Biffy Clyro are my favourite band. And I love The X Factor. Does that make me a fucking weirdo? Actually, don’t answer that.
But consider that what happened last night – token indie contestant Matt Cardle winning the show and plotting a course for Christmas number one with a ‘Many Of Horror’ cover – amounts to something approaching a revolution. Certainly, it proves that we’ve moved past post-credibility post-tribal, post-sell-out, post-everything, into a new pop epoch entirely. And the old rules can never make sense again.
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but as I understood it, the point of last year’s Rage campaign was simply to make the race for the Christmas number one exciting again. And it wasn’t anti-Cowell so much as pro-song. If he’d chosen a better song than ‘The Climb’ there would have been no need for it. Well this year they’ve chosen a brilliant song by a brilliant band, even if they have had to amend the title (to ‘When We Collide’).
It was obvious from the start that things were going to be different with this year’s X Factor, from the moment Cher Lloyd swaggered on with a scrunched nose and put in possibly the greatest audition ever.
It was obvious when Belle Amie covered the Hayley Williams song. It was obvious when Cowell started banging on about “the new generation of popstar” he’s only just noticed every chance he got. When Katie wore the weird helmet. When they dumped Big Band Week.
Luke got into a right old state yesterday that these concessions to modernity are nothing like enough. But we should at least appreciate the parameters of this. After getting his fingers burnt last year, Cowell has realised that he does not dictate the shapes and colours of our pop lives, he can only react to what is already going on.
This year was hardly an X Factor vintage – at times the car crashes started to resemble a glittery motorway pile–up – but there has at least been real effort. This isn’t Strummerville or CBGB 1979 or even the Haus Of Gaga, this is ITV1.
Sure, it would be more entertaining if Matt was covering ‘Strung To Your Ribcage’ rather than Biffy’s enormo-ballad – but come on people, let’s work with what we’ve got.
As X Factor careered however grudgingly towards credibility, Biffy Clyro have been busy bending the mainstream into their own shape. They’ve always been one of the UK’s weirdest bands, existing in their own strange world with its own grammar, its own visual language, its own time signatures, possibly even its own laws of physics.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a ringside seat in their entourage for almost a decade now since the grotty old days in Glasgow and Manchester. And what everybody in the loose affiliation of fans, friends and crew known as Team Biffy has always known is that this day was always coming. Maybe not quite so spectacularly, but coming all the same.
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As we stood in toilet venues among small yet insanely devoted crowds, watched the band toil in thankless day jobs during their (brief) periods off tour, endure heaving poverty… as I myself had stand-up rows with the rest of the NME office over why we should cover them in the magazine (I won, eventually), there was never any doubt in anybody’s minds that this band was going the whole way.
And seeing them get noticed by the major label machine, gain the confidence to write songs with the one chorus instead of three, puncture the mainstream with a thousand tiny pin pricks, finally headlining Wembley – well that is the most heartwarming music story I’ve ever been a party to. Now, in a roundabout way at least, they’re going to have a Christmas number one. What could be more of a hoot?
The band are on tour in Australia and keeping a low profile, but I’d wager they find the whole thing as hilarious as I do. Yet having witnessed their toil first hand, I can’t think of anyone more deserving of the massive pay day that surely beckons.
See, as Simon Neil told us earlier this year, they understand that The X Factor isn’t standing in the way of any notion of real music, it’s just a thing that’s there, to be prodded and poked and manipulated as you wish.
If you’re not happy with the choice of winners’ song you can join one of the (increasingly tedious) Facebook groups. If you think it really worth a pound of your money, you can sabotage the thing by voting for Wagner. Every time Cowell tried to manipulate it this year, he failed.
And if you really want, you can ignore it and go listen to The Jesus Lizard instead. But this year, X Factor is doing something inadvertently great in cementing one of our most precious bands as one of our biggest.
Sure there will be certain fans who declare the band dead to them in paroxyisms of misdirected indie rage. But there were fans who declared the band dead to them when they first signed to a major, and did the same when they started writing songs with only one chorus.
And this year’s festive chart topper is an extended metaphor about body horror representing the toils of day-to-day love. That sounds subversive to me. Biffy Clyro have reached an admittedly improbable milestone in a journey they were already on. It isn’t that they’ve sold out. Simon Cowell has bought in.
Maybe I am a fucking weirdo for living in both worlds. But like it or not they’ve collided. Now we have the chance to come together. Because if we don’t, we’ll always be apart.