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If you watched the amazing, epic, event-tacular trailer for Season 4 of Game Of Thrones this morning you might be wondering what exactly happened at the end of Season 3 since it was quite a lot time ago in ‘TV watching time’.

So I thought I’d write a quick guide to where everyone was last time we saw them in the gloriously blood-soaked kingdom of Westeros.

Daenerys: After burning Astapor to the ground and acquiring a sizeable army of penis-less soldiers, Dany managed to free slaves, sack cities and win considerable support in S3. In the season finale, her men managed to overthrow Yunkai, the second of three cities in the belt known as Slaver’s Bay.

Status: Feeling quite loved because she’s styling herself as the queen of Yunkai, but also because the slaves call her ‘mother’ which is quite nice.

Jon Snow: After pretending to join the Wildling’s and turning his back on the wall, Jon Snow had sex in a cave and wrestled with both his conscience and his teenage libido in Season 3. Eventually, after scaling the wall, he showed his true colours and turned on the savages again, only to end up with an arrow in his leg. He arrived back at the wall, bloody, exhausted, and with an impending attack to contend with.

Status: Exhausted and in need of a good lie down but there are a load of savages about to rip his face off, and everyone at the Wall think he willingly left them to be a Wilding so good luck getting anyone to trust you, Jon.

Sansa Stark: Poor Sansa was dumped by Joffrey at the end of Season 2 as the Lannisters forged a new alliance with the Tyrells and he was promised to Margaery. Sansa was then caught between marrying Loras, the handsome knight of flowers, or joining Littlefinger on a secret mission, and in the end managed to get neither, after Tywin interfered and married her to Tyrion. Sansa is pretty bummed out about being married to a grotesque imp, especially given his family ordered the massacre of most of Sansa’s northern family, too. Poor Sansa.

Status: She has virtually no family left, thinking Arya, Bran and Rickon are dead and knowing Catelyn, Robb and Ned are. BUT she has a shiny new husband. So, you know.

Arya Stark: Arya ran from the Brotherhood Without Banners (aka Westeros’s hippy Greenpeace brigade) only to be kidnapped by The Hound, who took her to The Twins, where her mother and brother were attending a wedding. Luckily for Arya, she wasn’t anywhere near the wedding when the Northerners were brutally slaughtered, but the downside is that Arya thinks most of her family are now dead. Christ. Anyway she bumps into some Freys on the road and releases her inner psychotic nutter by brutally stabbing them. Amazing.

Status: An extreme version of getting out of bed on a Monday and stepping on a plug with your bare foot.

Theon Greyjoy: Theon spent most of Season 3 naked, crying, and covered in his own blood. In the finale it was revealed his torturer was none other than Ramsay Bolton, the son of Roose, the man who helped backstab the Starks at the Red Wedding. Ramsey also cut off Theon’s penis and administers enough psychological warfare on the boy for him to think his name is actually Reek.

Status: Physically and mentally damaged, unpleasant smell.

Stannis Baratheon: Stannis has decided that the war between the five kings is useless if nobody is going to do anything about The Wall being attacked. So it sounds like he might be making a trip up north with Mellisandre,

Status: Trying to win people’s respect. Failing. Having to go up North despite not really wanting to.

Joffrey/The Lannisters and other people in the Capital: Joffrey is preparing for his marriage to Margery Tyrell, but is still being a little shit to his grandfather Tywin. Cersei is quite happy the Starks are all but dead, and Jaime and Brienne have returned from captivity with three arms between them.

Status: Happy (Starks mainly dead, impending wedding, lots of gold)

Bran: Bran continued getting a piggyback from Hodor, with his group of Meera, Jojen and Hodor saying goodbye to Osha, his carer and the youngest Stark, Rikon. They decided to split up because it was safer or something but mainly because they split up in the books. Bran met Sam, and he led them through the wall to the Northern Reaches, where they are searching for the 3 Eyed Crow. Nope, I don’t know either.

Status: Bored, probably.

You can see the trailer here:

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Reputations have a habit of being in constant flux. A good reputation does not take much to tarnish, and similarly even the most bruised apple can bounce back.

