Why X Factor is good for Christmas
TV critic Graeme Virtue is glad Cowell has a chokehold on the festive charts
TV critic Graeme Virtue is no fan of Simon Cowell, but where the Christmas number one is concerned, he’s glad that SyCo gives him one less thing to worry about each year
In the fickle court of public opinion, Simon Cowell stands accused of many crimes. Some against fashion, some against common politeness, but mostly against music. The charge sheet is long, and generally unlistenable, but among the various sonic offences and misdemeanours there is a seasonal infraction that could be construed as murder. Because Simon Cowell killed the Christmas number one. Or at least, he took those artificially hairless hands and throttled the life out of the traditional race to be Christmas number one. Worse than that, he’s a repeat offender, extinguishing this Great British Tradition on an annual basis.
It’s also pre-meditated. Since the second series of The X Factor in 2005, Cowell’s pumped-up pop shop has evolved into a sleek delivery system, a ballistic missile constructed from appointment viewing, overwhelming newsprint coverage and lucrative phone votes, all designed to send a tiny seven-inch payload – often containing a space cadet – to the highest atmospheric point of the charts as soon as the show is over.
Sure, there was that misfire in 2009, when leaky teen dreamboat Joe McElderry gassed out at number two, thanks to a concerted and mostly joyless online campaign to push Rage Against The Machine to the top as a placeholder of protest. Last year, though, it was business as usual, with melodious doughboy Matt Cardle cruising to victory with a reconditioned indie cover. (If it is indeed a space race, it’s not a bad idea to enlist the help of mad rockets like Biffy Clyro.)
So what will happen later this month? The Christmas number one of 2011 is arguably freighted with even more significance since December 25 falls on a Sunday. It’s also been a tumultuous eighth series of The X Factor, with self-conscious judges, errant contestants and vacillating viewing figures, although all these things appear to have amplified buzz around the show rather than dampening it. Still, those keen to see Cowell fail are stockpiling rotten fruit; they sniff another festive stumble.
But here’s the thing: Cowell has actually saved us all from the Christmas number one, by essentially deactivating it. For the past six years, when it’s been safe to assume SyCo dominance, it’s been a blessed relief. Christmas is an insane time of year, a suffocating snowdrift of commitments both personal and professional. When struggling to find the time to buy presents or hit sales targets, knowing that the Christmas number one will pretty much take care of itself has been fantastic, especially if, like me, you are one of those people who get a strange tingle of pleasure from adding something to a to-do list just so you can immediately cross it out.
While people might rhapsodise about the thrill of festive chart battles past, for the last 30 years it’s been a clearing house of novelty records, charity records, opportunistic re-releases of creaky old records and, incredibly, three Spice Girls singles in a row. And even if it’s predictable, surely having a vaguely human being at the top spot is better than a Bob The Builder or Mr Blobby? Which is why I’ll be supporting the 2011 winner of The X Factor, be they animal, mineral or other.
Graeme Virtue talks about TV every Wednesday morning on Radio Scotland’s MacAulay & Co.