Demi Lovato is awful. Devoid of a powerful or an interesting voice, the Camp Rock star’s solo musical career has led to the creation of what, for all its string-laden overproduction and crunched power chords, is essentially a body of white noise: her increasingly-forgettable singles (most recently the shockingly unpleasant Don’t Forget, a notable exception to her usual blandness) lack even the frustratingly catchy hooks that make her labelmates the Jonas Brothers’ manufactured output a noticeable annoyance. She goes in one ear and straight out the other, and thanks to her makeup team’s apparent schizophrenia she never even looks the same twice. And, despite all this, I wouldn’t wish her away for anything in the world – cultural garbage of the sort that Lovato represents has an important role in society, perhaps as much so as the all-too-few legitimate examples of genuine artistry to be found.
To oversimplify the issue, it can be said that music like Lovato’s represents a sort of statistical baseline – it’s simply because we have bland garbage that we even know what bland is. A starting point, a nice ‘n’ easy guide with which to tell if something’s numbingly competent, “well does it sound like Demi Lovato?”, instead of having to simply work in the black-and-white extremes of the good/bad equation. After all, if there weren’t a baseline in place, then we’d be cheating some genuinely great music out of a favourable reputation by assuming it represents mediocrity (as no system can effectively operate on a bipolar scale). By embracing Demi Lovato, we’ve saved Radiohead from being crowned the kings of boring dad-rock. In a really weird roundabout manner.
In addition to establishing what mediocrity is, boring music helps make the good works only stand out more. As an example, while I enjoy the song in any context, when it was placed amongst an assortment of mediocre-to-awful top-40 white noise on MuchMusic (basically the Canadian MTV), the video for k-os’s 4 3 2 1 was turned into a gift from the heavens, a shining reminder of everything that music can be. It’s powerful, the effect that the middle of the road can end up having on the cultural landscape. So much so that it’s essential to the functioning of society, and that there’s even a certain art to it – when Andy Warhol exhibited his screenprints of Campbell’s soup cans, the message was clear that the mundane, familiar design of everyday objects holds a special place in all of our hearts. Another facet is that, if nothing else, the presence of middlebrow entertainment provides something easy to rage against, something that can be hated without any serious consequence, the hatred felt as unknowingly bland, banal and omnipresent as that which it’s aimed towards.
It’s not just music, by any means – TV sitcoms, crappy genre flicks in the movie theater, even boring books serve their purpose in establishing a cultural baseline that all of us smug assholes can feel better being ‘above’, while giving those without the willpower to form their own opinions an easy set of things to like, things to do and even issues to care about. Demi Lovato is very, very important.