The Problem With $5 Cover Seattle

MTV can't keep up with Seattle's rapidly evolving music scene.

Last week, MTV finally announced that $5 Cover Seattle—the Lynn Shelton–directed docudrama about one weekend and 13 bands in the city’s music scene—would debut as a web series on December 15. Filmed back in the summer of 2009, the series is supposed to “showcase Seattle’s unique music scene.” There are three problems with this description. First, $5 Cover Seattle is a semi-scripted drama in which musicians are actually playing themselves as characters, so it’s more like reality TV than a completely truthful look at the scene.

Second? It’s been nearly 18 months since the series was filmed, and the trailer now feels dated. $5 Cover Seattle is no longer a clear picture of what’s happening. For one thing, Weekend, Ryann Donnelly’s project with Mark Gajadhar, is featured prominently, but the band barely exists in Seattle anymore, since Donnelly moved to New York this past summer and took the name with her. Then there’s the Moondoggies: Back in 2009, the band was still riding high on the success of their 2008 debut, Don’t Be a Stranger; since then, they’ve released the very different and more mature Tidelands, with a less accessible and popular sound.

Finally, there’s what $5 Cover Seattle doesn’t show: any of the changes of the past year—like the fast and furious rise of bands like The Head and the Heart, Sub Pop’s signing of the much-lauded Shabazz Palaces, or the opening of the Columbia City Theater. The past year also brought debuts from Fences and Perfume Genius; the real-life stories of the musicians behind these projects would make compelling documentaries with no need for fictionalizing.

Maybe the biggest accomplishment of $5 Cover Seattle is revealing, inadvertently, how quickly things can change in this city’s music scene. Up-and-comers become established acts, bands move away, and last year’s buzz becomes this year’s fading background noise.