I was looking for something to watch on telly last Saturday night, knowing full well that for several years Saturday night telly has been populated by the same old carbon copied garbage that’s been on for years. I also know that criticising either the X-Factor or Strictly is incredibly lazy and will also invoke the ire of the millions who watch it and love it. But here goes anyway.
My channel hopping was fruitless, and I did end up landing on the X-Factor for a few minutes. I had caught some of the previous week, mainly out of an interest in seeing what Robbie Williams had to say about the six women who’d got through to the latter stages. It meant I knew that this week was the first week of the live shows, and I thought it might have been interesting. I was also intrigued with it being ’80s week; frequent readers will know I’m a bit of an 80s kid.
I happened to chance upon a boy band, Kingsland Road, which piqued my interest because I know Kingsland Road in Dalston very well. The boys were larking around before they performed; a harmless, multi-cultural bunch with fluffy comb-over hair and nice smiles, they seemed anodyne and inoffensive enough. Gary Barlow, their mentor, was apparently taken back to the first time he was in a band on seeing them. Aww. Gary built up the song and then, there they were, on stage, five boys behind microphones, dressed inoffensively in black and white, parping out a smoothed over version of Wham’s, ‘I’m Your Man’. It was okay. Nothing more. (Sam Bailey’s ‘The Power of Love’ which I caught on Sunday whilst channel hopping again, was far superior. And I really hated the original, not least because it kept ‘Take on Me’ off number 1).
Now, I’m no expert on music, but I do love it. X-Factor frustrates me on many levels, not least because it pretends that it’s finding the stand out stars of tomorrow when, in fact, it’s making unchallenging, unmemorable peak time entertainment for a mainstream Saturday night audience. Perhaps because of his role as mentor, Gary gushed about the boys. He decided they were ‘new and original’, but I really couldn’t see it. What on earth is new or original about five early twenty-somethings dressed in black and white and belting out a tune that’s older than them in a saccharine manner, in an over produced, over hyped environment? Nothing. The whole appeal of X-Factor is in the fact that it’s not new and original – in fact, it’s old and very familiar and totally unchallenging.
Witness Matt Cardle, who releases his third album this week. Winner of X-Factor in 2010, his first single made number 1; his first album, number 2, was certified platinum. His second album reached number 8 and was certified silver. Lead single from the second album reached number 175, and whilst lead single from this third album got to number 14 (with the help of Spice girl, Mel C), it’ll be interesting to see how the album does. He’s a typical former contestant of X-Factor who made unremarkable cardie and slippers music for X-Factor viewers and then discovered that X-Factor viewers aren’t really that interested in loyalty to artists or sustaining their art.
Also this week, new albums are released by Paddy McAloon and Anna Calvi. Both gifted, musically talented and original (check out McAloon’s ‘I Trawl the Megahertz’), it would be interesting to hear Gary Barlow’s opinion of either. Neither will sell well compared to the the winning act on X-Factor, but that’s also because X-Factor pretends that volume of sales is equivalent to musical integrity. Of course, this kind of genuinely new and original stuff wouldn’t get very far on Saturday night telly and, with that, I rest my case.