Here is the quintessential song for the apparently un-nameable period between 2000 and 2010. It came out early – 2004 – and though there were harbingers, most noticeably Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne, there’s really no competition.
Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone“
This decade was one of extreme tumult for the music industry. After Nirvana’s unexpected re-ordering of the North American pop universe, the industry itself was at sea for years, with no idea of what would work, throwing spaghetti against walls and finding, more often than not, that their audiences didn’t have a clue what they were trying to do. Alt and the mainstream can only co-exist in one package for so long, as both Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl prove.
Capitalism does not like uncertainty for the most part; even venture capitalists need solid market analysis before they lay down their bucks. So what we saw towards the end of the last decade and the beginning of this one was a business in conservative panic, responding not just to improperly understood consumer trends, but to the internet and downloading and the not so slow death of material media.
They wanted sure things, as much as was possible anyway; something they could have a good deal of control over in a world of which they controlled dwindlingly small amounts. And they had a precedent: Motown had been brilliant at constructing acts out of nothing – putting songwriters together with stylists and PR people to create that were paid little, made lots, and owed everything to the record company.
But people weren’t credulous in quite the same way as they were forty years ago. They could smell that old-style manufacturing from way back in the balconies. So Avril Lavigne, it was put about, wrote her own stuff. It worked well enough and long enough that she made her bosses loads of money before anyone found out she really, by any reasonable definition of the term “wrote” and “herself,” had not.
Of course we should have known, given the fact that she rose to prominence singing a duet with Céline Dion, that she was not as punk as she and her corporate creators made out. But we did not, since our resistance to faux punk had already been weakened by Green Day. And who doesn’t like sk8er bois?
But if future cows were really going to give some serious long-term milk, revelations of inauthenticity would be a problem. Hiding it is unreasonable in a culture where the entire population is potential cellphone paparazzi.
So the people had to be immunized, given small doses of act-manufacturing in a controlled environment to build up their immunity to it. Simon Cowell proved an excellent musical Edward Jenner.
dartfordtech, “The Edward Jenner Story” (2010)
American Idol has had an enormous impact on this continent’s charts, and on its vocal tendency towards melisma, beginning with its first winner, Kelly Clarkson, and continuing through a remarkable string of chart toppers.
American Idol, “Kelly Clarkson Announced The Winner” (Season 1, 2003)
There have been many hits from many subsequent Idol winners, but none has been as big was “Since U Been Gone,” and of course, it was “Since U Been Gone” that proved this new formula could work. It’s a good song. It even uses some of that low-volume/high-volume toggling that worked so well with Nirvana – and any number of rock bands before them – but which has almost disappeared in the age of Auto-Tune and various other studio software packages.
It’s also a little recherché in the effect its video had, inasmuch as it had any effect at all, which videos mostly no longer do. Go to any club that plays this sort of music and you’ll see everyone dancing to it in precisely the same way as the crowd in the video are dancing to it. It’s not as choreographed as the dances Dick Clark used to introduce to viewers back during the last era of major musical manufacturing, but the principle’s the same. Which is remarkable, and possibly a testament to how pleased we all are to follow where American Idol would lead us.
And in case you had any doubt that this was big package-little song, watch her do it live, poor thing. Still, these are creations meant for iTunes, the live performances meant to bring the audience closer to the media phenom, so they’ll buy merch and download more, rather than to deliver a premium live product. Nothing wrong with that. Except maybe this:
Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone Acoustic” (2006)
– Bert Archer