Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"Music Note" #6: The Stigma of American Idol, Disney and Other Music Franchises

If you have been around for the past 10 years, you have definitely realized the popularity of such music franchises as American Idol, Disney's Hollywood Records and Making the Band.

Although I do enjoy watching these shows and listening to the music from time to time (just for specific singers I like), what I have realized is the negative impact these franchises have had on the individual artists who are labeled as "American Idols," "Disney stars," or "The Bands." The stigma they create severely limits the creativity and choices that an artist who are under their name have. The potential for these singers or groups is there but they are forced to fit into a cookie-cutter formula for the large corporations.
They are not seen as an individual but as a product of that machine. An artist is put into the box that is suppose to guarantee success not artistic freedom.

However, for some, instant celebrity is given to them, but not always instant success. They are big and then the fame fizzles out; their fifteen minutes are up. Some of the biggest examples come from American Idol, itself. It took Kelly Clarkson almost two years after she won American Idol to prove herself as a musician and took her seven years to distance herself from American Idol stamp. Other stars have not been so lucky. Justin Guarini, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Fantasia Barrino, Diana Degarmo, Bo Bice, Taylor Hicks, Katherine Mcphee, Blake Lewis still struggle to distance themselves from it. Only Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks and Kelly Clarkson have had consistent success, while the show continues to be hugely popular. Others in the Top 12, like Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson have had larger success. Only time will tell if David Cook and David Archuleta will have ongoing commercial success (I believe Cook will, maybe not Archuleta). That is why sometimes it is better not to win American Idol because that commercial image and sound of an "Idol" is automatically stuck to you (and you would have to sing those pop fluff songs after you win). Fans are willing to vote for them, but after the show has finished the season, they stop caring.

As American Idol is in its eighth season, it is becoming even more apparent that it all about the show, not the contestants. The three most famous people from the show are the judges: Simon, Paula and Randy. "Fights" between Paula and Simon and Randy's "Dawg" comments are as infamous as the terrible singers at the beginning. Shows are no longer live, though they claim to be, and it all appears to be scripted. Singers are kept on the show for not just talent, but also popularity (i.e., Sanjaya). More and more power is given to the judges, whose opinions are differ greatly from viewers. Even worse, the show has reproduced itself in countries all over the world, looking for more pop, assembly-line formed "Idols."

Disney's Hollywood Records is another culprit in marginalizing their artists. What Disney tends to do is over-promote and over-commercialize the same image and sound at the expense of their singers. In order to appeal towards the tween and teen market the label has used what I called the Disney Duplicate method in which each artist is manufactured like dolls. A few of the artists, such as the Jonas Brothers, Demi Lovato and even Mile Cyrus, have tried to have some agency within the Disney mold. The Jonas Brothers have performed with Stevie Wonder and performanced at the Ryman Auditorium, which included covers of "Free Fallin'" (Tom Petty), "Superstition" (Stevie Wonder), "No Air" (Jordin Sparks), "Waiting In Vain" (Bob Marley) and "American Pie" (Don Mclean). Demi Lovato has released songs like "La La Land" and "Don't Forget," and has trashed Disney on some occasions ("Disney has no tears"). Miley Cyrus released "Start All Over," "See You Again" and "G.N.O.," which have differed musically from her Hannah Montana sound. However, Disney has still tried to stifle these artists' artistic freedom. The label did not allow Demi to sing "I still eat at McDonald's" in her video for "La La Land" (instead she sang "I still eat at Ronald's) and told her that she needed a video that was not as depressing as the one she had for "Don't Forget." Also, Disney tends to promote the teen stars as perfect angels, not as young people who make mistakes. Controversy over private, but provocative, pictures of Miley and Vanessa Hudgens that surfaced on the internet, proved that they were human just like everyone else.

The third franchise, Making the Band, is the cursed one of all three. Starting with O-town and then taken over by P.Diddy to continue with Da Band, Danity Kane, Day 26 and Donnie Klang, the show has been popular due to the drama of the groups. O-town, Da band, and Danity Kane have disbanded, while, at this moment, Day 26 is on the verge of loosing a member or disbanding. All of the stars from Making the Band have had moderate success, but are more famous for the reality show and when the show ends, their fame fades. Moreover, with members coming from various backgrounds without a history together to form a music group that has chemistry will always be a problem. It is already hard to have a group with someone you known for years. What the show does also is increase the fame of P.Diddy and the drama of the groups is for his advantage on the show (to show his power as the CEO). Again, the shows are becoming more scripted for the benefits of the show, not for the artists' sake.

These music franchises may give quick fame and fortune, but it does not assure longetivity and orginality. When the fans become bored or when they and the artists grow up, it is up to the artists to break free and show their true ability or be lost in reruns forever.

Here's a treat: Jonas Brothers at Ryman Auditorium

Free Fallin'

w/ Jordin Sparks- Superstition and No Air

Miss American Pie

w/ Amy Grant- Baby Baby

Their amazing band w/ John Taylor and Ryan Liestman- Waiting in Vain

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