2gether: Music From the MTV Original TV Movie
By Kevin John
Teen pop is disposable, right? It's a question that a legion of aging Generation X music fans is nervously asking of late. But Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, and their pubescent peers have no intention of giving up the spotlight anytime soon, displaying all the sweat, ambition, and resilience of shrewd student-soldier Tracy Flick, their generational surrogate in Election. In one corner we have indie loyalists and bitter hipsters mourning alternative rock's swift degeneration; in the other we have beautiful overachievers maximizing their profit margin. This is making for some interesting tension on the media landscape.
MTV, aka Zeitgeist Incorporated, is all over this, of course. A commercial for 2gether--a made-for-MTV movie about the manufacturing of a boy band that premiered on Monday--shows two young girls giggling and cooing over a magazine spread for dreamy band member Chad Linus (played by Noah Bastian). An older sister with dyed black hair, reading Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo's Feel This Book under a Pavement poster, grows weary of their patter and snatches the magazine away. But alone in her room, she turns over a Beck album sleeve to reveal a Chad photo collage, which she covers with private kisses.
Tellingly, the movie was directed by Nigel Dick, who's also directed videos for Spears and the Backstreet Boys. An odd mix of mockumentary and straightforward narrative, 2gether begins with showbiz veteran Bob Buss, who's just been fired as manager of the boy-pop sensation Whoa!, trying to form the group he'll call 2gether. The first half of the story is focused on the rules and rigid taxonomies of bringing 2gether together. Naturally these are the source of much comedy as the boys fumble with preset interview questions and ridiculous matching costumes; in a fit of desperation, Buss signs on the overweight and overage Doug Linus (Kevin Farley) as the fifth "boy."
The second half is where things stop being funny ha-ha and start being funny strange: 2gether becomes a story of more serious proportions, with power plays, intraband jealousy and bickering, angry girlfriends back home, even a momentary breakup. These are the tragedies that befall any honest, hardworking band, and the boys, who sleep on hotel room floors, drive around in a junky tour bus, and have their share of bad shows, begin to warrant sympathy. By the end I was silently cheering as they exposed Whoa! for lip-synchers and triumphantly took over the stage.
2gether may also give its purported target staying power by making sure people keep talking about it. Before the premiere, MTV did a half hour of pregame with all sorts of formulated discourse--some of it funny (an 'N Sync promo praising the fictional band) but some of it as serious as a Village Voice review (a brief history of the boy-band craze). But what makes the movie a really neat postmodern trick is that the fake boy pop on the sound track--actually sung by the actors--could conceivably leapfrog over the real thing onto Billboard's Hot 100. The four 2gether songs that form the nucleus of the CD, released last week by TVT, are remarkably well crafted and insidiously catchy. "U + Me = Us (Calculus)," for instance, boasts three tempo changes, a rap, a goose-pimple-raising coda, and hand gestures to engage the masses during the chorus.
That title and some of the others, like "Say It (Don't Spray It)," are obviously parodic, but is a couplet like "Girl, I can't understand you / You're like reading a big fat book in Hebrew" so much sillier than "New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits / Chinese food makes me sick," from LFO's smash hit "Summer Girls"? How big a stretch is it from boy-pop culture, which caters to MTV, for MTV itself to put together a boy-pop band? The slightly goofy "U + Me = Us" is already getting radio play, and the group's theme song, "2gether," is no less calculatedly inoffensive a slice of white bread than any "real" teen-pop song on the charts right now. The disenfranchised former youth of the Alternative Nation have a right to be nervous: teen pop is starting to encroach on their last refuge--irony.