Matt Cardle – this year’s X Factor winner – has clinched the 2010 Christmas number one. Cue the annual tradition of anybody near a keyboard giving voice to some form of unwieldy and/or apocalyptic opinion regarding The Industry, social networkers sagely pointing out that too many viral campaigns spoil the broth, and bloggers engaging in a contest to see who can miss the point by the widest margin. Did you download a copy of John Cage’s conceptual piece of silence? Or that ‘Surfin’ Bird’ song? Did you put on your favourite record of the year and throw darts at photographs of Cheryl Cole in a steely act of defiance? Do you think that one must remain aloof from the furore to remain a credible music fan?
There’s this bizarre attitude prevalent among people who consider the X Factor to be some sort of nail in the coffin for mainstream artistry, where they talk as though ‘MUSIC’ is a corporeal space with tangible boundaries, which can be saturated to bursting point with manufactured pop. They speak as though – if only Cowell and his reality-star cohorts would just step aside – there would then be ‘room’ in the charts for ‘real’ artists. By the same logic, we’d have to concede that if BBC took Eastenders off the air, then each member of the viewing public would order themselves a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare. This is nonsense. There’s always going to be a market for mainstream junk food, for people who simply aren’t that interested in the discipline in question, but enjoy engaging with it on a surface level all the same. Music, perhaps more than any other form of art, lends itself to this perfectly. Why even think about X Factor in relation to ‘credible’ artists? It doesn’t frame itself in those terms. It’s just a pop-based narrative to zone out in front of each Saturday.
I enjoyed the Rage Against The Machine campaign of 2009 because it turned the Christmas number one contest back into the only thing it ever was, and the only thing it should ever be thought of: a frivolous slice of light entertainment. Sure, it’s not going to Make A Point as some people mistakenly seemed to think, but the people who decried the act as anarchistic shit slinging said it as if that were inherently a bad thing. Suddenly, it was a two horse race again – making it precisely twice as interesting as the one horse stroll to the finish which had become in previous years, where the X Factor stranglehold took all the fun out of the guessing game. Just because the accolade of Christmas number one signifies nothing, it doesn’t mean that we’re duty bound (as ‘serious’ music fans) to dogmatically ignore it, nor to loudly heckle it.
It’s by no means captivating, and it’s of no particular importance to anybody, but the battle for Christmas number one is – just like the X Factor itself – one of life’s welcome little distractions from the graver aspects of life, is it not? Can’t pay the rent? Throw on ITV; watch someone get beaten by The Cube. Mother won’t stop dribbling? Check out the Top 40; imagine Fearne Cotton being water boarded. It’s a background humdrum to turn your brain off to from time to time. It’s something to check out on the internet on a Sunday; a little news story to read on the Entertainment section of BBC News whilst half-supposing that you should really be reading about the wikileaks. Are you still reading my little article? Are you enjoying your mug of tea? Are you seeing what I’m getting at? This high-end, low-level, mouldy crust of the mainstream will always exist in some form or other. Try to enjoy it somehow. It’s hurting nobody, and its absence won’t save your favourite independent record store, nor give Zola Jesus a number one record.