You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: NBC’s ‘Songland’

“The Voice,” NBC’s durably low-pressure hang with four music superstars, airs in the spring and fall, but Blake Shelton needs at least some time away from his revolving chair. Enter “Songland,” produced by former “Voice” judge Adam Levine — a series that applies “The Voice’s” attitude of cheerful bonhomie between industry A-listers to the songwriting process. On “The Voice,” it’s singers who compete for the affections, and the notional mentorship, of stars; here, it’s scribes aiming to convince the stars to record their tracks.

Songland’s” first episode features John Legend (a panelist on the most recent season of “The Voice”), deciding which of a series of aspirants’ songs he’ll pick. The contestants perform their songs for Legend and for a panel of three professional songwriters before getting feedback and workshopping their songs to something Legend might actually want to record. Given only an hour with Legend (future episodes, we’re informed in an eye-popping scroll at the top of the episode, are to include everyone from Leona Lewis to the Jonas Brothers), the show opts not to dwell in negativity. The only writer who’s outright let go leaves because of simple genre incompatibility, not lack of talent. Neither does the show concern itself, consistently, with actionable or even meaningful advice. Legend tells one writer: “If I were writing a verse for it, I would think about melodies first, and then I would find words that told a story that I felt was both personal and universal at the same time.” Thanks, John!

To his credit, judge Ryan Tedder, a successful writer and producer, goes on to delineate exactly where the notes in the verses ought to fall for maximum impact. But there’s a certain dispiriting nature to that guidance, as there is when the other two judges, Ester Dean and Shane McAnally, beam over the vastly-revised, unrecognizable songs that the aspirant songwriters bring forth near the episode’s end. One songwriter says she hopes that the mentors can help make her “rough draft” better, but this is less revision than gut renovation. The revamped songs, near episode’s end, feel a bit like patients on that old plastic-surgery reality show “The Swan.” Sure, they fit into the marketplace better, but the bumps and oddities were what made them human.

Insisting on a market-tested sort of perfection, the show runs up against the difficulty that there is no market niche it can fill, or that it cares to. Unlike on “The Voice,” where singers’ peculiarities are cherished and nurtured (these, putatively, are what might make them stars, though the show’s success rate is vanishingly low), “Songland” embraces the sublimation of whatever makes its writers themselves. It’s likely a very accurate depiction of what it takes not merely to break into a risk-averse industry but also to write songs for an artist with a clearly defined persona of his own. But that doesn’t make it, necessarily, TV worth turning your chair for.

“Songland.” NBC. May 28. One episode screened for review.

Executive Producers: Audrey Morrissey, Ivan Dudynsky, Dave Stewart, Chad Hines, Adam Levine

Popular on Variety

TV Review: NBC's 'Songland'

More Music

  • Midland Offers a Clever Take on

    Album Review: Midland's 'Let It Roll'

    At the end of 2019, if you tally up all the steel guitar playing that appeared on a mainstream country album released by a major label this year, chances are that at least 80 percent of it will have occurred solely on Midland’s new album. That’s not the only reason to buy “Let It Roll,” [...]

  • Taylor Swift: Borchetta 'Conveniently Forgets' Scooter

    Taylor Swift: Scott Borchetta 'Has 300 Million Reasons to Forget' Scooter Braun Warnings

    In an interview with “CBS Sunday Morning,” Taylor Swift charged that the president of her former label, Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta, has a selective memory when it came to recalling just how she’s long felt about Scooter Braun, who acquired her catalog when his Ithaca Holdings purchased the record company. “I knew he would sell [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift'The

    Taylor Swift Downplays Association With Harvey Weinstein

    Taylor Swift’s association with disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was among the topics the singer addressed in a revealing new interview with The Guardian. Weinstein held producer credits for the movies “One Chance” and “The Giver,” both of which featured Swift — in the former, a song, and in the latter, a supporting role. She [...]

  • Tanya Tucker Finds Fresh Footing With

    Album Review: Tanya Tucker's 'While I'm Livin''

    Before there was a name and a place for it, an “outlaw” was what Tanya Tucker was in the years following her gentle country smash with the gospel lilt, “Delta Dawn,” in 1972. A hellraiser and heartbreaker (Merle Haggard and Glen Campbell were just a few of her noted lovers), Tucker made as many headlines [...]

  • A pair of handcuffs

    D.C. Concert Biz Heavyweight Seth Hurwitz Arrested for Solicitation

    Seth Hurwitz, a highly regarded figure in the Washington, D.C. concert scene, was arrested Wednesday on solicitation of prostitution after a massage therapist who felt harassed by Hurwitz helped police set up a bust. Hurwitz, owner of the 9:30 Club and Anthem venues and chairman of the Merriweather Post Pavilion, was released on $5,000 bond [...]

  • Major Lazer Fortnite

    Major Lazer Remixes Fortnite Soundtrack and Releases New In-Game Skins

    Major Lazer, one of Diplo’s many creative outlets, has teamed up with Fortnite to offer fans access to a unique character skin and new remixes of the game’s Default Dance track. The Lazerism set includes the Major Lazer Outfit, Lazer Wings, Lazer Aze, the Lazer Blast emote and the EDM group’s remix of the “Default [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content