It might make me unpopular but… I think American Idol is awesome.
Sure, it’s well-established that your most fuzztacular, beard-bearing buddy is a fairly curmudgeonly old man, but between the daily face-foraging and re-cataloging my collection of Dutch avant-garde LPs, I tend to get a little exhausted. What better way to kick back than by boob tubing with a little American Idol?
No, I’m not a die-hard Idol enthusiast, but I’m not ashamed to say that, as a codified record nerd and all-around elitist, I find it fascinating (I swear, mom! I read it for the articles!!). Unconvinced? After the jump, I honor the show’s Season Eight debut with a list of five reasons why American Idol is as essential and important to cold-hearted, trash-talking snobs as anyone else.
1. It clearly and unapologetically illuminates the disjunction between art and entertainment.
Music elitism is largely predicated on the idea that pop is without any real merit. The problem for rock snobs is that that’s a pretty easily debunked assertion (especially now that former indie-adored poppers like Santogold, Feist, and Robyn are making their way onto the airwaves). Lucky for us, American Idol strips the act of composition out entirely, focusing solely on karaoke-style interpretation of standards. In doing so, the producers of the show have clearly and unrepentantly separated the act of creation from that of performance. All you need to do is watch, and you’ve got unstoppable ammunition for your arguments.
2 It clearly, unapologetically illuminates the relative tiers of “meaning” and authenticity in music.
When it comes to music-nerd tirades about what goes into “meaningful” music, I can’t think of any better way to win the argument than denouncing the asinine, glossed-up interpretation of a wannabe Idol on last week’s episode. Plus, you can point out that, even within the realm of the show itself, the performers prove that authenticity is always an issue. Try this gem on an earnest American Idolater: “You know why Chris Daughtry is doing better than anyone else? He actually plays an instrument!”
3. It’s the perfect allegory for a dying industry (and further proof that style doesn’t equal sales).
Much like the major labels, American Idol is on the out. This season’s debut drew 10 percent less viewers than last year, despite producers’ attempts to bolster ratings with a light makeover, a bikini-clad pseudo-babe, and a new judge (who’s kind of a cutie). While those aren’t apocalyptic numbers, they do represent the same kind of downward trend that’s plagued the industry as a whole.
When you court a fickle kind of consumer, you have to either constantly reinvent to keep attention or actually innovate. The inability to do either of those things – especially in an industry made increasingly competitive by digital recording technology and the ease of Internet distribution – means that the show’s products are unable to escape the moment. This is why many of its marquee acts have been summarily dropped from their labels: without a real foundation, yesterday’s sensation simply isn’t worth what it used to be. For harbingers of the impending industry apocalypse, watching American Idol is the warmest of affirmations. It’s like watching a train that you wanted to wreck finally say “Fuck it” and chug into the inferno.
4. It gives you stuff to talk to your mom about.
These days, where else are you going to see young people taking Tony Bennett, Bon Jovi, and Barry Gibb seriously? Study the performers’ pristine pusses as they fawn over the washed-up, yuppie idols: it’s the perfect practice, offering the perfect talking points, for times when you have to feign enthusiasm for something you can’t stand.
5. Yeah, OK. It’s also pretty entertaining.
At the end of the day entertainment and art are completely separate entities. You might make a few jokes, but you wouldn’t dismiss a roller coaster for failing to fully address your existentialist angst. Sure, to maintain your public persona, you might act like an asshole or lie about it afterwards, but once you divorce yourself from the idea that all music HAS to mean something, what’s left is a lot of hilarious, and sometimes astounding, karaoke. Like Jackass or any other show based on pure spectacle, American Idol can be as mindlessly fun(ny) to watch as it is to snobbishly argue about afterward.