10 YEARS OF PAIN

The last time I managed to sit through an entire episode of X-Factor must have been in 2004 when the first show graced our television sets, and from that point onwards, it was always a catalyst for division in my household. The men on one side, the women on the other; heated clashes regarding pop authenticity and legitimate talent versus honourable entertainment would reign over the dinner table like the ominous, all-consuming storm cloud of Syco.

For this writer, it’s experience that breeds true quality in music. The best song-writers and players have trawled through the shit, the gutter, the garbage and the mental disarray; they’ve put in their time, they’ve gone mad in the process, they’ve loved and they’ve failed and they’ve struggled: because they have to. Townes Van Zandt put it best, ‘you have to blow off your family. You have to blow off comfort. You have to blow off money.... You have to blow off your ego. You have to blow off everything except your guitar’, and that should be the epigram for bands everywhere with a hope of ‘making it’.

While talent shows started their light-hearted existence with a grin of glee and a group of gel-wearing hopefuls, clad in shellsuits and joy, they soon demised into a quick-fix, Wonga-loan solution to claim both fame and worth in the public eye and on the plinth of musical stardom – but, I soon discovered, quality in music is not what these people want, it’s a flash dance of escapism.

The lights are on the stage and the audience waits with bated breath as the obligatory overweight hopeful steps on the stage. Boasting the facial features of a gargoyle, the gnashers of a deep fried piranha and the personality of a stiff sock found under the bed of a teenage boy, this is the unassuming glory the audience loves, and two lines into bellowing out ‘Young’, a song by everyone’s favourite coke-pusher, Tulisa, he’s earned himself eight standing innovations before being branded ‘the real deal’. Apparently carrying a tune with the vaguest air of emotion is all it takes to get this crowd pissing on their seats like it’s 1963 all over again. But James Arthur plays a guitar, so not only is he the next Robbie Williams, he’s also the next Duane Allman.

Whenever the X-Factor arrives on TV, mass hysteria ensues and suddenly the people who have been buying Peter Andre records crawl out from their caverns and attempt to justify to the world why some Costa Coffee employee is the greatest undiscovered talent in Britain. They’re always humble and shy and quiet and cute, and then the second show airs, and they’re elevated numbskulls focused on solidifying their future place on next year’s Celebrity Big Brother. And everyone gets involved. Even reputable music hacks who have made a career out of dissecting the work of self-made artists will find some form of irony behind the pen as they tweet about their favourite contestants (note: you wouldn’t get this from an Uncut writer, so buy Uncut).

‘It’s just a bit of fun!’ the innocent cry, well some people’s idea of fun is fisting a nun in the back of a Fiesta; fun is subjective to the point that one man’s evening of entertainment is another’s nightmare (a night out in Portsmouth city centre, for example). While everyone becomes an immediate expert, music as a currency of experience and truth and free-reigning creativity becomes nearly worthless amidst this frenzy of hairspray and shocked cherub faces who claim G. Barlow is their hero, Sharon Osbourne is hot for a old dog and Louie Walsh once promised them a fiver if they didn’t tell their parents about the sleepover.

Wonderful, isn’t it, how everyone suddenly knows what makes a star. Of course, there’s different types of ‘stars’. There’s the X Factor stars who graze the peripheral for a few weeks before being propelled into the realms of obscurity when their latest single hits number 623 in the charts. Then there are pop stars like One Direction (who came third on the program – an incredible exception), they’re the biggest band in the world now and fair play to them; I couldn’t name a song they’ve done but I don’t hold their success against them – I’m just not their audience, and I seriously doubt artistic integrity is their thing. Then there’s stars like Aretha Franklin and The Rolling Stones, who contestants will always claim to love and cherish; ‘I grew up on Bill Withers’ or ‘I remember my Dad playing Elvis and Dylan all the time and it just stuck with me’, the chaps from The House of Topman will recite when asked their pre-empted questions, but unlike their much adored legacy-baring rockers and pop heroes, they don’t want the work that goes with gigging and songwriting and picking out your own clothes and wiping your own arse, it’s too much trouble.

I’ve got an idea for a program, though: The Football Factor. The idea is that football hopefuls of all ages will come together to showcase their skills, tell stories of how their uncle died before they were born and their cat was recently diagnosed with bollock cancer; there’ll be various rounds to get to the final and the contestant who emerges victorious will be given a contract to play at a Premier League club. No? well you’re right, because you wouldn’t let a Sunday League player running with the professionals.

Then again, I don’t follow the charts; I’m not the target audience and I like to do my own leg work to uncover my own music. I want blood and sweat, I don’t want fake tans and choreographed farts, so maybe I should just avoid it all together…oh wait, I do…

Simon Cowell