Episode 25 – The Four: Battle for Stardom

 

This episode: The Four: Battle for Stardom, Season 1, Eps. 1, 5-6.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next episode: Steven Seagal: Lawman, Season 1, Eps. 1-8.  Watch it on Hulu.

Mike wanted to stretch the podcast’s legs out and take on a singing competition and boy did he regret it!  Interspersed between his procession of grievances about the loud production, frenetic pace, bizarre voting system, and overbearing personalities, we discuss our experiences with previous singing shows and top 40 radio (or in Mike’s case, lack thereof) and add some comments on how this show could have been improved.  Mike then lays out his critique of music contests as meritocracy and we finish with an article from the Atlantic on how these shows interpret the American Dream and speculate as to why these shows continue to have such a voracious appeal even as they fail to launch their winners into the stratosphere of superstardom.

Show Notes and Links

1:32 / Mike has something to get off his chest

2:45 / Introducing the show officially

3:20 / Complaining about the episode length

4:03 / How the hell did this get renewed?  (Our Monica episode is here.)

4:33 / Starting with the structure of the show and how it compares to its more famous siblings (American Idol and The Voice)

6:50 / The strange audience voting scheme and the garish product placement (brought to you by T-Mobile)

7:30 / How the structure killed any sense of narrative build-up and continuity

9:12 / The contestant background narratives hit (or try to hit) all the familiar ‘beats’

10:22 / Segueing to the judges – DJ Khaled, Meghan Trainor, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, and Charlie Walk

11:15 / Discussing the #MeToo allegations surrounding Charlie Walk and how the show (didn’t) handle them

12:32 / Mike does his Fergie impression

13:04 / Describing the performance venue

14:18 / Talking about the semi-professional backgrounds of many of the contestants

17:16 / Returning to our personal impressions of the judges

17:55 / JS enjoyed some of the between-the-scenes banter

19:17 / JS’s power ranking of the judges, with Diddy as #1

20:22 / Mike thought the judges were the most annoying part of the show

21:06 / Discussing what JS liked about American Idol

23:03 / Investment in contest vs. music

24:45 / Different flavors of badness – Mike was surprised by how much he hated this one (he also runs down the cavalcade of lowlights from 42 Minutes past)

25:35 / The production style of this show is too ‘loud’ and ‘quick’

26:56 / Mike was irritated by how forced it was – the banter, the ‘trash talk’, the catch-phrases

27:35 / Dissecting the etymology of ‘Eat!’

28:15 / The airhorn was really annoying

28:49 / Mike continues on the grievance train by complaining about Charlie Walk’s namedropping

29:56 / Returning to the format: Mike found it irrational and capricious, particularly the voting system

32:16 / This show didn’t live up to its promise of genre diversity

33:35 / JS’s musical background

35:10 / Mike’s musical background (Mentions: last.fm and the podcasts Hit Parade and Switched on Pop)

37:14 / Mike’s complete lack of familiarity with commercial top 40 radio

38:10 / JS’s personal definition of pop music

39:49 / Mike adds his two cents

41:54 / What should pop music aim for?  Financial success or artistic value?

43:16 / Importance of concerts in post-Internet music economy

44:02 / Mike outs himself as an “insufferable elitist”

44:55 / We try out some constructive criticism

45:15 / JS’s expectations and idea for a different battle format

47:10 / Mike’s idea – have the contestants perform original material

48:28 / This show needed more musical diversity (Mike mentions Bon Iver)

49:42 / Original material as ‘leaning in’ to the semi-pro status of these artists

50:55 / This show as advertisement for hit songs and the careers of the judges

51:27 / Mike thought this would have been improved with different judges (obligatory Kanye West mention)

53:10 / Is this specific format salvageable?

54:56 / Mike’s critique of music contests (Mentions: Debris’ Static Disposal, William Hung, Kate Bush’s The Dreaming and Bound 2 from Kanye West’s Yeezus)

58:18 / JS pushes back on the critique, cites the cover of Creep as a contestant risk

1:00:20 / Mike points out that the unique contestants lost in the semifinals to more conventional singers

1:01:30 / Our article for this episode, from the Atlantic, Julie Beck’s “The Voice’s Empty Promise of the American Dream” (published March 28, 2017)

1:03:13 / The emphasis on American Dream as ‘superstardom’ particularly reflected in this show’s narrative

1:04:36 / Our current cultural obsession with seeking fame for purpose of being famous

1:05:20 / Reality TV as a pioneer of the ‘democratization of fame-seeking’ (Mentions; Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, YouTubers and Instagram models)

1:06:09 / How the music industry has shifted since American Idol’s debut – innovations in technology and distribution (Mentions: Soundcloud rap, XXXTentacion – this was recorded before his murder, Lil Uzi Vert.  The article Mike referenced on Spotify’s RapCaviar is here.)

1:08:35 / The persistence of the music contest’s appeal even after its relevance as tastemaker and gatekeeper has faded

1:09:46 / The importance of the success narrative to these shows’ appeal and why it doesn’t carry over after the cameras stop rolling

1:11:59 / Situating this into larger reality TV narratives, particularly in comparison to others we’ve watched (Kitchen Nightmares and Highway Thru Hell)

1:13:24 / Drilling down to the specific appeal of this show (as opposed to music contests in general) (Mentions: The X Factor, America’s Got Talent)

1:14:30 / Perhaps the short length and quick pace might have been a feature, not a bug to some audiences; Mike explains why we didn’t do The Voice

1:15:52 / Mike thought it was trying to be the ‘hipper’ version of American Idol, targeting younger and more diverse urban demographic

1:17:30 / Final thought: Mike won’t be checking out Season 2 (unless someone wants to send him money)

1:18:06 / JS’s blockbuster pick for the next episode

1:20:12 / The usual announcements: contact us, rate and review, and subscribe

1:20:47 / Bonus PSA: Check out the listener’s choice poll on our Facebook page

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