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.
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.