Win The X Factor and you’re all but guaranteed a debut Number One single. Come second on The X Factor and you need something strong for your first release. What you probably don’t want to do is follow the example set by Joss Stone. However, that’s what Marcus Collins has just done, releasing a lacklustre soul cover of a White Stripes track as the opening gambit to his post-reality show career.
But why do such a thing? Simple: in a world where the biggest-selling album in a generation, Adele’s ‘21’, was inspired by real events in the artist’s personal life, there’s a growing desire for singers to prove they transcend mere pop music and to showcase their authenticity.
X Factor winners have been putting out cover versions as initial releases for eight series now but it’s not just about that; it’s about attempting to hitch a ride on the coat-tails of indie, and gain some of the credibility that goes with it. That’s why Ed Sheeran makes a point of boasting that he writes his own songs (despite his album having five co-writers) and that he “didn’t go to Brit School”. It’s why the internet’s recently worked itself into a frenzy about the credentials of Lana Del Rey. It’s why Leona Lewis has released cover versions of Snow Patrol and Nine Inch Nails tracks.
And then there’s the Radio 1 Live Lounge. For over a decade, Jo Whiley and her spiritual successor, Fearne Cotton, have been fawning over anyone who comes on their show to perform a track in a stripped-back, acoustic style. These versions will then be peppered throughout the daytime playlist, presumably because of the exclusivity this gives Radio 1 over its commercially-backed rivals. There are now hundreds of performances and seven double-albums of the stars of today “keeping at real”, which is why we now have Taio Cruz’s take on ‘Little Lion Man’, Katy Perry re-working ‘Electric Feel’ or, most horrifyingly of all, Alesha Dixon’s cover of ‘Sex On Fire’.
What’s frustrating about all of this is that there’s no need for pop stars to chase respect and kudos in such a way. The best pop music is, and has always been, unashamed, brash and a little bit nuts. Who wants to listen to someone “making a song their own” when you’ve got Nicki Minaj running around with pink hair and acting completely hatstand?
Robyn makes music which probably doesn’t contain a single organic instrument, yet it’s inventive and sounds utterly exhilarating. Acts like Nicola Roberts and Stooshe are about as pure pop as you can get, but their sound is full-to-the-brim of something that’s often overlooked in music: fun.
Pop and indie can happily coexist and there’s no need for pop to try and crib from its more critically-acclaimed cousin. Marcus Collins’ next single is set to be an original song. Let’s hope for his sake he doesn’t overplay the credibility card and become the new Matt Cardle.