Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
There is, in British society, a school of thought that the absolute best thing you can be is a right laugh, and that the magical quality anyone needs to get ahead is ‘bants’. That overachieving is bad and being a beautiful loser is good. It’s what separates us from, say, Americans.
Lewis Capaldi, it cannot be denied, is a right laugh. His recent, bants-heavy and self-deprecating NME interview proved as much (and he can come back any time he likes). He’s endearingly self-aware, refreshingly real and is never shy of making himself the butt of the joke.
But recently, it’s started to feel like the record-streaming – or, amazingly, in Capaldi’s case record-buying – public are the ones having the piss taken out of them.
His album is titled ‘Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent’, not just an ugly sentence to read but something that should, by rights, have been his Gerald Ratner moment. For those too young to remember (all of you), Gerald was the CEO of the high street jewellers Ratners who, in 1991, told the Institute Of Directors in London that Ratners do a pair of earrings that are cheaper than a prawn sandwich and don’t last as long. And he told the following anecdote: “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’, I say, ‘Because it’s total crap.'”
It was a calamitous scandal; customers felt cheated, and the value of the Ratner group plummeted by £500 million, and Gerald was ousted.
Fast forward 28 years and we have Capaldi presenting his debut album as if it were a freshly laid turd on a Ratner’s silver-plated tray. The public reaction? To lap it up.
In the week of release, giant posters of Capaldi, seemingly fresh out of the shower and intentionally unflatteringly shot on a mobile phone, appeared on the Tube network, with the quote “The Scottish Beyoncé on a London Underground billboard. Finally famous.” It’s the kind of self-aware marketing as when a smoothie bottle asks you to “refrigerate me, please!” as if it were a sentient being. Anti-marketing is nothing new, but there’s something about this advert, the way it implores you to gaze upon the unrefined visage of young Capaldi and feel better about yourself, that feels exploitative.
But then, Capaldi is happy to go along with it. By the weekend, he was serving sausage rolls in a branch of Gregg’s The Bakers, outside of which he sang an impromptu song apparently called ‘I Love Greggs’. This might be amusing had the sausage roll not become the go-to symbol of a kind of boorish British crassness, a celebration of national mediocrity and symbol for the fetishisation of the working class. Our last Christmas Number One, lest we ever forget, was LadBaby’s egregious ‘We Built This City …On Sausage Rolls’.
Capaldi, it cannot be stated enough, is A Good Dude. His music is passable if you’re looking for something bland to walk down the aisle to. He can certainly sing. But he’s being cynically marketed as a pop star for our times – times when outsiders are taking over politics, the have-nots are more pissed off than ever and, as Michael Gove had the temerity to tell us, “we’ve had enough of experts”.
Picturing your pop star brandishing a Gregg’s sausage roll feels much like any shot you’ve ever seen of Nigel Farage holding aloft a pint of Fusty Sturgeon and puffing on a B&H, cos, you know, he’s just like you and me. Farage is – I hope – not like you, but Capaldi hopefully is: a person with a decent bit of talent who embraces his imperfections. But both of these photo opps are a form of condescension to the public. We’re being fed the pop star they think we deserve. The sausage roll of pop stars.
When his album inevitably went to Number One on Sunday, Capaldi released a banter-filled video filmed in a record shop, in which he celebrated his success, thanked those who supported him and jokingly said “fuck you” to albums by a handful of other artists. “I say, Haha, fuck off, you albums, my album is Number One.”
Support Lewis Capaldi by all means, but know that if it seems like he’s the butt of the joke, ultimately, we all are.