Sunday, November 08, 2009

Talent will out: Sunday Post column on the Jedward phenomenon

In My View, Sunday Post, 8 November

Talent, said the writer Stephen King, is a blunt knife that has to be delivered with enormous force. Success, said force having been delivered, may or may not follow. Very good books, even books discounted to within a millimetre of break-even, can fail miserably to be snatched from those supermarket shelves.
Pop music is a whole different kilo of sprouts, however. Enormous force and vast quantities of cash are routinely used to market, to flog mercilessly, the mindlessly moronic and the half-baked to the momentarily interested. Here today, gone later today: that's pop. It always was this way, and always will be. It's part of the disposable pleasure of the thing. Pop exists as a bubble of memories, a tiny, glistening container of stuff we might otherwise not be able to access. In that way it's like smell. Whenever I catch the heady whiff of embrocation, my entire, brief and hugely unsuccessful rugby career flashes before me. Whenever I hear Sir Paul McCartney's stupidest ditty, The Frog Chorus, a whole chapter of my life (I call it the Summerston interlude) opens up in all its grisly and glorious detail. And as for Zager and Evan's In the year 2525, Mud's Tiger Feet and Lulu's Boom Bang-a-Bang, the pictures they come with are best left undisturbed in the dim and dusty corner of my memory banks.
It's got power, pop music, no matter how tawdry it is. As Noel Coward said "it's extraordinary how potent cheap music is." And let's face, it, you don't, you won't ever, get cheaper than Jedward.
There's something hauntingly terrible about the two shock-headed Oor Wullies, two out of tune warblers who couldn't guddle a fish if they were starving to death and who'd probably get piles if they tried to sit on a bucket. In case you've ,missed them, they're the twins everyone loves to hate off the X Factor. Which I understand is some kind of television talent contest, an Opportunity Knocks without Hughie Green, but with extra knocks and bigger opportunities. My entire family is addicted to it. I have caught dribbles of it, forced to watch, horrified, often during mealtimes, while my children shout insults at the screen.
Some folks are apparently horrified by the X Factor factor in creating superstars from very base materials indeed. One Gordon Sumner, AKA Sting, a 'proper' musician who goes for the lute over the loot (except when he's reforming the band he hates so much, megastar pop-rock trio The Police) is appalled. 'I'm appalled' he says, perhaps because Jedward have ripped off his trademark hairstyle. The one he had when he actually had hair. His point is that musicians like he and his law-enforcing cohorts had to 'pay their dues' by travelling the country in a Transit van and playing horrid toilet-like clubs from Thanet to Thurso, until they were magically transformed into stars by dint of sheer hard work. Meanwhile, the likes of the tiny terrible twins pop up on a dodgy talent show and are suddenly stars, courtesy of the programme's judge, jury, executioner, producer and general big shot, Simon Cowell.
But so what? There has always been quality in pop, and there has always been rubbish. For every Phantom Band or Trembling Bells, for every Frightened Rabbit or Harlands (four excellent, musicianly Scottish bands hailing from Selkirk to Wick) there is always going to be a karaoke quine or loon somewhere who can just about belt out a passable Little Boots or Pixie Lott impersonation, and has the looks to jump right out of the telly at your wallet. And maybe their tune, put together by the kind of music factory currently best represented by Xenomania and once by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, will end up lodging itself in your brain, danced to at your wedding, or being on in the background when you propose to your prospective partner. While the Sigur Ros albums you love most remain on the back burner of your brain.
I was brought up on a diet of Wishbone Ash and Rory Gallagher, on Yes and Genesis, Cream and Hendrix. I was a guitar solo snob. And yet now I find myself secretly humming along to a Take That or Lady Gaga tune. As for the Sugababes, I won't hear a word against them.
Jedward you may be able to take or leave. Personally, I'd rather leave them, but beware. The announcement that your first grandchild has just been born may come while a clip of them is playing on The One Show. Meaning that for decades to come you will think of them with nothing but fondness. You have been warned.


EyeOnDubai said...

Oi! There's been some good bands played in Thurso. A very long time ago... The people we've seen up at the Viewfirth social, or down at The Weigh Inn (RiP) - Billy Connolly when he was still a Humblebum, Elvis Costello without his Attractions, Aswad, both Corries, Flocks of Seagulls, ABC

That endless slog up the A9 to Scotland's bitterest end were a rite of passage. Long may the tradition continue!

Anonymous said...

I have always quite liked tunes that I shouldn't - The solo in the Carpenters 'Goodbye to love' for example brings back a deluge of memories, mainly happy ones, especially the howls of discontent when I often sneaked it onto the pub jukebox (Halfmoon, Herne Hill - I confess that was me)
The funny thing is I've never been able to remember the lyrics to even one song, and the memory isn't getting any better!



Rachel Fox said...

The Carpenters were total class!

I liked pop as a child in the 70s but that was a good time for pop I think (unlike the 80s...what a parade of horrors). As for X Factor, I've never watched it (partly for the Cowell factor - he is just ucky) and I'm very glad that our one daughter (at 9) is still not interested in all that (Strictly will still do for her and, hey, their singers are very good).