I don’t know about other gyms, but at 24 Hour Fitness, about half the TVs hanging above the mirrors that line the walls broadcast the big-box fitness chain’s branded content channel, its audio echoing down from the speakers that hang from the steel rafters. In general, the music is a mélange of shouty, up-tempo hooks tethered to seemingly disparate genres –– hip-hop turns into dance-pop, which turns into pop-rock, and after a while, it’s basically the background music equivalent of an extra-large supreme pizza, on which you might find pineapples, sausage, and The Black Eyed Peas.
The faces and voices I recognize the most tend to be rappers and R&B singers, but being able to pick out a Travis Scott bar or Rihanna hit is akin to telling people you’re into literature because you’ve read The Cat in the Hat and To Kill a Mockingbird. I see bands up there that sound like bands from here and ponder why the local ones didn’t make it to that 24 Hour Fitness music video level. Why isn’t it someone I was casually acquainted with from area bars up there instead of some collection of interchangeable musicians with good hair and slim builds cavorting on a gym’s TV, strutting and jumping in an oversaturated landscape, slo-mo bashing on a Telecaster that isn’t even plugged in?
That changed this morning, when, after plunking down a barbell that had deflated my overzealous notions about what weight I could conquer in a military press (“Nice try, Genghis Can’t!”), my eyes wandered from the clock to the nearest TV.
“Oh shit!” I thought. “I know those guys!” There on the screen, above the dumbbells and the wall-to-wall mirrors’ illusory expanse, flickered the video for The Unlikely Candidates’ “Novocaine,” which just became the No. 1 song on Billboard’s Alternative chart –– just atop Billie Eilish.
Sometimes I forget that the Candidates are kind of a big deal, because I see the band members out and about and perhaps because I don’t spend much time with pop radio. I am outside the channel that one might be otherwise familiar with that band, as opposed to one’s familiarity that comes from serving one of them a drink or noticing another walking down Magnolia Avenue. That their music found its way into my brain from a TV at the gym is a testament to both their stature and success and the amazing pervasiveness of mainstream pop. The KISS FMs of the world will find you no matter what, but it’s pretty cool when the people in the video are, you know, actual people.