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Celebration Of The Mediocre

This was meant to be the first post-ideological generation, right? This was meant to be the generation that never thought of anything bigger than our Facebook profiles and our TV screens. This was meant to be the generation where the only thing that Saturday night meant was X Factor. I think now that claim is quite ridiculous. I think now that claim is quite preposterous.

Barnaby Raine 27.11.10

When everybody’s super, no one will be.

Syndrome - The Incredibles 2004

In years to come, people will look back on the first decade of the 21st Century and wonder just what happened to popular culture in the UK. A nation that was once at the vanguard somehow became obsessed with mediocrity, and then, with a typical swagger, began to successfully export it around the world. Big Brother, a Dutch creation that would become a British obsession, has a lot to answer for. Originally posturing as a psychological experiment it degenerated, series on series, into an increasingly putrid parade of wannabes and b-list crazies claiming their Warholian 15 minutes of fame – the problem being that, for an alarming number of these often insipid exhibitionists and incessant attention seekers the fame went on for hours, days, weeks, even years. We voyeuristically watched the shameless spectacle with relish, in a similar way to how, around 200 years ago, people might have paid to view the antics of the inmates of Bedlam, who were being manipulated and mistreated for the entertainment of others. We might not have been poking the inhabitants of the Big Brother house with a long stick in the literal sense for our amusement, like they would have been doing in the early 19th century, but the parallel is clear.

BB might have let the cat out of the bag, but the TV talent shows (Popstars, Pop Idol and The X Factor) conspired to take things to a whole new cultural low, producing a conveyor belt of pliable Pop performers, ready and willing to please their paymasters in exchange for celebrity status, none of them with anything new to offer, just a watered down version of what’s been before. The product has included Hear’say, Girls Aloud, Will Young, Gareth Gates, Darius, Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke and JLS, whilst Cheryl Cole completed the double-whammy by taking the step from contestant to judge, becoming a ‘national treasure’ in the process. However, the real star of the show is Simon Cowell, now one of the most famous people not only in Britain, but America too, establishing a Pop dynasty that has a stranglehold over the UK chart via the relentless releases on his Syco label (which siphons off the most popular acts who appear on X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, to which he owns the television rights). It’s a monopoly of mammoth proportions.

Cowell is in many respects a throwback to Larry Parnes, the English Pop impresario of the late 50’s / early 60’s, but on a far greater scale. Parnes built up a stable of male stars, generally changing their surnames in an effort to enhance their appeal to the teenage girls their music was marketed at (these included Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Vince Eager, Duffy Power and Johnny Gentle). Hugely successful in the pre-Beatle era, Parnes and his acts were blown out of the water by the arrival of The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Animals etc – the public no longer wanting manufactured ‘teen idols’ now they had the real deal.

Back in June I posted ‘Bumblebee Land’, highlighting an excellent piece written by John Niven for Q magazine following Malcolm McLaren’s death, which makes an insightful comparison between Cowell and McLaren, and their contrasting legacies as impresarios. It’s well worth a read in context of this blog post:
http://www.gregwilson.co.uk/2010/06/bumblebee-land%E2%80%8F/

The far-reaching power of the X Factor really started to disturb me when I realised that it had pretty much wrecked one of our popular traditions. For four consecutive years the show’s winner claimed the celebrated Christmas number 1 slot  – to put this in proper perspective you have to take into account that for as long as I can remember the Christmas number 1 has been something of a British institution, an event that attracts the interest of people who couldn’t care less what happens on the pop chart during the other 51 weeks of the year (it’s similar to the way in which people who never bet, or even watch horse racing, enjoy a once a year flutter when the Grand National comes around). Like the Grand National, the Christmas number 1 was rarely a foregone conclusion – it might be the latest single by the biggest band of the year, cashing in on their popularity, but this wasn’t nailed on as there was always a Mr Blobby, a Bob The Builder or a Cliff Richard to come along and spoil the party. Then there was the completely unexpected, perfectly illustrated by Pink Floyd’s anti-establishment anthem ‘Another Brick In The Wall Pt 2’ in 1979, which took everyone by surprise, or, more recently, in 2003, when Michael Andrews & Gary Jules’s cover of ‘Mad World’ seemed to have come out of nowhere, but had actually caught the groundswell of the movie ‘Donnie Darko’ (it was part of the soundtrack), which, from cult acorns following its cinema release two years earlier, had grown into a runaway word of mouth success story via sales on VHS and DVD formats.

