Somehow, I Don’t Really Mind The Ubiquity Of “Don’t Stop Believing” All That Much

Maura / May 20, 2009

After American Idol last night, Fox debuted its glee-club dramedy Glee, which had a lot of fantastic, if wince-inducing, “high school as metaphor for how depressing adult life can be” moments and the incredible comic timing of Jane Lynch. And as its big finish–which was designed to make us audience-members feel that the ragtag group of nerds, geeks, and that one jockish dude would all make it out of high school thanks to the power of song–it had a big old performance of Journey’s 28-year-old lighter-raiser “Don’t Stop Believing.” Our pal Mark Graham at New York’s Vulture apparently had the last Steve Perry-shaped straw at that point, and he was driven to call for a moratorium on the song in his recap of the show:

Not only did the Glee version suffer because it was about a third as good as Petra Haden’s genius a cappella cover, but I think we can all agree that song crossed the point of overexposure approximately two years ago, in the wake of the Sopranos finale. Since then, we have heard the song used umpteen times in terrible televised parodies of David Chase’s brilliant series closer, which cover the gamut from the Celebrity Apprentice to that goofy Hillary Clinton campaign spot. Proving its ubiquity, it’s also prominently featured in the Broadway play Rock of Ages. And while we have no issues belting this song out at 3 in the morning when we’re karaoke-ing, we think Ryan Murphy’s decision to use the song smacks of both bad judgment and directorial hubris….

Can we all agree that (a) Glee is a good to very-good show but also that (b) While “Don’t Stop Believing” is a tremendously triumphant song and one that we’ll always sing along to when it comes on the jukebox at a bar, we never want to see/hear it in another television series or movie for at least another ten years?

Now, I understand Mark’s points here. Yes, the Petra Haden cover was mad superior to the one on the show last night (what is it with Fox shows not realizing there’s such a thing as too much instrumentation?). And yes, employing “Don’t Stop Believing” on a televised program in the post-Sopranos age–hell, in the post-2005 White Sox age–can be seen as something of a cheap signifier, a way to get everyone, um, believing in the people on screen. But I’m in no way ready to throw the baby out with Steve Perry’s jean-tightening bathwater. After all, aren’t cheap signifiers more than appropriate for a show that’s set in the milieu of a high school show choir–especially one filled with kids who are looking for a shot, and who were rendered agape by a performance in which “Rehab” was treated like a track cut from Grease 2 at the last minute? Second, we can admit that “Believing” is thoroughly overplayed to the point where if you started singing “just a small-town girl…” to 10 people on the street at least six of them would reply to you “livin’ in a lonely world…,” but there’s a reason: It may be one of the best pop songs of not only the corporate-rock era, but of the past 30 years. Happily, I can illustrate this point with a Flash animation that was a Web sensation back in 2001, and is still able to bring a smile to this too-often-frowning mouth today:

Sure, the song’s penny-candy charms are cheap and sweet, but they satisfy a very particular craving in a way that few songs do (especially on anything resembling a mass level); while I agree with Mark that other music supervisors should tread carefully around the path of rainbows left in its wake, I thought its usage here was wholly appropriate, if not really the only song that could have had the same dramatic heft. And show creator Ryan Murphy would seem to agree: In the pilot, you used the Journey song Don’t Stop [sic!!!!]. Was there was ever any hesitation since it is so closely associated with the series finale of The Sopranos?
Murphy: To me, [that song] transcends everything. It’s always been an anthem. I think it’s the No. 1 most popular song in the history of iTunes or something like that. And I just liked the idea of 16-year-old kids interpreting that song.

Glee employed “Chewing Gum” to great effect last night too, so it’s not like all of its musical choices last night were obvious! (For those of you who might have missed the pilot, catch up below–yes, you have months to do so since episode two doesn’t air until the fall, but still.)

Vulture Demands A Moratorium On Any Further Usage Of “Don’t Stop Believing” [Vulture]
A Tribute To America – “Don’t Stop Believing” By Journey [YouTube]
Glee: Pilot [Hulu]