American Idol smokes the Grammy awards
Maybe FOX's American Idol isn't the harbinger of cultural doom that most rational people believe it to be. Splashed across the Drudge Report today was a headline proclaiming, "'Idol' amateurs beat 'Grammy' pros in ratings". The story is accompanied by two photos: an American Idol contestant singing soulfully into a water bottle, and a sneering, dirt-old Madonna standing in front of the Grammy/CBS logo backdrop.
Though I still think FOX's Murdoch is building the equivalent of a mainstream media Death Star, I feel that these ratings bode well for the future of music. The statistics clearly show that the stars have fallen from the proverbial sky, and the first celebrities to hit the ground will be those whose talent has gone stale (Madonna) or those who never had talent (Mariah Carey) -- exactly the kind of celebrity the Grammy awards try and resuscitate each year.
American Idol's success (it's the #1 rated show in the country) proves to me that somewhere deep in the collective unconscious of our home viewing audience lies the fundamental truth that good music is best served by a democratic music industry where the people choose their stars, rather than a corporate filter that manufactures desire for their products with advertising and meaningless awards shows. While past Idol winners clearly prove that Americans have no taste in music, at least the public is starting to question why they need a musical-industrial complex to stand between the consumer and the product.
In a way, this is just a huge backfiring of marketing trends which have sought to treat each consumer, in the words of Chuck Palahniuk, as "a beautiful and unique snowflake," when millions of consumers purchase products in lockstep unison each day. Now the cult of the individual has been given the reigns of the music industry, as evidenced in the #1 chart debuts of Idol artists over the past few years.
Don't get me wrong, American Idol is as much a sham as the Grammy awards; both shows use the hypnotic glow of the television to artificially hype artists that consumers wouldn't be caught dead listening to, if only they had a choice not to. Digital music represents that choice, but only if the new music industry embraces democracy over corporate greed (see ArtistShare for a great example of this.) In fact, the pessimist in me knows that American Idol is the ultimate representation of everything that is wrong with our culture.
But the optimist in me sees America's superficial music fans taking the first baby-steps toward asserting their true power as masters of their own cultural consumption. Just as former smokers regain their sense of taste, so too must consumers be weaned off the billowing clouds of crap being cast forth from the music industry. Only then will they be able to taste the freedom of musical choice. In that sense, American Idol shifts listener's habits from Marlboro to Marlboro Light. A little healthier? Yes. Still killing you? You bet.