Off Key, On Target

The popular television show “Glee” dramatizes high school through the less familiar medium of show choir.  The main characters are outsiders who form a community based on shared appreciation for music and performance.  These are kids who express their emotions through song because they can’t do it any other way.

The creators have struck a great balance between humor and drama, exaggeration and true feelings.  Like Joss Whedon’s musical episode of “Buffy,” Glee employs the naturally dramatic palette of dance and music—in this case show tunes and power ballads—to express the amplified nature of teenage emotions.  “Glee” is campy and emotionally manipulative, but those qualities work in this context.

Pitch correction, used to some degree in the first season, is suddenly center stage in the second.  Every song, despite the character or the scene, sounds smooth, shiny, and even.  It is a simple fact that high school students are naturally imperfect singers—they are still developing their voices, physically and metaphorically.  But the larger problem is that extreme pitch correction runs counter to the integrity of the show.

“Glee” succeeds based on modulation, careening from heart break to Sue Sylvester’s off-key insults or breaking a moment of silence with song.  These contrasts make the show, creating rhythm and momentum and eliciting real emotion from the audience.  Smoothing out the rough edges compresses not only the sound but also the soul of the show.   Perfect is what the characters show us each week they are not.