“The tarnished original tarnishes the intended gleam of this cover”
Digital Release: December 11, 2011
Physical Release: December 12, 2011
Like most reality TV, The X Factor stands on uneasy moral ground. It celebrates popularity, boldly refutes individualism, and moulds any plausible and vaguely interesting doe-eyed contestant into a malleable, scripted and profitable commodity. It ambivalently enforces the need to be ‘diverse’ – though clearly doesn’t know how to put it in the context of a popstar – and throws the rule book of identity out of the neon-framed window when, in fact, very few properly successful popstars would ever manage to hold up a balladeer’s re-imagining of a stadium rock classic and then chew over some gaudy bubblegum pop without sounding like a drunken karaoke marathon. And all the while we, the brain-washed onlookers clap like a chorus of idolising seals, we find ourselves watching merely habitually than for any actual enjoyment, and to simply be able to have something to say at the office the next day.
This year’s X Factor has been a media-seizing juggernaut, steam-rolling over the headlines and plastering scandal after scandal on inch after inch of newspaper columns and internet pages alike with even less regard for it’s own tissue-thin integrity than ever before. The extensive promotions for Christmas adverts and the good-guy smiles worn for the charity single were reason enough to simply be put off by the task of having to endure another string of perfunctory performances each weekend before even considering the show itself – it no longer became an event assigned exclusively to the weekend. The X Factor rudely dragged it’s heels through to Monday morning, and persisted to stay with us for the rest of the week, urging us to continue watching it’s pantomimic warp of what musicianship really is every weekend. But now the marathon has come to a close, narrowly avoiding implosion under it’s own fatty stores of greed and laziness, there’s a winner to congratulate after twelve stellar weeks of thoroughly unengaging karaoke.
Little Mix release ‘Cannonball’, originally a sorry little ballad from reedy-voiced Irish folk singer Damien Rice. Ignoring the song’s own imperfections (and there are a shameful number), Little Mix’s interpretation is well-suited to their perceived style however, it’s like waiting three minutes for a climax that never comes. The original sounded like it was recorded in a studio the size of a toilet cubicle – wobbly vocals that broke occasionally; guitar strings squeaking; it got by solely on it’s admirably modest intentions and never hinted at a huge finale. But this renewed version aims to be perfect; some kind of epoch-defining moment of music history that commands a sudden hush of silence from it’s listeners because it’s so high on it’s own imposed sacredness. But it simply doesn’t deliver – the re-working and the unnecessarily hi-gloss production finish act like giant vacuums on any residual emotion the girls’ voices provide, not that there’s a great deal – their voices are also too ‘perfect’ for the song. The tarnished original tarnishes the intended gleam of this cover. There’s something very wrong about trying to revamp a song whose rustic charm was in it’s accidentally croaking placidity, Rice’s timid voice and sole guitar strum.
Nevertheless, I suppose it’s still nice that we’ve now got four new popstars whose disembodied faces and indistinguishable voices will now echo through the music industry, seeing as the girl-group market is an open playing field with only the crippled pride of The Saturdays and Sugababes acting as obstacles to their success. You can call Little Mix anything you like, but they are not original. And their cover of ‘Cannonball’ is a glamorously tragic achievement – an achievement of nothing. Glittering passively through synths and drum loops it makes a barren promise to all those who voted for them, and also to those who will have to stomach the future offerings from an act that I genuinely think people believe will deliver something worthwhile. But it only takes a glimpse at the same promise made by Matt Cardle one year prior to now to see that whatever promise is made by any successful X Factor alumni is soon sucked dry of it’s pledge to be cutting-edge and innovative, replaced swiftly by a far safer option: a cardboard cut-out of a previously successful act who are just about to slip off the music radar for good, because if Syco fail spectacularly at anything, then it’s marketing their own acts from original perspectives, with original ideas and original songs. And when Little Mix’s album arrives, we will watch, once again, the painfully deadpan delivery from a collection of hopeless wannabes, soon to be made defunct when tabloid columns retreat behind other celebrities and leave Little Mix to appeal purely with their music.
It’s a poignant reflection of us as a society, that The X Factor fails to produce any recognisable music talent that we haven’t seen before, regardless of what incoherent blips of music history the flabbergasting claims to originality are plagiarising so viciously by the show’s inept judges. But it’s not the shows fault – the only fault you can thrust upon it’s crooked shoulders is that of over-indulgent advertising and self-promotion. No, the lack of talent in the winners and runners-up of each series is entirely attributed to the fact that we cannot establish a majority in favour of something or someone we cannot understand. And thus, artists that do not conform to things we can easily define and ‘expect’ – and by that I mean: things that we have seen before and are more familiar with – and so we cannot elect someone with their own music agenda a rightful winner, and neither can Syco. We should therefore come to ‘expect’ a winner and runners-up with, admittedly, a disparaging lack of originality and a foul stink of soulless, commercialised opportunity, leaving no distinct impression other than the pounding headache induced by defensive, hypnotised teenyboppers and inescapable fan wars, further fuelled by the perpetual checkmate of social networking.
It appears that, in the age of celebrating the famous for being famous, we conscript religiously to the very glory we bestow upon the shoulders of those most… undeserving.