Max Johns - Commuter, Ashburton/Christchurch/Dunedin

Monday, May 10, 2004

This is reality speaking: NZ Idol isn't all bad

If this is three or more hours old when you read it, NZ will have a new Idol. Good for us. He’ll either be Ben or Michael, and he’ll have been voted for by thousands and thousands of "people", by which I mean "kids wasting cell phone credit they didn't even pay for". The Edge will start playing his version of the new single "Can't Take That Away", and it will probably go to number one for a couple of weeks. There'll be an album, complete with in-store signings at a Sounds near you. Then, suddenly, nothing else will happen. Like TrueBliss, he'll fade into the recesses of our fair nation's CD collections, and soon find his way into the dusty racks of Cash Converters with a permanent $5 sticker slapped on his cover.

Pop music in New Zealand will return to its old ways: the shelf space briefly dedicated to Ben/Michael (delete whichever doesn’t apply) will give way to imported crap, the NZ Idol TV timeslot will go to American Idol (because, you know, we need another one of them), and only a quota will keep anything local on our airwaves. The NZ Idol experiment will pass out quietly in the corner and leave nothing in its wake, except a bunch of smug music geeks quietly congratulating themselves on having predicted the whole collapse. I'll be there, but I won't be the only one filing away yet another historical example of shit music failing, proving once again that "real music" is better than, y'know, fake music. Then we'll start arguing about what real music is. And agreeing that it's great that we've still got genuine NZ music like Gramsci and Phoenix Foundation happening without a bunch of primetime hype. And arguing about whether we should take hiphop seriously, who's better out of The White Stripes and The Velvet Underground, etc., etc.

But something won't quite feel right. While my groupie-wannabe mates and I discuss obscurities only reviewed in the student media ('by ourselves', we won’t admit), we'll be willingly ignoring the basic truth that kids are idiots who like crap music. And, more importantly, they pay for it and they make it big business. It's true that there will be thousands of little punks out there that'll know every word to "Can’t Take That Away" and won't have a clue who Chris Knox is or what Flying Nun ever did for them - but just because it's true, it's not important. To assume that the presence of Ben/Michael takes attention away from decent kiwi tunes is somewhat ill-founded. If Ben/Michael wasn't being high-rotated on ZM, it’d be some fat black American with a shiny necklace, a big number on his singlet, and a hot chick singing the choruses.

It's not a bad idea to have grossly over-manufactured, cynically produced and entirely disposable NZ pop stars for the very simple reason that the other option is grossly over-manufactured, cynically produced and entirely disposable US pop stars. So while we’ve got a local equivalent out there, we might as well support him. Enjoy the little idiots shelling out for "Can’t Take That Away". At least a little more cash will stay in Aotearoa. Don't hold any grudges against Mr. Moment when he's performing in a shopping mall near you, instead rejoice in the fact that if he was to sing "Can’t Take That Away" in his real accent, he'd be censored from the first word. Look at the joy on the faces of the sheepy children's faces as they look up to someone from their own country for a change. Face it – pop music is fucking terrible, but it's here at least until compulsory military service from the age of 10 to 17 is introduced. So we might as well have fucking terrible kiwi pop music infecting our youth. And when it dries up some time in mid-July, watch the flocks turn stateside again, and remember how much better the days of the NZ Idol really were. Then email me with your opinion of which Pink Floyd album is the best, and what Greg Johnson has to do to crack the US market.

Postscript: I would pretty much be asking for death if I wrote an NZ Idol post and didn't let you all know about this here song, by an Auckland home recorder calling himself PDMJ. Don't be scared, it's actually good.