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FEATURE: In Defence of Simon Cowell

Article by Rhys Howell.

The X Factor returns this Saturday, and we all know what to expect: the treacly piano score; the soft focus blur; the tears beginning to trickle down the contestant’s face during their tale about their paraplegic gran, and how she used to hum “Danny Boy” using only her throat mic after Nazi dentists stole her larynx, and that’s why in a modern interpretation they’ll now be singing “SK8R Boi” for dear old Gran. Its such a cliché that as soon as Keane come on the soundtrack you know the weeping chancer is going through. Other than this one downside, I’m looking forward to what is the saviour of the music industry.

Last week we had a feature lambasting reality TV shows and their impact on the music industry (If you haven’t read it yet then it can be found here. I’ll wait while you do.). I think these programs are a good thing and will attempt to convince you, too.

Week in, week out on X Factor, the contestants sing a well known track made famous by someone else. “It’s practically televised Rock Band”, you say. Au contraire!, athough, Rock Band is a good place to start. Beatles: Rock Band, to be precise. You see, even The Beatles started with covers. For all you guys in bands: did you start with your own original compositions, or did you hone your skills on other people’s work? Everyone has to start somewhere. Given time, new pieces of music will arise from these artists who started with versions of other people’s work.

Shows such as X Factor give folks a start in the business. They can branch out. Look at Mylene Klass. From her break in TV-show Popstars, she went on to success as a classical artist, along with all her TV work. Maybe one of this year’s factorites will go on and branch out into post-punk techno grunge, but without the initial fame of X Factor they may not get the chance.

The complaint that even the losers win is bizarre. Should each contestant on joining the show agree to never make music again if they fail to win? And as the prize is a recording contract, if you can get that another way then you’ve won as well. The ultimate voting on these shows is with cold hard cash. If people really want an act to lose then they won’t buy the music when it’s released. You could argue that the public vote for artists every week with their wallets, and those who fail to enter the Top 40 Chart have lost. Should these losers be denied the chance to make more music? Of course, this would mean that many of today’s exciting cutting edge bands would not keep making such great music.

So how is X Factor the Saviour of the Music Industry? Love it or hate it, it’s driving sales and bringing new blood into the music pool. Would “Killing In The Name Of” have been number one last Christmas without the X Factor to rage against?  Would RATM have increased their fan base to include people that hadn’t grown up with them without that chart position? In this case, X Factor positively invigorated all music fans to buy more of what they liked in an attempt to stop what they hated from taking over. One point that often gets overlooked is that the money from the sales of the mainstream X Factor artists goes into the coffers of the music company, and this then gets recycled into shoring up the smaller bands who may be more musically credible but less financially viable. Think about that for a second.

As for bringing in new blood, there must be many amongst you who see Jedward cavorting around on screen and it makes you angry. To play Devil’s advocate: are you angry that they’re rubbish, or are you jealous that they’re living the dream and you’re stuck in a dead end job?… Take that anger and turn it into music of your own! You may be the next Jedward, you never know? OK, maybe that’s not the point I’m trying to make…

As music fans, we want to spread our love of music far and wide. With a holier-than-thou attitude we’re not going to be able to convince folks to listen to us or our choices. Warren Spector’s comments on Computer games and comics apply here: if we don’t tread carefully we’ll make our niche even more marginalised. If music fanatics continue down the path of pouring scorn on mainstream music then we’ll end up with an even further polarised music scene, with each subculture devoid from the other and no cross pollination. We need to get off our high horses and let people listen to what they like. The point is, we don’t need to be told what we should be listening to, either by Simon Cowell or Internet blogs.

Next week I’ll be looking at Glee…

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