Nearly 20 years ago, Making The Band presented a model of the music industry’s dystopian future. The entire concept was in the title — throw a group of random, desperate and wide-eyed musicians from across the nation together, and force them to coalesce into something marketable — until Diddy envisioned something more powerful and everlasting. In quick succession, the world received Da Band, Day26, and Danity Kane. Now Diddy and MTV are reviving the concept in another effort to sell consumers’ childhoods back to them.
“I loved it. It was one of the happiest times of my life,” Diddy said in a video announcing the series return on Instagram. “You can’t recreate happiness. No sleeping in the trophy room. You have to do new things and change the game.”
In Making The Band 2, Diddy was the architect of a hilariously Machiavellian show that inadvertently taught a generation three distinct lessons. Unfettered access to the daily lives of musicians was a marketing strategy that would prove bluntly effective, the quality of the music was second to the entertainment value of the artist’s creating it, and hip-hop/R&B’s futures would come from their propensity to produce endless narratives for fans to follow along with. Ironically, it’s those same ideals that make the recently announced revival of Making The Band seem like a futile exercise. It’s propping up a type of linear, televised storytelling that’s far too slow to keep up with the way audiences consume musician’s work now.
Pop music subsists on speed. Social media has conditioned a generation of artists to commit their lives to constant scrutiny by documenting every aspect of it — if they’re lucky, it feeds into their fame. Regular Instagram Live updates and impassioned tweetstorms are the norms. TikTok fueled virality and Tweetdeck-born disruptors can mint stars faster than labels know how to sign them. In this landscape, a 2020s Making The Band isn’t competing with other reality shows, or even other networks. Instead, their biggest threats are artists more concerned with follower counts and stan armies than the faceless households that prop up Viacom’s Nielsen numbers.
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The lasting impact of Da Band, Day26, and Danity Kane has very little to do with the music they made. A classic Dave Chappelle sketch, an R&B sing-off styled as a rap battle, and a member’s alleged affair with Donald Trump Jr. has more cultural impact than a song like Da Band’s “Bad Boy This Bad Boy That” or Danity Kane’s “Damaged.” The type of absurdity that inspired Diddy to make his artists travel to Junior’s for a slice of cheesecake seems pedestrian when teenage rappers are getting face tattoos documented in their IG Stories. The Kardashians are among the most powerful families in all of America, Cardi B leveraged her Love & Hip-Hop fame into a historic rap career, and Donald Trump is the President. Making The Band, along with a generation of reality shows, taught viewers that celebrity was the new power, but it likely doesn’t have any new lessons to impart.
Making The Band was before its time — it belongs, though, to an influential era that’s never coming back. Its central concept is no longer an outlier. That won’t stop thousands of hopefuls from making it onto the show; Making The Band might not make you a musical star, but it’s one step closer to celebrity. That’s all that ever really mattered.