Glee – Best Thing On TV, Or Cynical Cheese-Fest?

On Monday, January 11 at 9pm, Glee made its UK debut on E4; by the time of the chart rundown at the end of the week, there were no less than five of the cast recordings in the Top 75. The highest of these – their version of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ – is currently sitting at Number Two.

In America, where the show debuted in May last year, the Glee Cast at one point had a total of 25 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 – the most by a single act since The Beatles had 31 different songs in the chart in 1964. As the show’s popularity escalates on both sides of the Atlantic, it seems Glee will be dominating the charts for a very long time.

Should we be worried? Here, two NME writers debate the show and its likely impact.

The Case For, by Hamish MacBain

It’s easy for the nation’s collective alternative consciousness to rally together against The X Factor, because it is… well, you’ve seen it. Glee, though, is great TV – as acerbic, witty, subversive, fun and good-stupid a mainstream TV show there has been.

Plus, the songs on it are a pretty strange bunch: in the first episode alone, you get Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’, ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ by John Denver, Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’, ‘Can’t Fight This Feelin’ by REO Speedwagon and two songs by Journey (Simon Cowell got the idea of getting the X Factor goons to sing it from the show).

So, musically, it is far from formulaic. What Glee creator Ryan Murphy has done is provide a vehicle for any song to be given a new lease of life. And this could end up being an exciting prospect for UK bands: all it would take is, say, one Friendly Fires or Arctic Monkeys song to get used on the show, and all of a sudden they’re massive in the US. Far fetched? 

Of course, in the UK, no matter how good the plotlines might be, the prospect of music hall versions of songs dominating the airwaves could get annoying and an X Factor: Glee Special, with cast cameos, is probably already being pencilled in by SyCo. For now, though, Glee rules.

The Case Against, by Luke Lewis

You can see the cynically brilliant logic behind the show. American Idol is huge. Stage musicals are booming. Why not meld the two formats into a prime-time TV show that will appeal across generations? Ker-ching – you’ve got yourself a family brand to rival High School Musical. Now sit back and wait for the merchandising dollars and cross-promotional opportunities to roll in.

All of which you’d be willing to forgive if Glee were gripping TV. But it’s not, it’s just another US drama from the same production line as Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives. The dialogue has the slick, robotic, fixed-grin quality that’ll be familiar from those shows – and it’s hard to care when the main character, teacher Will Schuester, looks distractingly like Dougie Howser MD.

Plus, it’s impossible for us Brits to relate, because the whole concept of a high-school singing club is so alien to our own childhood experience. Who are these wide-eyed, jazz-handing bell-ends, warbling cheesy hits in their lunch hour? Supposedly they’re geeks and misfits. I’m sorry, but the misfits at my school didn’t jump up on stage and perform synchronised dance moves to Journey songs. They smoked drugs in the woods and nicked Wham bars from Woolworths.

Clearly, we’re witnessing the birth of a major new force in pop marketing. Essentially the show is an iTunes shop window for the kind of songs that we used to call ‘guilty pleasures’ but are now acceptable at face value – Heart, REO Speedwagon etc. And it’s a highly effective one: I admit I downloaded a Hall & Oates song because I heard it on last night’s show.

But is this what we want, the Glee-ification of the rock and pop canon? The Glee Cast’s version of ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ is hideous, a Disney-esque confection that scoops all the soul and subtlety out of the original, polishing it to a pearly white gleam. It’s basically what classic rock sounds like inside Joe McElderry’s head.

Glee, then. It’s American Idol as interpreted by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Hannah Montana meets Stars In Their Eyes. The most offensively cheesy aspects of American and British culture, whittled together to form the ultimate money-spinning, multi-platform monster brand. Excuse me if I don’t tune in every week.