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December 14, 2010


The Silent Sceptic

"Any clever person must be curious about such a significant social phenomenon"

Really? All clever people must be curious about the x-factor. Really? Personally I couldn't give a stuff, and most of the clever people I know couldn't give a stuff either. Not because I'm a pompous prat, but because I'm just not interested. By your "definition" does this make me not clever? I doubt it: I'm with Richard Feynmann - "I have a limited intelligence and I've used it in a particular direction.".

Before you ask: PhD Cantab. Not a proof of cleverness, but an indicator.


I think your conclusion is bang on the button: it hurts a certain strata of people to acknowledge that popular music is just, well, popular music.

But it ain't just ageing hippies or punks who might feel this way: my 14 yr old, who is so attached to his guitar that he does his homework with it on his knee*, hates the X-Factor as well.

(*Yeah it really is that much fun in our house: equation - strum a few chords- conjugate french verb - strum a few chords - name a few major rivers - strum a few chords...finish homework, start entire sodding Green Day repertoire...)

Paul Sagar

The truth of Johnny Rotten? Of the band The Sex Pistols? Formed and managed by Malcolm McLaren? Literally a manufactured punk band, created to catch the crest of a wave, which McLaren did very well out of indeed?

Yep, your thesis is right. This example alone confirms it, regardless of what songs they sang.

Phil Ruse

This is a peculiar blog. I'm not sure of your evidence but agree with the conclusion!

Tom Addison

I generally don't watch or like X Factor, although I've had to watch it for a bit a few times this year. I do wonder if my hatred for it is because I'm a "pompous self-obsessed middle class prat" who merely thinks I'm more intelligent than all those "fools" who do watch it, or are my feelings justified in some cases? It's not a nice attitude to have anyway, thinking lots of people in the country are morons!

But my gripes are....

First, it isn't about who's the best singer, it's about which woman sings the most like Mariah Carey and which bloke sings the most like a boyband member. And once the people who do well on the show release a CD (I say release because they can't write them), each album sounds the same. Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke, can't tell the difference!

The over-sentimentality is excruciating, I can't stand it, I have to walk out of the room or change the channel. Crying because someone hit a high note? You've got to be kidding. I'm sure some people are as bemused by people who cry at football, but come on!

Then there's the preliminary rounds. I think Ricky Gervais puts it very well in Extras:

"And fuck you, the makers of this show as well. You can't wash your hands of this. You can't keep going, "Oh, it's exploitation, but it's what the public want." No, the Victorian freak show never went away. Now it's called "Big Brother" or "American Idol," where in the preliminary rounds we wheel out the bewildered to be sniggered at by multimillionaires."

Then there's Simon Cowell. Wanker. Simple as. And Cheryl Cole, you can sod off as well. Again, from Extras:

"I'm not having a go at you. I'm just sick of these celebrities just living their lives out in the open all the time. Why would you do that? It's like these pop stars who choose the perfect moment to go into rehab. They call their publicist before they call a taxi. Then they come out and they do their second autobiography - this one's called "Love Me or I'll Kill Myself." Well, kill yourself then. And the papers lap it up. They follow us around and that makes people think we're important, and that makes us think we're important. If they stop following us around, taking pictures of us, those people wouldn't take to the streets, going "Oh quick, I need a picture of Cameron Diaz with a pimple." They wouldn't care, they'd get on with something else. They'd get on with their lives. You open the paper and you see a picture of Lindsay Lohan getting out of a car, and the headline is "Cover Up Lindsay, We Can See Your Knickers." Of course you can see her knickers - your photographer is lying in the road, pointing his camera up her dress to see her knickers! You're literally the gutter press."

Another social phenomenon I reckon you'd be interested in too Chris (assuming you're not a facebook active individual) is the psychology of people's facebook status updates. When you combine it with X Factor, crazy stuff!

Anyway, rant over, Revista De La Liga is on. Lionel Messi, now that's talent.

Paul Sagar


"There is, in my dictionary, though not I fear Matthew‘s, a difference between being clever and being a pompous self-obsessed middle class prat."

I genu-lol'd at that.


Do you reject the idea of good taste?

If we accept the idea then a debate is possible about culture and the x factors place in it, if any.

You don't seem to be willing to resolve this issue here.

Both Lennon and the sex pistols might be regarded as expressing facts about the social world that might be unattractive but instructive. So authentic in their own way. But are they better than Motzart?

CharlieMcNenamin: I salute your son for having taste. Good for him.

john Terry's Mum

"“Do stupid people read this blog ?”"


Wonderful programme, won't hear a word said against it. All the joys of the music hall, dire acts, coarse humour, sick-making sentimentality and very occasionally a good act - and let us not forget the humiliation.

Even better, X succeeds as a money-making machine, extracting mega moolah from gullible advertisers and gullible voters. All to make the economic wheels go round and make Simon smile. Let's not be snooty, money speaks all languages.

