Homer Numan

Homer Numan

Monday, December 21, 2009

RATM vs X-Factor

The unthinkable has happened. Despite 11 weeks of prime-time exposure and the usual media circus, the 2009 X-Factor winner has been denied the traditional Christmas number one by a nineties rap-metal track that missed the top 20 first time around.

Though hardly an earth shattering event in itself, this result makes several points:

Firstly, whilst some 6.5 million people voted for the X-Factor winner Joe McElderry, only 450k (about 8%) actually bought his single. This at a time when singles are cheaper than in the 70s and require only a couple of mouse clicks to buy.
The obvious conclusion is that X-Factor, like Big Brother & Celebrity, is merely a popularity contest, with any music element being purely an afterthought.

Secondly, the RATM campaign was the result of a Facebook group set up by a middle-aged couple -- no financial outlay, no media exposure nothing. They simply wanted to piss off Simon Cowell and his appallingly bland behemoth. And boy did they succeed.

Thirdly, if 'people power' can overturn the might of X-Factor, surely it can equally overturn the banks, the supermarkets and other suitable targets when necessary.

As regards X-Factor itself, a significant number of people are thoroughly pissed off with Cowell's smugness, his 'ratings at all costs' ethos and his insatiable greed (he's apparently demanding £2 million per SHOW for the next series). Not to mention the fact that X-Factor becomes ever more conservative, bland and tedious with each series.

Two things REALLY annoyed me this time -- Cowell's cynical support for Jedward (at the cost of Lucie, the only remotely talented finalist), having slagged them mercilessly in the opening stages -- that and the absolute yawnfest of song choices. The whole thing is like grandad karaoke, but the bizarre thing is that rather than parents and grannies sitting transfixed while the teenagers sneer, it's the younger generation who seem to be lapping it up.

As one poster on the Guardian site said this morning:

''What's happened to our country when old farts like me are buying tunes to rebel against the youngsters!''

And he's right. Joe's song 'The Climb', which is a cover of a Miley Cyrus track (Miley is the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus who gave us 'Achy Breaky Heart' possibly the most annoying song of the 90s) is the modern equivalent of the 50s ballads that pop/rock music rebelled against in the 60s.

Fair enough Paul McCartney endorsed the show by appearing on it this time, but he later backtracked by endorsing the RATM campaign. As did old farts the NME and sour grapes former X-Factor winner Steve Brookstein.

But why does it appear to have been us middle-aged music fans who voted for RATM? Has young people's music taste become so conservative that they'd welcome back Pat Boone and Max Bygraves? Why are they whinging about 'poor Joe' who is merely another cog in the X-Factor machine, destined for the bargain bins in six months time? Why do they get excited about Whitney and Mariah, the epitome of bloated corporate diva cynicism? I can't answer that -- all I can say is that music-wise at least, many kids have become incredibly conservative -- the charts are stuffed with R&B, inspid ballads and generic pop -- sure there's a thriving underground scene but looking at the top 40 or music TV you'd never guess. The days of punk, indie, britpop, and rave have been replaced by music that young people's parents are literally rebelling against for it's blandness.

So will this result be anything more than a footnote in chart history? Well despite all the wailings about 'poor Joe', about Sony being the ultimate winners and about the irony of the line 'fuck you I won't do what you tell me', I have absolutely no doubt that the X-Factor PR people are in turmoil this week.
Denial of the Christmas number one knocks away a mainstay of X-Factor -- given past form they certainly can't guarantee a pop career of any longevity and now they can't guarantee the Christmas number one either. A major rethink is needed.

Future shows need to be less about the judges (who merely preen and state the obvious) and more about the contestants -- and that means at least some interesting, edgy finalists, like Rhydian, Diana Vickers & Ruth Lorenzo, who while they didn't win, at least brought some quirkiness and diversity.
And how about some music that isn't teeth-rotting ballads?

Just a few suggestions Mr Cowell, so that maybe next year your Christmas dinner won't be ruined by the sound of middle-aged rebels.

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