When I was a kid, there was a rumour at my primary school about a guy in a white van. The urban legend had it that this guy lured children into his vehicle and then drove off with them, the kids never to be seen again. As far as I know, this mysterious white van man never existed, he lived only in our collective, juvenile imaginations, a place where danger lurked in every removal lorry and FedEx van. But fast forward to 2016, and there’s a very real, altogether more sinister, presence prowling our streets.
James Corden is hated by everyone except Americans. This is a known fact. This is why he lives in America now, among people who do not hate him, and actually laud him for being an egomaniac loudmouth, a buffoonish but harmless clown who tells jokes about accidentally seeing his mom naked and eating lots of Domino’s pizza. James Corden is like a huge airbed that your dad spent half the afternoon blowing up, and now it’s full of hot, fetid dad breath that you later have to squeeze out before you can cram it back in the box. But you don’t have to squeeze the hot air out of James Corden – he blows it straight into your face, whooping with laughter, flailing his arms, panting and grinning, his eyes wild with joy at the joke he just told about a fart or something.
The problem is that James Corden does not stay in his lane (a lane that should have careened off a bridge at the series finale of Gavin and Stacey by the way) but somehow, God only knows how, convinces big time pop stars to joyride with him in his hugely popular Carpool Karaoke series. In many ways, he is not that different from the mythical white van man, the only difference is that instead of kids, he targets pop stars, and instead of Freddo bars and sherbet, the lure is millions of YouTube hits – an irresistible carrot to dangle in front of the modern day pop star donkey.
But it’s time this madness ended. While Carpool Karaoke isn’t a bad format in itself, James Corden is a bad host. Like really bad. And someone needs to have a word. It’s already too late for so many – Corden recently claimed Madonna as his latest victim – meaning there are very few A-list megastar musicians left who have not been suckered in by Corden’s inoffensive brand of talking loudly. Please, Rihanna and Beyoncé, do not get into a car with the bloke from Lesbian Vampire Killers.
James Corden has little to no interest in his guests. Everything he says is a set-up for one of his own jokes, from asking Britney Spears about her stage outfits to talking to Adele about album titles. What’s particularly infuriating is that when his guests open up and say something interesting (Adele revealed her next album will be self-titled and Britney said she didn’t believe in marriage any more!!!), Corden is so focused on shoehorning in a joke, he completely ignores anything his passenger is saying. They are merely there as catalysts for childish gags and visual jokes that normally involve Corden in some state of undress, just props in his boring, boorish pantomime.
The whole ordeal is always worse for female pop stars. Corden delights in asking about their love lives, from grilling Madonna on her relationship with Michael Jackson to questioning a clearly uncomfortable Jennifer Lopez about the ages of her lovers. Time and time again, he subjects enormously successful women to garbage questions about sex and relationships, ignoring the huge achievements they have made in their careers.
And then there’s the singing. Like a whoopee cushion being slowly crushed beneath the weight of your most rotund uncle after an especially large roast dinner, Corden harrumphs and wheezes over his guests, making them fight to be heard over his bellowing. While some, like Lady Gaga and Sia, have the vocal power to compete with this, many don’t. The most infuriating example is Britney Spears, a musician who so rarely sings in public that hearing her do so is a monumental event for even a casual fan. And yet there she is, in a car, actually singing – not loads, it’s true, but enough – actually doing some lyrics in tune, live, actually from her actual mouth. But this was barely audible over Corden’s windbagging, drowning her out almost entirely.
It takes a serious ego to outshine Corden’s. So far, very few have managed to detract enough attention from his screen-grabbing to actually do anything memorable – Madonna had to resort to practically climbing out of the moving car’s window just to compete with the host’s egomania. But the point is, pop stars shouldn’t have to. With some of the biggest names in the world in the front seat of his car, Corden should be falling over himself to ask engaging questions, keeping the spotlight firmly on his guests and allowing them time and space to talk and entertain. Sadly, his interest in camera-hogging and playing the clown makes Carpool Karaoke little more than an exercise in excruciating vanity – and shouldn’t we be leaving that to the pop stars?