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Idols and other False Gods

Idols and other False Gods

by Stanley Zive / 07.06.2012

If a publication whose focus is music and relevant pop culture goes after another publication with a similar agenda it could be misconstrued as sour grapes. So let me make it perfectly clear then that I ask the following question with the utmost love and respect: What were they smoking in the offices of Rolling Stone SA when they decided to put the Idols judges on the cover?

When Rolling Stone launched in the late 60s it soon became synonymous with the counterculture, irreverence and the rock ‘n roll spirit. This was the magazine that published the works of Hunter S. Thompson, Lester Bangs and Annie Leibowitz. And yes, in the plastic decades that followed, this upstart of a magazine, full of piss and vinegar, has had increasingly regular forays into the mainstream. After artists like Lennon, Zeppelin and Marley graced their covers they would go on to feature Britney, Christina and Justin Bieber. But South African Idols must be a new low. This is a TV show that has become synonymous with the lowest common denominator, conservatism and everything that discerning people have come to distrust about the music industry. If they are such strange bedfellows then why this unholy union? Is it a mere blip on a PR report, or a sign of things to come?

I believe mainstream pop can grace the cover of a rock institution like Rolling Stone if there is sufficient cultural significance. The judges of American Idol appeared on the cover in 2004 but this was after the show had turned everything in the world of music on its ear. The same cannot be said for the South African franchise. They have no track record of success. People forget the winners less than a week after they’ve won and they’re lucky if they make a second album. Heinz Winkler anyone? Not one South African Idols winner has gone on to enjoy an autonomously successful music career. Where is the contribution to original, contemporary South African culture? It’s a poorly done pastiche of a tasteless global TV show that even creator Simon Cowell has grown weary of.

In the June issue of Rolling Stone SA the Idols crew talk about how they’re revamping the show. Season 8 will be the most representative yet. They’ll be simulcasting on Mnet’s Mzansi channel and reaching a wider audience. Thus far the show has been typified by the usual fare of power ballads and singer-songwriters. This time around, the Idols judges promise that they’ll address the issue of having “no R&B, no soul, no rap”. It would be something if the winner of Idols was someone the people of South Africa could actually get behind. But what is the best case scenario here? A poor man’s version of Usher? Let’s face it, it’s not like Curtis Mayfield or Jay-Z are gonna come off this show. Can you really see Randall Abrahams taking someone under his wing and turning them into an R&B sensation? The man wouldn’t know funk if Bootsy Collins slapped him across the face with the headstock of his bass.

Look at it another way. Imagine there was an artist who made seven forgettable yet strangely popular albums. Should they be on the cover of Rolling Stone just because they’re working with a new producer? If an artist couldn’t put something decent together in such a massive canon of work then what should lead us to believe the next time will be different. Even if Steve Hofmeyer said his next album was being produced by Spoek Mathambo that would be a sidebar at best. It wouldn’t make the cover until we’d actually heard something and liked it.

The singing talent search is, by now, a very tired genre. (Perhaps this accounts for the droopiness of Gareth Cliff’s eyes?) We’ve been inundated with X-Factor, The Voice, Strictly Come Singing, Who Wants to Make Simon Cowell a Millionaire and, my personal favourite, Minute to Win It. There’s no story left here. And let’s be honest these shows are about television not music. Most of the highlights of these shows are memes not music superstars. Even American Idol, the best of the brand, hardly ever gets it right. For all their ratings success and millions of albums sold over the last ten years there are maybe two that would warrant a Rolling Stone cover nowadays. Kelly Clarkson and Adam Lambert. Maybe Ryan Seacrest at a push. He’s still more likely to get on that the Ruben Studdards and the Scott McCreerys of the world. The people who get the most notoriety from these shows are the judges. And really their contribution to the music industry is questionable at best.

The cover of Rolling Stone should be reserved for those who change the landscape. The first few issues had it spot on. Bra Hugh, Miriam Mekaba, Die Antwoord, Spoek Mathambo and a weird head nod to Paul McCartney (at least no one can question his pedigree). So how is it that Gareth Cliff can now be listed amongst those names? Johan Stemmet’s waistcoats have had more influence on music in this country. Gareth Cliff, a man whose radio show has playlisted music and slaps his name on formulaic dance compilations, has now been on the cover of South Africa’s premier music magazine ahead of David Kramer, “Hotstix” Mabuse, Francois Van Coke and Koos Kombuis to name but a few. If you want to ruffle feathers and get people thinking then put the BLK JKS on the cover, in a parody of The Spear. Alas the Idols cover does not so much indicate a bankruptcy of ideas as it points towards the economic realities of the South African publishing industry.

