Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I'm all for satire and parody. There's nothing quite like issuing well-placed subtle jabs and barbs at a mockable target. While at times parody can be forced and rigid, in other cases it's almost impossible to not make fun of a phenomenon. Such was the case with boy bands, giving MTV the perfect satirical opening with which to unleash their made-for-TV movie, 2ge+her.
You really have to give MTV credit where due. As a major source of the hype and hysteria surrounding the boy bands of the late-90s, MTV was not above poking fun at their own bread and butter. Who better than the people constructing the boy band craze to parody their own product? With their insider expertise, they were that much more qualified to offer us a frighteningly accurate tongue-in-cheek portrayal of their bestselling output.
Boy Bands such as *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys were serious moneymaking enterprise in the late 90s, and their penchant for taking themselves incredibly seriously just begged to be parodied. They were far more of a heavily manufactured and well-orchestrated product than a musical act. Sure, they released songs and put on concerts, but you'd be hard pressed to find any respectable musician claiming boy bands as peers. Their squeaky-clean image, pretty boy looks, and high-pitched vocals weren't doing them any favors on street credibility either.
2ge+her was the first MTV made-for-TV movie, a fledgling attempt to capitalize on the cliches and tragically comedic industry standards that put money in their executives' wallets. Though the details were exaggerated, many of the plot points hit remarkably close to home with actual boy band behavior and management. If badly executed or poorly received by fans, MTV could have easily shot themselves in the proverbial foot. After all, they were essentially telling tweens and teens--their target market--that the albums and video their network was peddling were indeed little more than well-polished tripe.
It was a risky business, with MTV teetering on the fine line between satire and flat-out mockery. Luckily, the satirical elements were funny enough to lighten up the darker themes, allowing even the most rabid fans of boy bands an opportunity to step back and laugh a bit at the inane world of prefab music acts. We watched as our tragically humorous heroes were assembled, branded, and marketed by industry managers. While the band was a blatant farce, it was an interesting theme-within-a-theme situation that put 2ge+her dangerously close to their real-life counterparts in their road to success. After all, so-called "real" boy bands were similarly cast, molded, and marketed, leading us to wonder which scenario was indeed more grounded in reality.
MTV utilized much of their own clout as the experts in pop music to offer credibility to the film. The movie opens with a mock MTV news segment that looks and sounds exactly like the ones featured daily by the network. Well, save for the fact that it features the fictional news of music sensation boy band "Whoa" whose hit single "Rub One Out" is ruling the airwaves. That part seems a bit off, right? Maybe it's just me. Other than that, it's spot on.
The movie recognized the usual lineup of cliches favored by boy band managers, with each member appropriately pigeonholed into a character mold and marketed as a two-dimensional musical personality. 2ge+her did not disappoint on this front, featuring some of our standard boy band fare in a new, more comical light. Behold, our heroes:
Mickey Parke: The Bad Boy
You can tell he's bad because he speaks pseudo-ebonics and pretends to rap. Wait, is that the passive near-racism of the milky white boy band world rearing its ugly head? Hmm. Might be.
Jason "QT" McNight: The Cute One
In a dark incident of art imitating life (the term art is used loosely here), part of the QT character's shtick was that he was beloved for being not only adorable but also terminally ill. Tragically, the actor who played QT was actually battling cancer and passed away a couple of years later.
Chad Linus: The Shy One
"Shy" is apparently in this case synonymous with IQ-deficient and a little bit sensitive. In an endearing sort of way.
Jerry O'Keefe: The Hearthrob
The Hearthrob represents the requisite eye candy, but also usually the strongest member vocally. The character truly aspires to be a singer and is relatively dreamy, so it's safe to say he's been appropriately typecast.
Doug Linus: The Older Brother
Poking fun at the fact that most boy bands had one member in their mid-20s, Chad's balding brother Doug is tottering somewhere in the realm of his mid-thirties (though he does hope his braces make him a tad more relatable with the young folk). Oh, and did I mention in he's played by Kevin Farley, Chris Farley's younger brother? That in itself deems him worthy of comedic excellence.
Funnily enough, unlike many artists of today, the ensemble actors actually sang their own songs:
Calculus (U +Me=Us)
A breakout hit in both the movie and real life, the single went on to enjoy a good bit of radio play. It's hilariously on point with actual boy band standards, which is unsurprising as many of the group's songs were penned by songwriters with a track record working with boy bands and pop music acts. This song is fun pure and simple, a no-frills approach to parody that so closely imitates its real-life muse it's nearly impossible to distinguish from the real thing. Well, except that the lyrics are pretty ridiculous. It did come with a fun little dance to the part that goes, "You! Plus sign! Me! Equal sign! Us!" That pretty much makes up for any shortcomings.
Say It (Don't Spray It)
This song is completely ridiculous, but their earnestness in presenting it to us makes it all the funnier.
The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff)
From their second album, "2ge+her Again", this song was off the wall absurd but still managed to reside in plausible boy band territory as they crooned, "You had my heart, my soul, my attention/but you walked out my life/with my CD collection". It also included some great spoken lines like, Man you ever break up with a girl And she keeps your stuff? Man, What's up with dat?! I dunno man, something wrong! Ya know what I'm sayin'? Something wrong with dat...." Unfortunately, these lines were frighteningly plausible as real boy band song chatter.
The movie was such a hit and the songs such a runaway success that MTV adapted the premise into a weekly series. The band appeared in character on TRL, starred in their own episode of MTV's Making the Video, and even opened for Britney Spears in concert, further blurring the lines between real life and the eerily similar echo of satirical fiction. From the group's formation and initial hype in late 1999 to the show's end in 2001, the band enjoyed relatively realistic music-world success. Pretty impressive for a group of vocally capable comedic actors.
The death of 2ge+her member Michael Cuccione (QT) marked the end of the series run, further blurring the line between Cuccione's reality and his terminally ill character. Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding the act's cancellation, the show proved that MTV not only had a sense of humor but was also surprisingly adept at relentlessly mocking themselves. If only we could get them to do the same these days with those Hills girls, maybe MTV could redeem itself. I wouldn't bet on it, though.