x factor Archives - Sheep Dressed Like Wolves
Pressure does strange things to us. It has a way of bringing everything to the surface. It can replace the measured discipline and rhythm of every day life with a sometimes irrational self-sabotaging desperation.
We all face pressure situations, and can all plan for how we are going to respond to them…to some extent.
It is a New Year. It is a time to reflect and also to look forward. This is all the more apparent as we slide into a new decade – and yes, I am quite aware that technically we still have another year before the new decade officially starts – but psychologically and as far as most people are concerned it starts this year.
A lot has changed in the last ten years, not least the power of technology and in particular the Internet. We didn’t much have broadband ten years ago, and those of us who did have web access would be on connections with slow dial up modems and our usage was restricted to email and sluggish fact-finding.
Today we find ourselves literally with a world of knowledge, information and social networks at our fingertips. Ideas can spread in an instant and now we can access them wherever we are through handheld devices such as mobile phones and mp3 players. The majority of us are involved in online social networking, and as such find ourselves holding the power to spread information instantaneously. There are also limitless opinions about limitless subjects and we cannot hide from what can be ill-informed and counterproductive voices.
Over the last few weeks I have found myself in an ever-growing state of irritancy with all the predictions for the next year/decade that have been posted all over the web. I’m not sure if it has been more severe this year than previous years or just that I am more aware of it for whatever reason but I have found the huge emphasis on what is going to be ‘big’ this year, especially when it comes to music pretty annoying and somewhat unhealthy.
It has come to a head this week with the BBC’s annual predictions for the sound of the coming year. I know this is not a new award but it seems that the pressure and expectations being put on these artists is becoming more and more intense, not least because it only adds fuel to the hype fire and turns relatively unknown and somewhat unproven artists into superstars before they are given chance to fathom what is happening.
This year’s winner, Ellie Goulding has been on my radar since I heard her debut single ‘Under The Sheets’ in November thanks to my friend Massimo. In the light of the single’s release there seems to have been an industry-led case of hype snowballing as she has picked up various awards predicting her future success in 2010.
It got me thinking, is information now spreading so fast that the only thing worth knowing is the speculation for what is going to be big down the line, thus making it already old and irrelevant when it actually happens? Check out Donald Miller’s blog post.
In the case of Ellie Goulding this seems like a plausible conclusion. I really liked the single and as I heard more and more about her I looked to get hold of some more of her music, only to discover she had not yet actually recorded her album and all that was available was the single, two remixes of it and two other tracks. So what was all the hype based on? She put in a nice performance on Jools Holland at the end of October during which time she had been touring with Little Boots (BBC’s sound of 2009!) Perhaps it was her live show, was this setting the world alight?
I honestly don’t know what the answer is and I don’t want to be negative about Ellie, who as I already mentioned certainly caught my attention with her first single. But she is merely an exemplar of something much broader and deeper.
This is a quote from the BBC:
It goes on to talk about the accuracy of the so-called tastemakers’ predictions in previous years, but within this statement they are admitting their ability to coerce audiences into becoming fans of whichever artist they decide to choose. It is not a progressive prediction, as some would have it, instead it is controlling and safe. They know what has worked in the past, they know what is popular and they pick accordingly. It is not a reflection of public opinion, rather a direction of public opinion. This is emphasised by the very term ‘tastemaker,’ which I find a very depressing concept.
‘Difficult Second Album’
The old cliché says bands face the ‘difficult second album’ when they have to write the follow up record under pressure after they’ve had their ‘whole life’ up until the point of release to write their debut. There has been a real shift in recent times, which has meant the first album is now just as difficult, if not harder in terms of the pressure placed on it. I think this is going to be particularly true with Ellie. No one knows how good it is going to be but what we do know is that it has to be bloody brilliant. The pressure is on her as she is thrown head first into the deep end of the industry where she will either sink or learn to swim…fast. At least with the old industry model when you’re trying to write the ‘difficult second album’ you have your successful debut to draw on and look back to for confidence building and inspiration, but I can imagine with enormous amounts of hype surrounding my first release (before it’s even complete) I would completely lose it and be unable to produce anything anywhere near what it should be.
