The "Hoedown Throwdown" Commemorative Award for the Worst Crime Against Humanity Committed By Musicians This Calendar Year
By Mark Abraham | 18 December 2011
“Loser Like Me”
So: is the utter bullshit that is Glee’s “Loser Like Me” really all that surprising?
Depends. In the “nope” column, two things. First, the show is already pretty lazy, given that co-creator Ryan Murphy frequently recycles plot points from Popular to the point where I’m baffled that he hasn’t already introduced a “Mary Cherry” into the mix. Second, the show is already pretty confusing, given the very special lessons that Glee offers each week despite the fact that the writers can’t seem to decide whether they’re producing snarkfests for like-minded 40-somethings who share their fond memories of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? or after school specials with the kind of depth that would only be threatening to the world views of 10-year olds. So let’s simply state the lazy schizophrenia of the show: to celebrate the marginalized and their super-duper indomitable spirits, but also to never miss a chance to scandalously (…but not too scandalously) make fun of these same people. (The other purpose of the show is to play out middle-aged fantasies with puppets shaped like high schoolers, of course, though, to be fair, popular cheerleader characters Santana Lopez and Britney Pearce aren’t quite the obvious writer avatars that Mary Cherry and Nicole Julian were on Popular.)
And that’s a creative impasse, in a lot of ways: carte blanche to do whatever the fuck you want and therefore land some awesomely vicious scenes, but also a good recipe to ensure that little of it will make much sense. Which also isn’t surprising. Like, remember when all the women on Nip/Tuck got together and opened a spa in a converted hotel and sold skin cream where the secret ingredient was sperm? Sperm! Wait: you don’t? Murphy and fellow Nip/Tuck and Glee scribe Brad Falchuk don’t either, and they stopped remembering right after that episode aired, since the show never mentioned it again, because the only point of that story was to have Joan Rivers talking about sperm. And while nothing on Glee has quite reached the level of that time when Brooke McQueen checked into the hospital for an eating disorder and then all of her friends joked about her having bulimia for the rest of the season, or the insouciant soft bigotry of Eat, Pray, Love, third co-creator Ian Brennan seems to share the love Murphy and Falchuk have of not being particularly consistent or strict about how they approach complex issues. Glee’s conflicting depictions of bullying, for example, suggest that bullying is just pretty hilarious right up until the moment when it isn’t, but it only isn’t when the plot has suddenly decided that it has an important message to tell us about bullying. So, y’know, it’s funny when Sue gives somebody a brain aneurysm by pushing them down the stairs, or when Finn takes pity on future step bro Kurt by allowing him to remove the Marc Jacobs jacket he bought on his dad’s mechanic salary before tossing him in a trash can, but also: it gets better. Like that time Kurt was voted prom queen and the show couldn’t really decide whether that was a joke or not.
So you’re either willing to put up with that shit or not, I mean, and since the ratings suggest less and less people are, maybe shitty “Loser Like Me” isn’t all that surprising, because clearly Glee is already shitty for all of these reasons anyway. But in the “yes, it is surprising” column, the reward you sometimes get from Glee, aside from a hilarious one-liner or the very occasional scene that functions as a good, even-tempered, insightful look at high school life that suggests the show actually gives a shit about the characters it has created, is a masterful musical number that is just so stark or fun or touching or just damn entertaining without any of the usual caveats that you think, “maybe they’re finally getting it.” They aren’t. Especially since it’s sometimes hard to separate “amazing” from the irrational response you might have to simple competence: Glee so often fails at it’s musical premise—say, deep-sixing the already shitty “Sing” by My Chemical Romance or ruining “You Make My Dreams” (the greatest song ever)—that the low bar it has set for itself means that when they really nail it, as they recently did with Santana (Naya Rivera) and Mercedes (Amber Riley) doing an Adele mashup, it could either actually be amazing or maybe you’ve just got Stockholm syndrome. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt: a beautifully performed song that functions both as a subtle character moment and within the theme of this episode? Maybe they’re finally getting it!
