Sunday, April 18, 2010

MAM Day 18: Pop music & judging

Although the link between math and pop music isn't as theoretical or mathematical, today's topic: pop music and the rise of talent shows on TV is much more exciting to write about.

My original interest in pop music isn't just my bad taste in music, it was the Billboard charts and other top charts that we hear so much about when we flip on music TV channels or the radio. I used to watch MTV for the top 10 music videos of the week or whatnot, and then I thought more critically about what it means to be the top song, album, or music video.

Certainly no stranger to the top charts

The Billboard top charts are created by statistical amalgamation album sales, singles sales, digital music sales, and radio requests and plays. Billboard compiles the music data of the US regularly and puts out top charts which then often influence how and what types of music people will buy and what is defined as "popular music." Itunes also uses the statistics on popular downloads to influence what types of music are displayed in their download sections. I clicked on an artist and found that Billboard tracks much much more data on songs than I previously thought. The Billboard site also tracks a song's position from week to week.

It's important to remember that popular music or top chart music records trends in music popularity and what types of music is being consumed by the public. A look through top songs or albums reveals very interesting trends in American music taste. What I would love to see are the age and gender demographics on top chart songs and albums. I have a feeling that younger generations of music fans are driving the pop music statistics and popularity, but without age demographics, we have to believe that certain songs are the most "popular" songs at this moment in American history.

Pie chart of 2008's top songs by genre

My other big topic for today is the rise of talent judging TV shows that started with American Idol in 2002. Since American Idol became big, other very similar shows have popped up: Dancing with the Stars, America's Best Dance Crew, America's Got Talent, and So You Think You Can Dance. Interesting side note, many of these shows are spinoffs from British TV.

My roommate and I started watching Dancing with the Stars this year and I got hooked. For some reason celebrities learning how to ballroom dance intrigued me in a way the other shows didn't.

However, recent weeks on this season of DwtS left my roommate and I incredibly outraged (why we were so emotionally invested is another issue) at the judging and results. For DwtS, and many similar shows, the scoring is half from professional judges that evaluate weekly nationally televised performances and half from American votes for their favorite stars or performances. In lots of ways, we're troubled to see that it's all a popularity contest - more popular celebrities often don't get eliminated even if they had good performances.

One of these stars is not my favorite

However, I feel that the professional judges' evaluations have a significant effect on what the American public thinks of a performance. There have been so many times after a performance that I think "That was a great performance!" but then the judges tear them down and say terrible things sometimes. Simon's comments on a performance have influence whether or not people vote in the following days.

I also have a big issue with America's Got Talent and the judging of a variety of performances. How do you judge a singing talent versus a dancing crew. How does a dance crew's judging differ from a more classical piece? It's a tough call and after my research, I don't think I found an answer. I don't watch America's Got Talent very much anyways.

Professional judges at work

So I looked up how to actually judge a singing performance or a ballroom dance. It's quite technical and really up to a professional to be judging an individual's performance.
A general list of criteria for a singing competition.
How to judge American Idol performances
Ballroom dancing judging criteria

It really does take a professional who has retired and knows his/her stuff to be able to spot all the minute details of a performance. While these talent shows on US TV aren't as critical as Olympic judging or real untelevised competitions, the judging relies on mathematical ordering of performance. On DwtS, stars and their professional dancing partners are given numerical quantities for their performance and then ranked by scores.

Hey wait, I can hold up 10s too...

I would be surprised to hear that the competitions aren't rigged, I have a feeling certain stars or contestants survive from week to week not based on their performance or the voting records, but rather on what kinds of TV ratings they can get if they keep the drama levels high...but that's neither math related or relevant to what's actually happening in my shows. Oh well, maybe next time.


No comments:

Post a Comment