The Xmas Factor would have chalked up five Christmas number 1’s in a row by a landslide last year, but for an inspired Facebook campaign instigated by Jon and Tracy Morter, which encouraged people to buy (via download) ’Killing In The Name’, a 1992 recording by the US band Rage Against The Machine, once described as ‘a howling, expletive-driven tirade against the ills of American society’, and summed up by the track’s ‘fuck you I won’t do what you tell me’ hook. This was in order to keep the X Factor winner (Joe McElderry) off the top of the chart during Christmas week, breaking the show’s domination. Here’s an ITN report from the week of the showdown:

YouTube Preview Image

http://youtu.be/mQBsMYUwG9E

Simon Cowell had been outflanked for once and he wasn’t a happy bunny, accusing the campaign of being ‘cynical’ and those participating in what came to be known as ‘Rage Against The X Factor’ of ‘bullying’. Needless to say that the words pot, kettle and black sprung to many people’s minds, Cowell having achieved fortune and fame via his cynical persona, not to mention his tell it like it is treatment of contestants, for which he’s often been labelled a bully himself. The fact that Cowell obviously felt that his show had an entitlement to the Christmas number 1 slot added to the communal sense of achievement felt by all who’d supported the campaign when, remarkably, it worked! The whole thing had taken on a momentum of its own, which proved to be unstoppable – the protest vote had been registered and the X Factor, at least for those seven crucial days, had been knocked off its perch.

YouTube Preview Image

http://youtu.be/GWdHyCjfFxM

Ultimately his pride may have been hurt, but his bank balance wasn’t – the following week McElderry’s single belatedly topped the chart and the X Factor, plus Cowell’s other cash cows, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and ‘American Idol’, continue to endorse his status as one of the most powerful figures in the music industry. It’s business as normal this year as 2010 X Factor winner, Matt Cardle sits at the summit for the festive season. The monopoly strikes back.

My problem with the X Factor isn’t so much the show itself, which is in the long standing tradition of middle of the road Saturday night light entertainment that has always been the staple of British television since day one, but when performances that might be politely described as average are acclaimed by the gushing judges as ‘brilliant’ or ‘incredible’, whilst talented kids are spoken of in lofty terms as ‘artists’, I have to take issue. The hyperbole surrounding the show is a constant source of nausea – even the BBC spend a hugely disproportionate amount of time discussing the in and outs of a programme that’s broadcast by their rivals, buying into the hype and re-cycling its bland brand of banality.

For the past few years I’ve been saying to anyone who cares to listen that it’s only a matter of time before a new generation of young people stand up and state their outright rejection of the X Factor, Big Brother, and the rest of this celebrity culture they’ve been force fed for so long. Instead they’ll demand substance over style, refusing to accept the second rate scenario currently on offer, placing their support with bands and singers who play their own instruments, write their own songs, and have their own ideas.

So, as you can imagine, it was refreshing for me to hear the words quoted at the beginning of this post by 15 year old Barnaby Raine. His speech, relating to the recent student demonstrations, struck a chord with many people and has been seen as a rallying call for the youth in their protest against the increasing tuition fees and educational cuts.

YouTube Preview Image

http://youtu.be/CrgzpPvJxmQ

Pop has played its part in politics since the 60’s, but, as Raine points out, the years since he was born might well be described as post-ideological – a time when the big issues at home and abroad have paled in significance, whilst important stuff, like why Jordan’s latest relationship isn’t working out, or whether Cher Lloyd is having a nervous breakdown, provides a constant contemporary source of opium for the people.

