Saturday, 5 June 2010

Britain's got X-Factor or how Darth Cowell ruined music

There is something wrong on board the good ship UK music and entertainment scene. You can feel a feint miasmic sense of fear and rebellion in the air all about the Empire. Darth Cowel might well be as weak as he will ever be, and the time is now to destroy the Death Star X-Factor . Somewhere out there in countless Ice caves and isolated trading posts, real singers, dancers, comedians, and bands toil away in anonymity, honing their craft for the day their hard worked for experience counts for something.  Circus freaks , animal acts and acrobats have been exiled to Berlin St-Petersburg and Cirque du Soliel in hopes of getting any respect at all. Rock, country, Jazz, traditional folk and Celtic have been effectively banned from the airwaves for the better part of a decade. The last time the Christmas number one wasn't an X factor clone is so long ago we can barely remember it ( except of course for Rage against the Machine last year).  If it weren't for a vibrant gay music scene, there might not be anything to listen to at all. Oh aye, there are a few glimmers here and there. Imelda May, Paulo Nutini, Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse, have all swum against the tide, but in some cases only after having had to work in the shadows for years or having daddy shout at the record company till they gave in. In the case of the the Arctic Monkeys, they went outside the box and used youtube and My space to sell themselves from nowhere. Bands like Sunderland's Futureheads or Newcastle's Maximo Park depend on regional radio to get them airtime or on speciality stations, if they waited around for mainstream radio and television to pick them up, they would still be waiting.

There is a reason why ACDC and the Rolling Stones are still dropping albums top of the charts 40 years after they first burst on the scene. Current acceptable commercial music as churned out by the likes of Cowell and his partner in crime Louis Walsh , is tepid, inoffensive one trick pony shite designed to please grannies and 14 year old girls. NO ONE else seems to matter here. Under Darth Cowell's regime there has been an almost fanatical eradication of anything not five minutes old or outside the moral dictates of mumsnet. Every time you hear the code words "more contemporary" or the truly deadly words, "too old fashioned", the hand of Simon has spoken and another performer has been put in his or her place. How dare you be true to your roots or do anything the audience would recognize or be challenged by? And then there are the judges, Amanda  Yet to be funny Holden, Piers "oily twat" Morgan, the other Minogue, and Louis Walsh, the four Horsemen of the musical apocalypse help their master Sauron dumb down the great British public by declaring things like " I've never seen anything like that before". Well you would luvs if you got out more, and it would be 100 times better than the delusional amateurs you have allowed to audition. There's also the classic, you're brilliant, a sign of the future! I love you. Usually reserved for some skinny girl doing a bad impersonation of Beyonce Knowles or some lads  pretending to be the next Take That. It would not be fair of me to say that 14 year old girls don't have any taste, they may well do, but they'll never know if they are only served up a steady stream of Jades, Diversitys and West Lifes.The judges and Simon have to let the gates open to other styles and cultures that live in the UK and have been there in some cases for hundreds of years. UK music once used to be the fountain-head that all other music copied, now it slavishly copies a steadily narrowing type of song and dance styles from the USA.

If acts like U2 , Eurhytmics or Bowie had to try to bubble up for the first time today, they would be eating pot noodle and living at Mum's for another decade. In a napster age where it is harder and harder to make a decent living as an artist, real talent is being pushed down in favour of instant pliable good looking lip synch puppets. These so called performers are taken raw with little or no training, flashed up and tossed to the wolves for a few minutes of fame and all the real money goes into the hands of the promoters.... you guessed it Simon Cowell and friends.

Cowell and co are not solely to blame, ITV and networks like it are liable as well, in as much as they tolerate the plethora of programmes with essentially the same format and the same judges where they treat the contestants/auditionees like so much jello to toss around as they play, let's annoy Simon by putting through Jedward or the Jackson miming pig. I understand that ratings need a few car wrecks, but frankly it has gone way to far. Prospects with so little talent they are more likely to be mistaken for audience members  come up and are stroked into thinking that the ear bleeding rendition of "You lift me up" was almost as good as the original. The socially disabled strange person who thinks they are brilliant  because mates have told them so and they took lessons all week before coming, get upset , when Cowell finally has a moment of clarity and tells them they're terrible. It wouldn't happen if the pre screening  weeded out the frankly horrifying alleged talents that, burp, break pencils with their butt cheeks, play flute badly, sing off key, or are just plain awful. I know ratings... BTW, do you think the people at BGT thought that the Queen wanted to see a man burp?

