F2K10 is a countdown of the 20 worst songs of 2010. Track our progress here.
The Fox show Glee might have been the most aggravating pop-cultural phenomenon of the year, what with its persistent conflation of the terms “stereotype” and “nuanced character who’s really bringing something new to prime time,” its ability to stoke predictable culture-war outrage, and the way it thrived while the superior show starring Jane Lynch that debuted last year got hung out to dry by the nth-rate cable network on which it aired.
And then there was the music. Obviously a show about a school choir won’t win many points for its subtlety, but Glee‘s Auto-Tuned-to-the-apocalypse takes on pop were shameless “Hey! Remember that? It happened!” nostalgia-tugs that made Chris Farley’s interviews look like intelligent attempts to place history in some sort of context. And the steady drip of quick cash-in iTunes releases resulted in bullshit “records” covered by lazy journalists who knew that the general public didn’t care about the Hot 100’s workings, but did care about comparing new music to the Beatles. (“Look, audience! A bunch of songs are going to storm the charts for exactly one week because they sold about 70,000 copies to a core group of diehards! Just like the Beatles, right?”) There was also the matter of its indirect spawning of The Sing-Off, NBC’s a cappella competition that was a fever dream of what would happen if American Idol was only made up of the awkward group numbers.
Many songs have been taken on by the cast of Glee since its May 2009 debut, and the show’s producers played the easily excitable Internet entertainment press like a fiddle by loosely theming shows around Madonna, Britney Spears, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And then there was the episode titled “Funk,” which contained a life-sucking, gender-flipped take on James Brown, an inert Marky Mark cover in which the producers apparently told the principals to be “as white as possible,” and a cover of the 1993 breakthrough hit by Beck.
On the one hand, the Glee take on “Loser” sounds a lot less electronically manipulated than its Glee brethren, perhaps in the interest of keeping it “real.” But on the other hand, do Beck’s surrealist lines “You get a parking violation and a maggot on your sleeve” and “A slab of turkey-neck and it’s hangin’ from a pigeon wing” really need the overenunciation provided by Mark Salling and Cory Monteith? Does turning an ode to being a loser into a duet turn it into a universal celebration of feeling left out, or merely feel like a cheap ploy to get iTunes revenue to as many actors as possible? The same could be asked of the “loser choir” that swoops in at the end, sassily singing Beck’s demand for murder in such a way that you have to wonder if Death By Jazz Hands is actually possible.
In the context of the show, the song is somehow made even worse, thanks to its cutting to the big-group-chorus chase. Even the presence of veteran character actor Stephen Tobolowsky (who’s playing a disgraced former glee-club leader named Sandy Ryerson, get it??!?!??!!) only makes the whole thing more cringeworthy.
Note the daydream conceit, which, too, shows that the whole thing didn’t even have to happen in the first place. Which is enough to stoke a fantasy in my mind: Can’t we all just go back to sleep and wake up to “I Got You Babe” — in a world where Glee never happened?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 20, 2010