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The Parlotones suck

2010-05-12 13:43
We're now less than a month away from the World Cup, and I'm dreading it. I live in the CBD, just off Long St, and the Green Point Stadium is no more than 10 minutes drive away from my home. This means that my neighbourhood is about to become a wall-to-wall vomitorium, a vuvuzela tuning centre, a fight club, and experience the worst parking space shortage since the Ginnungagap.

But all of this pales into insignificance compared to the fact that as a (mostly) white South African, my culture is about to be represented to billions of TV viewers around the world by none other than the Parlotones. Surely I'm not the only person who finds this depressing.

My first exposure to them was at a Coca-Cola concert, and a few months later, they became the primary reason I cancelled my DSTV subscription. I take music seriously, so watching a band dressed like accountants and singing about why I should upgrade to a PVR 50 times a day was more than my sensitive soul could take.

And then there's the make-up. Seriously, WTF? Is that supposed to be edgy? Emo? Running mascara from the tears of despair he cried knowing that he's sold his soul to Satan? My theory is that before one performance Kahn came straight from an all-night bachelor party and forgot to look in the mirror before getting onstage. Now he has to wear that stupid make-up for the rest of his professional life so people will think it was intentional.

Call me a romantic idealist, but I can't take an artist seriously if they don't do so themselves. This is why I can't appreciate the 15-minute novelty appeal of Die Antwoord, the biggest in-joke con-job since Sigue Sigue Sputnik. On the other hand, at least they're almost as amusing as a below-average Jackass episode in their been-there-done-that attempts at faux offensiveness.

But the Parlotones are offensive simply because they're so inoffensive. Their music is so mind-numbingly bland and unobtrusive that if it were intentional, it would be ingenious. They're the musical version of an in-flight magazine, a bowl of boiled rice without seasoning, a mass-market, photo-realistic, oil-on-canvas portrait of the Big Five aimed at European tourists. It's the “on hold” music you hear when making an appointment with your dental hygienist. It's shopping mall soft-pop pap for prepubescent suburbanites who don't know any better.

Shit, they must be raking it in.

The Parlotones are such a (financial) success precisely because their music is so suited to all-purpose advertising that I suspect selling out to the highest bidders was their intention from the start.
They provide the perfect soundtrack for advertisers who are attempting to target all demographics simultaneously, in their lust for the leisure cash of anyone with a pulse and a salary. That's why the Parlotones have attracted brands like Gigabyte, KFC and DSTV, who want to appeal to audiences younger than they are without alienating anyone older.

It's similar to the choice you'd have to make if you were planning a huge family birthday party for your ageing grandmother, and could only choose one flavour of ice cream. Just to be on the safe side, you'd choose vanilla – not a flavour that anyone is particularly passionate about, but at least most people don't actively hate it. That's the Parlotones in a  nutshell: vanilla music for the vanilla masses.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm aware of the nature of the music industry. I know that every rock band is actually a brand, like any other saleable product, with a logo and a public identity – and this is where the Parlotones fail. By selling out to anyone who comes knocking, they've become nothing more than corporate dancing monkeys, jukebox prostitutes, ready for hire to anyone with a fat cheque and product to flog. They have no real identity of their own, let alone artistic integrity or a shred of dignity. I'd bet that with enough money, I could get them to dress up in gorilla suits and pee on each other.

Their only art is in their unbridled greed, their studied superficiality and rabid solipsism. So perhaps they really are representative of my culture. As a whitey who grew up in the suburbs, I can relate.

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