Clean cut sanitized popstars are nothing new, they have their place, but it’s close on 50 years since they ruled the roost in the way they do now. To mistake these entertainers for artists is an insult to all the greats who built the industry these modern pretenders now benefit from. This generation needs their own artists to inspire them, but they won’t find them by watching the X Factor, which they have to renounce in order to create the space to look in the right places. This insane hero worship of the humdrum has gone on for far too long, and hopefully an ever increasing amount of younger heads will wake up to the realisation that the rich culture they’ve inherited, their birthright, has been buried beneath a mountain of mediocrity during recent times.

X Factor Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_X_Factor_%28UK%29

Christmas Number 1’s Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christmas_number_one_singles_%28UK%29

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37 Responses to Celebration Of The Mediocre

  1. Meeko December 21, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    Greg,

    FANTASTIC post!!! Has really struck a chord with how i'm see'ing things at the moment!

    Thanks

  2. Phil Cooper December 21, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

    Yes Greg, a great post... Cowells business model is amazing, it really is... It is allowed to work because most people need their weekly fix of excitement watching gladiatorial TV such as X Factor...

    Middle of the road people require middle of the road entertainment, and thats what he provides...

    We need a revolution!!!

    Here is something I wrote last week...

    http://nunorthernsouls.blogspot.com/2010/12/london-hooligan-soul-then-and-now.html

    Lets hope the kids keep revolting!

  3. Paul Wright December 21, 2010 at 11:53 pm #

    Absolutely brilliant Greg! The whole pantomime that is even played out for days on the front of newspapers makes me feel sick to the core. This country has got lazy and has been happy to accept what I couldn't even call second rate shit. The tide is turning and thankfully it is finally hitting the fan, as well it should! Hard times are here for many already and I really feel for the younger folks at the moment...I think hard times invoke inspiration and ingenuity to get up and do something about the situation. I'm hoping folks get out of their holes and silos, start to show more empathy and understanding with each other. People need to come together to feel a sense of belonging and community. It needs to happen and I'm sure it will.

    Thankfully the human complexities of artistic and even social taste has not and cannot be destroyed by this barrage of shit. As ever I put my faith in people...

  4. Matt December 22, 2010 at 9:48 am #

    Amen brother! Part of the problem is getting nobodies on TV is much cheaper than actually paying artists, script writers etc. I hunger for TV with a script and a plot. Remembering back to the days when people were well known for being good at something not just for being them.
    The expression the "Music Industry" itself sums up exactly what's gone wrong there and anyone getting in to it should think twice when they're referred to as product. The bland one minute wonders that are thrust in to the limelight for a second and discarded like used batteries once their follow up fails. You are signed as you can get rich quick and no large labels will support a band after a failed album. I could go on forever but I'm with you, time for change.

  5. Les Adams December 22, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    As always a fantastic piece from you Greg, however it is all too easy to lay the blame at somebody’s door and adopt another great British tradition of knocking the success of others.

    Let’s not forget that Simon Cowell is a self-made man who struggled for many years in the music industry door knocking and working tirelessly to make something of his life and succeeded on a scale many of us can only dream of. He has also brought happiness, hope, fame and fortune to many singers and performers who otherwise would never have had the opportunity. For this we condemn him as some kind of musical and cultural anti-Christ? Would we have preferred him not to have succeeded and joined the thousands of British people who sit on their backsides claiming benefits from the state producing countless offspring expecting us to pay for them?

    Surely the success of Cowell and others like him should be held up as shining examples of how hard work, belief in ourselves and determination can be rewarded. In America it is very different, success is rewarded with praise, but in the UK we seem to do our best to knock down our achievers completely forgetting it was us who bought their ideas and gave them the success they enjoy.