But there is something that has suffered for too long to ever really be respected again: the humble lanyard. Once used in corporate offices to denote who is responsible in case of a fire, the lanyards use by charity muggers on high streets has turned it into a shibboleth, a way of identifying that the person in a North Face jacket cantering towards you like an excited Spaniel is, in fact, about to bother you with something you don’t care about.

Do you donate to charities? I don’t, really, but there have been exceptions. If someone I like/know in real life is running a marathon I like to offer support, but seeing my paltry £2.50 up against more generous donations can sting. If my weekend plans involve watching Paul O’Grady’s For The Love Of Dogs while clutching a bottle of Hendricks gin, I can also find myself bawling my security code down the phone to the Battersea charity, pledging to adopt all the dogs, all creeds and colours, like some canine incarnation of the Jolie-Pitts.

Charity mugging irks a lot of people, so maybe it’s too easy to bark on about how annoying it is. I still think, though, there’s a time and a place. On Oxford Street, after I’ve taken out a mortgage on a pair of brogues or decided to buy a new Paul Smith suit in lieu of keeping one of my kidneys, maybe it’s not ideal.

Part of the problem lies in the sociolinguistic construct between charityperson and shopper. That sounds more complicated than it should. What I mean is, when someone wants you to sign up for a charity, there’s a pretty basic level of interaction you can have. You can say yes, and make their day, or you can say no.

A lot of people act like cunts when they do the latter. You hear about them shoving charity workers or telling them to do one or flipping the finger. But being pleasant – ‘Oh hi no I’m not in a hurry actually you can probably tell by my slow saunter of a walk even though thats mainly because I have a blister from running yesterday man exercise sucks I’d love to know more about this charity and what you do’ and having a solid rapport kind of makes refusing to sign up to their charity more difficult.

Case in point, last week I was on Oxford Street; I was waiting for a friend who works nearby, and I work nearby, and had some exciting news about work, so we decided to have a quick pint.

I see the lanyard first. Then the North Face jacket. Then that the mugger looks like Theon Greyjoy from Game Of Thrones (Alfie Allen to the rest of you). Theon has spent a lot of S3 being tortured, mocked, hurt, flayed, and spread on a cross, so to see someone so strikingly similar made me think it would be nice to talk to him.

He was from the Sunday Times! Not a charity. I was thrown.

Anyway he’s selling subscriptions, so I listen, because the more Sundays I wake up feeling hungover AND alone, I realise that not having to leave the house to buy a paper might be really amazing. And I’d get a subscription to the website, meaning I can stop remaining ignorant of people tweeting ‘Amazing; you MUST read this interview on the Times [£]’. That would be good.

So the packages range in price but for me – a vigorous young go-getter, in Theon’s words – I would probably enjoy the weekend one. The Times on Saturday, and The Sunday Times. Those are the good ones, I thought. Maybe I could read them at the breakfast table. I could make those waffles I saw on Buzzfeed! Life would be a fine thing.

Thing is, my mate is here now, having only been marginally late for our going-to-the-pub thing. I’m umming and ahhing about getting this subscription – especially since Theon explains I have to pay an extra pound to get them delivered to my house. (“How am I paying for a subscription if they’re not being delivered?” I ask, sensibly. “We’d post you a coupon you can redeem for a newspaper at selected newsagents,” he explains, which to me is shorthand for THIS IS A LOAD OF FAFF WHAT AN UTTER FAFF).

Whenever I try to figure out if I’m being fleeced I multiply the deal by however many weeks/months are in the year. This deal, for the year, is £208. It’s good, but I am wanting to have a think about it. My mate photographs me being, in his words, ‘mugged off’, and I turn and wave as he does it, making me look a bit like Alan Partridge. He tweets it 😦

MUG

“Look, I mean it sounds great,” I say.

“Ah, Chris, don’t let me down man!” the guy says. And herein lies the problem. We’ve been having a chat, I’ve been making some hilarious quips, he’s been laughing in all the right places. Our chat is nice. But it’s crunch time now, and the whole thing becomes tricky.

“I don’t think I’m interested in signing up today,” in what I think is a flat, serious tone (NB: I probably grinned like a mug the whole time).

