Popping The Question

In Popping The Question I discuss some of the big questions concerning pop music at the moment. Today’s topic is:

Will we ever have another reality TV show contestant who can make it as a long-term pop star?

X Factor is back and you should all be going here to read Steve and Joel’s brilliant commentary, but, as much fun as the X Factor is to watch and make fun of, can they possibly achieve their goal of creating a successful pop artist? The first series created two fairly successful acts – the winner, Steve Brookstein, had a no.1 and single and album, but the biggest success was G4, the 4-piece opera boyband who had a huge hit album (and my mum loves them!), although no no.1 singles. But Steve’s success was short-lived and he has been largely forgotten about, even by his mentor Simon Cowell, which is actually quite unlike him – he usually fights for people to the death for fear of it becoming apparent that he may not be right about everything! Meanwhile, G4 will probably get another album released, but if all they do is cover versions (they have done no original songs yet and I find it hard to imagine them having a hit with one), the novelty will soon wear thin.

The other problem with G4 and Steve is that neither fit in to the current pop market, which means that they will always be in their own little X Factor category, unable to appeal to the powerful younger music buyers. Of course, older buyers are just as powerful in the currently mroe lucrative albums market, as can be seen by the overbearing presence of “adult contemporary” acts in the album charts. If the X Factor can tap into that market as they did with G4 in particular, they will make a lot of money out of it, but the mostly-teenage singles buyers are much harder to please.

Music is a fashion object to many teenagers these days, especially the type who buy singles. The annoyance of Crazy Frog, the non-stop swearing of Eamon and the dirty connotations of 50 Cent is all very impressive to a 12 year old boy, and to be the first in the class to own the single is obviously going to be very attractive to them. It worked the same with girls when the first Popstars and Pop Idol singles were released a few years ago. I can remember when Will and Gareth released their first singles, several girls brought their copies in to school having bought them on the very first morning of release – and this was in a country village school where you had to drive to the next town to find a music shop!

Surely the aim of the X Factor series is to find a singer or band who can recreate that kind of crazy obsession that not only affects a few dedicated fans but the whole country. The difficulty is that the charts have changed a great deal since Pop Idol, perhaps even because of it. If Will and Gareth entered X Factor, they may still win (they would even have different managers as Will would now be in the over 25 category while Gareth is much younger) and do fairly well, but they would never have the same extent of success, because the concept of a talent show contestant has already been done several times and everyone knows the exact routine by now. It doesn’t take a genius to predict that the winner of X Factor 2 will have a big hit single or album (or at least big for the slow January charts), maybe another smaller hit to follow it if they’re lucky (Steve didn’t even get that), but within a few months they will be forgotten and ITV will be planning the schedule of X Factor 3, another Pop Idol or perhaps even Popstars, if Simon has got so fed up of the UK by then that he refuses to do any more shows here.

It could just be the X Factor format, particularly the encouragement of older singers, which churns out soppy granny-pleasers (we’ve already got a new one in Trevor, the shy young boy with big voice from the first episode of the new series), but there were younger singers on offer, namely Cassie and Tabby, who could have had some success as pop stars and even would have fitted in quite well with the current pop fashions, yet neither reached even the final 3 and little has been heard of them since. This seems to suggest that the audience of the X Factor is much older than that of Pop Idol and Popstars in the past. Of course these shows always appeal to families who want a good fun programme to watch together on a Saturday night, but there definitely was a much stronger teenage/young adult audience for the first Pop Idols and Popstars.

So, it seems very unlikely that X Factor will be able to provide a fantastic new pop star with the power to change the tide of the dwindling presence of pop music in the current charts, but perhaps what we need is a break from these shows for a few years. Just long enough for even the slowest people to have got over their “deep insights” that the winner will not be successful and therefore doesn’t deserve their support. If anything it’s become a race to be the first one to pronounce the winner’s career dead, as opposed to the race to pronounce yourself their biggest fan, as it used to be. It’s a shame that at a time when we could really do with another brilliant pop act like Will Young or Girls Aloud, we may not be allowed one, whether they are out there or not.

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