A whole generation is probably growing up thinking that The X Factor is the natural process by which music comes to exist, ie. you take a bunch of identical 17-year-old fashion victims and R'n'B wannabes with spiky hair and slightly flared hipsters, get them to sing old hits from the 70s and 80s, pick four of them and release a record composed of bland cover versions of yet more old hits. Or, if you're feeling daring, get a professional songwriter to knock up some R'n'B-style tunes for which the word 'generic' could have been invented.
That, sadly, is pop music as envisaged by the Simon Cowells, the Louis Walshes and the Pete Watermans. It's a cross-media marketing opportunity aimed squarely at children and young teenagers, and that's why X Factor-type pop stars tend to be as challenging and interesting as Dairylea triangles.
The aspirations of the average pop puppet are very limited. They want 'success', but don't really care what it is. It's not like they can even shag the majority of their fans without facing a statutory rape charge. The masters of limited ambition were S Club 7, whose main preoccupation was 'having an S Club party'.
Surely any party they hold, good, bad, or indifferent, is, by definition, an S Club party? Or are we looking for answers that don't exist?
The current crop of human pop product has got even less to say. They're 17-year-olds who want to sing and dance and get photographed by Heat magazine. And that's it. Unlike the Stephen Poliakoff play City Sugar, where a band based on the Bay City Rollers come out with hateful opinions when they're allowed to speak their brains in an interview, the latest pop stars will never even be allowed to voice an opinion in the first place. An army of publicists and handlers will make sure of that.
('Jigaboo' is the exception that proves the rule. Oh Cheryl, you're attractive but irretrievably stupid, just like crazy paving.)
Of course, it's easy to get dewy-eyed about 'proper' bands writing their own songs. This creative process has generated more than enough shite, whether it's the knack for an unforgettable tune of Mike and the Mechanics, or the lyrical genius of The Shamen's Mr C, who once informed us that 'Space-time/ Is the fusion of the concepts of space and time.'
But what 'proper' bands - and any artist who writes their own material - do have in their favour is that they produce something new. If further evidence were needed that current pop music suffers from total neophobia, this week various artists announcedthey were planning to re-record Feed the World, the Band Aid single. We wouldn't want to get involved with any charity records that weren't as successful as the original, right, people?
However, the whole process behind The X Factor and its predecessors has proved frighteningly successful, and it's not hard to imagine how it could be applied to other endeavours...
Royal Court Theatre Idol
Traditionally the home of 'edgy' new play writing, the Royal Court Theatre auditions for a new writer-in-residence and puts the hopefuls through a series of challenges, including:
- writing a scene in which a homeless person/junkie/asylum seeker/Irish nationalist in 1916 rails against the injustice of 'the system', and whose inevitable tragic demise reinforces this injustice, after which theatregoers trundle off for a nice meal, having been suitably 'challenged';
- writing a lurid scene that guarantees outrage and publicity, eg. a Catholic priest violates a rent boy with a figurine of the Virgin Mary while snorting poppers and singing Tainted Love; and
- managing to get the line 'This isn't about subjective fucking reality, it's about objective fucking reality. MY objective fucking reality,' into a play about factory workers.
Great American Novel Idol
Simon Cowell reduces GANI hopefuls Philip Roth and John Updike to tears when he cattily says their great American novels are only fit for wiping Emperor Hirohito's arse. However, he's later rushed to A&E for emergency object-retrieval surgery after making a minor criticism of Norman Mailer's 46,000 page novel, 'How I Fucked America In the Ass Like the Big, Beautiful Whore She Is'.
A bunch of twats interview 'job hopefuls', making them jump through hoops and answer stupid questions like 'Are you a pro-active self-starter?' in order to win a crap yearly salary.