You are! He says. You said so! He adds. Such good value, he reminds me. Can I get some kind of leaflet and think about it, I ask, ever the diplomat. No. The offer stands right now, it will be gone after today.

I think in 95% of cases, forcing someone to make that kind of decision in a fleeting moment will result in them backing away and ducking out. I gave the guy my number (???) and said he should call me at the weekend and I’ll think about it, but I have made up my mind at this point.

(He rang today actually but I turned the phone on silent and went and made a pot of coffee. He predicted this would happen on friday, but I laughed it off with a ‘HA classic Theon Greyjoy’ remark)

It’s the same thing with charities. At this exact moment, on my lunch break, do I want to sign up to a charity? Probably not. And because of my saunter (/blister) I walk awfully aloof, so people catch me. Once, when someone from a dog charity approached me, I told them I was very interested but my partner and I just adopted a retired greyhound from that EXACT centre. We called him Chester, and he was a kind of mottled colour, very quiet, and friendly, and he was fitting in really well, but we had spent so much on his vet bills we couldn’t commit to a charity right now but maybe next year! In truth there was no dog. No adoption. Chester does not exist. I didn’t even have a partner 😦

Then you feel bad because even though they say it’s nice to chat to people instead of having scrunched up copies of ES magazine hurtled at them by commuters, you do feel like you just wasted their time. Theon said he had to sign up one more person and he could go home. Maybe that person was walking past while he and I talked.

So what’s the lesson here? Maybe it’s that being nice isn’t always enough. Or that diplomacy can be detrimental. Or never to meet friends on Oxford Street.

Then again, if I saw Kit Harrington in a lanyard, I don’t think I’d have it in me to be rude.

This week’s X Factor theme was Halloween. I can’t quite remember when Halloween became a ‘thing’ on X Factor, as it seems a pretty difficult, pointless and confusing theme to master on the paved road to stardom, but there you go. Scream as Rylan does something unnerving! Shiver as Tulisa’s ‘game talk’ reaches irritatingly new lows! Recoil as Christopher Maloney wears the unshiftable grin of a seaside puppet!

Drunk Judge Of The Week: Nicole Scherzingher

My favourite thing about X Factor last year was Kelly Rowland. She was brilliant because she had a very poor grasp of what being an X Factor judge actually entailed, so watching her come up with catchphrases, jive-talking to her acts and flicking her weave in Tulisa’s face was brilliant entertainment. Though she’s gone, her bashful unprofessionalism lives on in Nicole ‘Ruiner of Rachel Crow’s Dreams*’ Scherzingher, who this week decided to cannonball eight buckets of wine before taking her seat.

To District 3, dressed as Clockwork Orange: ‘I know we’re being spooky but those eyes? I’m… I’m scared’

To James Arthur: ‘I love the way you just taste and feel… your songs’

To some other contestants: ‘Slrrnnhg… Hhmbz? Ghrsssnn VOTE RYLAN sluzzyr’

Amazing.

 

Unusual Throwback To A Script Lyric Of The Week: Tulisa, to Jahmene

After singing a very nice song**, Jahmene received glowing feedback from the judges (guess which one likened him to a young someone something). The weirdest praise was from Tulisa ‘Connoisseur Of The Urbane’ Contostavlos, saying ‘I have a nickname for you. You’re The Man Who Can’t Be Moved’. Reports that Jahmene will Break Even next week For The First Time, allowing him to enter The Hall Of Fame (ft Will.I.Am) are as of yet unconfirmed.

Least Endearing Nickname Of The Week: Ella Henderson, ‘Cupcake’

Carrying on from last year’s ‘Likkle Muffins’ – Tulisa’s term of endearment to her girlband Little Mix – comes this slightly horrible remark to Ella. The fact is, cupcakes are bad for you, sickly, a bit twee, popular with hipsters and stud the streets of London like intricately frosted prostitutes. WELL DONE TULISA. Also, if she doesn’t stop putting on that fucking horrible ‘up North’ accent when she says it I’m calling OFFCOM.

