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Pimples and All

Various Artists
Songs from Dawson's Creek (Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax)

If you're one of those lofty types who don't watch teenager channels like Fox and the WB, you may not have noticed the recent onslaught of pop music on the prime-time soaps. Last season, Chris Isaak and Sean Lennon performed on Melrose Place; Monica sang on Beverly Hills 90210; R.E.M did a live concert on Party of Five. Pop songs are omnipresent -- murmuring in the background while the characters fight and make up, or blaring in the foreground while they make out and gaze meaningfully at each other. Better -- or worse, depending on your perspective -- than any of the aforementioned programs, Dawson's Creek, a chirpily pubescent melodrama on the WB, applies the win-win paradigm to market both aural and visual product. At the end of each show, an announcer intones, "Tonight's episode of Dawson's Creek included music from (insert band names here)." It's a corporate circle-jerk: The labels sell more records, and the network executives increase the appeal of their product to its demographic target, girls and young women, who in turn reward the advertisers by buying more pimple cream, cell phones and cargo pants.

Dawson's Creek is a shiny little package of old-fashioned romantic intrigue and new-age psychobabble. Like all shows of its ilk, it's pure adolescent fantasy, despite obvious attempts to make the characters seem, if not exactly realistic, somewhat less preposterous than their West Beverly predecessors. Although the dewy-skinned denizens of Capeside make snooty postmodernish gibes at shows such as 90210 ("We're just this far from the Peach Pit," one of them snickers knowingly), they're no more like kids I knew, like the kid I was, than Doogie Howser is like my doctor. Unlike real teenagers, the Creek characters all use a lot of fancy words such as "fraudulent," "histrionics," "disingenuous" and "demonize." They're so busy analyzing, validating and demonstrating their impressive vocabularies that they barely find time to suck face and trick each other. Instead of sex, they have many intense, emotional confrontations, which make them weep prettily.

The natural accompaniment to this formula, Songs from Dawson's Creek, also presents adolescent angst in defiantly inoffensive trappings. As Adam Cohen -- son of Leonard, which proves conclusively that musical talent isn't always heritable -- pules on the dreadful "Cry Ophelia," "We're all so fragile/We're all so scared/... It's all right, everybody cries." It's chicken soup for the teenage soul, all sappy sentiment and bumper-sticker banality (one track, by Shooter, actually has the nerve to co-opt the tired phrase "Life's a bitch and then you die" as its chorus -- what's their next single, "Don't Go There"?). The female singers (Paula Cole, Heather Nova, Jessica Simpson) sound winsome and nonthreatening; the males (P.J. Olsson, Shawn Mullins, Curtis Stigers) sound listless and worldly-wise. It's the type of music piped into the juniors section of a department store -- edgy enough to make the little girls think they're someplace cool, square enough to keep the middle-aged moms from taking their business elsewhere. Whatever this music is, it most assuredly does not rock.

And yet, unless millions of dollars in marketing research has been wasted, the kids love it. They sadden me, the kids of America. Don't they still want to rock & roll all night and party every day? Shouldn't they at least aspire to buying CDs their moms wouldn't want to borrow? An album marketed to 14-year-old girls ought to have at least one song by the Donnas or Sleater-Kinney or Imperial Teen -- just one song to make the poor kids feel good about being teenagers. As a certified grownup, I humbly suggest that if life is indeed a bitch unto death, they should have some goddamned fun while they're still pretty and jobless. If I were the network bigwig in charge of such things, here's what I'd do: have the sensitive pretty gay character listen to the Magnetic Fields and Rufus Wainwright. Have the mixed-up underachiever listen to Fugazi and the Boredoms. Have the blowzy blonde with a bad reputation listen to Hole and Suckdog. Have the cherubic trailer-dwelling daughter of a convict listen to the Bottle Rockets and Chocolate Genius. I don't even care if it's Marilyn Manson or gangsta rap. Whatever it is, for God's sake, let it be rock & roll, not Paula Cole.

 
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