Will the new MC on the TV block reveal the old talent shows to be obsolete, vanilla and bloated? Calum Henderson reviews Rhythm + Flow.
If you want to know why once-popular singing shows like The X Factor are battling for relevance nowadays, try taking a look at the charts. Then look back at X Factor contestants. Then back at the charts. Notice what's missing?
Not a lot of rap being performed on the old X Factor stage, is there? Which suggests that these shows designed to uncover the next big pop star are increasingly failing to reflect the current pop music landscape. They're relics of a time when Spotify was just a twinkle in a Swedish nerd's eye, when the CD single was still king. That could be one reason no one's watching them anymore.
Still, in a year in which Lil Nas X broke the Billboard record for most weeks at No. 1 with a song that first went viral on TikTok, an app no one under the age of 30 even knew existed, is a reality show competition offering the winner $250,000 and a Spotify deal the answer?
Netflix's Rhythm + Flow will either revolutionise the talent show format or destroy it forever – hard to say which. All I know is that it'll be hard to go back to the vanilla Ant and Dec world of the singing shows after watching Cardi B offer feedback to up-and-coming rappers.
Cardi is the clear star of a very well-appointed judging panel, on which she sits alongside T.I. and Chance the Rapper. Each is responsible for finding contestants from their hometown (Cardi is from New York, Chance from Chicago and T.I. Atlanta), while for the first audition in LA they've enlisted the help of local West Coast legend Snoop Dogg.
Snoop rocks up to the auditions in an outstanding matching sweatsuit under a fur-trimmed paisley coat, and is permanently shown smoking a cigar-sized joint (don't call the cops, it's legal now). "You look like you smell good," he tells promising rapper Rae Khalil, who also looks a bit like a young Whoopi Goldberg.
Snoop's observations aren't all so positive. "You was bent down," he admonishes dancer CNG, "you gotta stand up." Talk about words to live by – the judges' comments are more succinct here than on the singing shows but they're often doubly profound.
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The audition rounds here feel more like the early episodes of a Ninja Warrior-type show, where even the unsuccessful ones are kind of okay and the good ones are a little bit freakish. One of the standouts in the first audition is D Smoke, a teacher whose look is best described as "hot mechanic" and who performs a bilingual rap in English and Spanish. "As an executive, that shows me another stream of revenue," nods T.I.
Rhythm + Flow's lean 10-episode run (released in three separate weekly chunks) certainly makes the singing shows of old feel bloated and obsolete. But will they produce a star rapper at the end of it? Maybe that's best left to TikTok these days.
Rhythm + Flow screens on Netflix