Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why I Don't Really Hate Disney Channel Music At All

Look, folks. I hear a lotta hipsters who think they're gonna score points with me complaining that pre-tween Disney Channel music -- Miley Cyrus aka Hanna Montana, the Jonas Brothers, Demi Lovato, whoever else -- is "ruining rock and roll."

I usually reply by getting really really pissed and saying that hey, faceless copy-cat indie music without even a SHRED of originality (see: about half the groups on Indie 103 RIGHT NOW, buy yourself a copy of Duran Duran's "Rio" if you don't believe me) is what's probably ruining rock and roll WORSE right now; maybe try making music that doesn't sound like everybody else on the radio / 80s radio hits minus the "faggy" bits to sound more butch for middle America / crap, okay?

I spent a quality weekend this weekend with my pre-tween imbibing quite a healthy amount of Disney Channel Rock (this included watching several episodes of "Wizards of Waverly Place" -- is it wrong that I think that chick on the show is super-duper hot? Yeah. It's wrong. I'm sorry.) And I've decided -- well, not decided, really, but solidified -- that I like Disney Channel Rock, and here's why:

1. Bubblegum music for pre-tweens has always been far cooler than it's given credit for. I shouldn't have to cite examples, but I will. Anything out of the Kasenetz/Katz camp from the late 60s like "Chewy Chewy" and "Yummy Yummy." The Archies. The Sweet. The Partridge Family. The Cowsills. The Monkees. KISS (yeah, they count, sorry). Justin Timberlake. New Kids On The Block (ask someone either older or younger than you, okay?). Duran Duran. Hell -- just about any time someone markets to pre-tweens and starts slapping someone's face on Tiger Beat or whatever the modern-day equivalent is, you can just about bet that they're cooler than you. And yeah: about 1/2 the groups on that list were manufactured, plain and simple, including the Monkees, so that argument doesn't wash one bit.

2. Bubblegum music is, by definition, repugnant to people who are older and more jaded. You catch yourself saying, recently: "I don't get that horrible shit that the kids like?" Guess what? Your parents said that, and so did their parents. Music for young people isn't for you to get. It's for your kids to get. You're not supposed to get it. It's that simple. If you don't get it, or actively hate the stuff, then GOOD -- it's working.

3. Bubblegum music is innocent. Say what you will about Modern Day Kids, the Disney Channel set keep it strictly PG at most. Frankly, I find that a little refreshing. Yeah, the actual STARS THEMSELVES try to bust out of the box sometimes (see: Miley Cyrus' seminude cellphone photos, or don't, depending on your level of creeped-out-ed-ness) but the music itself is refreshingly innocent. Frankly, I get a little tired of hearing music about mid-20s or mid-30s hipsters bitching about life sometimes, and I write the stuff. Sometimes I wanna hear cute little songs about love. Period. And I like that it's still out there.

4. Bubblegum music really isn't bad at all. Face it: a lot of you bitching about the stuff haven't spent any quality time with it. Did you buy the new Jonas Brothers record? Rolling Stone gave it 4 stars, and I think it deserves it -- it really is, as they say, a power-pop masterpiece, and twenty-five-BILLION times better than that International Pop Overthrow bullshit because it's genuine. Ask Prince what he thinks about Drake Bell, star of Nick's "Drake and Josh," because his album is almost as good as -- and sounds just like -- those Jellyfish albums from the early-90s which IMO have influenced a lot more people than the cynics thought they were gonna (I'm looking at YOU, Tangborn!). I got really hooked on Demi Lovato, who, I guess, was on that Camp Rock thing that they sell shit for at Target, and who sounds really asskicking. And honestly: who isn't secretly a fan of "High School Musical?" I mean, at this point, is it even cool to pretend you hate it?

5. A lotta these stars have some genuine latent talent. See also: Justin Timberlake. See also: Just about all of 'em. Give a bubblegummer enough time to find their own voice, and about half the time they end up doing stuff that's actually artistically viable. The Jonas Brothers write their own music, or lots of it -- I'm sure it's song doctored -- and that reminds me a little bit of the Monkees, because the songs are actually pretty damn terrific. Most of 'em sing pretty well, too, I hear a minimum of digital frippery and pitch-correction (unlike the last generation of stars -- I'm sorry, Britney's cool in a certain sense but she is mostly the product of studio trickery).

