I loathe X Factor and make no excuses for expressing my disdain. This also goes for Pop Idol, American Idol and all of those similar musical “talent” shows – they all share the same format and disregard for actual artistry. The fact that yesterday’s show was a Beatles special only added to my irritation and my dislike of the whole fake format. Knowing that those fame-hungry wannabees under the “guidance” of talentless, populist purveyors of lowest-common-denominator “entertainment” such as Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole and the other one (is it the less attractive Minogue or the Irritating Irish Twat? I genuinely don’t know!) were murdering the songs of perhaps my favourite band of all time was like knowing that an apprentice brickie was attempting to re-build the Taj Mahal.
I wouldn’t particularly care if the programme didn’t present itself as if it was anything but mindless, meaningless entertainment – but when they cover real, genuine, talented artists’ music, like they have with Elton John and The Beatles, they cross a line. Some music is just perfect the way it is and shouldn’t be touched by any but the most careful musician. There have been some great cover versions over the years, but none have come from people who have graduated from the X Factor. People may argue that having people do something different with a song can be interesting, different and better. Well, yes, sometimes. However, if you have a perfectly beautiful Labrador Retriever, you don’t shave it and paint it purple just to make it different – because that would be an abomination. That’s exactly what the X Factor does to good songs… shaves them and paints them purple.
I’m not denying that some of the contestants on these shows have had a good pair of lungs on them – but being a good singer isn’t enough. I’ve seen karaoke singers who are just as good as the vast majority of contestants I’ve witnessed on X Factor. In fact, my other half has a fantastic voice and could probably go far on a programme like that… but I wouldn’t want to see her publicly picked apart, which is what tends to happen to any contestant who makes it past the first few rounds. That’s the nature of the programme – it’s not about art, it’s not even about music, it’s about personality, heroes, villains, winners, losers, victory and public humiliation. The Romans had a place where they put on similar shows – they called it a Colosseum.
There is a real paucity of quality music programming on television. In fact, the only real remaining mainstream programme which consistently presents interesting and varied musical artists is Later With Jools Holland. You get a good mix of fringe and leftfield artists, together with world music, mainstream pop, rap, indie and stadium rock. However, Jools is relegated to very late at night on a Friday whereas X Factor and the like are given the prime Saturday evening spot. To me, it seems like it should the other way round. The public are literally force-fed the mainstream drivel while the really good stuff is tucked away in some place you really have to go out of your way to find.
Maybe I’m just frustrated with the public’s general lack of taste and willingness to accept low standards. The fact that people seems to swallow whatever rubbish they’re told to like and never seem to demand something with a little more meaning. Maybe it just annoys me that brilliant artists who produce thoughtful, original music and lyrics have minimal success whereas the heavily produced pop slush (much of which originates from shows such as the X Factor) featured on radio stations such as Radio One, Heart and Capital sells by the bucketload.
Maybe I’m just a grumpy, old musical snob who wouldn’t appreciate this sort of thing at my time of life? Grumpy? Possibly. Old? Does 35 count as old (don’t answer that!)? Musical snob? Debatable – the inclusion of Abba, ELO, Erasure and a few less than respected others in my collection would probably counter the kudos I’d receive from Uncut or Word readers who may nod approvingly at my Midlake, Elliott Smith, Decemberists or Hold Steady. As for whether it’s merely my approaching middle age making me dislike this sort of thing… well, to be honest, I’ve never cared for mainstream pop (as a rule) or poor musicians (or even non-musicians) meddling with songs they’re not artistically qualified to touch. It’s not an age thing, it’s a me thing.
I suppose that if it didn’t take itself so seriously, if it wasn’t such a grotesquely successful money-maker, if it didn’t tackle and subsequently ruin great songs, if it didn’t swallow up and spit out the contestants so mercilessly, if it wasn’t so transparently a pantomime and if it was actually produced and presented by people who have an interest in producing music with originality and integrity rather than just making mountains of cash, then I may actually take an interest in it. But those are a hell of a lot of “ifs”… and it’s not likely to happen soon, is it? Until then, I’ll just be here, quietly grumbling, doing my best to ignore it – but it’s quite difficult when it’s everywhere you look.
You’ll have to excuse me now. I have to tend to my purple, hairless Labrador.