The P45 Award For Not Being Particularly Missed: Spraggo ‘Lucy’ Spraggan

Oh Spraggo. After being too poorly to perform, you’ve gone into the X Factor’s loftiest heights of notoriety – getting a free pass to next week. This has happened rarely (Diana Vickers was the only other one I think) but there’s something worrying about the X Factor hoofing everyone out to Mahiki for Rylan’s tragifest of a birthday then being concerned that the contestants have sore throats. What would Spraggo have sung anyway? Some rambling sentimental love-whinge that was interspersed with ‘Thriller’, maybe. It makes me angry just thinking about it.


So Humble and Normal Award: Jade

Just when you worry her great track-record and constant praise from the judges might go to her head, we have a helpful VT that informs us just how down to earth Jade actually is. Forget a clip explaining her song choice, or the judges weighing in on how she is doing as a singer, this week was all about Jade picking her daughter up from school and having Tulisa round for a cup of tea (ARE YOU KIDDING ME X FACTOR) because she’s so normal. Next week: Rylan visits his hometown and his family tell him they’re so proud of him for sticking to his roots (while he gets his roots did at a posh Essex salon).
NEXT WEEK: There is one less person, so naturally the programme has more adverts.

 

* If you haven’t seen this, watch this clip of Nicole’s stint on US Factor last year. It’s tragimazing because she basically ruins everything for one contestant by going to deadlock, with what follows carrying a bleak, emotionally fraught atmosphere you’d sooner expect from an explosion at an animal shelter.

** Something that has annoyed me for a while is the way singers of opposing gender to the original maker of a song swap the gender round so it sounds like they are conceivably singing it to a heterosexual lover. Jahmene did it on Killing Me Softly and all it did was make it really jarring and obvious they changed it round. Why bother? Do they think if he keeps ‘he’ ‘man’ and ‘him’ in a song people will think he’s gay? Because Jade, who if you believe the papers (and why wouldn’t you we check our sources etc etc), has no problem singing lyrics addressed to a man despite the fact she is attracted to women. She isn’t doing a disservice to her sexuality or anything ridiculous like that – she’s covering a song. RANT OVER.

 

This weeks X Factor theme was Club Classics. Possibly the most tenuous and useless theme for any contestant looking to forge a fruitful career after Christmas, but one of the most entertaining nonetheless. Marvel at the ‘urbane’ acts as they become more malleable than chewing gum! Chortle as Rylan does a mash-up so mashed-up it redefines ‘liquidation’! Cheer as Ella Henderson is hailed as ‘the new Adele’!

Fight For Your Life Award: Jahmene, ‘father was a bit of a bellend’

This week’s FFYL award goes to Jahmene, whose watery soft-jazz performance would surely have earned him criticism were it not for the worryingly convenient truths about his home life emerging in the press. This contestants juddering mouse-gasp of a vocal range might not hold up against Ella or Jade, but because we now know Jahmene’s dad battered his mum with a blowtorch *Benny Hill face * there’s a feeling that he HAS to win this competition not because of his talent, but to escape the clutches of his Dickensian family life.

‘You Remind Me Of A Young Bond Villain’ Of The Week: Louis Walsh

When people who aren’t very good dressers hire a stylist, the results can be downright sinister. As was the case with Louis ‘Evil Plan’ Walsh, whose turtleneck and suit combo made him look downright devious. Runner up: Nicole Shirtswinger, for her ‘is there a dagger concealed in my hair? I’ll never tell!’ ponytail.

Medical Malady Of The Week: Jade, ‘bad throat’

I had a nasty bout of tonsilitis during university. I’m quite sure it helped shape my degree into the ugly, tangled, vomiting mess that it ended up being. Worse than having to breathe through my eyelids and trying not to kiss people (harder than it sounds) was the lack of sympathy from people when I complained.

Thankfully Jade, AKA Familiar-Sande, has lots of sympathy thanks to an award-winning VT where an Actual Qualified Doctor shoved a camera down her throat to check her throat was swollen. “It’s definitely swollen,” he said confidently. Because her throat was fucked (maybe because she’s belting out power-ballids every fucking week?) she didn’t practice much, and communicated with Brian Friedman by writing on the new Samsung touch-pad iPad ripoff. I wonder if I could have done my dissertation on one of those.

