Sunday, 29 November 2009

No X please, we're musicians

With two weeks left to go before the new X-Factor champ is crowned in a flurry of glitter and bombast, it's time to start thinking about life after X. Viewers have a four-week respite before switching over to ITV2 for the next series of American Idol, and this year's contestants will be knuckling down for a grueling 52 date tour.

But what about life after that? Irrespective of who wins, several of the final 12 will release albums in the next twelve months which will likely follow the same inauspicious path of Eoghan Quigg, who must have set a land-speed record in his rush to the bargain bin.

That's the problem with the X-Factor - it's a soap opera rather than an effective A&R strategy. Viewers get caught up in the drama, they vote for their favourites, and they boo the cartoon villains. But they never actually express a desire to buy the musical output.

The true measure of whether or not someone has the X-Factor, lies in the audience's willingness to support the acts outside of the glare from Simon's teeth. Thankfully, one ex-factor alumnus has a plan to help contestants cope with the post-traumatic stress of anonymity. Ben Mills, the gravel-voiced rocker who was beaten by both Leona (understandable) and Ray Quinn (unforgivable), intends to open a 'sanctuary' for the show's runner-ups.

Like Windsor Safari Park with a mixing desk, the rehab-meets-recording studio concept will be "somewhere that people who have been on a show like X Factor could come...and talk about what they've been through." I guess the first step towards recovery is admitting that you're not very good.

Ben's intention is to look after reality TV contestants who are "struggling with their fame". Or lack thereof. He's even planning to have "some llama and a few kangaroos." Seriously, I am not making any of this up. 

But what about the rest of the music industry? How will it cope in a post-X-Factor world? Not well, if The Guardian is to be believed - pop music is dying as a result of Simon's ratings juggernaut. In an article filled with loftily arrogant statements about the idiocy of the masses, various commentators come forward to condemn both the format and its audiences. Alan McGee who signed Oasis and managed the Libertines, claims "If you are stupid enough to watch it that is what you get, you deserve it. I have no pity for you."

The rest of the article rehashes the same old arguments - pop music as commodity versus indie music as art, singer-songwriters being inherently more worthy than vocalists. But popular music doesn't have to be high art. And no-one ever dismissed an orchestra for only ever doing cover versions of other people's compositions.

The most annoying quote, however, comes from Jon Savage who wrote England's Dreaming, a history of punk. He describes X-Factor viewers as "people who aren't passionate about music. And there's always been a huge market for people who weren't passionate about music." Maybe you're not authentically passionate about music until you've stood in a Camden basement watching Amy Winehouse bleeding from the toes.

If nothing else, the X-Factor is now the last format standing for getting music artists in front of a mainstream audience. With no Top of the Pops, no Chart Show and no CD:UK, this is the only music-specific TV show left. Even if the audience wouldn't know 'real music' if they fell over it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment