Monday, January 14, 2008
Why I love French radio
Or, why I absolutely hate American radio.

I have come to the conclusion that listening to the radio in America is a form of mental torture. I'm talking about mainstream pop radio, not the very cool stations you sometimes find in the lower ranges of the FM dial that no-one ever listens to because nobody knows they're there.

Here is what I have observed about the average top-40 American radio station:

1. They play the same seven or eight songs over and over. I often wonder how we as a nation manage to come up with a weekly top 40 (or even a top 20) when there only seem to be eight songs in fashion at any given time.

2. It will take approximately 90 minutes for the radio station to get through a cycle of playing the eight songs. For every five minutes of music, you must have at least ten minutes of advertisements and/or mundane banter from some asshole DJ.

3. Speaking of asshole DJs, need I even mention the abomination that we call The Morning Show?

4. The eight songs that you are forced to listen to several times a day are generally rubbish. At least six of them will be ghetto rap and/or low quality R&B. I suspect that 80% of the songs currently in rotation are recorded or produced by Jay-Z or Beyonce. Expect irritating, repetitive beats and lyrics along the lines of "Yeah. Yeah. Uh." Common themes include: grillz, expensive automobiles, and booty.

5. Out of the two songs left, one of them will be by Nickelback, therefore making it shit by default. This leaves you with one song remaining, which has a 50% chance of actually being good. Don't hold your breath.

So there you have it. American radio sucks, and I only listen to it when there are no other options. The real mystery, though, is WHY DOES IT SUCK SO BAD? I listen to rather a lot of French radio, and it does not suck at all. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder: why do American radio stations stick to a format that can only appeal to people with the IQ of a cabbage, when there are better ways to present music to the masses?

I have this little widget thing that plays a variety of French radio stations on my computer. The vast majority of the time (like, 99.9%) I'm listening to a station called Europe 2. Actually I think they might have changed their name to Virgin Radio, but never mind what they're called. The format is the same. Let's examine:

I can listen to Europe 2 all afternoon and never hear the same song twice. While American radio keeps pushing the same crappy artists over and over (see also: Nickelback), Europe 2 features dozens of artists from all over the world. It's not all French pop, y'all. They do play songs from the UK, Europe, and even America - but they choose carefully and weed out the crap. I've only heard two American songs over the past week. Both were good, and I haven't heard either of them on American radio. Granted, I avoid listening to American radio. But you get the idea.

There is a distinct lack of booty music on Europe 2. You don't get lyrics like "Oui. Oui. Uh."

While I'd say all the music on Europe 2 is pop, they don't stick to just one style or genre. The selection is eclectic, ranging from industrial to indie to basic pop ballads. And since there's so much variety (much of it in other languages), you get exposed to lots of great music you otherwise would never have found.

When's the last time you discovered a new and exciting song on American radio? Or on MTV for that matter? If you're frequently discovering great new American music, odds are you're off the mainstream grid. You're listening to garage bands or going to indie shows. Or, like me, the music you love most just isn't the kind of thing that gets radio play.

I should probably throw in a disclaimer here: I don't actually speak French. I'm trying to learn (and believe me, listening to French radio is very helpful in that regard). But my point is this: good music is good music, even if you don't understand most of the lyrics. If it's catchy and pleasing to the ear, it's already about a mile ahead of any of the crap that gets American airplay.

Oh, and here's another point that I can make. I looked up a video to post here as an example. It's a new song to me - I've heard it a couple of times this week (note: that's a couple of times, not a couple of hundred), so I assumed it was a new song in general. But this video was posted to YouTube in November of 2006. So, good music doesn't have a shelf life on Europe 2. Whereas in America, you will hear f*ing "Umbrella" twelve times a day, every day, during the summer of 2007 and then with any luck you'll never hear it again...

But I digress. Here's the song that's going to live in my head this week. It's happy and catchy. At least, I think it's happy. I don't know what they're saying. But it sounds happy, and it has a lovely romantic video. I hope you enjoy!