There was a time when it didn’t really matter how a band looked like. It was all about the music. Throughout rock history, there have been bands who have flourished despite not possessing the right image or look. Of course, most of the time, this is not the case, especially in this day and age. A glance at the current top 20 albums on the Billboard Album Charts bears this out mostly, although the likes of Barry Manilow, Susan Boyle and Vampire Weekend are probably the exceptions – and I’d argue that for Manilow and Boyle, other non-musical factors come into play as well.
American Idol is now into its 10th season, and the reality show has been an absolute boon for record companies seeing as it delivers artists who are popular and can sing. With an image finely tuned over the course of an entire season and delivered to an accepting public, by the time the season is over, massive sales figures are almost assured.
Kris Allen is the reigning American Idol and has been cast as the conservative down-to-earth poster boy for the fundamentalist Christian right in the USA. Allen is also a pin-up for teenage girls everywhere, which befits an “idol”. Which to me as a music lover, is irrelevant, to the key question – what about the music?
These were the queries in my mind, even as I waited patiently (with the missus) somewhere at the back of Zirca Mega Club for Allen and band to turn up on stage. At the front, the screaming adolescent girls, were not making the wait comfortable or enjoyable, with shrieks greeting any movement on stage.
When Allen did appear, the noise levels went through the roof. The crowd lapped it all up – every movement, every knowing wink and every “are ya havin’ a good time?”, which Allen repeated ad nauseam throughout his hour-long set. Musically, Allen is a cross between Hootie & the Blowfish and Maroon 5, basically country-folk inflected rock tempered with clinical blue-eyed soul. At best, Allen and his band would go down well with the pub-circuit audiences here. Good thing that Allen does not need to rely on the craft of his songs, because they possessed very little. Like a good pub band, Allen and company ran through some covers – Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror and an awkward medley of the Swell Season’s Falling Slowly and U2’s With or Without You.
But then, Allen does not profess to be an artist does he? He is an American Idol – meaning that the music is secondary to his celebrity status and I’m sure he makes no apologies for that. And why should he? It’s not his problem. It is ours…
We left even as the kids were baying for an encore and I was deeply contemplating the formula which the producers of American Idol have so successfully concocted. There is little doubt that those who paid S$99 to see Kris Allen got their money’s worth as Allen definitely gave the people what they wanted. After all, he only had to appear.
Yes, it seems troubling that the instrinsic worth of Allen is purely invested in his image/looks rather than his talent/skills but in our celebrity-obsessed pop culture where form is put above substance, you do always get what you want…
Thanks to Shaz and Midas Productions for the tickets.