Jumping the shark is a colloquialism used by TV critics and fans to denote that point in a TV show or movie series' history where the plot veers off into absurd story lines or out-of-the-ordinary characterizations, particularly for a show with falling ratings apparently becoming more desperate to draw viewers in. In the process of undergoing these changes, the TV or movie series loses its original appeal. Shows that have "jumped the shark" are typically deemed to have passed their peak.
The phrase refers to a scene in a three-part episode of the TV series, Happy Days, first broadcast on September 20, 1977. In the third of the three parts of the "Hollywood" episode, Fonzie (Henry Winkler), wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a penned-in shark while water skiing.
Even before "jumping the shark" was employed as a pop culture term, the episode in question was cited many times as an example of what can happen to otherwise high-quality shows when they stay on the air too long in the face of waning interest. The infamous scene was seen by many as betraying Happy Days' 1950s setting by cashing in on the 1970s fads of Evel Knievel and Jaws. -Wikipedia
Television has "jumping the shark" as the term for a show that has lost its way. Film fans and critics mention disasters such as Heaven's Gate or Waterworld, but what expression or point of reference does the music industry have for the misguided or profligate artist?
Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music immediately comes to mind as on example. And up until its release this year, certainly Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy was the metonym for artistic stumbling, self-doubt, extravagance, and abject failure. Curiously, now that the album is available, Chinese Democracy's metaphorical potency has greatly diminished, though I have a feeling it will become a term used to describe similar journeys or missteps. (Whether there will ever be another misstep so drawn out and expensive is another question entirely.)
Yet one reason that Chinese Democracy might not be the best example, and why it might be disqualified as music's equivalent of "jumping the shark," is that the album was not released during GNR's heyday. Part of the reason Heaven's Gate and Waterworld were so symbolically disastrous was that they occurred during the heights of director Michael Cimino's and actor Kevin Costner's respective careers. In other words, Chinese Democracy stands in for a musical story with which we were intrigued up until we knew the ending (ultimately, a disappointment), but it still doesn't represent a major faltering in the midst of a career. So, what does? And what musical mistake was so balls out treacherous as to forever become the measuring stick for balls out treacherousness?
And I'm not talking about Dylan going electric. I'm talking about errors and gaffes that even with time don't reveal themselves to be secretly brilliant.
For instance, what about U2's Pop album and the consequent Popmart tour? Garth Brooks' alter ego Chris Gaines? Kiss without the make-up? Springteen's "57 Channels (And Nothing's On)?
Or, perhaps music fans are more forgiving. The medium allows, even exalts, transformations. After all, we revel in declaring the death of one musical genre or artist only to stage a resurrection later (then pat ourselves on the back for never having lost the faith.) Maybe music doesn't have a "jump the shark" parity because it requires those acts of daring. And as long as the artist come back on the next album or tour with redemption at their side, all is forgiven.
So, even if we can't find an exact matching term for what constitutes a musical embarrassment, let's at least try. Feel free to share music moments or albums so off base that you think they could or should become an expression that embodies everything similar that follows in their wake.