What, I sometimes wonder in the dead of night, would have happened if Pink Floyd had had to begin their career by going on The X Factor?
Simon Cowell: "I just don't get you guys. It was several minutes before you actually sang a word. And the guitar solo sounded like a cat I once sat on." Cheryl: "You gotta connect. I couldn't see your eyes at all. Girls aren't going to put up with that." Dannii: "You were a bit lacking in the vocal department, guys." Louis: "I totally disagree. Syd, you've got a nice face, and with a bit of work you could become a top boy band."
I don't think they would have got through to the next round. But according to various star and superstar musicians over the past week, the next round isn't worth getting through to anyway. Elton John started the anti-X Factor diatribes in memorably vigorous style, calling it "boring, arse-paralysingly brain crippling". Brett Anderson of Suede added to this on Wednesday, claiming the show was "strangling" the music industry. And Bernard Sumner, a founder of seminal bands Joy Division and New Order, said: "I'm not interested in how well you can sing. It's not how you sing. It's what you sing that interests me. What they're singing is other people's music and it's not creative."
It's all true, of course, on one level. None of tonight's contestants on The X Factor's is part of the British rock and pop tradition of singers and bands writing their own songs. And though Cowell doesn't strangle the music industry, he does distort it. But it's also true that one can worry too much about this. A brief glance at the gigs on around the country this weekend, let alone the festivals back in the summer, shows that indie bands composing their own music and learning their trade in the pubs and clubs still overwhelmingly dominate the music scene.
The winners of The X Factor will sell a lot of records and get a lot of column inches, but no one can seriously suggest that they have "strangled" Radiohead or Arctic Monkeys or Laura Marling or The xx or the thousands of young bands and artists making their names by the traditional route.
I worry less about The X Factor than do the stars and superstars above, because I see it as theatre rather than a music show. Perhaps it's theatre, more probably it's pantomime. Katie is the villain, Wagner the comic turn, Aiden the sweet-looking Prince Charming, Cher the woman on the verge.
As in the Big Brother house, the contestants are being chosen to fit stereotypes as much as for any God-given talent. They are part of the cast – not the protagonists, of course, as Cowell, Cole and co take top billing. And as theatre, it is entertaining, a rare example, actually, of contemporary TV drama that packs a punch and gets viewers talking about it the next day.
I'll be watching because I love theatre. I even have a hankering for pantomime. The star musicians who fear for the future of their industry needn't worry. The X Factor's relationship to music was only ever a distant one. But it's compelling drama.
History of a museum in 100 good ideas
Neil MacGregor's History of the World in 100 Objects was a long-running and hugely successful series on Radio 4. The series has now finished, but this week it was published as a book. It has been a brilliant initiative by the British Museum director to bring the treasures in his institution to a wider public.
Could it only have been the British Museum with its huge array of objects going back millennia that could have been the subject of such a series? Actually, I don't think so. The National Gallery could have made a series on a history of the world in 100 paintings. Religion, love, family life and politics are all there. The National Portrait Gallery could have done several centuries of humanity in 100 portraits. The Science Museum and Design Museum could both have attempted histories of their objects. Neil MacGregor thought of it first. Timing isn't just essential in comedy. It's useful in running and publicising a museum, too.
Queen of the North can't come south
Kim Cattrall has won rave reviews for her performance as Cleopatra in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra at the Liverpool Playhouse. It's a performance I'd very much like to see, but the run is short and the production will not be transferring to London. I'm sure that there are people in the North-west who will say tough luck. True, they don't get to see the many productions that start and finish in London.
But it's a shame that the capital isn't going to get an acclaimed performance by a global star. I gather that the Sex and the City actress was keen to appear at Liverpool because she was born in the city. That's nice and commendably sentimental of her. But I rather wish she had been born in Soho or Waterloo.Reuse content