So when a late season 2 arc was introduced where Rachel would write an original song to give the Glee Club an edge at Regionals, you may have wondered: would original songs give the writers a chance to create material for their characters that could more coherently express their inner feelings and desires than whatever popular song they could find that generally hinted at the idea? Would it give them the opportunity to pay homage to the various genres of music the show had already exploited? Would it offer an opportunity to situate the songs in the scripts for each episode in a more coherent way, rather than writing scripts around songs that had been licensed or shoehorning replacement songs in when deals fell through? Was it a full bore move into artistry, sacrificing the immediate gratification of pop songs for the challenge of creating a show that was itself an original musical?
Apparently not. Thus far, the show has had four original songs. The other three are bad but boring. “Loser Like Me” is bad and offensive. Forget that the music sounds like the synth line itself ingested meth before taking a run through autotune; or that Max Martin once wrote “Since U Been Gone”; or that Lea Michele’s voice—and however you might feel about her, her voice is gorgeous—sounds like Huey, Dewey, and Louie; the music is shit, and I don’t have the patience to argue what is self-evident. Neither am I going to dwell too much on the simple lunacy of plotting an arc that ends with two ex-head cheerleaders; a third cheerleader who is also a fabulous dancer and a “The Satorialist”-upped national teen trendsetter; five members of the recently victorious football team, including the quarterback, the most notorious badass in school, the best male dancer in the school, and a charming, hippie-ish Dave Matthews-type who is also apparently built enough to become a popular male stripper; and the star of the wrestling team who is also head of the A/V club pleading with their audience to be “a loser like me.” Neither am I particularly upset that “Loser Like Me” is a cynical iTunes cash grab, because every performance of any song on Glee is, to one extent or another, a cynical iTunes cash grab.
What makes “Loser Like Me” the worst crime against humanity committed by musicians in 2011 is that it is a cynical iTunes cash grab that is also a song written by the writers of a hit television show about how brilliant and important their hit television show is. The lyrics of the song are for the most part literal repetitions of memorable lines that the kids in the Glee Club have already said on the show. It’s like a clip show, basically; it’s a highlight reel of what the writers think are the best ways the show has articulated what they keep saying the thesis of Glee is. In other words, “Loser Like Me” is the show attempting to substantiate itself by extending an anthem to its fans external to the internal drama that was supposed to source the world view expressed in this song in the first place. And so a fictional Glee Club on a fictional show called Glee sings to their real life fans, showering them with glitter slushies that their fictional audience couldn’t possibly understand but cheer for anyway. A popular show about losers asks its audience to adopt the the term “loser” as a celebration of said show’s popularity, stumbling over itself in its inability to parse the bullshit. It’s hypocrisy; it’s a paradox; it’s shocking precisely because so often the problems with Glee are about incompetence, but this particular problem shows the Glee writers at their most calculated, and at their most calculated they just don’t care.
And it’s just so bad. “Loser Like Me” is not even as good as the songs from Disney Original movies like High School Musical or Camp Rock. Say what you want about “Breaking Free” or “Everyday” or “This Is Me” or, hell, “The Climb,” those songs were written to be actual good songs (most of which ended up somewhere around “decent”) that functioned in the context of their respective stories and not just steroid-humped textural renderings of the not-so-subtextual subtext of the show. “Loser Like Me” is shitty precisely because its only purpose is to sell the idea of Glee as a thing that is valuable. To give it a voice. To make it something you can sing along with. Which is doubly hilarious, because that “message” is something Glee only rarely actually expresses; that, in fact, it mostly spends its time contradicting. And triply hilarious, because the song seems to suggest that if you don’t want to be a loser—if you don’t like the song—than you can fuck off. Hannah Montana: The Movie is dumb, yes, but when the implicit of message of “The Climb” is “be true to yourself” and the explicit message of the movie is “be true to yourself” it doesn’t matter that it makes no fucking sense that an entire Kentucky town wouldn’t tweet that Miley Stewart is Hannah Montana or that she falls in love with a cow poke despite the fact that she’s still involved in an ongoing relationship with that guitarist dude on the show or that Barry Bostwick’s evil developer just sort of disappears after Margo Martindale sneers at him at the midway point. In short, the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense, but the movie does.
So, yeah: “Loser Like Me,” with it’s anti-bullying message, is actually a song that sort of tries to bully its audience into submission. Great job, Glee.