6. This stuff is an entry-point for cool rock music for kids. 'Cause, wow, you really think your kids are gonna be thrilled listening to Elliott Smith's "XO" in the car? They're kids. I've got my daughter hooked on the Free Design and the Archies and whatever else, but to me, that's a logical stepping-off point for kids, and it surprises me not one jot that she went from that into the Jonas Brothers. And from there, I fully expect she'll explore the full range of rock music. Of course, lots won't -- but how many kids DID go from, say, Duran Duran into cooler music? Or from New Kids into cooler music? It happens, a lot. Bubblegum is the rock and roll gateway drug.

7.It's harmless. Oh -- so ALL rock and roll has to be dangerous, like THE STOOGES? No, it doesn't. Some rock is supposed to be cute. It always has been, it always will be. Otherwise the dangerous stuff doesn't have anything to look dangerous against.

My recommendation: sit down and watch a day's worth of Disney Channel. You'll have to sit through twenty-five episodes of Phineas and Ferb (which isn't really THAT bad, all told, it's pretty funny) but you'll also get a spate of music videos, clips, ads, whatever else, and you'll feel like you're a little bit in touch with Youth Culture Of The Moment, and that's kinda cool, and I bet you find yourself actually not hating Hannah Montana anymore. Hell, she's twenty-five times better than "Achy Breaky Heart." Not that it's a particularly high sight to set against, but I'm just sayin'.


Prince Gomolvilas said...

I could write whole post about Drake Bell! Wait a minute. I have. Like almost 10 of them.

Great post, Jonny. You give me street cred.

Jon Hunt said...

YOU give ME street cred!

Molly P said...

I don't know about the innocent and harmless part. It mostly exists as a way to extend Disney's "brand," and to market to kids who will beg their parents for a bunch of branded crap every time they go out of the house. Nearly everywhere you go there's some sort of Hanna Montanna or High School Musical paraphernalia for sale.

I guess I don't trust anything that's designed to turn kids into little voracious consumers. And I feel like the music, the clothes, the make-up--all of the ancillary pieces of the shows/movies--are intended to do that. It's quite awful, really.

Jon Hunt said...

>>> I guess I don't trust anything that's designed to turn kids into little voracious consumers<<<

But, see, that's what rock music's been doing since 1962, even earlier, really, but that's when the marketing people got savvy to HOW to market to the lucrative postwar youth market. Have a look online about all the branded crap that was out there for the Monkees -- from t-shirts to lunchboxes to dolls to notebooks to whatever. Or Partridge Family, even moreso when David Cassidy was the hot teen idol. Hell, the BEATLES were probably the worst phenomenon of a band being heavily marketed at the "kids" with a bunch of branded crap. And hey, they did pretty well for themselves. Of course, we forget all that today, because the Beatles are THE BEATLES but if you look back, they were selling the freaking BEDSHEETS FROM THEIR ROOMS to screaming teen girls, y'know?

Of course, branding's gotten even more savvy in the interim, so yeah, they do exist to extend Disney's brand more than the Monkees existed to extend CBS's "brand" such as it was in 1966, but that's a symptom of the time we're living in more than it says anything whatsoever about the relative worth or merit of the music itself.

Remember: that whole Kazenetz Katz group of "bands" -- they weren't even BANDS, they were just Kazenetz, Katz and a bunch of session players inventing fake bands to put 19 different bubblegum hits they'd written on the radio and sell SPECIFICALLY to pre-teen consumers. And the Archies weren't even REAL HUMAN BEINGS -- they were a cartoon, 100% designed to sell related toy and merchandise paraphernalia, and specifically because the producer figured a cartoon couldn't bitch about creative direction. And yet: that stuff is unarguabaly great music. It was 100% designed to SELL CRAP, and yet the music itself stands above that as a testament that even manufactured garbage can be awesome.