But surely we'd all still watch if the acts were so much better? There in lies the rub, even if they did only allow the good  acts through AND expanded the scope and styles of music and dance, there would only ever be enough decent acts to do a series or two before putting the programme away for 5 or 6 years. You have to hit a wall where the well runs dry. Then what? you get the embarrassing Search for the next Dorothy or the poor sap who will represent Britain in Eurovision. One girl had never sung before and was qualified only because she was fit and  was discovered walking by the studio by one of Andrew Lloyd Wizard's minions. The fact she nearly made it is even scarier.

Id like to also tackle the whole issue of so called street dance. Before you all send me angry e-mails, I respect anybody who excels at their dance style , even if I don't like it. But the phenomenon of three years running having a street dance act win is beginning to grate on me. Here in essence is the problem. There is a limited audience for street dance. The adult population of Britain and the world has a wider taste pallet than essentially the same dozen quickly repeated steps to music that is pre-recorded and not credited to the artists who performed them. With respect, you should look at music hall, Jazz, Ballet, Broadway, Polish mountain dancers, Russians , Bulgarians Asians and all sorts of Africans to see truly complicated and entertaining dance moves that will make street dance look like amateur hour. The fact that Cowell and co have never seen this or consider it too old fashioned, keeps street dance going. Besides that, street dance unlike  ballet, Jazz, Broadway,  folk and other dance styles is vigorous and more likely to injure a performer. The life span of such a performer is very short and  given the current conditions in entertainment, not a profitable career choice.  Even if we accept that one or two street dance troops , who are street in name only, can survive as viable acts,. I point you to Riverdance, a single show that dominated an entire genre. Again , given the choice, if the proverbial 14 year old girls with mobiles had the wider variety in front of them, they would choose the more spectacular and talent heavy dance forms currently being kept from them.

Speaking of dance , classic, Jazz and West end, competitions just for dancers are no better. If you have any experience, been to school too long, have a real choreographer, or are currently in an off off off off broadway production of any kind, you won't get on the show. The winners go on to steal your spots in the big productions where a barely talented, inexperienced dancer singer is fronting a show with  100 angry back up dancers and singers who are better but forced to be in the chorus , because the girl up front won a competition. Would you rather see Catherine Zeta Jones or the new Dorothy, whoever she is?  Which one is worth £100 a seat and which is a bit of a rip off?

It's at a point where performers are nothing more than game show victims who get a gift bag and their parking validated. If you manage to stick it out for most of the full 12 week run of such a programme , you should be paid like any other legitimate performer. These mostly delusional amateurs are used and discarded as quickly, usually seeing little of the money their appearances generated for the production company or the network. This voluntary slavery for the stupid is the worst kind of abuse and it's keeping legitimate artists who should be being showcased, miles away from any stage.

In short, if you are any good at anything , in the UK there is a system to channel you from young person to seasoned performer . This system has produced exemplary singers, dancers, musicians, actors, writers and all round performers. If you have a child who is talented, be honest with them, take the time and use the system that has been there in some cases since before Shakespeare. There is no replacement for hard work or training, nor is there any excuse in a country as old and as varied to limit the choice of musical and dance style to just the one. Doing that nearly killed tweed and it's killing music now.


Let me point out one last thing. These acts that we are supposed to be giving a huge break to, must be good enough to be part of a decent variety circuit that is supported by television and local music hall type places. Variety television has been struggling of late due to poor choices in booking and perhaps the presenters. So that leaves us an act that can sell singles, fill auditoriums across the country at £30 or £40 a ticket minimum for an entire 90 minute show.  The acts that benefit will be ones that have some genuine variety , a story to tell and personality.