The big question the brains trust at Rolling Stone need is ask is: What is to be gained by pandering to an audience of Idols fans? The June issue also features Radiohead, Blondie and the nu-skool Jozi electro rap of Dirty Paraffin. Regular readers of the Stone are proper music fans, and I’ll tell you this for free, they don’t care about Idols. And Idols fans wouldn’t know Thom Yorke from Debbie Harry. Most of all, can you picture Miles Keylock and his team, rushing home from work to catch the latest installment? Of course not. So if they can’t stomach it why try sell it to their readership?

Once again, this is not so much a dig at Rolling Stone, as a heartfelt plea from a concerned fan. They’ve done a great job thus far. It’s important that they continue to be a light in the shallow trench (thanks Hunter) of the South African music business, guiding people’s tastes and opinions out of a conservative and formulaic wilderness. South Africans need savvy, sardonic eyes and ears that they can trust. Someone unafraid to call it like it is. So seriously, Rolling Stone, don’t stress if you don’t feature a commercial musical cul de sac like Idols in your magazine. They won’t go hungry for media-coverage. That’s why we have YOU Magazine, it’s half the price and comes out weekly. Your credibility is paramount to your success and your cover is precious real estate for far more deserving musical causes.

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RESPONSES (37)
  1. Hippo Critter says:

    This “don’t sell out” plea coming from a website that replaced Young and Edmonds with Engler…

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  2. anothergaymansays says:

    yep…well said. Idols like south africa’s got talent (which thankfully seems to have died) is trying to make the mundane ordinary and then patting themselves on the back for fooling the general public into believing they were being entertained…Rolling Stone credibility really in doubt….for some time now actually…

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  3. Rol says:

    Maybe its more about selling the Rolling Stone to Idols fans – why preach to the converted when you should be out trying to spread the word to the wicked? Picture a teen in CNA, flipping through the magazine on a whim. Once they’ve finished the Idols article, they’ll flip on to the Radiohead and Great Apes articles, realise that they’ve been confusing ‘Idols’ with ‘Music’ all this time, and that they’ve been living a lie all of their short teen lives. FIrst remorse, then redemption shall follow.

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  4. Chad says:

    Rolling Stone hasn’t been relevant for quite a very fucken long time.

    Why are we even discussing this?

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  5. Jesus' Son says:

    Ha ha.
    Mahala talking about ‘selling out’.
    Please tell me this is a joke…?
    Mr Davis is just really sad that Rolling Stone crushed Mahala,
    and took all his quality contributors.

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  6. Johan says:

    hahahaha.. Well done Rolling Stone. This is great PR!!! You guys still rock.. No one compliments you when you do a good job, only if people have something bad to say will it get exposure!! Rolling Stone still are doing things better than any other music / politics magazine!

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  7. Simba says:

    Oh dear, the trolls, I mean ex-Mahala writers, have returned. Mahala hardly seems “crushed”. Been publishing steady fire since Edmonds and Young left the building…

    Funny that these trolls are coming out in defense of the indefensible… it’s Idols you douchebags.

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  8. Andy says:

    Come on Rol do you seriously expect a die hard Idols fan, with a selection of Nickelback, Black Eyed Peas, LMFAO, Katy Perry and the Parlotones on their ipods to suddenly get into real music because the Rolling Stones put the Idols judges on their cover? Do you think they’re ever going to attend a Dirty Paraffin or the Soil gig?

    Knowing Miles, I reckon this was forced on him. At least I hope it was. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the idols cover is part of a larger, global, unholy matrimony between the parent companies of both Idols and RS. It’s not about music or relevance, it smacks of pure global marketing kak. Otherwise, to paraphrase the Parlotones, it’s just “a giant mistake”.

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  9. Mugambi says:

    I thought Mahala/Stanley’s handling of this was spot on. It’s not bitchy or denigrating. It plays the subject not the magazine. Progressive, relevant criticism. RSSA would do well to take note.

    Kudos ous.

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  10. Rol says:

    Aw Andy, you got me, I was just playing wanker’s advocate – I don’t believe that the decision to put Idols on the cover was a gutsy move intended to convert Elvis Blue’s fanbase into Thom Yorke fans. I don’t work in the publishing industry, so I couldn’t comment on how much say the RS editors have in selecting their content. However, as a globally syndicated magazine, I’m sure Miles and co. are to some degree beholden to a larger agenda – whether that be from the major record labels, from Mr SAMA himself (Randall), or from the advertisers who fund the printing of RS and all its cousin publications.

    However, it would be hard to argue that Idols has no relevance to RS and its readership, and in fact it’d be a major oversight to ignore the show. After all, they DO sell a shitload of singles, ringtones and records every year. They’ve probably helped to keep my local Musica from shutting its doors (for better or worse).
    Yes much of it is puerile, shallow, uninspiring crap, but this is nothing new – for as long as folk have been recording music, there’ve been 100 Patricia Lewis’s for every Paul Simon, 100 Heinz Wincklers for every Hank Williams. Maybe it is us ‘real music’ fans who should see ourselves in the minority, and be thankful that they occasionally intersperse our fascinating and fact-filled Idols feature articles with a few snippets of curiosa on Dylan or Cash…

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  11. Rol says:

    P.S. the idea of a ‘die hard’ Idols fan does make me a little queasy, I admit

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  12. dudie says:

    rolling stone sa needs to think about how they’re going to construct their magazine if they don’t want it to become a glorified version of the old SL magazine; which was all about cronyism and writers who had big mouths and articulation in public but knew nothing about literary styles. and fuck me, idols!!! come on! i’m not buying this issue, no matter what angle the story is about. i can’t have these 3 fucking retarded mugs on my coffee table even for one day.

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  13. Gentleman Villain says:

    Gareth Cliff. What a doos.

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  14. Chad says:

    Cliff makes my balls tingle. Anyone know when he’s coming out?

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  15. Homeboy says:

    Anybody notice how RS International has ties with Idols, The Voice, Mad Men and Game of Thrones?

    Also, have any of you read the article? It’s about how they have to shoe in a winner. BEE vibes.

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  16. Bruno says:

    Great piece.
    It has to be said though that money can buy any piece of publicity you care to name in SA, including the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

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  17. Anonymous says:

    With this latest edition of Rolling Stone, this sees the last time I buy a copy. Idols is not what music is about at all. The more we peddle to these so-called celebrities with ZERO artistic ability or right, the more we sink into a mediocre state of watered down piss for music.
    Seriously, who the fuck is Gareth Cliff?? What the hell does he know in the slightest about music, art or anything in that direction? He’s a radio clown for a moronic station. He’s a puppet and the epitome of a true fucktard.

    As for Randall….the less said the better.

    Unathi…please.

    Lets all go home now.

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  18. Anonymous says:

    I would have to agree its a disgrace , they obviously have no idea who their dealing with and how big Rolling Stone Magazine actually is globally, makes their startup company look like a tadpole in a big ocean. They should assume the position of humility and be honoured and thankfull entailing respect, for having been given this opportunity .

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  19. Randy Andy says:

    Die-hard Idols fans don’t have the intellectual capacity to even appreciate a publication like RS. I doubt RS is going to have great success trying to reach out to sexually deprived menopausal women and socially awkward tweenies.

    The Idols franchise in itself is a sell-out and should be abolished!

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  20. Mike says:

    Idols. CHUNDER. I chunder in the faces of all those judges, then chow my chunder again, and then chunder AGAIN in their faces. And then they chow my chunder, chunder into my mouth, and then I chunder AGAIN into their faces. Yes. Awesome.

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  21. Anonymous says:

    Incoming phone call from 2012…

    Rolling Stone magazine is a large international brand and their objective is to make money. They are not out there to enrich people culturally. They also don’t care about minorities moaning about not covering imitations of old-world ‘counterculture, irreverence and the rock ‘n roll spirit’. Do you know why? Because those things don’t *really* exist anymore.

    And you have to get over it and realize that’s fine too.

    Wake up, it’s 2012, and if you expect large magazine brands with profit as a main motivation to cover shitty (and unprofitable) SA bands you are very stupid. There is no point to cry like a baby.

