Time To Stop Believin’?
Today came some sad news for fans of music on TV – Channel Ten has shelved its 2011 plans for Don’t Stop Believing, a big-budget talent quest extravaganza inspired by the series Glee.
TV Tonight reports that some vocal groups had already auditioned for the show as recently as this Tuesday, although no performers were yet attached.
Part variety show, part talent quest, Don’t Stop Believing was kind of like Glee‘s show-choir championships brought to the stage, with an in-house troupe of singers and dancers, Solid Gold-style. However, with hawk-eyed new shareholders Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer on board, the network has decided it can’t afford such a lavish production.
The UK original, hosted by former Spice Girl Emma Bunton, has been rating poorly; an ironic twist for Ten, which had commissioned Don’t Stop Believing after observing the declining popularity of Seven’s The X-Factor.
However, Ten’s decision to stop believin’ may mark pop culture’s fatigue with the song that inspired it all: Journey’s 1981 power ballad, ‘Don’t Stop Believin”.
While it reached number nine on the US Billboard Hot 100 on its original release, ‘Don’t Stop Believin” was never a massive worldwide hit. That changed with the advent of digital downloads – by 2009, it had peaked at number two in the Canadian charts, number six in the UK and number four in Ireland.
As of September this year, it had achieved four million paid downloads, and remained the only song released before 2000 to sell more than three million paid downloads.
In part, this is because it’s a beautifully written and performed power ballad that displays all the best aspects of the genre. Its impassioned lyrics tell of youthful freedom and optimism in Steve Perry’s clear, soaring tenor.
It has become popular to sing at school graduation events and other ‘landmarks’. People like the ‘innocence’ in this version by New York’s PS22 Chorus, although personally I cannot bear the way those infants writhe about like Stevie Wonder.
‘Don’t Stop Believin” also has quite an unusual structure. Padded with instrumentals and ‘pre-choruses’, it builds slowly from its initial, instantly identifiable piano line. The ultimate release – the punchy, harmony-drenched rock chorus – is first heard nearly three-and-a-half minutes into the song.
It embodies the thrill of stadium rock: that almost palpable electricity of being in the physical presence of your favourite band along with thousands of other fans. Because it sounds inspirational, it has been adopted as a rallying song by various US pro baseball, hockey and football teams – especially those from Michigan, given the line “born and raised in south Detroit”.
Family Guy made fun of its ability to become a group bonding anthem.
Years after its release, ‘Don’t Stop Believin” also encapsulates a nostalgia – a mourning for lost halcyon days – that renders the lyrics poignant, and the title ironically more imperative than ever. It has come to embody qualities of ‘awesomeness’ that are half-camp, half-sincere.
Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat and Har Mar Superstar (who were working on roller derby movie Whip It) made their own hammy, poorly synced music video version in 2009, and it’s a disconcerting mixture of homage and parody.
The song allows the performer or listener to mine a pop-cultural archive of emotion – to “hold on to that feeling” that is hard to identify or describe. But despite its blue-collar, nostalgic and hipster popularity, it was only in 2007 that ‘Don’t Stop Believin” surged back to mainstream popularity, thanks to this scene:
Sopranos fan Steve Perry was worried about granting permission to David Chase to use the song: “I was not excited about (the possibility of) the Soprano family being whacked to ‘Don’t Stop Believin”,” he said at the time. “Unless I know what happens – and I will swear to secrecy – I can’t in good conscience feel good about its use.”
Perry remains the only person to be explicitly told – by Chase himself – what the hell was going on in that final scene.
Perhaps because of the plethora of Sopranos finale parodies, ‘Don’t Stop Believin” took on a jokey subtext. However, I have to say that Alvin and the Chipmunks played it totally straight in 2008 and the results were pretty great – perhaps because the sped-up vocals sound uncannily like Perry.
And then along came Glee, although some people still prefer the Family Guy version. In the show’s universe, popular footballer Finn (Cory Monteith) has a secret love of ’70s and ’80s power rock inherited from the redneck groundskeeper who’d briefly dated his mother. He rallies the ragtag, disheartened glee club by corralling them into this performance.
It’s the first of many retro-rock numbers that Glee creator Ryan Murphy would work into the show. Throughout its two seasons, Glee has displayed a canny ability to satisfy the showtunes crowd with obscure musical theatre numbers, kiddies with contemporary pop, their parents with dadrock, and the Gen-X irony set with its rather odd preoccupation with ’90s pop-rap.
I am just so embarrassed to share this appalling karaoke version by Sting, Lady GaGa and a bunch of usually amazing musicians who really should know better: Bruce Springsteen, Shirley Bassey, Elton John and Deborah Harry.
They were performing this May at a Carnegie Hall benefit for Sting’s charity the Rainforest Fund. This report makes it sound like Variety Night at Celebrity Summer Camp.
But perhaps the song’s death knell was when it was performed and recorded by the housemates in the UK’s Big Brother. Yes, that show is still on in Britain. And yes, Ten was probably wise to stop believin’.
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