Mark's Musings

A miscellany of thoughts and opinions from an unimportant small town politician and bit-part web developer

30 Days of Music: 12 – A song from a band I hate


I don’t really hate any band. There are plenty of bands that I don’t listen to because I don’t particularly like their music, but that’s not the same thing as hating a band.

What I do hate, though, is the manipulation and destruction of music. In particular, I loathe X-Factor and its clones. Not because I dislike any of the performers, or even the judges, but simply because of the damage it causes to music.

The main problem with X-Factor is that it focusses solely on one aspect of music, vocal performance, and ignores all the others that go into making music what it is. There’s no place on the XF stage for composers or musicians, and yet without them there would be no songs for the contestants to sing. A such, it gives an entirely misleading view of what music is about – treating it simply as a vehicle for a talent competition.

In any case, singing isn’t really that hard, if you’ve got the basic ability. Everyone enjoys the XF auditions where we get to laugh at people who think they can sing when they can’t, but if that gives the impression that vocal ability is rare than that’s entirely false. Go to any church choir in the country and you’ll find people who can sing as well as anyone on XF.

Well, you might argue, surely the XF contestants are at least the cream of the crop when it comes to singing. But no, they’re not. Think about all the most famous rock/pop vocalists, and think about what makes them special. In almost all cases, the key thing about successful (by which I mean famous, in this context) singers is their distinctiveness. Whether it’s Liam Gallagher’s nasal whine, Morrisey’s fey artfulness or Dido’s breathy glottal stops, most well-known singers have their own recognisable style. The format of XF, though, values versatility over distinctiveness – the contestants have to sing a variety of songs without ever being able to impose their own style on them.

In some cases, versatility is an advantage – any XF finalist would certainly be able to get a job as a session singer, if they want one. But it’s misleading in the extreme to suggest that bland versatility is the stuff of which stardom is made. And by encouraging the audience to see choreographed vocal performance as the epitome of their aspirations it’s actively working to block the development of real talent – the composers and performers of original material.

In this respect, Britain’s Got Talent is a much better show than X-Factor, because the BGT contestants are, for the most part, also writing or arranging their own material rather than merely doing cover versions – and the BGT contestants who do sing get to perform the music of their choice, the music which suits their style, rather than being forced to adapt to material which doesn’t suit them. By contrast, X-Factor is nothing more than a glorified karaoke contest.

If you’re going to do karaoke, though, you might at least do it with some real talent providing the music. So here are last year’s X-Factor finalists being accompanied by Brian May and Roger Taylor as they inflict GBH on Bohemian Rhapsody. Enjoy.>