I’m sure she will be fine because of the industry-led hype machine surrounding her and the creative support she is now immersed in, but my prediction for 2010 is much the same as 2009 – Ellie (La Roux, Florence & The Machine) will release her debut album in the spring, tour widely, play all the festivals in the summer with loads of attention and end the year facing the prospect of writing the difficult second album. Meanwhile there will be someone new to step into her shoes as the ‘tastemakers’ predict the successes of 2011. I think we can be as sure of this as we can of the X-Factor winner competing for Christmas number one.
On a positive note, I also confidently predict the usual unpredictability that the industry can’t control, and cannot wait to see what surprises 2010 will bring. Let’s just keep our eyes open and our own musical tastebuds dictating our creative consumption.
Happy new year.
I noticed recently, while watching a reality TV competition show that there is a strange phenomenon that the powerful now use in order to control the weak; the capacity to possess access to fabricated dream-fulfilment. It has probably always been rife but it suddenly struck me the other day when watching the X-Factor that the contestants in all of their delusion have completely missed the point. They talk about this being ‘all they’ve dreamed of since they were a kid,’ and how if they don’t reach the next stage their ‘dreams would be shattered’ etc.
It got me thinking, what exactly is their dream?
When is the cut-off point at which they can say it has been fulfilled?
And did the original dream have someone else in complete control?
I guess what happens to these contestants is actually very consistent with a real dream, you find yourself thrown around, arriving in different rooms with different people not knowing exactly what is going to happen next before eventually being chased, falling or worse being stabbed or punched by someone or something that you cannot control – it takes something like this to bring you back to consciousness, at which point you realise it was ‘just a dream.’ It is amazing how quickly a dream can turn into a nightmare.
It is not only X-Factor where we see this; programmes like Dragon’s Den and the Apprentice for example are exactly the same. You find people so desperate for the quick fix that they submit control of themselves and their ideas to authority in unprecedented ways. Look at the difference between a Dragon and an aspiring beneficiary of their money. Take Peter Jones for example, who tried and failed on several occasions before eventually doing very well out of his Phones International Group. He didn’t just stumble upon this; it took years of gruelling work, nights sleeping on his office floor and the loss of his house and cars along the way. I don’t know what his dream was, but I’m sure it was ever evolving and that it became more about the journey made up of little dreams rather than any particular end dream in itself. Whereas an aspiring beneficiary would swoon in, ask timidly for £100,000 and end up giving up nearly half of their business. I doubt you’d find many entrepreneurs similar to the Dragons having done the same thing – many work their way up the ladder, gaining vital experience and building meaningful relationships. It is however, also these people (dragon-types) who convince the rest of us that our dreams can only be fulfilled if we sit in a certain box, present ourselves in a certain way or submit to their way of thinking about the world. Remember, the number one priority of all these people is profit and those at the top want to keep people below them so that they can gain even more.
I don’t know what Simon Cowell dreamt of when he was a child but I think it is ludicrous that there are now silly numbers of people who see him as the gatekeeper to their ‘dreams’ – a dream that will last for ten minutes before they fall off the mountaintop into a devastating crater and the next set of freaks are rolled out in front of the blood-baying public. No, he is a profit-hungry businessman trying to make as much money as possible; he knows that the music being produced is as meaningless as the people singing it. He also knows that there are millions of people literally living for Saturday night so they can squander their money on phone calls to save these strange, insecure creatures. He might be living his dream yes but there’s nothing virtuous about what he is offering to his contestants.
As far as I’m concerned, ‘living the dream’ is about an ever evolving sustainable dynamism and being able to do what you love and feel drawn to do even when the odds are stacked against you. It’s about starting at the bottom and crafting something through trying, through failing, through investing your time and effort, and through experiencing everything that can be thrown at you, constantly re-evaluating/adjusting and not giving up. It is about forming relationships with others rather than obligations and indebtedness. It is NOT about being famous and it is NOT about making millions, when these are your priorities you become desperate, you become highly irritating and you will more than likely end up selling out. It is about taking control and not submitting yourself and your work to someone who full well knows you need them a million times more than they need you. We need to dream but we also need to learn to take control and lucid dream for if we don’t our dreams can quickly become nightmares and the fall can be much harder to get up from.
To sum up, lets stop watching so much TV and actually invest all our talent and time in meaningful ways. Don’t allow the powerful to box in and control how you view what you can do with the abilities you possess…