Sunday, September 10, 2006

Who The F--- (No. 1)
Admitting your ignorance is the first step to healing. Or something like that. Right? Anyway. Every so often I find myself digging around Billboard.com - usually for the purposes of mocking Chantal Kreviazuk - and come across a chart-topper of which I was previously unaware. For one thing, I don't receive nearly as many free CDs as I used to. For another, much of my attention is now claimed by the mysterious world of hip flexors and groin pulls. So I'm not nearly as ashamed of my ignorance as perhaps I should be. In fact, I think I've decided to turn my ignorance into a semi-regular feature here through which I will explore my limitless lack of knowledge. With any luck we'll all learn a little something. If nothing else, I'll learn something and you'll just have to indulge me.

... is Danity Kane.

I understand why no one respects Making The Band. The first season produced O-Town, arguably the goofiest boy band of an era in pop music that was, even without Liquid Dreams, remarkably goofy. But at the same time, the lack of respect given Making The Band makes absolutely no sense.

For instance, has anyone stopped watching Survivor because Richard Hatch turned out to be a deadbeat? Does it matter that the Amazing Race's various winners haven't yet fostered a better sense of understanding between America and the rest of the planet? Was Paradise Hotel any less a landmark moment in television history because it involved not a single character with any redeeming value? No, course not. These shows are judged only on their entertainment value. And, in that regard, Making The Band deserves its place among the greats of the Reality TV Era.

The first edition - starring Lou Pearlman and the aforementioned O-Town - was as biting an expose of the pop music industry in the late-90s as has yet appeared on television or in print. Sure, yeah, there was plenty there for 12-year-old girls to love too, but this show didn't sugarcoat much. It was everything that was supposed to be ugly about the music industry, plus some other stuff you hadn't even considered before. And it was all on network television (at least the first season... then it moved to MTV).

Despite introducing the term "morpharotic " into the popular lexicon, O-Town quickly disappeared and Puff Daddy replaced Pearlman for Making The Band 2, forming a kiddie Wu-Tang Clan called Da Band. MTB 2 was basically all about exploring/exploiting racial stereotypes. In MTB 1, a bunch of wussy white guys tried their hardest not to cry, while Pearlman smiled creepily in the background. Diddy takes over, the kids get blacker and the next thing you know fists are flying and rappers are narrowly avoiding incarceration. It all probably set race relations in America back 30 years. But then it was all sort of satirical. Sort of. Vaguely. Like a really long Chappelle Show sketch that didn't claim to be a joke. Long story short, Da Band was last seen wandering the streets of New York pleading for spare change to buy cheesecake.

Unfortunately, at least to my knowledge, Making The Band 3 has yet to be aired in Canada. And that, I believe, accounts for my ignorance of Danity Kane - the latest heir to the MTB legacy. Apparently, Puffy was again in charge this time around, but opted to go with an all-girl group. I can only assume that the resulting episodes provided any number of lessons about the modern state of feminism, gender politics and artistic expression. And, of course, epic cattiness.

Being the pop music mastermind that he is, Puffy suggested they call the band Trust. Strangely the girls opted instead for Danity Kane, which is apparently the name of a comic book character one of the girls created. (The girls, by the way, might also own some of the greatest individual names in the history of pop music: Aubrey Morgan O'Day, D. Woods, Shannon Rae Bex, Dawn Angelique Richard, and Aundrea Aurora Fimbres.) As was the case with MTB 2, Diddy apparently hated just about every candidate and, as per usual, there were at least a half dozen moments when all hope seemed lost. Somehow or another they got a group together. And, even more improbably, they convinced Timbaland and Scott Storch to produce tracks on the record.

I trust that this was all very entertaining because when Danity Kane's self-titled debut came out a couple weeks ago it entered the charts at #1, knocking off Christina Aguilera's Back to Basics and topping OutKast's Idlewild to become the first MTB-related record to ever claim the top spot. A week later they were topped by Bob Dylan's Modern Times.

We'll all feel bad about it five years from now, but the first single, Showstopper, isn't entirely without merit, while Right Now (there's a snippet at their MySpace site) sounds suspiciously like the title theme to an early-90s soft porn (or so I would assume). (The video for Showstopper can be seen here. The girl in the passenger seat may or may not be wearing a terrible wig.)

Anyway. Aside from ensuring themselves at least passing mention in the next Dylan biography, Danity Kane also became just the third all-girl group to reach number one this century - Destiny's Child and the Dixie Chicks each having done it twice. Maybe it's just me, but I find that sort of surprising. And you can feel free to bring up this fact the next time you want to argue about the long-standing sexism of pop music.

In the mean time, I'd like to think that Danity Kane at least somewhat redeems Making The Band. And perhaps convinces the producers of Paradise Hotel that sometimes the general public is just slow to recognize genius.

(Shouldn't Danity Kane also reinforce the enduring relevance of MTV? I'll never really understand all the arguments about how MTV "used to mean something" and has, since moving away from music videos, ceased to be anything of great and true cultural worth. As if it was somehow any more a beacon of ground-breaking television when it was showing Pat Benetar videos 18 times per day. I'd argue MTV is even more impressive a force now - remaining relevant in the face of increased competition for the attention of young and malleable minds. And I'd go so far as to say there's much more to be learned from a few hours of Next, Laguna Beach, Two-A-Days and Sweet Sixteen then there ever was from even a hundred airings of Thriller. The early years of MTV may have more to say about music. But the recent years have had far more to say about the people who actually listen to the music.)

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