And it ain't just now: I was a voracious consumer at that age, too, and I'm none the worse for wear. I begged my folks for every piece of Star Wars merch imaginable, and got a lot of it, too, and dug it.

Ashley said...

I get sucked into the Disney Channel, I've tried NOT to like it, but its infectious. I'm in a house with a 16 yr old, and a 10 year old, so I watch "Wizards" a lot, and a good amount of Hannah Montana! Heck, I'm going to admit it I love Hannah Montana, any show that would have Dolly Parton as a special guest has my deepest admiration. I'll even admit, I used to watch loads of Lizzie Maguire. My ex bf's dad and I bonded over our affection for Hillary Duff.

I started my rock 'n' roll explorations at a really young age. I was 8 years old or so...I remember a few things from when I was even younger than that. I missed my preteen bubble gum craze, so I'm living it now, with siblings.


ashley said...

P.S. Great post Jonny!

P.S.S. I've been listening to XO on repeat all this week. How beautiful is that album?!

Jon Hunt said...

Yeah, nothing against "XO" at all, it is FANTASTIC. But sometimes you need some cheer to go with all that deepness, y'know?

>>> any show that would have Dolly Parton as a special guest has my deepest admiration.<<<

WORD UP. The more kids know about Dolly, the better.

ashley said...

But sometimes you need some cheer to go with all that deepness, y'know?

Yes, yes, yesterday when I was out driving with my friend Mo, and XO was playing I said, "You know I'm in trouble when I start listening to Elliot Smith, Ryan Adam's Love is Hell, or The Smiths."

I then threw on some Yes, and the Universe was in order again.

patrick said...

as a vehicle for letting artists make money off their (sometimes) good music (i'm thinking of the archies, gene autry maybe) this stuff can be good. it's no fun to look it as an adult because you see how cynical and calculated it is. adults want "honesty," kids want imagination fuel in technicolor. us being musicians, we are there to deliver what the people want, or whatever society deems valuable. i don't have a problem with it. i will not watch disney channel for a whole day though. (at least while i don't have kids that will MAKE me).

Jon Hunt said...

>> adults want "honesty," kids want imagination fuel in technicolor. <<

Right. I only want honesty about half the time, however. The other half I'm totally into the technicolor!

As long as the honesty is OUT THERE -- that's what's important.

patrick said...

perfect addendum...

i am so proud of our baby, Ohio, I think it deserves Disney exposure. and maybe "get to columbus" tricycles.

LAP said...

You forgot The Naked Brothers Band, which is maybe my favorite kids band of all. I mean currently, not of all time- but I've loved Drake Bell's music since the first episode of Drake and Josh when I heard the theme song- such power pop, yet a little crunchy Nirvana on top.

Safe is underrated in general and there's a reason everyone likes candy.

Mike Anonymous said...

One of the Jonas Brothers is made of wax, but I forget which one. I think it's the middle one. That comment has nothing to do with their musical abilities - I just wanted to point it out in case no one else has noticed.

LAP said...

I just found out that John Fields produced the new Jonas Brothers record, which explains the level of infectiousness quite a lot to me. And I always thought I loved Bug more for Rick Meyer..

Jon Hunt said...

That DOES explain a whole lot, don't it? He also produced Mandy Moore's most interesting record.

Superbadfriend said...

I know you won't be shocked, but I watch Disney and I luff Hannah and Lizzy. :-)

How or why would anyone want to hate on Disney's music is beyond me. Nice post Jonny!

LAP said...

I always want to think that it's best when producers are the songwriters or something on a record, but clearly sometimes the outside influence brings magic. Of course Fields is also responsible for the magical theme song of Teen Titans cartoon too.

Jon Hunt said...

...and that was written by Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish fame, and sung by Puffy Ami Yumi, who are kind of Japanese bubblegum, so that brings it all back around to Jellyfish again.

That band was hella influential.

rachel said...

my six year old spent the summer watching drake and josh and eventually so did i. so a drake bell fan i have become. i guess it wasnt a far cry from my justin timberlake lovin ears anyway.