Mark Steel: Help save Christmas from the dreaded X Factor

What makes music powerful is being systematically removed

Wednesday 09 December 2009 01:00

There is still hope for the planet. The odds are against us but we have 10 days left to save the world and stop X Factor from creating another putrid Christmas number one.

Because these people are not only trying to destroy music, they're trying to make us surrender to their unstoppable naked power. We watch them package an act until their entire identity has been moulded into a corporate Cowellite auto-crooner, then let them sell the resulting warble back to us as if it's in some way natural. It's like falling for the three-card trick but when the cards are face up. We're going "Is that one the Queen?" and need someone to scream "No it's THIS one you dozy morons, that's the three of clubs – you can SEE."

All that makes music powerful is systematically removed by the X Factor process. Anything dirty, painful, eccentric, scary, in other words individual, is scrubbed away, so if Janis Joplin or Kurt Cobain or Eminem had ever applied, they'd have been chortled off in the first audition.

Instead everyone's made to look a mild variant of the same, so someone could ask to sing "Strange Fruit", the Billie Holliday song about a lynching, and they'd end up doing it as a jolly ballad with 20 dancers doing twirls while dressed in hoods, then bounding up some glittery stairs where a noose would be hanging.

The contestants are asked to strive for the sort of perfection displayed by Janet Jackson on Saturday's show, in which every jerk and twizzle of her and her 8,000 dancers was choreographed with tedious mathematical precision as she span about in one of those microphones that make performers look like they're working in a call centre, and seeing as she was presumably miming she must have been wearing it so she could do a bit of extra work for British Telecom while she was on.

So while we hear her yelp "Oo ya ya yoo," what she's saying is "Your broadband should be reconnected by 6.30 this evening." All spontaneity and expression was meticulously flushed out and the result was a soulless mess that left me thinking I'd rather be watching her brother, and I don't mean as he was but as he is now, just tipped on to the stage.

But it's not just the songs. The whole soap opera element is carefully planned, so stories emerge that this week Olly had to battle on with extraordinary courage following the death of his favourite tadpole, or Lucie has had to overcome the childhood trauma of being exorcised after being taken over by demons. But the worst part is it's addictive. A three-minute glance and you can't help following it for the rest of the series; it's more dangerous than crack.

Maybe this is because some of the performers do have a passion and individuality, that survives despite the fact that progressing depends on keeping it suppressed. Stacey, for example, is brilliant because she looks as if she's said "Here Simon, can I go on first otherwise I'll miss the District Line back to Dagenham." But if she ever wants to write her own songs or do something dark she'll run up against the business plan being built for her. Whoever wins will be like the great blues singer Robert Johnson, they'll have to sell their soul. Except at least he sold his to the devil, who does have the best tunes. In X Factor you have to sell it to Simon bloody Cowell.

The plan is that next week a single will be released, in which the winner sings a Miley Cyrus song, which they may or may not feel applies to them but it's been decided, and that will become the Christmas number one, and it will be on all the time, in cafes and taxis and shopping centres and they'll find a way of downloading it into your dreams. But there is hope. A campaign has been launched by fans of the iconic anti-capitalist band from the Nineties, Rage Against the Machine, to make their glorious volcanic anthem "Killing in the Name Of" number one instead.

Already the bookies are making it favourite to be X Factor's main challenger, so what an end this could be to a decade. We might be facing indefinite Etonian rule, and ceaseless unwinnable conflicts that would beat the Hundred Years War except the planet will have disintegrated by then, but we can beat them on this. So buy the single between the 13th and the 19th. And if it works, next year in the X Factor final there'll be a double act called Fit '*Wicked singing a romantic version of "Killing in the Name Of", while 60 dancers descend on ropes setting fire to a banker's bonus.

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