Sunday, 1 December 2013


Drawn to Drivel

I love music and I also watch X-Factor, an apparent contradiction, but it would be disingenuous to overstate some superior disdain for the latter’s attachment to a notional shared love. It is without question first and foremost a commercial vehicle for Simon Cowell, and in this respect it is also unquestionably a massive success: the current worldwide popularity of One Direction – a boy band I don’t mind at all though I equally don’t really know their ‘work’ in any detail – a case in colossally lucrative point.  But there have been musically sound discoveries/productions, for example two I have referenced in this blog: Cher Lloyd [who has certainly found success in America], and more assuredly, to my mind, Rebecca Ferguson who is releasing her second album Freedom tomorrow.

Like many, I enjoy watching the programme’s early auditions for their absurdities – dangerously exploitative at times, I know – and the genuine talent displayed, as fleeting as this so often appears to be: real talent can be sustained and across a range, not just that singularly prepared piece that coalesces transiently with the limitations of a karaoke perfection. In the current series, and of those who now remain, Sam Bailey is clearly a consummately talented singer. She exemplifies the potential for this programme to ‘find’ undiscovered excellence and then promote it for that essence, were in not for the constant reference to recording and selling albums, a commercial rather than artistic aspiration on behalf of the contestant. Sam Bailey is also consummately the type of hidden talent who has been concealed precisely by the media/social/fashion manipulation that now promotes her: she was not stereotypically pretty nor personable, being rather ordinary in appearance and manner, though her prison warder’s job provided just enough edge to prove interesting in the persona-shaping stakes at the very start and since. 

The subsequent make-over she has adopted or been forced to undertake, including dieting, will shoehorn her into the presentable diva she will become, and one can only wish her happiness in the success this programme has bestowed, whether financial and the security this provides [hoping this doesn’t destroy whatever ‘ordinary’ domestic contentment she already possessed] or even more optimistically in the achieving of an artistic outlet always yearned. Her presumed oeuvre isn’t one I’d normally buy in to, and won’t, but she is a gifted singer and significantly more naturally talented compared with countless more ostensibly and globally successful.

Most of the above is in fact a digression from what I wanted to write about, but as I’ve started: the other interesting current survivor is Tamera Foster. At only 16 years old and another natural singer, her stereotypical good looks combined to make her the obvious commercial front-runner, and for those of us hopelessly optimistic about these things, it was possible to imagine she might mature into a singer of genuine credibility. However, this teenager whose dabbling in smoking dope and shoplifting made her quite realistic [and I am not saying all teenagers take drugs and thieve, I’m just saying she had a quite believable adolescent experience] has now been sanitised and presented as the bland adult she so clearly isn’t. All she now talks about is her church, her family, and her other safe options for the future. I totally understand her playing the game in the hope – real and orchestrated for her – for a successful future, but in her case it has struck me more than with others before that this has totally stripped her of whatever youthful identity she had managed to make for herself, either by design or accident. And it has affected her singing. Not the forgetting of lyrics [and it wouldn’t surprise me that this was by craft] but in the blandness that has usurped an earlier edgy beauty. 

The one gutsy singer who of course ought to have won the ‘competition’ outright was obviously Hannah Barrett, but her proclivity for acting and, more importantly, speaking naturally and spontaneously meant she didn’t fit the pre-ordained mould, and sadly not just that demanded by the programme-makers, but also the public who have been themselves shaped by the expectations of the whole phenomenal edifice. 

But I still watch it. And I shout and complain and get angry, especially at the manufactured back-stories and tears, but then I always remind myself that this is precisely the lazy and guilty and addictive pleasure of watching. However, I am nearly at ironic breaking point when it comes to the conduct of the current ‘judges’, my initial reason for writing this posting. They too have been a key part of the programme’s enduring stupidity and irrelevance – and there’s little need to revisit historic examples – but the present panel takes incredulity to an absolute absurdity. I initially quite liked Nicole Scherzinger’s natural sass and exuberance, especially at the audition stages where she seemed to exude an instinctive feel for and celebration of good performances, but her descent into baby-talk [Hannah-banana], testicle-talk [balls this and balls that] and the Sch surname-prefixing of adjectives [schbangtastic or whatever] is mind-numbing as well as neologism-numbing. Sharon Osbourne cackles and guffaws and then modulates her spoken drivel through the most annoyingly screeching and squealing registers. Louie Walsh’s inane platitudes used to offer an element of surprise in their relentless ability to be sustained, but my masochistic listener’s pleasure has been squashed by their extraordinary weight of banality. And the main point is that these three have managed to make the prosaic observations from Gary Barlow seem insightful, his focus at least being on the actual performance, though this has trawled the observational nadir of having ‘nailed it’ or been ‘pitchy’.

I rest my case, and will no doubt watch next week.

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