America’s Favorite Cover Band Strikes Again

I am not a Gleek. Hell, if I didn’t follow pop culture, I wouldn’t even know what that word means. It sounds like a monster from The Legend of Zelda. It’s actually a self-appointed nickname among diehard Glee fans.

Now, I’m not about to go on some kind of rhetorical rampage all about how much the show sucks. I’ve never seen a single second of it, so it’s not like I’m qualified to judge its particular merits and flaws and whatnot. I am perfectly content to let its audience have their fun, even though I look at it and see what appears to be some kind of bastard lovechild of High School Musical and American Idol.

I mean, I remember browsing around in an FYE at the mall once and hearing someone not named Steve Perry – I could tell because the singer was female – singing “Don’t Stop Believin’” in an over-processed voice over what sounded like your garden variety karaoke machine backing track. I couldn’t think of any Disney stars who’d ever sung it. Nor could I name any recent Idol contestants who’d performed it. And then as I passed the soundtrack section it dawned on me… this was someone from the cast of Glee.

I’ve never been all that crazy about so-called “jukebox” musicals. I get that shows and movies like Glee or Mamma Mia! or Across The Universe are trying to re-contextualize familiar pop songs to fit a story. I’ve even seen most of Moulin Rouge, where songs by Queen, Nirvana, the Police, and Madonna are so heavily revamped they might as well be different songs. But if I’m going to watch a musical, I’d rather watch one with original songs written to fit the story. It’s just a matter of personal preference.

The thing I don’t understand is how Glee’s cover versions of popular songs are shattering long-standing Billboard chart records set by the likes of Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Three months ago they topped the Fab Four’s mark of 71 Hot 100 appearances. This week, they dethroned the King of Rock n’ Roll as the fastest act ever to score 20 top 40 hits. And they’re doing this by recording watered-down covers of well-known songs by established mainstream artists. What’s next, this season’s complete soundtrack outselling Thriller?

It’s not that I don’t get why these soundtrack albums exist. They’re cashing in on a popular TV show; that’s just Marketing 101. I find the massive success of the Glee soundtracks confusing because I look at them and see covers albums. A tribute act, if you will. I always thought all-covers albums or string quartet or “all-star” tributes to Insert-Artist-Here were niche markets, nothing that could beat Elvis and the Beatles. It’s the sort of thing that pops up on the AV Club’s year-end Least Essential Albums feature. Why buy the tribute album when you can track down the original, and most likely superior, version in the same store?

Of course, cover bands and string quartets aren’t connected to a popular TV show. But you know which artists are? Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, Carrie Underwood, Clay Aiken, David Cook, Adam Lambert… all those American Idol people. You could probably combine their career numbers and not come up with as many Hot 100 appearances or top 40 hits as the cast of Glee has now. And Idol is a show that somehow still attracts 25 million viewers a week. To think, all the Idol alumni had to do was sing other… people’s… songs… every week… um, never mind.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just annoyed because I always considered covers albums the last resort of the financially desperate musician. If your own stuff ain’t selling anymore, why not just remake a bunch of your favorite songs? The hard part’s already done for you; all you have to do is book some studio time and record some covers!

All kidding aside, I just don’t feel the urge to grab an album full of nothing but covers. Do I really need to own an album where Nas raps the lyrics to “Back In Black” over Carlos Santana’s signature guitar noodling? No. Do I need to hear what Vanilla Ice would bring to “Baby Got Back”? No. Do I need that Everclear album where they remake all of their old hits (songs that still get played a lot on the radio around here, I might add)? Sorry, guys – I already have a copy of So Much For The Afterglow.

Oh, and now Ryan Murphy, the guy who created Glee, is going after Kings Of Leon for telling NME in August that they’d turned down his offer to butch—er, perform their songs on an episode. Apparently he thinks that his Radio-Disney-friendly remakes will “turn kids on to music” and people like Kings Of Leon are “hat[ing] on arts education”… even though they didn’t say anything about arts education. They didn’t even say the show sucks. All they said was that they hadn’t seen the show and weren’t interested.

Hey, you know how else kids can get turned on to music? By listening to music. It’s not like the species had a hard time developing appreciation for music before Glee came along. And it’s not like Glee is the only place where a kid can hear music either. Get over it and move on. For a guy who claims to be so “anti-bullying,” he sure is coming off like… well, a bully.

In summation: You should all support the original songs and artists instead of America’s favorite cover band. And I can’t wait to hear how Ryan Murphy reacts when he hears what Damon Albarn had to say about Glee

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