Business directory

The more TV, the less life.

Churm Rincewind

I take your main objection to the X Factor to be that it perpetuates “a form of the fundamental attribution error – the notion that the singer matters more than the song…but this is not true.” Well, in many cases yes it is. Your example of Take That demonstrates the point. It was Gary Barlow who had the songs – after all, he wrote them – which is why he was signed up by Take That’s record company for a gigantic fee after the band’s split, while Robbie Williams was sidelined. But it was Robbie Williams who went on to storm the charts, not because he was working with better material but because he is a far, far better singer than Gary Barlow. In that instance the singer did indeed matter more than the song.

If the song was always paramount, then the charts would be full of cover versions and tribute bands would be filling Wembley Stadium. In fact, one of the unique attributes of recorded popular music is the one-time synthesis of singer and song, a process which is the responsibility of the oft disregarded producer.

However, this only applies to recorded music, and it is a cliché of the music business that many “songs” cannot be replicated outside of a recording studio, and that many apparently successful singers just can’t cut it in live performance. Robbie Williams can, and so can Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, etc, as could (perhaps supremely) Michael Jackson.

It is performance, not recording, that the X Factor is all about. That’s why contestants are applauded for “hitting the big notes”. And quite right too.

So I can’t accept any of your points as “problems”. Nor, incidentally, do I think that the audience is invited to laugh at the talentless rather than with them. It’s more complicated than that, and the case of Anne Widdecombe in Strictly Come Dancing comes to mind.

And yes, the public’s tastes in popular music are fickle. That’s because popular music is essentially a fashion item, easily adopted and easily discarded. But this is no more a “problem” than the fact that fashions in clothing change over time. It’s in the nature of the beast.

I fear I am banging on. In my view the X Factor is brilliantly conceived and stunningly executed. Like rogerh, I won't hear a word said against it (though his second paragraph is perhaps a little cynical).

And as for Roger Taylor, he is undoubtedly a prat. But if he wants a topic for clever people to discuss he could start with the question “To what extent is the success of X Factor attributable to its apparently firm commitment to the Aristotelian unities – discuss.”


I clicked on your link to Bowie's Heroes and for three seconds I couldn't escape the awful Mariah Carey like vibrating of a song that I like. 3 seconds of hell...

My colleagues, clever people, watch X Factor and discuss the contestants with some passion. One of them is a cool dude who is seriously interested in indie music. I don't know if he is watching it ironically or because it is the common speech of culture, like football, and so makes general chat at work and small talk with strangers easier. Or perhaps he genuinely likes it. But I can't see how anyone who likes music could like X Factor when good songs are wrecked by over glossy production or big-voiced delivery. Bad songs abound as well.

And even if the songs were beautifully sung, you'd still have to look at Simon Cowell's face.

So how can sane beings be tuning into X Factor? But they are.


The onipresence of information about X Factor in all media leaves me no room for further curiosity about it. Am I therefore stupid?


>>teenagers and 20-somethings singing songs written before they were born would have been an anachronistic freak show.<<

Errr, the Rolling Stones?


It's light entertainment and it's entertaining light entertainment - that's all. It's well edited for maximum audience manipulation and engagement, but people know that they're being manipulated. Which is why characters like Wagner get votes - a little bit of silliness and Cowell-subversion before the singers with real talent get their bit of the limelight (and I do think Rebecca Ferguson and Matt Cardle have good voices - certainly the equal of most of the singers who turn up on middle-brow trash like Later with Jools Holland).

I don't think the general public are as thick as 'intellectuals' like Matthew Taylor need them to be. They know it's a game and they have fun playing it. This is England in the winter after all - what else is there to do in the evenings?

I used to despise it too - until this year when I watched it and found it perfectly entertaining television. I don't care about it and I didn't vote. Nor will I go out of my way to hear any of the resulting music - but if you can't see that it's (admittedly dodgy) promise of rags-to-riches is particularly appealing in these days when social mobility through work seems to have ground to a halt, then don't be so keen to anoint yourselves as 'intelligent'.

Mainstream tv has always been pretty bad and the pop charts have always been pretty dire for the most part. Engelbert Humperdinck kept Strawberry Fields Forever from reaching No 1 remember - back when pop culture was so 'authentic' and 'rebellious'. X Factor isn't particularly improving things but it's certainly not making them much worse.

And if it's so terrible then young people should grasp the opportunity to create something amazing in response.

(In addition,Elton John didn't write his own songs as far as I know. Also Robbie Williams career bombed when he dispensed with his songwriter Guy Chambers. And Gary Barlow has regained success in spectacular fashion with the reformed Take That - writing and singing some perfectly good pop songs.)


My colleagues, clever people, watch X Factor and discuss the contestants with some passion. One of them is a cool dude who is seriously interested in indie music.

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