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Monthly Archives: August 2012

The X Factor’s relentless pursuit for authenticity is going to be the death of it. Judging it on two episodes might seem a bit harsh, and basing much of an argument off what people tweet on a Saturday night also suggests a massive naivety on my part but there you go. I’m nothing if not unprofessional.

But there’s an ambivalence beyond anything else I’ve ever felt for the X Factor this year. I just don’t care. Every year they make changes, some minuscule (Simon Cowell’s ‘hand up’ to the sound guy to cut the sound being one, moving the auditions to a big fucking stadium being a rather large one) but this year’s insistence on challenging what people want from their pop stars is mad.

Guitars are now in. Original songs are now in. Previous management contracts are in. It’s like Britain’s Got Talent, especially when you consider the gushing praise for singer-songwriter Lucy Spraggen – a hybrid of Kate Nash’s carefully unarticulated lyrics muddled with Ed Sheeran’s ‘oh am I a popstar? I’m just wearing old clothes and didn’t brush my hair soz’ nonchalance. Of course, if you give her a google you can hear more of her original songs. They’re less gimmicky. But still highly gimmicky. Would Simon Cowell like her? Maybe on BGT, but not here.

X Factor, and Pop Idol, and Popstars: The Rivals have gone on for a very, very long time. Once, driving through Carlisle with Dad, we had Radio 2 on, and they were discussing the ‘amazing journey’ of Michelle McManus, as she’d won the night before. It was amazing, apparently, because she was fat.

One person pointed out that as talented as these winners were, it was incredibly naïve to think of them graduating from a reality TV show and going shoulder-to-shoulder with Real Pop Stars (specifically, they mentioned Robbie Williams but I think I’ll omit that). The critics’ point was that reality TV didn’t produce people of a high enough calibre for them to actually work in the real world. It was like some sick social experiment where they failed and we laughed.

Anyway following on from that, years later the X Factor, while producing some utter turkeys (even when Leona Lewis won, like, the people she was competing against were fucking terrible) started to suddenly have an influx of interesting, amazing contestants. And latterly (well, in the past 4 years maybe) there’s been a very common thing of people who don’t win still being amazing and getting signed and then going on to do better (JLS are about to release a fourth album). It’s like that myth about TV executives launching 10 TV shows and hoping one is a success. If there are 4 X Factor alumni, and one does well, irregardless of where they placed, it’s a win!

Artists like One Direction, Amelia Lily, Aiden Grimshaw etc all had potential to be great artists in the first place but the one big obstacle facing them was getting through inane themed weeks singing songs they were never going to sing in a lifetime. Disco Week, American Films Week, HALLOWEEN WEEK. What is the actual point. Sometimes it even felt like the weeks were arranged in such an order that some contestants would fall at certain hurdles and so on and so forth. Janet Devlin. Rachel Adedeji. Trayc 😦

So actually cutting out that whole process – and getting artists to be [slightly moulded alterations of] themselves from the get-go is quite clever. It means the judges all have a new ‘stock comment’ they can use (‘I would buy that now’/’That could be a number one now’/’It’s like you’ve already had media training, now’ etc) and people can see, right away, what the contestant is going to be like. No more wondering if Aiden Grimshaw is going to be a poor man’s Olly Murs or a successful man’s Mr Hudson. No more posturing if Little Mix are going to be a less muscular JLS or a more muscular One Direction. It’s perfect.

But it’s not, really, is it, because all these twats strumming guitars in auditions and saying things like ‘I’ve played gigs up and down the country’ reeks of Credability Cardle, and look what happened to him! I’ll tell you what happened. I saw him at a Derren Brown after-party and recoiled. He was about 5’5, and had a pallid, sun-deprived face. I was actually reminded of Voldemort. His eyes were black and tiny, his hair thin and wisp-like. TV lied. Matt Cardle looks fucking mental.

Anyway the sentiment that you need to play gigs up and down the country, get bottled in a working men’s club in Burnley and play weddings on that guitar you’ve had for years completely pisses over what makes a pop star good. Amelia Lily could have been singing for a year before she was on X Factor, but that doesn’t tarnish how good she is at being a pop star. Obviously saying she grew up listening to The Supremes with her grandma is a lovely idea and it paints this picture of her using strong woman as her muse which is good. But look at Matt Cardle. How is this Kye dude going to be any different, really?

Furthermore, the guitars, management and original song thing is all down to the popularity of one guy.

THIS GUY.

Now I’m not here to publicly lambast Ed Sheeran. People have done it a lot, and Ed has a very good way of finding someone who is calling him a gimp and being so pleasant to them they feel awful and collapse under the weight of their own hair/cynicism. Ed is fine, he is a nice man (I interviewed him once) and his songs are fine.

His albums sell so much, and he’s such an anti-pop star because he wears scuffed trainers and his hair is messy and at the Brits, he changed out of a suit INTO an old hoody to perform. Amazing.

Both episodes of X Factor so far have focused heavily on young people singing their own songs and ‘wow’-ing the judges, it’s being forced down our throats as a Very Important Aspect of the show. There have been hardly any groups. Hardly any old singers who aren’t going to go far, but they’re likeable, ala Tesco Mary. Hardly any people singing unoriginal songs. Which is why so many people are slumping into their chair and going ‘fuck is that it?’.

One other thing to consider is that while it sounds like the X Factor is incredibly forward thinking in streamlining their production line, the fact that the original songs need that heavy emotional undercurrent for them to be ‘interesting’ or revolutionary proves how shortsighted the whole thing is. As soon as one of these budding popstars has a song written for them, the whole sentiment is lost. And you can’t release an album full of songs about your Grandad dying or being a crack addict living under a bridge*. Then next thing you know, we’re in the same era where Michelle McManus singing a song was inspirational because of some emotional or sentimental crutch.

