In 1966, when John Lennon quipped that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus,” people went nuts. They burned records, boycotted public appearances, and religious groups pounded home the argument that Satan loves rock and roll. A little ironically, the Beatles have since become so canonized that these days comparing any musical act to them—or, God forbid, declaring any act superior to them—is decried as blasphemy. So when I logged on to Yahoo! News last week and the homepage greeted me with the headline “Glee More Popular Than the Beatles,” I expected, at the very least, a human sacrifice or two.
But there was no such backlash. Why? Because, America, this particular piece of sacrilege is founded in truth: This week, the Glee kids put their 75th single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, outscoring the Fab Four’s 71. And since Glee’s cast members are all living, that gap is only going to increase.
American television has spawned some embarrassing phenomena in the past. A Shot at Love, Dog the Bounty Hunter, any Sarah Palin interview, and the like. But this? Shame on us.
Plenty of events foreshadowed Glee becoming the dangerous behemoth of a television force it is now. A few years ago, we were living in the age of High School Musical, where even kids who had long outgrown the Disney Channel found themselves bopping their heads to “Breaking Free” and developing secret obsessions with Zac Efron’s deadly abs-and-sideswept-hair combo. As its stars matured into rom-com celebrities or got entangled in nude picture scandals, the High School Musical hype died down and became contained to a younger demographic. Real-life high schoolers could move on.
But Glee, which is also a musical that takes place in a high school, has demonstrated a staying power that the HSM monstrosity never had, thanks to its more adult, soap opera-esque plots and somewhat embarassing, nuance-less tackling of social issues. The Quinn-and-Finn pregnancy scandal definitely would not fly on the Disney Channel, nor would the racial divide, homophobia, and disability-related complications that plague this small Ohio high school. Glee’s audience, being primarily high school-age, give or take a few years, find these plots lines controversial and titillating enough to hold their interest. They’ve outgrown cutie-pie Troy’s struggle to decide between basketball and theater, but they haven’t outgrown cutie-pie Finn’s struggle decide between his pregnant cheerleader girlfriend and the obnoxious glee club goody two-shoes. And did I mention that even the kids who get made fun of all the time are all really good-looking? That never hurts.
But the main reason why the Glee cast has surpassed John Lennon’s popularity in the first place is the singing itself. The show is set around a glee club, or a high school show choir, which performs and competes in singing popular songs. You know, the kind of club where the kids are all ridiculously talented singers and dancers who can learn complicated harmonies and choreography within a few hours. Your high school had one of those too, right?
The episodes’ musical themes also fit the show’s demographic, as evidenced by the 2010 mass Internet freak-out of “ohmygaah Lady Gaga Night on Glee!” It’s the fastest, easiest way to a teenage girl’s heart these days—Kidz Bop with hormones. And throw in some overly dramatic backstory, fancy dance steps, and a few butchered bars of the Queen classic “Somebody to Love”? Effective, yes, but completely shameless.
And that’s how we, fellow television viewers, allowed a bunch of over-trained, bratty teenagers to become more successful than the men who brought you “Revolution.” Who’s joining me on my pilgrimage to Strawberry Fields to beg for forgiveness?
Do you want a “Ticket to Ride?” Send Leigh an email at firstname.lastname@example.org