The Case Against ‘Carpool Karaoke’

You know that one thing in your life that you’re holding out on? That thing that everybody seems to like, and yet you are determined to avoid at all costs? That thing you sort of hate even though you have zero firsthand knowledge of it? Well, I’m here to tell you: It’s okay! In this specific instance, ignorance might be bliss.

Given the non-stop barrage of stimuli that the Internet introduces into our lives, I believe that it’s necessary to maintain at least one “that thing” as a kind of mini-vacation from the avalanche of content we all drown in daily. It doesn’t matter what your “that thing” is — it could be Game of Thrones, it could be Hamilton, it could be Stranger Things or it could be Beyonce’s Lemonade. It doesn’t even matter if that thing is good or bad, or if you’re “missing out” on “personal enrichment” or “cultural knowledge.” I mean, sure, you probably are missing out. But again: It’s okay! You have permission to be out of touch sometimes.

What matters is giving yourself a break from the constant FOMO pressure. It’s vital for personal sanity. Besides, there’s a chance that “that thing” truly is bad, and your grumpiness is, in fact, 100 percent justified.

For me, that thing was “Carpool Karaoke.” For more than a year, “Carpool Karaoke” has been my personal form of click-repellant. I dodged it with the skill and shamelessness of Trump ducking out on his creditors.

Let me tell you: Avoiding this amazingly (insanely?) popular segment derived from The Late Late Show with James Corden wasn’t easy. Since its debut in March 2015 (which occurred almost immediately after Corden took over The Late Late Show from Craig Ferguson that spring), “Carpool Karaoke” has garnered a staggering 830 million YouTube views, including 119 million just for the Adele episode from January. Another popular installment with Michelle Obama has already attracted more than 34 million views after airing just over a week ago.

Given that kind of visibility, it was impossible to completely block out “Carpool Karaoke.” Just from cultural osmosis, I understood the arithmetic (Corden + pop star = cuteness) and was conversant with some of the biggest moments. (Adele’s battle rap! The Missy Elliott cameo in the Obama segment! Corden rubbing man-boobs with Anthony Kiedis!)

So, how did I otherwise justify my Carpool Karaoke boycott? What was the point? My reasoning was shallow and despicable, but nonetheless persuasive in my own heart: I can’t stand James Corden’s karaoke face.

Forgive me. I recognize that Corden is a Tony-winning actor who has made millions of people happy. He’s talented and it seems like he has a good heart. I wish him the best in his life and career. But to me (again, I apologize for saying this) James Corden is an annoying man-baby. I’m not accusing him of not acting his age, I’m saying that when he sings, he resembles a toddler who happens to be 37-years-old. I can’t decide if Corden (I recognize that I’m a terrible person and I’m deeply sorry) reminds me more of a bloated Benjamin Button or a preppy Garbage Pail Kid. Either way, I’m not a fan.

Am I dumb for judging this man so harshly based on screenshots that I’ve seen in aggregated web stories? Guilty as charged. But look at this photo again:

The man is a terrible driver! Forget that his hands aren’t at 10 and 2 — his eyes aren’t even open! If I can get a ticket after getting caught on camera for mistakenly blowing a red light by a few seconds, why is James Corden not behind bars for reckless driving while in possession of Justin Bieber?

Look, I know I’m fighting a losing battle here: People love “Carpool Karaoke” and I’m a hopeless hater who sees it as an unkillable scourge that is now infecting the rest of television. But while I might be outnumbered, I don’t think I’m wrong: Last week, Apple Music announced that it is turning “Carpool Karaoke” into a stand-alone web series, sans Corden. The day before that, Spike TV confirmed that a “Carpool Karaoke” knockoff titled (sigh) Caraoke Showdown will debut in 2017. Oh, and Corden has assured fans that the original “Carpool Karaoke” will continue as part of The Late Late Show. 

Why did this infection occur? To paraphrase Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws, “Carpool Karaoke” is a perfect engine, a click-eating machine. And you can’t defeat it. Why? Because “Carpool Karaoke” is uniquely designed to deflect criticism. “Carpool Karaoke” epitomizes the passive-aggressive positivity that’s come to typify the web’s “universally loved” pet subjects. It’s so overwhelmingly upbeat that not liking it will make you look like a jerk. (Yes, I know that I’m the jerk in this equation.)

Sure, “Carpool Karaoke” isn’t funny — but it’s also not trying that hard to be funny, snob!

At an ungodly running time of 15 minutes, it’s overly indulgent and even punishing for a web-oriented video — but only because everyone is having such a ball, creep!

It’s pure PR for celebrities — but, c’mon, lighten up, all of show business is PR, dork!

There’s not a lick of substance to it — Okay, seriously, who the f*ck do you think you are, man? LOOK AT CORDEN!

He’s so happy! And he’s singing along with a car radio, just like you and me! It’s so joyous! Joyous, you worthless scum! If you hate this, you’re a real asshole.

Faced with an insurmountable foe, I opted to surrender this week. I finally clicked on several “Carpool Karaoke videos, and I can give credit where it’s due: It does repackage the standard celebrity talk-show interview in a new way. Given how forgettable 99 percent of those interviews normally are, this can be considered an achievement.

But… who cares that famous people now have a better way to humanize themselves? We’re already inundated with evidence that celebrities are just like people, except with better Instagram accounts. The whole point of karaoke is that it allows the rest of us to stand on stage and pretend that we’re pop stars. That was also the idea behind American Idol and all of the other singing competitions that followed in the ’00s and ’10s — it was normals transforming into the extraordinary for roughly 240 seconds.

“Carpool Karaoke” ruins karaoke by inverting that formula — now it’s about the extraordinary transforming into the rest of us. Not really, but that’s the illusion. Ultimately, it’s just another avenue to sell us something in the guise of “fun” and “joyous” content. Perhaps this aspect of “Carpool Karaoke” wouldn’t be so annoying if it were a little less obvious, but Corden is unapologetic about carrying water for this guests.

“We had the Justin Bieber one that went crazy, we had 50 million hits in a month. As soon as that one aired, people knew, ‘This is fantastic PR for our client,’” Corden recently told Time. “The biggest thing people would say after that one was, ‘Oh, I really like Justin Bieber! What a lovely guy! I’ve been completely wrong!’”

“Carpool Karaoke” is “fantastic PR” that made Justin Bieber look like “a lovely guy.” Need I say more?