Backhanded Insult Of The Week: Nicole, to Kye S(c)ones

The unfortunate distribution of consonants means Kye Sones has been cruelly denied a place in the diabetetics seventh circle of hell that is The Great British Bake-Off. Instead, the all-singing, all-pouting chimney sweep – the Topman to Matt Cardle’s Burton, perhaps – sang the song he did in his first audition atop a giant pile of metal. Deep. Nicole’s comment ‘that could have been Chris Martin singing up there’, while sincere, proved that the show can deal deadly blows from which contestants may never return. Reports that Sones dealt with the stinging remark by hiding up a chimney are as of yet unconfirmed.

The ‘That’s The Spirit’ Award for Lying Through Song: James Arthur

Buck-toothed James Arthur – who may or may not be referred to as Plan C – has an unusual stature. He has some good tattoos, but also some bad tattoos. He has Deirdre Barlow’s glasses, but plays the guitar. He also speaks with the clarity and eloquence of someone stripping bamboo leaves from a tree. So it was surprising, then, that he chose LMFAO’s ego-stuffed sonnet to wanking ones ego ‘Sexy And I Know It for his song, mainly because his backstory was that he lived under a bridge for a brief period as a homeless heroin addict. That’s the spirit, James, but if you sing ‘I’m in my speedo trying to tan my cheeks’ again I’m going to pretend to have a heart attack backstage so a paramedic can get me the fuck out of here.

Empathetic Judge Of The Week: Tulisa Constantlyfuckingmeoff

Tulisa’s remark that her favourite thing about James Arthur was the pain in his voice, forgetting, like everyone else, that most that pain comes from his stint as a heroin-riddled bridge-dweller and his health is probably in serious decline. Stop taking him to Mahiki! He cannot handle the nutrient-rich cocktails 😦

‘Tenuous Link To The Theme’ Award: Lucy Spraggan

Sporter-of-hats Lucy ‘Spraggo’ Spraggan decided to take a David Guetta song and sing her own verses over the top this week, earning praise for being clever, creative, amazing and oh fuck can we just get rid of her please. There are several problems with Spraggo, chiefly that she is on the X Factor but doesn’t want to do things the X Factor way and trolleys out her own ‘stories’ about people with the odd Northern phrase thrown in so people can mawk on about how fucking authentic she is. Hey record labels! Leave her alone, she’s doing her own thing, she’s keeping it real, she’s wearing leather fucking trousers, I mean really. Anyway she could have sang Titanium fine enough as it is without her twee-to-the-tits ballad about someone finding a coin at the laundrette being crowbarred in like an unwanted uncle at a wedding.

Word-Pedant Award For Incorrect Context: Judges, ‘storyteller’

All the judges agreed Lucy’s strength is her ‘stories’, heaping praise for her ‘storytelling’ while Rylan spent his time wearing four fifths of a white two-piece suit gyrating his prosthetic bottom in Louis’ general direction. Guys, storytelling has already lost all meaning after Spraggo’s ‘sincere’ performance.

The Marcus Collins Award For Inevtiable Rush-Release Of An Album: Jahmene

While Jahmene will not win, because he is not Ella, James or Jade, he will do well enough to release an album of buttery-soft jazz music that may or may not include an Eliza Doolittle cover that will be on the shelves of ASDA before Dermot has changed out of his X Factor Finals tuxedo.

NEXT WEEK: maybe some images, with clever captions.

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.


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.

The original Sugababes are making an album! This is amazing if you think corporate pop can go fuck itself. This is real music, written by the founding members of what has effectively become more of an engorged club than a band. How amazing.

 

HOWEVER let’s be honest, if MNEK and Emeli Sande and those other acclaimed people were making music for the current crop of ‘Babes it would be just as exciting. In 2008 when it was announced the band signed to Roc Nation there was this whole thing about how amazing it was that the Sugababes were finally going to crack America. With the right producers and stuff they’d manage to become a global phenomenon. They didn’t, as it happens. And in retrospect, songs like ‘Get Sexy’ (‘If I had a dime, for every single time, these boys stopped and stared, I’d be a billionaire!!’ stand out as particularly oppressive and sad) felt like a step in the wrong direction.

