America is in a state of crisis right now. Police are murdering black civilians with startling regularity and seemingly never facing any accountability. A new mass shooting unfolds every few weeks, yet gun control measures supported by even most conservatives are blocked by an NRA-controlled Congress. A slew of high-profile sexual assault cases have stirred up lots of ugly discourse but not much justice. The Republican Party has been hijacked by Donald Trump, a billionaire blowhard from reality TV who built his coalition sowing bigotry and fear among globalization’s losers. The Democratic alternative, Hillary Clinton, is only marginally more appealing; this week the FBI let her off the hook for “extremely careless” handling of national secrets during her tenure as Secretary Of State. Between Brexit and bombings and refugees galore, the news overseas is nearly as bleak.
How is the populace dealing with all this tumult? There have been public vigils, private meltdowns, and social media shouting matches aplenty. But for many, the coping mechanism appears to be the escapism of watching famous people sing old songs on TV. For instance, last Thursday ABC debuted Greatest Hits, a six-week variety show hosted by Arsenio Hall and Kelsea Ballerini. Greatest Hits is built around performances of memorable songs from the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s by popular musicians from yesterday and today. The premiere episode, highlighting hits from 1980-1985, featured Jason Derulo performing a Michael Jackson medley and Pitbull collaborating with REO Speedwagon among other sub-Grammys spectacles. If that sounds like stale audiovisual fast food plucked from the garbage pail and served up on a silver platter, well, that’s what it was:
But Greatest Hits performed respectably for ABC, drawing 4.8 million viewers and beating out everything else on TV besides that lethal CBS combo of Big Brother and The Big Bang Theory. Tonight’s 1995-2000 episode features “never-before-seen collaborations with Backstreet Boys & Meghan Trainor, Coolio & CeeLo Green, Jewel & Tori Kelly, LL COOL J & Wiz Khalifa and an unforgettable acoustic performance by Hanson.” I suspect it will attract even more viewers than last week’s ep — the ’90s are “back,” after all.
It can’t be surprising to see a TV network trotting out a program like Greatest Hits at a time when Jimmy Fallon’s shadow hangs so heavily over the TV landscape. Through his heavily circulated Tonight Show bits, SNL’s glad-handing chucklehead turned late-night TV into a fawning viral vaudeville. Fallon heralded a new wave of eager-to-please TV nice guys, closing the curtain on curmudgeons like David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and Jay Leno. (Yes, I realize Conan still has a show; no, I don’t know anyone who watches it.) America was extremely ready for Fallon’s shtick: He’s become the king of late night, and many others have followed in his alternately charming and aggravating footsteps, including Britain/Broadway product James Corden — more on that duder in a sec.
The Spike network even turned Fallon’s popular lip sync battles into their own series. Like every Tonight Show segment, Lip Sync Battle is engineered for mass sharing: What’s more likely to draw eyeballs than celebrities hamming it up in costume as they mime their way through throwback hits? The individual clips do accumulate lots of YouTube views, but the show does exceptionally well on TV too. Back in January, Lip Sync Battle’s season 2 premiere was an all-time ratings success for Spike, with 4.7 million tuning in to watch Channing Tatum mimic Beyoncé in drag.
Perhaps none of these shows has achieved the cultural saturation of “Carpool Karaoke,” a recurring Late Late Show segment in which Corden cruises around town with notable singers riding shotgun, making chitchat and belting out popular songs (originals and covers alike). It’s become a monster promotional tool: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ recent appearance was the single most visible bit of promo for their new album The Getaway, and Corden hyped his own Tonys hosting gig by rounding up Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda and other Broadway stars to burn through showtunes from Rent and Les Misérables. And, unsurprisingly, the most popular “Carpool Karaoke” of them all involved Adele.
More than 115 million people have watched Adele join Corden to shoot the shit and howl her own hits plus the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” and, quite famously, rap Nicki Minaj’s career-making “Monster” verse from memory. It’s an interesting inversion of the formula that has dominated primetime for a decade and a half: Instead of amateurs nabbing their 15 minutes in the spotlight on American Idol and its various progeny, here’s a consummate professional kicking back in the most casual of settings, and you get to tag along.
Corden is the English version of Fallon, a grinning song-and-dance man (catch him in Into The Woods) who has never found a fellow famous person he couldn’t fawn over. He reminds me of one of those vapid talking heads who dissect the latest celebrity gossip in TMZ videos, which makes him the perfect audience surrogate for today’s self-numbing American. Perhaps his wildly popular bit represents the cross-pollination of Idol and its ilk with the celebrity obsession that powers non-musical reality shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise. You get familiar faces, recognizable music, extremely low stakes. It’s an ideal way to distract yourself as the world burns.
