“His introspective intensity comes through in leaps and bounds, uninhibited even in it’s recorded state”
Digital Release: June 3, 2012
Physical Release: N/A
A lot has been learnt over the eight years The X Factor has plagued our TV screens. Cynics might generalise the show’s findings to how we as a nation have seriously misguided schemas about what can now be classified as entertainment and who can be classified as a celebrity, but let’s not get sidetracked – because The X Factor has taught potential future candidates a great many things to take heed to. Although, as if in perfect congruence to the gaping hole in it’s internal logic, not a lot of what has been learnt has anything to do with “music”, or at least, the reality of being a musician and/or a popstar. Instead of learning important life lessons about surviving in such a vicious industry; a lot of what Simon Cowell’s brainchild has taught us exclusively pertains not how to make it in the music industry, but instead, how to make it in The X Factor – a pre-packaged, safety-harnessed simulation of the true process of chasing a record deal. And when you consider that, even after eight series and hundreds of live finalists worth, the show has only spawned five currently successful pop acts (only three of which are signed to Simon Cowell’s record label), it is with some degree of head-scratching that we found ourselves betrayed by morbid curiosity and continue to tune in.
What is not so head-scratchingly questionable now as it was back in 2004 is how easy it is to spot the winner right from the first live shows, or at least, it’s far easier to determine who’s not cut out for the life of The X Factor and will probably be booted out on their arse by week five; someone daring to contend against the conformist music trends and the endless proclamations of “swag”; someone who stands out as more than a simple gimmick. Aiden Grimshaw was clearly not the kind of act The X Factor was looking for. In fact, he was such an anomaly that he elicited from the judging panel one of the very few comments to have ever made sense to anyone other than the judge’s themselves – Aiden Grimshaw is an inaccessible performer.
And sure, that’s a problem if, like last year’s Misha B or Kitty Brucknell you want to put in a big performance jam-packed with painfully melismatic warbling posing as desperation and soul or utterly unnecessary stage theatrics posing as something having deep, artistic value. But where Aiden’s ice-cold introversion plays to his advantage is that, given the right amount of appreciation in return (an ability not completely perfected in those entertained by the likes of Misha and Kitty), he can spin that coldness into a smouldering intensity that few live performers – certainly on The X Factor – have ever mustered (let alone nailed in such away that a cover of ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ could pass as the soundtrack to a lonely stroll through a graveyard at night) and thus provide listeners with an unbroken bombardment of his emotional concentration. And his introspective intensity comes through in leaps and bounds, uninhibited even in it’s recorded state on ‘Is This Love’. There’s plenty of his trademark dark references – “The air is moving around me, but I can’t breathe” as he sings over a minimal electronic accompaniment, with enough of his original live roughness to counter the metallic embellishment of the production, a mixture of glassy synths and a DnB-lite drum loop. There’s perhaps a little too much vocal fiddling around the chorus to convince us that such an ear-splitting falsetto is entirely his own voice, but ‘Is This Love’ is still the kind of music that’ll happily transcend demographics, satisfying hipsters at least as long as it takes to land in the Top 40, where it’ll start to please casual and commercial listeners alike.
But if there’s anything that ‘Is This Love’ teaches us in it’s three-and-a-half minute run, its that even when comfortably positioned in the plush armchairs of The X Factor house and under the dozen spotlights of The X Factor stage, Aiden didn’t feel like he belonged, hence the sudden exploration of a musical tangent he was not capable of exploring in his live performances. And from that we can learn and come to accept that anyone remotely interesting or ‘risky’ (for opposite see: Leona Lewis) might as well resign from any popularity-based reality TV programme because, it seems, we aren’t very accepting of non-conformist things when they’re thrust in front of us and we’re told to like them; we’ve learnt we have to approach it carefully; familiarise ourselves. ‘Is This Love’ sees Aiden at his most comfortable yet, and forms the perfect cross-over opportunity to adjust to his music without once feeling half as alienated as we felt from his X Factor performances.