Can anything stop "Glee?"
Fox's sophomore musical series reached new heights Tuesday night when it played host to Gwyneth Paltrow. (Yes, that Gwyneth Paltrow, the same woman who won an Oscar, sang and strummed at the CMAs and dispenses dollops of life advice in a weekly-ish, Martha Stewart-ish newsletter. She's like the real-life manifestation of Lea Michele's "Glee" alter-ego, Rachel Berry. She'll be damned if she's not perfect.)
"Gwyneth is really trying to position herself as a singer for her country movie," said Tamara Conniff, founder of the music blog TheComet.com. The movie, "Country Strong," hits theaters next month.
"Up until the CMAs, she had been out of the media for so long," Conniff said. "This is a perfect opportunity for her."
Indeed it was. On Tuesday's "Glee," Paltrow performed a mashup of Gene Kelly's classic "Singing in the Rain" and Rihanna's "Umbrella" holding, appropriately, an umbrella. She belted out Cee Lo's "Forget You," a song that has a much more colorful name and message where FCC standards don't apply. She swung her blond hair. She rocked out. She showed she's serious about this singing thing.
It seems there's no better stage to put on a show these days than "Glee." "Glee" has welcomed such guest stars as Britney Spears, John Stamos, and Neil Patrick Harris. Megawatt music makers (Madonna, Lady Gaga, KISS) and movie franchises ("The Rocky Horror Picture Show") have let Michele, Matthew Morrison, Cory Monteith and the rest of the "Glee" gang reinterpret -- or, as they say in the industry, "cover" -- their songs. As a result, both the original artists and the new kids on the block are getting a lot of attention.
"At this point, whenever 'Glee' puts out a new recording, it's safe to assume that it will impact the charts the following week," said Keith Caulfield, a senior analyst for Billboard.
Case in point: Last Tuesday, after "Glee" covered Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" -- already a hit in its own right -- close to 200,000 people paid to download the show's version of the song. That's normally the number of downloads required to score No. 1 status on Billboard's digital songs chart. ("Glee" came close to cinching that title when it covered Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" in its 2009 pilot and racked up 177,000 paid downloads within one week. Currently, that cover boasts more than a million paid downloads.)
The popularity of "Glee's" songs is significant for more than empirical reasons.
"Journey did not want to license that song. It's a big deal that they did that," said Conniff. "Same with 'Sweet Caroline' -- Neil Diamond never licenses that song. It may be a young cast but you're dealing with songs that have deep emotional connections with an older generation, so the music resonates on so many levels."
But numbers are what networks need to make money. And "Glee" is a winner in the numbers game in the broadcast arena as well. Last week, "Glee" was the top scripted show among adults 18-49. Fox is striving to penetrate that market further with a string of "Glee"-themed albums -- the latest, which was released yesterday, is a compilation of holiday songs -- and "American Idol"-style tours when the show is on hiatus. (Remember "Idol," Fox's old cash cow? This show is the new that.)
"From a business standpoint, it's a very smart model because they tap multiple revenue streams," said Albert Lee, deputy editor of Us Weekly magazine, which is putting out a special "bookazine" dedicated to all things "Glee" this Friday. "They're doing merchandise, they're doing albums, they're doing singles, they're doing a tour. They even have a young adult 'Glee' novel. They've thought of every way to tap the teen market."
Does that mean sneakers, denim lines, perfume and workout DVDs from the guys and girls of "Glee" can't be far behind? Yes. But, beneath the plastic packaging, "Glee" seems to have a heart of gold. If it loses that, to answer the question with which we began, it can kiss the speedy song sales and advertiser-friendly ratings goodbye. (To put it another way: Maybe Terry Richardson photo shoots featuring lollipops and panties should be tabled for the time being.)
"If you strip away the clever production values and marketing, it's the same message as an after school special," said Lee. "Drugs are bad, listen to your parents, believe in yourself, love rules."