I don’t normally write much about the X-Factor and all that, save the odd sneering comment from the sidelines. The world seems to divide into several categories, those dumb enough to watch it and vote, those dumb enough to watch it and those watching it “ironically” in order to post sarcastic comments online about it.
Anyway, my ire was stoked when I heard that one of the previous winners Leona Lewis had covered “Hurt”.
The reason this sticks in my craw so much is that “Hurt” is a song absolutely loaded with meaning. The Nine Inch Nails original is the climax of their classic Downward Spiral album, the theme of which is a man heading into despair, with each song building uncomfortably to the next before we reach his own suicide in “Hurt”.
“I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.”
The song was famously covered by Johnny Cash, who imbued it with his own meaning. It was Cashs final song, and the video is utterly stunning, as it reviews his own life through clips and becomes a reflection on Cash and his place in history.
And then it gets covered by Leona fucking Lewis.
Don’t get me wrong, in the pantheon of X-Factor winners Lewis is probably the most talented. Which is like saying a sprained wrist is better than a broken leg, but she does have the voice to carry off what she has done, which is build a career as a sort of Mariah Carey-lite. Unfortunately, she has the charisma of a broken bottle combined with the stunning ability to suck all the passion out of whatever song she has been directed to warble. The girl could suck the life out of Agadoo.
(Which would be worth hearing actually, considering it would follow the standard Lewis pattern of quiet beginning, slow build, massively signposted key change before 60 seconds of belting “Aaaaaaaggaaaaaadoooo, PUSH PINEAPPLE SHAKE THE TREE”)
If that wasn’t bad enough, and on a much more personal note, she has also covered “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls. Now this one means something, specifically to me, because it was our wedding song. Without getting into it too much, the lyrics meant something to me and my better half. If one attempted to measure the irony of a fucking X-Factor winner singing “I don’t want the world to see me”, the resulting number would be so huge it would need Professor Brian Cox standing on a mountain somewhere and going “that’s amaaaaazing“.
In addition to Lewis’ attempt, “Iris” has also been covered by Avril Lavigne and Ronan Keating. What the hell did the Goo Goo Dolls do to deserve that parade of mediocrity?
I accept that manufactured pop music has to exist. It always has, and it always will – hell, the Beatles were a boy band. Part of me actually admires the ruthlessness of the X-Factor, systematically stripping the business of music production down to the bare minimum of effort for the maximum profit. They have got so good at it, that next year the winners single will be the same song no matter who actually wins the competition, exactly the same song whether it is won by the bloke, the girl or the band – they will just change the JPG for the download in iTunes and it will still be the Christmas Number One.
But I’ll only accept that if it leaves proper, good music alone. Music from the heart, music by people who understand things like emotion and meaning. Something that is interesting. If it were comedy, then I’m happy to have Stewart Lee and Gary Delaney and Die Clatterschenkenfietermaus, and you can have the future of comedy, which is Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay, live from the O2, stamping on a human face forever.
“I’m staaaaamping. Everybody in. Everybody in. I’m staaaaamping.”
Anyway, instead of staying in its own niche, carefully prepackaged and demographically tested to within an inch of its life, X-Factor (or rather the true evil behind it all, which is Syco) get reaching over to “my” side of the divide and nicking songs. Last years winner, Alexandra Burke, did a cover of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. A song so full of depth and meaning, that it was best sung by someone the wrong side of 50, who was drunk and going through the end of their third marriage. (For added authenticity, one of those marriages must have ended because the spouse died too young.) Jeff Buckley did perhaps the definitive cover of the song and he is allowed to get away with it through creative use of the premature death clause.
So thanks to Syco, it becomes a song sung by a former shelf-stacker barely out of her teens. Who later said “It just didn’t do anything for me.”
Fuck you, Burke.
“Oh come on Mike, it is just the X-Factor”.
I know I am standing on the beach, raging impotently at the approaching tidal wave, but some things are important. I’ll leave manufactured karaoke singers alone if they stop stealing the things that are important to me and cheapening them. I wouldn’t mind but not a single person involved in the production of “Hurt” has the slightest possible clue about the ability of music to generate passion, emotion or meaning. If they did, they wouldn’t actually go ahead with it. A legion of singers, producers, auto-tune engineers and a record company that hasn’t the faintest idea about what makes music so vitally important in the first place.
And they are encroaching on those who do care. I’m not asking for much, just to have my little space, free from blandification and turning into commercial product. I just want it to remain special, but they have to try and take that from me as well, my one last inch.
Enjoy your Monday morning.