(Slightly edited since first being posted.)
I’ve mentioned here a couple of times that in addition to my gig at classic-rocker 93.1 The Lake (which I’ve had for two years now), I’ve started working on the adult-contemporary station in our group. It’s one of the top-rated stations in Madison, and is all-70s on Saturdays and all-80s on Sundays, which is when I work regularly—but yesterday I got a taste of the regular weekday format when I filled in on the afternoon show.
I have managed to live through the last several years without hearing much from the most successful bands going, so yesterday marked my first exposure to Five for Fighting (“Superman”) and John Mayer (“Dreaming With a Broken Heart”). Yeesh. Both are watery, keyboard-driven ballads; the latter is about frustrated love, but what the former is about I have no idea. Both make me wonder if these guys ever get laid. Of course, Mayer’s been dating Jennifer Aniston, so I suppose the answer is “yes,” but nevertheless, if you suspect that American masculinity is suffering some sort of new-millennium crisis, there’s your proof, although in fairness, I need to hear more than one record by these people to know whether they’re responsible for it. I played two Maroon 5 records, “Makes Me Wonder” and “Sunday Morning,” which I liked a lot more. “Nothin’ Better to Do” by Leann Rimes was the liveliest record of the day. Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Way I Am” caught my ear, too. How many pop records do you hear that use a stand-up bass?
The more I think about “The Way I Am,” and as I listen to it again, I find myself conflicted by it, though. It’s got almost precisely the same sort of nebbishy feel as “Falling in Love in a Coffee Shop” by Landon Pigg (another bellwether of the masculinity crisis), but it doesn’t bug me the way “Coffee Shop” does. Perhaps I’m willing to let female singers get away with things I won’t allow male singers to get away with. (Perhaps I am showing my age by saying so.) Michaelson’s lyrics are comparatively more clever than Pigg’s (which are quite impressively banal on the page), and I’m a lyrics guy, so maybe that’s it. Researching these songs, I found that “Falling in Love in a Coffee Shop” was first featured in a diamond commercial, and “The Way I Am” was in a spot for Old Navy. Exposure in advertising is an important route to success for up-and-coming performers today, although back in the day many would have considered it a sellout. Now you kids get off my lawn.
Keep in mind that I am not the person the station is programmed to reach. (Guys my age are listening to The Lake, we hope.) Having said that, what I’m left with after yesterday is the feeling that AC hasn’t really changed much since the last time I worked the format, 15 years ago. It was a ballad-driven format then, too, with just enough Top-40 crossover to keep its listeners spiritually anchored in the musical places (stylistic and formatic) from whence they came. Like any foreign country, it’ll feel more familiar to me, and I’ll be a lot more comfortable there, the next time I visit.