I will soon hate this commercial with the fire of 1,000 suns
As seen at Gawker, it may only be January, but Microsoft could have the lock on the most annoying commercial of 2009. I know, choosing the most annoying commercial is sort of like choosing between eczema, psoriasis or shingles as the most annoying skin condition, but this cannot go unremarked upon. An excruciating four minutes long, it’s an ad for Songsmith, a program that allows users to compose, sing and record their own songs with musical accompaniment that sounds like it comes from a 1997-era MIDI player. We can only assume that this is Microsoft’s attempt to conquer the Guitar Hero/Rock Band juggernaut. Sounds horrifying, right? Nevertheless, the full impact can’t be appreciated without watching the commercial in its entirety.
Wow. Just take a few moments to ponder it. Four minutes of deep hurting. It’s everything I loathe most in a commercial: a lame product shilled by lame people desperately trying to make it look cool, and the rotten cherry on this suck sundae is that the whole thing is sung poorly in rhyme. It doesn’t make me want to run out and buy Songsmith. It makes me want to punch a random stranger in the face. It makes me want to write a hate letter to Simon Cowell blaming him for making legions of untalented lunkheads think they have what it takes to be the next American Idol, or at least, appear on the show long enough to earn a place in novelty act history, like William Hung.
It’s okay if you think you can sing when you really can’t, that’s why shower stalls and the privacy of your own car exist. It’s another thing entirely if you insist on inflicting your “talent” on friends and family, or even complete strangers. I was in a Subway a few months ago, where there was a young woman sitting at a table and loudly singing, which would have been jarring even if she could sing well. Nobody expects a floor show when they’re ordering their Five Dollar Foot Long, after all. I’m used to seeing crazy people sing off-key (on the subway, as opposed to in Subway), but this woman didn’t look crazy. She appeared normal, maybe late teens or early twenties, but just belting out a cover of a pop song, probably by Alicia Keys or whoever, and she had all the “I’m gonna be a star!” movements down, the dramatic hand gestures, the squinched up eyes that suggested either she really had the music in her or she was passing a kidney stone. I don’t know if she was expecting applause when she was done or Tommy Mottola to pull up in a stretch limo bearing a recording contract, but in reality it was met with embarrassing silence. If the store was infested with crickets, they would have been chirping. Even the sandwich artists were baffled. Going by the commercial it appears that the object of Songsmith is to record yourself singing, then play the recording for the delight of everyone around you. Naturally, because it’s a commercial, and in commercials people never say or do anything that resembles actual people, everybody from coffee shop waitresses to your boss will find infinite joy in listening to you torture innocent musical notes and mutilate the English language to write lyrics, much like Aerosmith did when they tried to rhyme “lay on” with “crayon” in ‘Pink.’ In reality, for most of us, forcing our friends to sit down and listen to a song we wrote and sang is usually greeted like this, at least on the inside:
On the outside, of course, they smile and nod, saying “Wow…that’s good. Yeah, you really ought to send that…somewhere.” That somewhere being wherever it is people send unlistenable songs they write about their dogs or girlfriends. Whatever the music industry’s version of the slush pile is, I guess. In a perfect world, people who buy Songsmith would use it once, be so appalled at listening to themselves, then close the program and never speak of it again. However, right now we live in a disturbing era where mediocrity isn’t just accepted, it’s encouraged and applauded. One of the top rated television programs in the US between 2006 and 2008 was America’s Got Talent. Amongst the finalists in the first three seasons were a yodeler, a beatboxer, a ventriloquist/impressionist, a clogging group, an Elvis impersonator and 73 year-old Vivian Smallwood, the “Rappin’ Granny.” Shit that people do normally just to annoy the living fuck out of everyone around them is suddenly worthy of nationwide media exposure. On an internet bulletin board recently I read a suggestion that with Bush, perhaps the most mediocre president of them all, leaving office, maybe it will mean an end in sight for Americans expecting no more the barest minimum of relevance and talent in their entertainment. I pray for this every day of my life (though of course it could also mean an end to blogging as a reliable media outlet, so I’d be screwed). Until that time, I have no doubt that Songsmith will sell like hotcakes, bland, tasteless hotcakes covered in sticky, sappy syrup. But now you know: the next time someone comes at you with their laptop saying “Come here, I want to play something for you,” it may not be a leaked track from the new Franz Ferdinand album, but that person singing a song called ‘Rain On the Window (Is a Metaphor for My Tears, Do You Get It?).’ So, run, far away. The last thing he or she needs is more encouragement.