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Ben Folds' indie cred disappears on The Sing-Off

by Joel Keller, posted Dec 15th 2009 11:26AM
Ben Folds judges NBC's The Sing-OffIt's always disheartening when you see musical heroes of your teens and twenties face the reality of the current state of the music biz, because the results are never pretty. Sting songs become credit card commercials. Prince goes on American Idol. Billy Corgan dates Jessica Simpson. Before you know it, you find yourself rocking out to "No New Tale to Tell" by Love and Rockets as it plays in the produce section of the ShopRite, wondering what happened to your youth.

This is how I felt when I saw Ben Folds at the judges' table in NBC's The Sing-Off last night. Ben Folds Five's first two albums were among my favorites of the mid-'90s; they combined piano power pop with a snarky edge to make very funny, singable music. I played those CDs over and over again. So what was he doing judging these a cappella show choirs, looking like a shorter version of Rainn Wilson?

According to MTV, Folds has had a lot of experience with a cappella groups, as he's often helped college-based voice-only groups record versions of his songs, and has had instrument-free versions of his songs sung during his concerts. So at least there's a basis for him being there.

But has the music business gotten that bad that Folds needed to get exposure via NBC's blatant attempt to capitalize on the Glee phenomenon? Everything about the show felt thrown together, from host Nick Lachey's wooden Teleprompter reads to the slapdash format. Even if he thought this was a good way to help some struggling musicians, didn't he realize how schlocky the whole thing would turn out?

Ken Tucker of EW praised Folds' performance as a judge, and I agree that he did a nice job communicating his praise and criticisms to the groups. But this still doesn't make up for the fact that he's on this cheesy show to begin with.

The whole thing makes me want to curl up in a corner with my Pixies CDs. When was the moment when your musical heroes made you feel old?

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I actually love this show. It's such a nice break from the American Idols and America's Got Talent shows. I can honestly say that they judge these singers based on talent and not on looks, YES!!!!! I love him as a judge, he knows so much about music obviously, he really gives the best critique. I also grew up listening to Boys II Men and love Shawn, I really respect him as an artist. I think this is a great show for us singers who are tired of the AI crap. I also liked the show "America's next great band" and thought it was super cool that they had the lead singer from the Goo Goo Dolls, didn't make me like their music any less, in fact I think that this reveals how much music knowledge they have, you can learn a lot about an artist by listening to their critique. Ben Folds, by far the best judge I've seen on any of these reality singing shows. I have quit watching AI, can't stand AGT, so I look forward to seeing the next season of the sing-off. The thing that bothers me the most is the girl from "The pussycat dolls", I mean COME ON, do you really think she deserves to sit there with Shawn and Ben? Oh please, she never has anything respectable or worthy to say anyways, guess she's there for looks. Lets ditch her and find somebody else.

May 14 2011 at 9:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ben has been doing all those "pop" things for as long as I can remember, so it is not surprising he's on Sing-Off. Its not even an awful reality show. Check out SYTYCD. The judging panel are the dance world's cream of the crop. You gotta get the best guy to judge for the show to have some credibility.
Eh! indie cred, In Japan, famous musicians appear on tv commercials. Even classical artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto and Joe Hsiashi would accept the obligatory Suntory ads or wear cape or pink Aho-Aho Man costumes (look up) on comedy sketches. Yet no one in Japan would consider them sell-outs.
In the Uk, respected musicians like Thom Yorke, Jarvis Cocker, Mick Jagger,David Bowie, etc. would guest on game shows or comedy variety yet the Brits don't seem to be bothered by it.. Hard-earned reputation still intact. I guess indie cred is just a cultural thing.
Speaking of Thom and Jarvis, this whole indie cred discussion reminds me of the time Jarvis and some Radiohead members had a cameo on Harry Potter. Some Radiohead fans were furious at Phil and Jonny's guest appearance and said that Thom is to cool to be doing some silly cameos on a twee movie. That is, until Thom wrote a song specifically for Twilight's New Moon. So-called indie cred dashed. Sure, there is some sense of betrayal, especially if our idol resisted celebrity lifestyle for years. But what if that is what our beloved artist way of reaching out to wider audience. They cant be just hipsters heroes forever.

December 17 2009 at 9:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I didn't really care about the judges; for me its about the talent. Unfortunately all these groups were just mediocre in my book.

It's hard to believe they scoured the country looking for the most talented a cappella groups and this was the best they came up with.

December 16 2009 at 4:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This isn't really as much of a capitalization on Glee as you might think it is. If you remember in 2007, NBC ran "Clash of the Choirs" which was The Sing-Off on a bigger, non-a cappella scale.

While I think it's no coincidence that The Sing-Off started immediately after Glee ended for the mid-season break, it's in no way the first of its kind.

December 16 2009 at 8:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Maybe you should see what Ben's done since Whatever and Ever before crucifying him? He's one of the most famous musicians who has done anything with acappella, and if he weren't on the show, there'd be a problem.

Sit down and grow the hell up. "Indie cred" is some intangible thing you are saying he's lost because he's on a show about something he's had experience with? Ben still sells out concerts and pumps out the songs with heart and piano rock that you loved.

December 16 2009 at 2:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I disagree that it is disheartening. It's pleasant to see Ben give pointers to these groups in a positive and truthful manner. I do think that one can only take so much a capella music in one sitting. I have Ben's University A capella and only listen to a few tracks every now and then. I think the same thing is happening to some watching the show without the skillful use of the DVR 30 sec skip.

December 16 2009 at 12:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't really know who Ben Folds is (well, I've heard "of" him, but haven't heard his music) so I can't really speak to the "indie cred" that he supposedly has lost. But I thought he was a pretty good judge.

Nicole S. was horrible. Incredibly awful. It was a bit difficult to understand what she was saying (because of her accent) - but that wasn't the problem. She just seemed like a ditz/bimbo saying stuff like "wow, you sang that without music" - it's an a cappella competition, they all are singing without music accompaniment!

I had read in an article previously that the judges would be Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman, and a third guest/rotating judge. Too bad they decided to have Nicole as a permanent (well, it's only 5 episodes long) judge.

December 15 2009 at 9:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm not sure it made me feel particularly old, but I certainly had a WTF moment the other day when I heard Cartoon Network using "Blitzkrieg Bop" for an interstitial.

December 15 2009 at 7:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had mixed emotions when I saw that Ben was judging. It's great that he might be exposed to a larger audience, but the show did have a cringe-worthy production feel to it.

To his credit (and as noted above), Ben was involved in a capella singing before the Glee phenomenon, and he did give constructive feedback. I just thought he gave too much of it.

I love the post, though. The subject and the writing are both great. TV Squad should do more of this and less of the recaps.

December 15 2009 at 4:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've loved Ben since waaay back, but I tell you what, if you want to blow the idea of your OWN indie cred, go to one of his shows now. A friend and I went to see him a few years ago at a local college, And felt seriously older than my 36 years. During some of his more recent "songs for grown-ups" I found my self grumbling how these kids had no idea what his music was really about. It was still an awesome show... it's pretty hard to break a string on a grand piano, but I've now seen it done.
I also didn't know he was on this "Sing off" thing, but I don't think even BF's inclusion could get me to watch it. I'm drawing the line at "Glee". Reality-show-Glee-wannabe iis not an option

December 15 2009 at 3:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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