We watch... so you don't have to.

The One-Hit Wonders Hit Back

The revelation came to me sometime during the Tears for Fears video.

Living in Canada, I don't have immediate access to many of the thousands of U.S. cable channels that Americans take for granted. While at times that's a good thing (oh God, can it be a good thing), it does mean that some programming just doesn't migrate up here unless a Canadian cable channel somehow picks it up.

For the most part, this works well enough. We get most of the actual sports from ESPN, without the chess matches and dog shows foisted on the rest of you by ESPN2. We get the shrewd, hardballing Chris Matthews and not the weasel-faced, conniving Matt Drudge. And yes, we get Buffy The Vampire Slayer. We even got part two of the season finale, because the execs at YTV -- Canada's Nickelodeon -- mustered up the cojones their equivalents at The WB lacked.

But when our happy Canadian system goes wrong, it goes so horribly, horribly wrong. Wrong like Pop-Up Video.

If you've ever tuned into VH-1 or MuchMoreMusic -- Canada's VH-1, but somehow magically injected with even more lameness -- you have probably come across an episode of Pop-Up Video. It's a half-hour of best-forgotten videos from some one-hit wonder, usually from the 1980s but sometimes from the 70s or 90s. And to freshen up these videos, which you've no doubt seen hundreds of times, they're "annotated" with little notes that pop up onscreen and inform you, in case you cared, that the Beastie Boys opened for Madonna back in 1985.

And you care. Holy mother of God, do you care!

All those pieces of backstage gossip, those biographical asides, those random statistics and heaping helpings of the word "but" make you feel... special. You're an insider, man. You know something that the suckers who watch the History Channel or Discovery will never know, what with their stupid obsessions with the Maginot Line or robot dogs. You know that a-ha's animated video for "Take On Me" is actually the second video shot for that song.

And, damn, you feel good.

There's a dark side to this happy wonderland of information overload and Fine Young Cannibals videos, however. What the producers of Pop-Up Video want you to never, ever realize while you're feeling like a hip, amused industry insider, is that they're making you watch videos you would never, ever, ever watch in a million years.

And I do mean watch. You can't just listen to the music that brings back all those painful junior high memories. You have to stare straight at Terence Trent d'Arby's ugly mug for the full three minutes, lest you miss one of those little blooping demon bubbles.

Pop-Up Video is a sure-fire scam. VH-1 gets to recycle its huge library of one-hit wonders that they would otherwise have no excuse not to cart out to the landfill. The artists get a few pennies in royalties to help upgrade to a better class of hovel. The advertisers get to market straight at a demographic of gullible twenty- and thirty-somethings who care that "Shout" by Tears for Fears was used in a Japanese car commercial. As for you ... well, you get to learn that "Shout" by Tears for Fears was once used in a Japanese car commercial.

Unless VH-1 has canceled the show, of course. I'd never know, being in Canada and all.


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