At this point we might as well start treating #2 albums and singles like they’re #1s and put Drake in a class of his own. With 111,000 equivalent units (and 25,000 in pure sales), Views rules the Billboard 200 for a ninth straight week, surpassing Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP to claim sole possession of the third-longest #1 streak by a hip-hop album. Per Billboard, “Ahead of Views are Vanilla Ice’s To The Extreme (16 weeks at #1 in 1990 and 1991) and MC Hammer’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em (21 weeks in 1990).” Furthermore, Views is the longest tenured #1 album by a man since Usher’s Confessions did nine nonconsecutive weeks on top in 2004 and the most consecutive weeks at #1 since Billy Ray Cyrus’ Some Gave All rattled off 17 straight weeks in 1992. (What a time to be alive!)
Another months-old blockbuster, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, slots in at #2 with 48,000 units. The top 10’s only new entry of the week belongs to the Avett Brothers; with 46,000 units/43,000 sales, the #3-debuting True Sadness becomes their highest-charting release ever, even though 2012’s #4-debuting The Carpenter sold more than twice as many copies. There is one album that climbed into the top 10, though, which previously had not charted that high: The hilariously titled Epic AF compilation, a streaming-only release featuring hits by Kent Jones and DJ Khaled among others, rises to #8 with 28,000 units. Otherwise the top 10 comprises longstanding releases from Twenty One Pilots, Rihanna, Adele, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Meghan Trainor, plus the Hamilton soundtrack.
Meanwhile, Drake’s “One Dance” stays atop the Hot 100 singles chart for an eighth nonconsecutive week. Notable top 10 movement includes new peaks for the Chainsmokers and Daya’s “Don’t Let Me Down” (#3), Rihanna’s “Needed Me” (#7), Kent Jones’ “Don’t Mind” (#8), and Twenty One Pilots’ “Ride” (#9). Adele’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” rises to #13 largely thanks to her album’s arrival on streaming services, so don’t be surprised if that track hits the top 10 soon.
Fergie – “M.I.L.F. $”
I’d like to say “R.I.P. Fergie’s career” here, but this video is at 24 million views and counting.
Demi Lovato – “Body Say”
This seems like Lovato’s attempt at a Selena Gomez song, and I can’t say I mind it.
Lukas Graham – “Mama Said”
This is “7 Years Old” bro’s follow-up single, and it’s more indicative of his band’s generally upbeat demeanor. This one’s kind of like if Jason Mraz covered “Hard Knock Life,” which means you’ll hate yourself when you inevitably sing along.
Louis The Child – “Weekend” (Feat. Icona Pop)
With Kesha out of the game, somebody else had to make the Kesha song of the future.
Frances – “Say It Again”
Here’s a pleasant little pop song out of Britain, like Adele if she had more of a Jessie Ware sensibility.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Calvin Harris reportedly wrote a song about his ex Taylor Swift called “Ole” and recorded it in Mexico with John Newman. [TMZ]
- Speaking of which, are Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston not actually dating but instead just filming a music video? [Buzzfeed]
- Lady Gaga got her driver’s license. [Instagram]
- Zara Larsson debuted songs from her new album in Stockholm. [Direct Lyrics]
- Demi Lovato covered “Purple Rain” with the Boston Pops for Independence Day. [YouTube]
- Jennifer Lopez and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda recorded a song called “Love Make The World Go Round” as a charity tribute to victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. [Twitter]
- Madonna went on a charity mission to Kenya where she met with the First Lady and spoke to villagers in Kibera about the unbelievable violence they’ve witnessed in their lives. [Reuters]
- Major Lazer’s “Cold Water” — which also features Justin Bieber, MØ, Ed Sheeran, & Benny Blanco — is expecterd to debut on Beats 1 this month. [Idolator]
- Wiz Khalifa is raising his style game reports The New York Times, although Kanye West scooped them on that one. [NY Times]
- Shawn Mendes’ new album Illuminate is out 9/23 on Island Records. [Ace]
- Pink will appear on Kenny Chesney’s new album Some Town Somewhere, out in October. [Rolling Stone]
- Gwen Rossdale legally changed her last name back to Stefani. [TMZ]
- Adele paid tribute to Prince at her US tour kickoff in Minnesota. [USA Today]
- Jess Glynne faced backlash for tweeting #AllLivesMatter in the wake of the Alton Sterling shooting. [Digital Spy]
- Justin Timberlake will receive the Decade Award at this year’s Teen Choice Awards. [Just Jared]
- The trailer for fraternity thriller Goat, co-starring Nick Jonas, is out. [YouTube]
- Ariana Grande has joined the cast of NBC’s Hairspray Live!. [Hollywood Life]
- Mumford & Sons impersonate Blink-182 in Blink’s new video. [NME]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
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— Seinfeld Current Day (@Seinfeld2000) July 4, 2016