    If you feel so strongly about this, why align yourself with Rolling Stone? Just don’t buy the damn thing and find your kicks via some blogs on the world wide web.

    In 2012 you don’t even have to pay however much it costs to read about shit you care about in a printed magazine one can buy from a store.

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  22. Bass_Player says:

    @ MIKE

    Your opinion is invalid.

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  23. Jet Black says:

    When Rolling Stone Magazine was announced to come out in South Africa, I was very excited in the thought that finally someone who had eyes was gonna tell us what most of us can’t see.

    I thought they were gonna show us, the artists that the rest of the media was passing over, I thought we had finally been granted a musical leader by the likes of John Peel, someone who would boldly tell us that all the other media had been lying to us.
    And that what we think is good music is actually shit music, and what we think is shit music is actually good music, but it didn’t.

    Instead, Rolling Stone decided to tread where everyone had already been years before them, they decided to sell us the same crap that other magazines had been shoveling in our face for the last few years.

    I never made it past the 1st issue, with Jon Savage’s self gratifying rant about how crap local music is. They really came out the gates with a new approach… NOT!

    What Rolling Stone has forgotten, is that it is their job to tell the public what rocks and not the public’s job to influence what we read on their pages.

    The Rolling Stone team should wear that moniker with pride, and if they do wear it with pride based on their performance so far… they have no shame.

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  24. Alfa Somers says:

    What all you haters and uninformed web-wankers are moaning about, is totally irrelevant. Most of you have this pre-conceived notion of what Rolling Stone SHOULD be and not WHAT it actually IS. Who of you have actually read the Rolling Stone mission statement, if there is one?

    I think the magazine is there inform and entertain the public, mostly on current and past pop culture and politics and to present it from a never seen before angle. The thing is, Idols is one of the biggest and current pop culture trends right now in SA and it’s here to stay. If you personally like it or not.

    I’m not an Idols fan at all, but contrary to all you moaners, the cover didn’t make me piss my pants. It gave me the chance to educate myself on the topic, something I would’ve never done if it was on the cover of SL, You or any other fluff mag.

    If you would actually read the mag, you will see that RS goes deeper to the bone than any other mag in SA. Everything out there has a fucking story, The Great Apes has a story, The Parlotones has a story, Nicholus Louw has a story, even Klipwerf fucking Boere Orkes has a great story (read in RS6, written by Rian Malan) and yes, Idols has a story, it’s happening, it’s out there and it’s immiscible.

    Stop moaning about the para-texts and aesthetics of the mag and go read the stories, that’s what it is actually all about.

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  25. The Sloth says:

    Def a column / piece worth writing, but why I wonder oh why didn’t yr writer pick up the phone and ask the RS ed for comment? All the better to argue against. Got to say, feels lazy. Wouldn’t have been hard to do. Would have been real meat to argue with too.

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  26. Somerfaan says:

    It’s really fucking bad. Idols is the tabloid version of a tv show and has nothing to do with music or the arts. hunter s.would put a pighead with lipstick on in one of the RS’s toilets right now.

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  27. Anonymous says:

    @Jet Black

    “What Rolling Stone has forgotten, is that it is their job to tell the public what rocks and not the public’s job to influence what we read on their pages.”

    are you fucking stupid? their job is to make money, and Idols (fortunately/unfortunately) SELL. There are waay more people interested in Idols as opposed to… i dunno, a vague idea around what some people consider to “rock”.

    Typical Mahala readership definitely doesn’t constitute or represent the majority of RS readership.

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  28. Jet Black says:

    Anonymous, what bravery belies your name?

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  29. Randall says:

    You guys are hurtin’ mah feelings. Sniff.

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  30. dudie says:

    Hey Alfa Somers – fuck you and your relativist stance. Grow a spine. “Every one has a story” I have a story: I went to the store this morning and bought a Steri Stompi. Then I came home, slipped on the tiles in the kitchen and shat myself and my cat licked my balls.

    Idols is a depraved institution full of people who understand nothing about talent. Unless the article is about that, you can’t tell me that the story has the proper credentials to get the cover.