So what about BGT super week? we have the final 10 , who by the way under normal circumstances would be 20, and go on for weeks yet, being dropped one a week. But this year it's the World Cup and I think Simon Cowell doesn't want to do it any more.Lets look at the finalists.

Kieran Gaffney Musician Little drummer boy: Boy in search of a band to play for in a few years, won't win .

Liam McNally Singer The little lad with the big voice: Sadly should have been sent to voice classes and a choir years ago. As it is, his voice will break and his career beyond BGT will be short and inglorious.Boys and girls like him can be spotted in time and trained if the parents just know where to look.


Janey Cutler Singer The great grandmother with the giant voice. She could get a small following but will be dropped like a hot potato by Syco the moment she is yesterday's news.

Twist and Pulse Dance act The pioneers of Streetomedy. Pioneers of nothing, and yet another of a long string of street dancers who will only flourish in multi act venues and cannot sustain a 90 minute show of their own.

Christopher Stone Singer The singing accountant: He's al right but he won't sell tickets, cd's or singles.


Paul Burling Impressionist The man of a hundred voices.: My pick to win, but judging by my track record, he'll be lucky to get mid table. But I hope I'm wrong. 20 years honing his craft, he deserves respect and he is a genuinely entertaining person.


Connected Singers The boy band of tomorrow: I hate boy bands, but I suppose they may give JLS a run for their money. Even if they don't win they have already won. Would have loved to see them over 12 weeks... Look at all the money you're throwing away Simon.



Tina and Chandi Animal act Best friends, dance partners, soulmates: My personal favourite to charm the crowd and they may get a lot more work in telly now. Good luck Chandi, Another one we would have loved to see for much longer.


Spelbound Gymnasts Gravity defying feats: First to admit I can't do any of that stuff, but there are acts worldwide, some as close as France who are far better and more established that will blow these guys out of the water. They won't get any work in the proper variety circuit until they get much better.


Tobias Mead Dance act The street dancer with the liquid limbs: Lord spare me.... another one who could not sustain an entire show by himself. His career will be limited by the BGT travelling circus this summer then goodbye .

The truly sad thing is that a number of acts that would have benefited from a full normal run over the summer would have been ....

Kevin Cruise, camp cruise singer and all round entertainer, So bad he was good. un like Jedward, he knew was a bit of a joke and consequently brilliant.

Stevie Starr , swallower and Shane Mcgowan of circus freaks, was impossible to take your eyes off him...

Neil Fullard Sinatra channeller and bouncer. Would have been great for the the run and on the back of it go onto Benidorm to entertain the masses there.

Kev Orkian would have done some great stuff given the chance, but we'll never know now.

The Arrangement... Posh Britain's next big thing. I honestly think they will be around far longer than Herr Cowell thinks.

Enjoy the show, Hope for the best but don't be too disappointed if a performer with no need to sing, compose, play an instrument, engage the audience or otherwise be as well rounded as Bruce Forsythe , Ant and Dec or the Pythons wins. At this rate, it looks like the whole genre is dying a deserved death. We can only hope what comes after this will be a lot better.

If BGT has a theme song . it's To dream the impossible dream. Far too many poor fools cue up completely devoid of talent , filled with sob stories and whose sole purpose is to be humiliated by the judges. I know the right thing to do is send out scouts and find genuinely ready talent to promote. Talent that has paid it's dues, talent that will make for some seriously hard choices and prove that Britain does indeed have talent. However, I don't see that happening any time soon.

Back on Monday with the regular post.... Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

Becky said...

I abhore a very large potion of modern American music for the same reason. And of course, Cowell is behind it as well. American Idol ruins the music scene because if you can't make it on that show, you can't make it anywhere. Your talents aren't what's being judged. It's your popularity. No matter what the judges say, if the people at home like you, they will vote for you and you'll make it to the next round.

Aside from truly spectacular artists (Beyonce, Lady Gaga, etc.) I stay away from pop music. Even my favorite genre of rock is starting to feel old and formulaic.

I think my only saving grace right now is Pandora Internet radio and Pitchfork Media. I've discovered more truly wonderful underground bands through those 2 sources than I would anywhere else.