Thursday, May 24, 2018

American Idol | Lefsetz Letter

It only works if you mint stars.

The finale was the other night. Was it Sunday, or Monday, damned if I know. Then again, probably not Sunday, because that’s when the “Billboard” awards were, another sinking show, just check the ratings. Weren’t live events supposed to save broadcast TV? With their Twitter updates and wars? No, turns out the cultural zeitgeist was captured by Netflix, and awards show theoretically playing to everybody really appeal to nobody, or a very slim slice of the audience. Don’t try to go broad, play to an active niche, and then if you’re lucky it will grow.

We were stunned by the success of “Idol” the first time around. Positively STUNNED, I tell you! It proved the power of television and the power of pop, both of which have waned significantly since.

That’s right, this was pre-streaming. On demand was newfangled. People sat in front of the TV and watched what was served up to them. Furthermore, “Idol” had a gargantuan star, Simon Cowell, who dared to be naughty when you’re supposed to be nice, who spoke the truth when that was considered anathema. He was the harbinger of Trump if you think about it. The boundaries, the rules, were not what we thought they were.

But in addition to Cowell, off screen you had Clive Davis, “Idol” was his crowning moment, his final hurrah. Clive said he had gifted ears and signed all the rebellious acts of the sixties, but the truth is he was a popmeister at heart. From Manilow to Houston. And despite his effort to remake history, we HATED them! Manilow was an AM king when no one with ears listened to transmissions on that band. As for Houston…she happened when rock died on MTV.

But the hipsters who hated these two…the joke was ultimately on them. While they were employing Napster and KaZaA to retrieve deep tracks from the catalog of rock and roll, the generations changed, millennials came of age and so did pop. It was all about Max Martin, not Roy Thomas Baker. And it was hard to deny the hit of the first “Idol” winner, Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” and since she and it were so damn good, we continued to pay attention to “Idol” until, like the record industry itself, it became too bloated and expense-ridden and collapsed.

But what about the success of “The Voice” you say?

The construct of “The Voice” is totally different, it’s about seeing hitmakers on a game show, seeing Blake and Gwen and the guy from Maroon 5 compete while you got a glimpse of who they truly were. As for the singers, they were just pawns in the game, and not a single one of them became a star.

Because TV was losing power, pop was fading and there was no A&R genius employed to ensure hits.

Fame is not everything, sure, Kim Kardashian proved it was, but there’s an exception to every rule, and she wouldn’t be able to do it today, no one can get that amount of attention.

So the dolts at ABC, the same dolts who thought the ESPN gravy train would last forever, just like the dolts running the NFL, thought there were legs in “Idol” and rebooted it.

And despite the relatively high ratings compared to other shows, it was too damn expensive and it never captured the cultural zeitgeist and its audience was a shadow of the Fox show. And speaking of Fox, the Murdochs are savvy enough to get out, isn’t that interesting, they want to sell when Disney wants to buy, then again, Rupert knows it’s about money, just like Malone, and he doesn’t want to be left holding the bag. Rupert also knows it’s about influence, which is why he bought “The Wall Street Journal” and will retain Fox News. Some people know which way the wind blows.

So pop ruled.

And then it didn’t.

Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus…their latest projects stiffed in the marketplace. People don’t want manufactured pop. Adele proves they want REAL pop, but not something that’s following the precepts, with no authenticity, built for dollars.

So “Idol” is pop with no game show amongst the hosts and we all know the contestants are two-dimensional and we’re supposed to care?


P.S. You can sit there self-satisfiedly, but the burden is upon you, to create the game, not play it.

P.P.S. Music is best when it tests limits, when it’s different from what came before. Which is why rap killed rock. For rock to resurge it’s got to be more authentic and play to the masses. Include melody along with guitars. Have singers as good as the ones winning the competitions, who write their own material. Songs never go out of fashion, just styles of music.


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