracks.  (I made a lengthy Spotify playlist ) So, without further ado, here’s my list of favorites of the year: Albums Deafheaven, Infinite Granite (listen) Hands down, my favorite album of the year. I was not sure where Deafheaven would go after another record that brought My Bloody Valentine and death metal fans together, but they beautifully rebooted their sound on Infinite Granite. The divisive goblin vocals are vastly pared-down here, as are the blast beats. Sounding more inspired by Slowdive, the band has discovered a new sonic palette that I hope they explore more of in the future. It’s a welcome revelation. I still love their older material, but this has renewed my love of what these guys do.  J