    The theory that our youth and culture are force-fed is nonsense. Watching Big Brother, X-Factor and the rest of these shows is not compulsory and their success says more about us than the creators. They are the clever ones and more fool us for watching and buying into it. There are some fantastic documentaries and educational programs made by the BBC and others, not to mention dramas and films, but what are the viewing figures compared to the X-factor finals? Who’s fault is that? I suggest no-one is to blame, it is just a matter of choice and everyone has the right to decide what they watch without holier-than-thou commentators making patronizing comments about their choice. I would also afford that right to Mr Cowell and the program makers.

    In Britain we often seem to regard commercial success as “selling out” and this is no truer than in the music industry. There is also an element of hypocrisy. In this country we have the freedom to express ourselves but we do not seem to want others to be afforded the same when their opinion is contrary to ours. For example, who decides what is and what isn’t good music?

    A reference was made earlier to music made with “real instruments”. Excuse me, but who decides what a real instrument is? Is a synthesizer not a musical instrument? If not then somebody had better tell Rick Wakeman! Does a computer write melodies or lyrics? Of course not, yet there are those who claim that unless music is made with real drums, guitars and acoustic instruments played by “musicians” then it isn’t proper music. What is a musician anyway? By definition it is someone who makes music, but some would claim it depends on how they make it, clearly this is nonsense. Over the years, many highly regarded musicians and producers have used some very non-musical items ranging from elastic bands to dustbin lids to make music. Is that wrong or make their work invalid? Talk to a classical music fan and he will as likely tell you that ALL pop music is rubbish. In reality, computers and synthesizers allow people who are not gifted with musical dexterity to make music for themselves. If others like it then who knows, they may even earn a living from it and who has the right to say that is wrong?

    It is all a matter of personal opinion. To condemn shows like Big Brother and X-Factor is (in my opinion) pointless and is in effect saying that we are better than the people who watch or take part in them. I watched the first series of big brother and some of the second, but when it degenerated into something I no longer enjoyed I stopped watching, it was that simple. Like many others, I now only watch the X-factor auditions for the comedy aspect. Once the contest gets going I am not interested, but I don’t have the right to demand that is should be taken off the screens because I don’t like it, thereby taking away the enjoyment of millions of viewers, not to mention the dreams of the contestants who are chasing their dreams of becoming a pop star. Nor do I Judge or blame Simon Cowell.

    It is very simple. If you don’t like these programs, don’t watch them. The fact that millions DO is enough to justify their existence.

    If anyone is to blame it is the people who watch, not the program makers, but then it is easier to vent our opinions on “those nasty men who make millions out of our stupidity and banal taste” isn’t it. How patronizing is that towards the viewers?

  6. Matt Scrimshire December 22, 2010 at 10:29 am #

    Another Amen! I couldn't have come close to putting so well. I have thought for too long that the youth of today lack the politcal fervour to speak out and make a difference but it seems some of them are getting get their feet and standing up for what's right.

    As for X factor. Absolute crap. I'm fed up with people who 'only watch the auditions for the comedy' and watch the whole lot falling into the whole pathetic cycle of bullshit.

    Illegal downloads aren't killing music Simon Cowell is!

  7. Les Adams December 22, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    Matt,

    Simon Cowell is killing music? I thought Stock Aitken and Waterman did that when they dominated the top 40 in the 80's.. or was it the advent of synthesizers and computers a few years previously...or was it the Beatles who dominated the charts over such greats as Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra... oh no, they the villains who destroyed big band music, who in turn deprived us of classical music... bring back the harpsichord I say.

    Let's blame radio too while we are a it. Forcing us to go and spend our money on Bob the builder records when we should be listening to Mozart.

    And as for fast food, McDonalds should be shut down and we should all be force fed vegetables and pulses. The world would be a healthier and happier place.

    People haven't stopped making good music, all music is good it just depends on wether or not you like it.

    The likes of itunes and Napster have made it easy to find and buy music and we have a free choice as to what we listen to. Is it Simon Cowell's fault we don't explore the alternatives?