*turns out you can.

This year’s up’n’coming Sound of 2011 crop may be white-hot right now, but Little Comets have cooled off since they first shot into our skies. Long-time-coming debut ‘In Search…’s pop patchwork feels fragmented in places; ‘Her Black Eyes’ is too-slow, too-soon and ‘Intelligent Animals’ sounds jetlagged.

But when they pick the pace up, a sonorous Geordie knees-up fills space and dissipates any dullness; ‘Tricolour’ is a light-speed lyrical anthem while ‘Joanna’’s cheery ode to guilt and shame is familiar; “Joanna, Joanna, it’s the morning and it still doesn’t feel right” moans singer Robert. If Little Comets played to their strengths they could burn far brighter.

6/10.

This review first appeared in NME dated March 6, 2010.

We’d have forgiven tautologically named young pups Local Natives for being exhausted, irritable and half-hearted, tonight being the last show of their European tour’n’all. No fear: amid the sticky Academy floors, glazed with a sickly sheen of beer and alcopops, the LA band wield their charms with first-night energy.

‘World News’, the opener of the evening, is a thundering bulletin with an irrepressible chorus of “Oh, oh, oh!” that’s soon picked up and run with by everyone present. Here, they display the tendencies towards Fleet Foxes-ish folkiness that made their debut album ‘Gorilla Manor’ such a joy. It’s bolstered by barbershop vocals that take every breath away from the crowd – and we’ve only been here four-and-a-half-minutes.

Zesty string-tinged track ‘Camera Talk’ conjures wholesome thoughts of summery frolics, while ‘Sun Hands’ displays the band’s penchant for Vampire Weekend-esque clean-cut freshman-frenzy. ‘Airplanes’, meanwhile, is startlingly beautiful from the instant the drumbeats thud into action.

A tribute to singer Kelcey Ayer’s grandfather, who died before the two could meet, the track is full of rustic sentiment. Ayer sings of strangely affecting details such as souvenir chopsticks and sleek wooden photo frames with an exposed honesty, tying the chorus together with a raw cry of, “I love it all so much/I call, I want you back, back, back”. The delicate and careful ‘Shape Shifter’ comes to life onstage, with all five members of the band lending their soft vocals as a foundation for an almost embarrassingly rousing chorus.

The key to Local Natives’ emotive power is the way that Taylor and Rice, like sagely, bearded sirens, coax audiences to prick up their ears and open their hearts, in a set doused with sadness, but set alight with celebration. So good, they named themselves twice, indeed.

 


The Avengers sequel signs some new cast members

 

Okay, I’m going to be honest and admit I’m not ‘big’ on sports. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I like sports. Hate playing them thanks to a cruel jibe at my Year 7 Interform sports day. I used to be a good runner, especially 100m and 200m. I remember being so full of my own confidence (because I was best in my form) I threw myself into competitions and stuff.

Anyway I’m running, really fast, and I glance to the sidelines. It’s [NAME OMITTED]! Laughing, pointing. I get a bit distracted and wobble, but still win my race (I think I got 14.7s, I think? Is that good?) and later go to up [NAME OMITTED] because him and a clique of chain-smoking pregnant girls are pissing themselves.

“What’s so funny?”

“Mandle, Christ, you run like an absolute spastic.”

“What!?”

“So funny, like a fucking ostrich or something.”

Heartbreaking. I was so pleased, but I glance at my knobbly knees, already at 12 years old sprouting wiry hairs all over them. I go bright red. Do I really run weirdly? At a later date, I get a friend to film a trial run I. I watch the evidence. HOLY SHIT.

Now, of course, I jog infrequently, and make sure not to concentrate on how bendy-legged i am. Nobody looks great running, do they? But anyway, I used to be a keen sports person but it kind of went away that day.

So it’s for those reasons that I am surprised I’m enjoying the Olympics as much as I am. It’s amazing. The opening ceremony was pride-rousingly tongue-in-cheek in parts, with national treasures such as J.K Rowling, the NHS and Tom Riddle (aka Lord Voldemort) being wheeled out. Last friday, I wondered if the Orbit thing could be a Horcrux.

Probably the nicest thing about the Olympics this far in – despite the fact we’re doing really fucking good – is that nobody is too concerned about us doing really fucking good. It’s just a nice aside to the whole thing. When Tom Daly was harassed by a troll on Twitter, support poured in for him and the weirdo was arrested. When Frankie Boyle likened Rebecca Adlington to a dolphin, people naturally told him to do one. And last night I reprimanded a bartender in a casino for being a sexist dick about Jessica Ennis. There’s overwhelming moral support for the Team GB athletes; they all seem so humble, so deserving of whatever they get, and they make you feel quite proud.

Whenever footballers fail, there’s often a surge of vitriol from people, supporters or not. Footballers are not, generally, very liked. We like to see them fall because they earn so much money and generally, they’re just so easy to dislike. Look at Jon Terry and the ‘race row’ thing. And Wayne Rooney, who despite being talented and clearly an important player seems ambivalent towards being a role model.

But Olympic athletes? They’re so nice! Doesn’t Tom Daly come across as a sound guy. And when the rowing team started crying after winning their gold medal today, you just want to go up to them and shake their hand and say ‘you’re absolutely brilliant’. There’s no smugness, no attitude (well, there could be, behind the scenes, like maybe Michael Phelps demands a puppy to fuss over before each race, or a box of Celebrations with the Bounty ones carefully removed) and I think that, above everything else, is why we’re feeling more patriotic than ever during the London 2012 Olympics.