I won’t bore you with a repetition of the details of the Great Indie Cover Scandal of 2013. If you want to read about how the TV show Glee helped itself, practically note for note and possibly even duck-sound for duck-sound, to Jonathan Coulton’s acoustic cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” I would suggest you try here. Or here. Or here. Or here. If you want to listen to the two tracks simultaneously (one in one ear and the other in the other), go here. Heck…Google “Jonathan Coulton Baby Got Back Glee.” Lots and lots and lots of things have been said about this already. Seemingly, the only people who haven’t weighed in are those affiliated in any way with Glee itself.
But I shall not Rant fruitlessly about Fox and arrogance and whether covers are copyrighted. Instead, I shall simply say: I told you so.
I write about Glee sometimes. I don’t like Glee. Admittedly, I stopped watching it a couple of seasons ago; perhaps it has miraculously improved in the interim, though from what I’ve heard, it’s actually done the opposite. The main reason for my loathing of the show isn’t entirely the same as that of many of people. Sure, it is an insult to the very idea of musical theatre; its plotting and characterisation are inconsistent; it has populated a fictional high school with yet another group of beautiful thirty-somethings; even its moments of mild cleverness lead nowhere. What I regard as its biggest problem, however, is the way the impetus of its writing clashes with its supposed mission statement.
Glee is apparently the story of a group of misfits who struggle against their own unpopularity as they attempt to negotiate the horror that is high school. As I’ve posited before (on the Rants page before I started posting the Rants on this blog; check the entry for September 19, 2011), the Glee characters read more like popular kids in disguise. My theory (which may, of course, be vastly unfair) is that the writers were all popular in high school themselves. They know what unpopularity is like in theory, but they’ve never actually experienced it. They thus give us a bunch of cheerleaders and football players, have some cardboard bullies throw slushies at them, and announce that they are telling a story of empowerment. Empowerment, in Glee, seems to equal the attainment of–you guessed it–popularity.
Glee‘s apparent theft from an independent musician whose fan base consists largely of geeks and nerds is not thematically inconsistent with the tenor of the show. Some have theorised that the musical directors simply didn’t realise that anyone would know who Coulton was. He is not, after all, a studio musician; he hasn’t signed with a huge label. Don’t kids these days listen only to really popular music? It’s a mistake along the lines of thinking that unpopular kids are just socially awkward carbon copies of popular kids. Sure, some of them may be. However, it’s probably fair to say that quite a few of Coulton’s fans remember being genuine misfits in high school. Coulton’s ideal fan is the shy outsider who spends large chunks of time online and thinks about the world in a twisty sort of way. The Glee kids don’t seem like the kind of people who would ever have heard of Coulton.
That is, in a way, too bad. A Glee that dealt with genuine misfits could do a Coulton-themed episode without a problem. “The Future Soon” is the perfect high-school song: a cheerful ditty about a hopeless nerd enduring the shame of his daily existence by imagining his future as a vengeful cyborg scientist. “Big Bad World One” and “Code Monkey,” though not set in high school, deal with the crushing defeats of the workplace and unrequited love and could easily fit into a better version of the show. If the writers were even a little bit brave, they could use “Shop Vac” in relation to the home life of one of the characters. If you must borrow other people’s music in order to tell your story, borrow the music of somebody who bears even a remote relation to the kinds of characters you’ve got in your story.
I am not advocating a JoCo-themed Glee episode; Glee is doing everything so wrong that it just wouldn’t work. However, it’s pretty telling that this show about “misfits” has gone and alienated a goodly number of geeks and nerds, most of whom are not afraid to wield the Internet as a mighty weapon. Whether or not Jonathan Coulton deserves and/or will receive either acknowledgement or compensation for his cover, by opening itself up to the wrath of his fans, Glee has really just demonstrated what it has been all along: a show by and for people who have never fantasised about conquering Earth with an army of violent robots as revenge for being humiliated in high school.