    It’s obvious then that Rolling Stone (the whore) received some sort of remuneration from Idols (the suits) to include three other whores on it’s cover. And that makes the institution that some of the greatest writers wrote for worth not giving a shit about, not anymore. I dare Rolling Stone to run a critical story on the ANC – refer to them as rotten scoundrels, slithering rodents and polygamous bastards, and see what happens. Now you tell me, which story would you rather read? And let me remind you that Idols is relevant culture for 15 year olds and unemployed middle aged divorcees who also watch infomercials, not people who enjoy reading beat literature.

    The problem is that we all made the mistake of thinking that now that RS is here, it would somehow regain its former glory from the day when Thompson wrote for them. This is what should happen. South Africa is very much on the cusp of a cultural revolution (much like the 60’s and 70’s in the US), regardless of race. There is plenty of interesting shit going on on a philosophical and artistic level, stuff any person who can reads would be interested in – not goddamn Idols.

    People don’t know what they want to read or listen to. You’re not supposed to ask the audience what they want – you give it to them and you give it to them good! This is the mistake Rolling Stone is making – like many artist in SA, they undermine the potential of the public. You know why? Because they still think that everyone out there is a dumb fucking Dutchman, Coolie or a Kaffir. They will not say it, but deep down it is how they make decisions on their content. It’s a very subtle thought that happens on an idiosyncratic level for just a second every day and it’s enough to destroy the idea of a magazine like this for good. Although RS works according to stereotypes in the US, it can’t here.

    If Rolling Stone is reading this, I bid them to stop thinking about their audience (they don’t and can’t know what it is yet) and let the audience decide what RS is for themselves. It’s a conversation that takes time. RS’ job right now is to be as interesting as it can be. It needs to get into shit with government and the elite, and make a noise for being alternative, else it’s not going to survive.

    My Regards to the people involved.

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  31. The Bitch says:

    Idols Schmidols.. What a crock of overrated shit! The combined IQ of all Idols viewers equals that of a mentally retarded, stillborn sloth. The show is nothing but a fanfare of luke-warm talent and pissy attitudes styled to faintly resemble a third grade talent show.

    RS needs to make a profit blah blah blah who gives a shit! RS jumping aboard the Idols train just indicates that the South African is still very disillusioned as far as appreciating true local talent is concerned. People are too set in their conservative, anal ways. The fear of the unknown has many a dutchie still clinging to his Bles Bridges cassette whilst Sipho from down the road refuses to listen to anything but Mandoza.

    South Africa has phenomenal talent but you sure as hell won’t find them on Idols!

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  32. Chickenman says:

    How sad for the haters that once again RS didn’t do what you wanted them to do. Boo fuckin’ hoo.

    You’re talking about how RS should get into uncomfortable spaces and then when they do you scream that they’re selling out? Look in the mirror, fools. You think they did this not knowing how you’d react? They anticipated it and they went with it anyway. Because maybe they have a bigger ambition that simply satisfying a bunch of spoiled self-important arrogant brats who believe they own and define “good” culture.

    They didn’t steal food out of your mouths. They simply decided to tell a story that happens to not be what you like hearing about. So as far as I’m concerned they’re doing exactly what RS has always done, which is to look at something in a light that does;t subscribe to any particular notion of cultural “righteousness”. Which is more than I can say for the haters here.

    Grow some balls and read/listen something you don’t know anything about before you go around damning people’s souls to hell for not feeding you your preferred brand of cereal. You may be surprised.

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  33. Alfa Somers says:

    @ dudie the douche bag, go and read my post you illiterate cunt! what the fuck is relative about it? Do you actually know what “relative” means? My comment ends with: “Stop moaning about the para-texts and aesthetics of the mag and go read the stories, that’s what it’s actually all about.” Grow a brain.

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  34. Myolisi SIkupela says:

    On their second issue after branching into South Africa , following Bra Hugh’s cover, well they had Zahara on the cover, Zahara.

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  35. @Dudie says:

    RS did do an article on the dodgyness of the ANC arms deal, I read it, its sitting on the floor next to my toilet.

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  36. dudie says:

    I should actually read the article before I shoot my mouth off.

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  37. Shiloh Noone says:

    Interesting I really thought that I was the only person who missed a heartbeat.

    Ironically it was 5 to twelve for myself to invest into Rolling Stone Magazine, with My adviser Kenny Silke about to an EFT for a forty percent plus and coincidentally saw the front cover in the Somerset Mall , I almost vomited. They told me they needed my input but after seeing that , I realized I was just a tool to fuel a machine that had already strayed.

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