    No Matt, the public decide.

  8. Dan Soulsmith December 22, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    "The masses are asses!" - Chris Moyles

    I heard him say this on Radio 1, around 2002. I'm not a Chris Moyles fan but it's a phrase that has stuck with me!

    Interesting piece Greg! Great to see the debate starting already!

    I've always been anti X factor, I'd never watched an episode in my life... unitl half way through this recent series, when I was sucked in.. captivated by Cher, Rebecca and even Matt. What interested me is that they are 'real people'.

    I never thought I'd ever get sucked in, but hey, I can live with myself. It's just mainstream peak time TV. There is sooo much consumable media available on demand now.

    I think part of the attraction for me was also the live Saturday night element, and knowing that your family and some of your mates where also watching. Tweeting, facebooking or texting just added to the fun.

    I still think X Factor / Britain's Got Talented etc is not great TV. I don't plan to watch the next series. What gets to me is just how many deluded people think that they can sing and perform but need Simon Cowell to tell them that they are crap.
    Also, the Christmas number 1 situation is poor! But The Rage Against the X Factor campaign was genius and very satisfying.

  9. rob December 22, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    Quite an x factor rant, but I agree with Les.

    Pop culture, be it in music, film, books, art will always be around. Its easily digestible and requires minimal thought. It is a business, pure and simple. If you found a way to make a million from signing a band, because millions of kids will buy the record i'm sure you would jump at the chance.

    Don't lose sight of the target audience of these shows/acts - mainly kids. When I was a kid I was buying the simpsons album, hits 1995, pop crap as the majority of us to as that is what is easily accessible. It is mainly kids who get these records to number 1, or general public who don't really like music that much. You forget that music is your passion - for the average person, they just like dipping their feet it, listening to some catchy tunes and enjoying.

    Each individual makes their own choice. If you hate xfactor & saturday night TV, don't get a TV. Switch off, go out, read a book, whatever.

    It amazes me the amount of energy people waste on hating things that they can change/remove from their lives so easily.

  10. Ed Howard December 22, 2010 at 12:19 pm #

    Great post Greg, and good points by Les as well. A mate of mine in Tokyo from the Uk pretty much said the same as you Les, the UK is getting what it deserves. It's only just over 10 years since this was at the front of everyone's consciousness:-

    Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed- interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing sprit- crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing you last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that?

    The fuck you attitude didn't last long, although Irvine Welsh was probably the voice of the Acid house generation, it just took another 10 years to write the book and see it go global.

    What probably disturbs me most however is the stranglehold Cowell has on the media. It means it isn't a level playing field. New bands and artists don't get the exposure they used to. Radio 1 doesn't have the same music policy. The big corporates do have a stranglehold on what people hear.

    Except they don't. The saving grace here will be the internet. There's been little sparks or revolution like the RATM Christmas number one, or the Arctic Monkey's going to number one via myspace. The power is there.

    Greg you wrote "For the past few years I’ve been saying to anyone who cares to listen that it’s only a matter of time before a new generation of young people stand up and state their outright rejection of the X Factor, Big Brother, and the rest of this celebrity culture they’ve been force fed for so long."

    I think the seeds are there. The student protests. The free raves in London and Glasgow recently. But I think the important driver will be the economy and the Tories. We, or certainly the vast majority in this country are about to get squeezed like this generation has never experienced. We've all been living the good life since the early 90's economically. Suddenly sparky shiny faced X factor contestants won't be what the nation is looking for. It'll be someone that says something to them about their lives, to paraphrase Morrissey.

  11. Ed Howard December 22, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    Oh, and I've never watched a full episode of the X factor or Pop idol. I've heard some o the artists though, and some have ben very good, or had very good voices. There's too much other good stuff out there, that I've never even touched. I've got into Marvin Gaye in a big way in the last five years. Pendegrass. Disco. Northern Soul. Floyd. It's all there available.

