23 Sep 2015

The Singular Brilliance of Glee

It's been a busy few months, I've moved to Germany and not had much time to finish new blogbook chapters. Things are calming down now though, and I hope to write more regularly in the coming weeks.

However, I did recently collaborate with Georgia Mulligan on a listicle about the television series Glee, which you can find over at her blog: The Idiot Box. Through the format of a deeply subjective ranking of all the characters from worst to best, we try to make sense of this hugely influential show, its successes and its many failings.

I was a big fan of Glee when it started, and continued to find the show fascinating as it progressed through its six seasons, mainly because it deals quite uniquely with the way in which people use real pop music in their lives. As the only musical show to make use of extant songs, which fully exist  within the diegesis of the characters, it presents a listener-focused understanding of how music works, what it can do and what it means. The American pop repertoire is presented not only as an instruction manual for life and love, but as a set of tools and costumes through which action can be taken. The artists referenced in the show — not only their media personas but their song-specific vocal personas — are treated as a pantheon of gods and heroes, whose fables are editable and whose identities are open-source.

Glee was about the application of these larger-than-life vocal characters, these hyperbolic performative statements which were occasionally comparable even to magic spells (the uttering of folk verse, channeling some notorious ancestral spirit, causing some change of circumstances (love, reconciliation, self-possession) through the super-linguistic medium of music), to the mundane yet emotionally intense lives of small-town American teenagers. In this sense, Glee is one of the only cultural documents to address what pop music really is in contemporary Western culture.

The competitive singing aspect — which was done better in Pitch Perfect anyway — is a red herring. In Glee, singing is a metaphor for listening (real pop listening, that is: identification, desire, fandom, the productive transformation of vibrating air/eardrums into something coherent, meaningful and valuable). That's why the choir room performances were always the best.

And what was listening a metaphor for? Escape? Transformation? Communion? The desire to become legendary?

Glee was often a very silly show, but it was also fantastic and unique and taught me a lot about why pop music is a thing. Read our listicle Every Glee character ranked from worst to best here

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