Recently, the legendary Foo Fighters front man and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl made the following critique of televised singing contest:
There is a strong part of me that is inclined to agree. It just so happens my attempts at becoming an a musician, have been built around following Dave Grohls formula, I got a cheap guitar, I make as much noise on it as I can and occasionally find a few friends to join in. There is no need to think my musical projects will over move anywhere beyond this, but it has been fun for me. I’ll also admit, no TV producers want to hear me sing my heart out. I recognize that Grohl also is correct about countless rock musicians, as well untold numbers of Jazz and blues musicians as well. The genuine dope shit, in music is always happening close to the streets, and close to home. By the time it gets the attention of major television networks, and record labels it is often no longer cutting edge.
But, the again, it does not strike me that the members of the next Nirvana are watching The Voice or American Idol. They are out somewhere doing their own thing. Those, like Nirvana, who want to make music that defies commercial sensibilities and are fiercely independent, have plenty of role models to look up to now, that are far more visible than they were in the time Nirvana was starting.
On the other hand, if you do not want to become the next Nirvana, but would rather be the type of commercial pop star that is promoted on these programs, you really do have to wait in long lines and find people who can advance your career to sing your heart out to. While, I may agree that the phenomenon of the disposable pop star is not the most positive one, I question the notion that it is ruining the next generation of musicians. Nirvana, got their start at a time when record companies were preoccupied with disposable pop-stars and hair bands, and yet an underground band from Aberdeen, Washington was able to take the whole industry off guard.
I also see computers and the internet as positive thing for music. The Internet has allowed me to discover countless great bands, and furthermore it is a great networking tool, that which can assist many small time acts at getting exposure, potentially beyond, what the small time record labels, ma and pop stores, and tape traders of the 1980s could. Computers are also making it possible to make, recordings that in the past could only been done, in expensive studios, from one’s own home. Small time musicians wanting to do unique things, have more tools than ever at their disposal.
I will grant Dave Grohl, one point that I see as important. Commercial pop stars and shows like American Idol do normalize the idea that good music involves people singing perfectly on key in the conventionally accepted manner, to music that follows accepted formulas. As such, it is likely contributing to a propensity to dismiss music that does not follow these criteria as no good. I have had a friend, tell me that my Stooges and Tom Waits albums sounded mediocre, because he has simply never spent much time listening to music with unconventional vocalists, or deliberately raw or harsh production values. Furthermore, I’m sure there are countless young people today, who would not know what to make of a Bob Dylan, Howlin Wolf or Robert Johnson. I recall, a family member even dismissing, the music of Eminem, because she could not picture him successfully singing on a show like American Idol. This is despite the fact, that his skill is not even singing, but talking in rhyme. That said, I do not know how big of a problem this is. As noted before, underground music has a bigger outlet than it ever has before, and there will always be a part of the population hungry for the real thing, especially as mainstream music becomes more unbearably homogenous and commercial.
So, while I do have a great deal of love for what Dave Grohl is saying, and while I do generally dislike the whole pop-star phenomenon, I do think that such shows as American Idol and the voice, are probably fairly benign, all things considered. That said, I do though agree with his other comment:
“I think people should feel encouraged to be themselves. That’s what bums me out about those shows where people are judged so harshly by fucking musicians that hardly even play an instrument on their own fucking albums. It makes me really mad.”