I must admit, Glee has become kind of a guilty pleasure for me. It's hard for me to admit it for several reasons. Glee combines the awkward humor that's become so popular, stereotypical characters, and pop songs arranged for a fictional "show choir." I think the characterizations bother me the most. There's the popular football player who happens to have a good voice, his pregnant girlfriend (pregnant by another popular football player also in the choir but he doesn't know that until the fall finale) , the token black soul/r&b singer, the token gay guy who dresses well and loves Wicked, the token uber talented spotlight grabbing annoying choir girl (raised by two gay dads), and a host of other characters that fill out the harmonies and dance numbers. Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester is by far my favorite character, playing an evil head cheerleading coach bent on destroying the Glee club.
And yet, for some reason, I kind of like it. The overall story is a bit much for me. Too much drama, and most of the comedy is awkward (however if you watch it on Hulu, you can skip most of this). What's most surprising? Glee seems to have become a full-fledged pop culture phenomena.
Why? Why do I even like it? What's up with Glee?
First off, despite the less than superb characters the play, the cast has remarkable actors/singers. Most notably, Lea Michele, star of the 2007 masterpiece Spring Awakening (Tony Award for Best Musical). In addition, Amber Riley lends a remarkable voice well grounded in the soul/R&B genre. With a hard core New Broadway style female voice as well as a soul female voice, Glee is allowed to go in quite a few directions musically. I'm assuming Jenna Ushkowitz also has a great voice, seeing as how she was in the Broadway revival of The King and I as well as understudied for two role in Spring Awakening. We just haven't heard her (really) yet. Noticeably lacking is the presence of equally strong male singers. While five of the male actors have taken their spot as soloists during the shows opening half-season, none of them have the strength of these two strong female leads.
Secondly, Glee stands up to the jukebox musical stereotype. I'm not really a fan of jukebox musicals, but they've become exceedingly popular. Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages, Mama Mia, and to a certain extent The Producers, and Spamalot (in the sense that both had songs the general audience was already familiar with), all are recent jukebox musicals nominated for (or winners of) the Tony Award for Best Musical. I think this reflects a trend in the way music is consumed. Playlists and ipods allow us to make soundtracks for our lives, inserting random often unrelated songs together. This is the Glee soundtrack, although they're all dressed up with show choir vocals and dance moves. I think it's become so popular with adolescent audiences, because the show speaks to the high school point of view that we're all the stars of our own stage production.
Thirdly, they occasionally perform Broadway standards. These are my favorite moments: Michele and Kristin Chenoweth singing Maybe this Time from Cabaret, Defying Gravity from Wicked, I'm Telling You from Dream Girls, and Michele belting out Streisand's Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl. I like my Broadway....and I guess it's apparent I like it even out of context.
My main criticism, besides most of the writing, is the over-production apparent in the singing (especially with the guys). Stage productions, and live music for that matter, offer no opportunity to disguise talent. It is a transformative experience to feel the energy and virtuosity of a live performer. It's what I want to be able to do as a performer, feel the audience in the palm of your hand and move them. Unfortunately, when you overproduce (rampant auto-tune correction anyone?), you lose any power these performers have.
So again, what's up with Glee? I guess for me, I wait around for Lea Michele and Amber Riley to sing. But, if I had to guess, for most of the adolescent population it's about the portrayal of a group of misfits that bands together, and takes their moment of stardom (which is what I think American audiences love about American Idol as well). In addition, Glee doesn't demand audiences to be familiar with other repertoires, it puts music (and dance routines in the case of Beyonces Single Ladies) they're already excited about, dresses it up in Broadway (or show choir) clothes, and uses it in a function we're familiar with (accompaniment to our own melodramas).
Like it or not, I think Glee is here for awhile.
Peace, Love, and Tunes,