And so, in the words of the immortal Freddie Mercury, another one bites the dust: Matt Cardle’s been booted out of the loving embrace of Columbia Records just 18 months after winning The X Factor, joining the likes of Joe McElderry, Leon Jackson and Steve Brookstein as TV talent show flops who, despite having once been championed by the voting masses, now sit forgotten and forlorn.
It’d be wonderful, of course, to think that all this singing competition nonsense was coming to an end: that we’re on the verge of a Brave New World in which Wild Beasts become chart-topping behemoths and Metronomy singles start flying off the shelves. But I don’t think people are going to start turning their backs on The X Factor, The Voice et al. Instead – and this could still be mightily heartening – it does seem that Simon Cowell and his brethren are aware that flooding the commercial pop market with such identikit dullards is a fool’s errand; that there’s only so many times you can rinse and repeat the same formula before it’s rejected. And maybe – hopefully – that means we’ll get some better pop stars as a result.
Because, to me, there’s always been one blinding problem with the litany of these shows. It isn’t because it’s manufactured pop music: whether we like it or not, some pop stars have always effectively been assembled like Bionic Men and Women in shady laboratories somewhere, whether it’s Lady Gaga and Rihanna now, or the Spice Girls and N-SYNC of yesteryear.
No, the problem with The X Factor is that ‘likeability’ is shoved down our throats ad nauseum, and people vote for the ‘nicest’ and most ‘worthy’ contestants. “Awww, Matt Cardle looks like a nice bloke, doesn’t he, with his funny little hat? I’d like to go for a pint with him.” “Ohhh, look at Joe McElderry and his cute face. Couldn’t you just pinch his cheeks? I bet he’s lovely to his mother.” But what’s supposedly endearing about these types on TV every Saturday – the fact they’re humble, ordinary souls who never craved the spotlight and are just like you and me – doesn’t work when they’re out there trying to shift albums. In essence, it’s actually the opposite of what being a good chart-topping popstar entails: having a fuck-off ginormous attitude and a larger-than-life persona.
You only have to have a quick think about some of the people who’ve become massive pop stars in the past year or so to realize that, deep down, people don’t (or at least, shouldn’t) want this dreary ‘I’m just a normal person, me’ shtick from their pop idols. There’s a reason why nobody really gave cared about Lizzie Grant, but can’t get enough of Lana Del Rey, and it’s because the latter is a load more interesting for that jaded Hollywood aesthetic, the intrigue and myth-heavy backstory. Look at Nicki Minaj, who’s exploded into the mainstream courtesy of a load of controversial capers, donning cartoonish outfits while pissing off the Catholic Church. Even someone like MIA – already a bloody big star – managed to get tongues-a-wagging by flipping the bird at the Superbowl. In contrast, Matt Cardle sticking some fake tattoos on his arm for a magazine photo shoot is a bit lacking in the ‘edgy’ stakes.
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There is, of course, the counter-argument of One Direction – reality show winners who are topping charts with cyborg-like relentlessness. But they’re such preternaturally handsome whippersnappers that they don’t really need to be that interesting, and the fact they’re rather non-threatening is probably part of their appeal amongst their target audience. But, while we shouldn’t fool ourselves that there won’t still be bland dross in the charts, we can maybe permit ourselves to daydream that we might start picking our own popstars a little better. Like ol’ Victor Frankenstein, people are starting to shun their own dreary creations, turning away from the monstrously dull artists they’ve birthed. Let’s hope this is the start of them plumping for a little more exciting instead.