In a stroke of terrible luck for those praying that everything awful would be left in 2016, the first Saturday night of the new year saw the BBC’s Let It Shine pitted against The Voice. On television. For entertainment. Viewers were offered perhaps the toughest choice of the year so far: Gary Barlow’s latest televised vanity project and the anonymity-focused “singing contest” which keeps its contestants anonymous from the judges alone, and even that lasts all of ten seconds to two minutes. (Someone at ITV actually paid fifty million to swipe the contractual right to pay will.i.am to sit on a souped-up swivel chair from the Beeb. At least they’re making some good decisions about which programmes to let go.) Either way, you’d be increasing the capital of the billionaire panellists as they pretend to genuinely care about the next generation of talent.
The nature of these shows is personified by those very billionaires, bathing in their uncomfortably prolonged limelight: they are jaded, outdated, and – quite frankly – badly dressed. Between close up shots of Simon Cowell’s chest hair and the employment of embarrassingly caricatured personas – Louis Walsh’s famous Irish idiot, Alesha Dixon’s sassy sexpot, David Walliam’s camp pervert – the talent TV genre reveals itself to be at best lazily produced, and at worst a mockery of performance artists who struggle enough as it is to be taken seriously. I’m not sure if Peter Dickson’s godawful voiceover accompanied by that jingle on The X Factor is worse than the “battles” The Voice broadcasts from a tacky studio mimicking a boxing arena, but there is no getting away from the fact that both are nauseatingly destructive to any genuine musical skill in the performances they frame.
Now, I’m not going to claim to know much at all about music. My understanding of the form is more or less limited to Preparatory Test level recorder. Although my examiner said I had lovely range, my mother has always been more honest and so the sparkly pink plastic instrument didn’t take me to Grade 1. But even I can tell you that One Direction is no Queen. Although I’ve been plonked in front of almost every series of X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent since time begun by my television adoring father, I can count on my fingers the number of times I thought the performer on screen could’ve passed my Preparatory Test. I love the emotional tenor of Leona Lewis’ voice – although her original songs tend to have totally dross lyrics – Susan Boyle’s rendition of Daydream Believer is one of the most soothing things I have ever listened to, and an X Factor contestant named Sophie Habibis once performed Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” so bloody brilliantly on a live show that I purchased the recording on iTunes despite an innate hatred of audience interference on soundtracks.
They’re looking for Big brother fodder; benignly charismatic INDIVIDUALS WHO CAN HOLD A TUNE – OR NOT
But let’s be honest – these shows are not really looking for the next top artist. In fact, you almost get the impression that the emergence of real talent in the televised auditions process is a hindrance to their true project; creating celebrities. They’re looking for Big Brother fodder; benignly charismatic individuals who can hold a tune – or not, it doesn’t really matter so long as their face is memorable- and would be willing to be filmed eating dung beetles for money in the future. It’s about endorsing celebrity culture and sustaining the reality TV industry, rather than encouraging real talent and fuelling the music industry. What other plausible explanation can there possibly be for Jedward, the biggest insult of the century to brilliant, struggling artists unwilling to sell their soul to Syco?
Music snobbery has little place in a cultural field as diverse as the form is today. Technique is obviously still important to those who know what they’re listening to, but music is an industry which needs to cater to the masses in the modern world. All that matters to laymen like myself is whether a song is enjoyable or not. But being averse to any kind of show that allows individuals like Honey G to become genuine competitors in the field isn’t taking things too seriously. Televised talent shows go beyond satire in their cheapening of art. I don’t like them. And – sorry, Simon – I most certainly don’t love them.