Amy Winehouse has tweeted her delight. Rihanna reduced her rates. Madonna hits dominate a forthcoming episode. Welcome to the Glee Effect. With the series now showing on TV3, the Irish charts are falling prey to its charms. Brian Boyd on the best thing to
OW COOL is Glee? It’s funny shit. Reminds me of school. Wicked that they did Rehab. Sounds the nuts. Thanks Glee.” Even Amy Winehouse has been moved to tweet about the hit US TV series Glee. The programme – which is set in a high-school and includes musical performances of contemporary hits – has been the best thing to happen to the beleaguered music industry since the arrival of iTunes.
Winehouse’s Rehab – her own version and the Glee cover of the song – shot back into the charts after it was featured on the show. Sales are still growing.
With the programme now showing on a number of channels this side of the Atlantic, including TV3, the Irish charts are duly reflecting the much-talked-about “Glee Effect”. Last week’s singles charts saw five Glee cast songs in the top 50, while the first album release from the show, Glee The Music: Volume 1, has just entered the top 30 and is expected to rise to the number-one slot the next few weeks.
The people behind the show report that they now spend most of their day fielding calls from famous musicians desperate for the Glee cast to cover one of their songs in a forthcoming episode. Rhianna offered her Take A Bow single to the producers at a reduced licensing rate; Billy Joel has been offering opinions on which songs of his could be used, while Madonna granted the show the rights to her entire back catalogue. As a result, an upcoming episode will feature just Madonna songs.
The show has been running for a few months longer in the US than it has been here, and the Billboard charts are now dominated by Glee cast recordings. There were 25 Glee entries on the Billboard singles chart in 2009, with the programme’s biggest hit coming with their cover of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ (see Revovler, p32).
Both the Glee version of the song and the Journey original can currently be found in the top-10 singles charts around the world. And Rihanna was rewarded handsomely for offering Take A Bow at a bargain price – her version of the song had a 189 per cent sales increase after it was used in the show.
The idea behind the show was to connect up the old-fashioned Glee Club (after-school a capella singing groups which are still a prominent feature of US schools) and the contemporary appetite for song and performance as evidenced by the cultural dominance of such TV shows as The X Factor and American Idol.
Set in an Ohio high school, Glee draws directly on the personal experiences of the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, who was a prominent member of his own school’s Glee Club. He wanted the show to reflect how he found a sense a place and purpose in his school’s singing group.
“There’s so much on the air right now about people with guns or sci-fi or lawyers running around,” Murphy said. “This is a different genre; there’s nothing like it on the air at the networks or on cable. Everything’s so dark in the world right now – that’s why American Idol works; it’s pure escapism.”
To avoid any unhelpful comparisons with High School Musical phenomenon, Murphy structured the show so that it would appeal as much to adults as to children. The premise is boilerplate simple: a teacher at the school is determined is to restore the Glee Club to its former glory, but finds himself in conflict with the school’s football team. The drama plays off the stereotypes of sports players being cool and athletic and cheerleaders being top of the female high school tree, while Glee singers are geeky and unappealing.
The singing group on the show is a rainbow coalition of misfits who are frequently scorned and bullied by the school’s jocks and cheerleaders. Combining the very worst type of clichéd personality traits with dark humour and camp touches, the show is a frothy romp with a social “message”. And whenever the going gets a bit rough, all the cast have to do is to burst into song.
By successfully playing with the evergreen teen notions of alienation, identity and escape through music, the show manipulates emotion at every turn and an underdog narrative provides dramatic movement.
What’s revolutionary about Glee, though, is its use of media integration. The songs featured in any given episode of the programme become available later that same night on iTunes – it’s like buying the artist’s CD in the lobby on the way out of the gig. This form of synchronisation means you’ll be seeing a Glee stranglehold on the Irish charts in the coming weeks. Already, radio stations are adding the new Glee cast song to their schedules – without knowing in advance what that song is.
This sales masterplan was set up by the Fox Network (which broadcasts the show). Once it had the pilot ready last year, Fox
Glee’s Glee Club – Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer), Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale), Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley), Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz), Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith)
In Glee: Amy Winehouse Glee Fee: Rihanna Glee wannabe: Billy Joel Glee legend: Madonna