 

Anyway the nostalgia surrounding what the original members did is astonishing. Because commercially the band weren’t a huge  success until Heidi stepped in in 2001/2. Of course, that’s not to say the band’s first album wasn’t amazing, it was. Overload was incredibly clever and brilliantly bolshy without seemingly lifting a finger, while Soul Sound and New Year was alright I suppose. Yea, they were OK.

Going back to Heidi for a moment, she has been in the band as long as Keisha, if we’re being statistical. And anyway, I was only 9 when the original lineup were being all brilliant, so if there’s any misguided opinion here, and you feel like posting a letterbomb, remember that I was 9, and when I was 9 SMTV: Live started showing Pokemon, and that was kind of a big deal, so I was a bit busy to be getting moist over the Sugababes, OK? Heidi is a good member, both in the fact she had a nice voice, and the majority of the songs she’s worked on have been good.

 

There can’t be any doubt the Sugababes Mach II – that’s Mutya Keisha and Heidi – was actually kind of amazing. Freak Like Me, Round Round, Stronger (ehh) but also Too Lost In You and Caught In A Moment. It was an amazing time to be in a girl band because you were honest and innocent and didn’t have to compromise your sexuality because most the time you got to wear Adidas in some form (or, see Mutya’s schexy puffa jacket in Too Lost In You).

 

People are yearning for the original line-up more as an act against the current, regurgitated, recycled, redundant crop than anything else. Heidi, Amelle and Jade haven’t done anything exciting. Their music isn’t particularly interesting; it sounds inspired by 2007’s Timbaland craze and considering the band were originally quite open, honest and un-sexual it’s a shame the brand has gone on to re-record ‘Here Come The Girls (Girls, Girls, Girls Girls)’ and a song which talks about wearing your kiss all over your body with the defeated spirit and lacklustre confidence one may find synonymous with sporting an STI (all over your body).

The appeal in the new line-up might come from two things. One, a hark back to older, less sexually aggressive ways. And another that the artists working with the OrigiBabes are trendy, forward-thinking and less perverse than previous writers. MNEK is all about the MUSIC, man. He wears geek specs. He’s YOUNG. Young people aren’t perverse save for Tinchy Stryder, who recently rapped about Holly Willoughby running him a bath. Which is a bit weird, and childish, and weird again. You get off on someone mothering you? .

 

Also  quiff-bearing Emeli Sande is not pandering to overly-sexual things, which is really awesome for the original redone Sugababes. She’s a real wimmin. I know this because I saw her perform at a Samsung gig and she wore comfy clothes instead of a crop top and stilettos. Sensible, sensible Emeli. She will guide the new-but-original-Sugababes wisely.


This is MNEK. TAKE HIM IN. He is 17, and a song writer/producerman.

What is appealing is what these new producers and thinkers bring to a brand that has grown weary with intense over-thinking and deflating opinions on female sexuality. GONE are the belly rings and suggestive dancing. REVOKED are the flirty glances and applying-lipstick-in-the-car pouting. REVIVED are the sitting on shag carpets, thinking about bigger issues and writing in diaries.

 

So basically, the new old redone Sugababes are exiting because they’re working with fresh talent and amazing song writers. This could, in theory, make the current line-up of the Sugababes exciting, too, because they’ve proven to be as malleable as a jacket potato left under a radiator. HOWEVER part of the huge appeal of this reform is of a band of rejects being reassembled into a new, but familiar, pop outfit. Like The Avengers, if the metaphor wasn’t clear enough. They are cool. Comparatively, the current crop, despite being able to hold a tune, were all brought in at some point at the behest of producers to ‘spruce things up’. Heidi was an Atomic Kitten, Jade was a Eurovision ‘star’ and Amelle ran a successful crime syndicate in Wood Green.


It will be very exciting to see the new, old, redone ‘babes release music because despite the fact people are gooey-eyed and stuff about the Sugababes, unless they’re way older than me they’ll probably have the longest, most stable memories of a band that had already chucked Siobhan out for being a bit mental. Listen to Overlord. Listen to Siobhan singing. It sounds weird, although not bad.

 

So yea. Apparently they sound amazing. But think about THIS. Someone has to have a strop or a fall our or quit eventually. It is probably going to be Mutya, if you’d like my unpaid opinion.

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