A rant on the commercialization of bullshit in the culture of American Idol
Being busy hanging out with some friends, I missed the season premiere of SNL last night, but it did record on my DVR and I’ve just finished watching it for what may be the last time. Like Easy Ed’s Rolling Stone subscription, my relationship with the show could very well be done.
Katy Perry was last night’s musical guest. Perry, of course, is best known for her beautiful classic (note the sarcasm) “I Kissed a Girl” from 2008 and “California Girls” which was the pop hit of this summer. Perry’s entire shtick is based on sex appeal. She is very…uh…well-endowed and her costume choices make sure that fact is enhanced. Also, to make sure that the visual aspect overshadows the piss-poor quality of the music, she had five other sexy women on stage dancing, and even the band members, who she was constantly flirting with to create even more of a sense of exploitation, seemed to be picked solely for their looks. (And don’t think that this has some kind of Puritanical background; I am a fan of the Runaways, after all).
I’m sure it all worked for the 13-year-old boy demographic, but I know that good looks does not equate for musical talent and also that as proven by Wanda Jackson and Elizabeth Cook among others, the two are not mutually exclusive.
This wasn’t the worst performance I’ve seen on SNL. In fact, Lady Gaga was a guest last year. No, this was simply the final straw.
Now some of you are probably saying, “It’s a comedy show, anyway. Why not just skip the music?” That would all be well and good if the comedy was actually worth watching. Instead it was a slew of extremely gratuitous and predictable political and celebrity references.
It wasn’t always like that. I remember the great casts of the ’90s and the early 2000s and I even own the first season on DVD. In the beginning they presented some of the best comedy ever and also great musical artists, some of whom were unlikely to find an outlet for exposure elsewhere. Here’s a rundown: Janis Ian, Billy Preston, Randy Newman, Simon & Garfunkel, Loudon Wainwright III, Gil-Scott Heron, Bill Withers, Jimmy Cliff, the Patti Smith Group, Leon Russell, Gordon Lightfoot, Kris Kristofferson, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
That was all in one season and to be fair, ABBA was also a guest that year and Tom Petty was on last year, but overall there was a lot more worth hearing back then.
If anybody is interested Bryan Cranston is hosting next week with musical guest Kanye West. I could care less about Kanye and have no idea who Cranston even is.
But I suppose, like Rolling Stone, it’s yet another victim of the modern day bullshit celebrity pop culture. A culture where Lady Gaga is a revolutionary, instead of a hack ripping off everybody from Alice Cooper to Madonna.
Here is the main problem with today’s culture: Celine Dion would beat Bob Dylan on American Idol. These days, it has nothing to do with heart and soul and everything to do with somebody who looks good. Fix it with Auto-Tune later and then send it off to the Clear Channel radio station and let those with no idea of what great music is download it on iTunes. Let the artists do a cameo on some goddamn MTV reality show and guest on Letterman and SNL. Nothing real. Nothing that matters.
We need a game-changer. We need a new Elvis, a new Beatles, a new Willie and Waylon. There is still great music being made, but it’s as likely to be heard by a mass audience as the great blues and R&B of 1953. Elvis changed that by illuminating the great music being made by African-American performers and in the process made guys like Little Richard superstars.
That’s what we need now: somebody who can become a legitimate mainstream star without selling out and who will shine the light on the underground artists we already know and love but who are well-kept secrets to the rest of the world.
It’s possible that Jamey Johnson can be the one we’ve been waiting for in country music, so please support him as a “fuck you” to the industry and let them know that we’re not gonna take their shit anymore. But who’s gonna save rock? Jack White? Shooter Jennings? Patterson Hood? Tom Morello? Brian Fallon? I’ll continue to support all of them and try to dissuade everybody I talk to from listening to the top 40. That’s all I can do.
To put it simply, we need a new outlaw movement and there is very little time to waste. If we wait too long, we’re going to have yet another generation thinking that Brittney Spears is great, Kid Rock is country, John Mayer is the best guitar player alive, and that Taylor Swift is an amazing songwriter.
As the great Ronnie Van Zant said, “Lord I can’t make any changes/All I can do is write ’em in a song/But I can see the concrete slowly creepin’/Lord take me and mine before that comes.”
Amen, Mr. Van Zant. And here’s hoping that the real songwriters and musicians that are left can turn it all around.