    There's too much good NEW stuff I can't even get to because there isn't the time. Part of it is how you are wired I guess. "House is a feeling" as the old adage goes. That applies to any music of quality. Like anything, you have to make an effort. You won't get enlightened on your sofa watching TV.

    I thought two years ago I'd like to see a Christmas song competition. Have signed bands vs unsigned bands battle it out in a Cowell style programme. At least you'd see some competition and some real songwriting talent, rather than pub singer karaoke.

  12. Les Adams December 22, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    One more thing.

    I have always been bemused by the apparent importance a few people attach to the Christmas number one and the whole top 40 thing in general.

    As we all know, the chart is only an indication of what is selling and apart from the artists, record industry and radio, who cares about chart positions?

    To refer to the Christmas number one as some kind of national institution is overstating the case. I hear people talking about many things, the weather, traffic, holidays and work but I don’t remember anyone other than a radio presenter or music industry person ever commenting or wondering what will be number one at Christmas! In reality it really doesn’t matter and the general public don’t care. So what if the Christmas chart is full of X-factor contestants? We may go and buy the latest toys for our kids based upon what is the biggest seller this year, but did anyone ever buy a song they don’t like because it was at the top of the charts?

    I think Rob is absolutely spot on when he says we forget we have a passion for music that is not shared by the general public. Most people will say they like music, love it even, but when and how do they listen? On an ipod commuting to work, in the car and in the background while doing something else. It is like wallpaper. When do they ever turn off the TV and actually sit and LISTEN to music?

    Note to ED:

    When were our kids force fed X-factor or any other TV show, music or whatever? It is their choice!

    Simon Cowell does not have a strangle hold on anyone or any industry. He just provides a diet of entertainment people want and has made a lot of money at it. Good luck to him.

  13. Paul Wright December 22, 2010 at 2:34 pm #

    Thankfully Simon Cowell does not have a strangle hold and people will ultimately reject this particular money making formula (in the same way BB viewings eventually plummeted). As for providing a diet of entertainment people want I feel the mechanism is particularly passive. He does have a huge captive audience on the Saturday evening TV slot, this coincides with an economic climate where more people had decided to stay in rather than go out. The whole concept has snowballed across the media with many joining in for a bite (this does mean from a musical exspoure perspective that the playing field is not level). This potentiation can and will only go so far.

    Popular culture does indeed shift over time, the very survival of each facet within the minds of people and the history books is determined by the impact that it has on individuals, culture and society as a whole. The foundations of the current trend are very weak to say the least, it is like comparing a classic film to an episode of Coronation Street....yes Coronation Street is a national institution and is enjoyed by millions every week..it has done very little though to advance the cinematic experience, culture, society and generally all the episodes are forgotten. Coronation Street simply attempts to reflect what is happening in society and some people find it entertaining. Xfactor reflects the current trend in society to worship shallow idols, it's a cyclical model manipulated by the media to generate cash and indeed it does. People are entertained by it and I think many follow it for the soap operatic and emotional ride rather than for musical expression or the listening experience. Unfortunately many do associate it under the musical banner it portrays and this leads them to spending more time and money buying singles etc.

    The big positive in all of this is that millions of people are being exposed to music, this will lead many to investigate further and to make up their own minds on whether they prefer the consumer driven xfactor music or music written and developed by individuals based upon real feelings, events, circumstances, emotions and experiences.

    Musical taste is incredibly subjective and it is so difficult to classify what is good or bad. I have heard so much music that has been generated from creative expression but a lot of people just do not get the opportunity to hear it. Some do not know where to look, some may not want to look as it isn't important to them. What I would say is that from my individual experience the vast majority of people when given the opportunity prefer music that has been through a meaningful creative process..this innate ability will ultimately ensure that genuinely creative and expressive music will survive the consumer driven music of the moment.

  14. Ed December 22, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    Les, agree it's not forced. It's there, they lap it up. But there's not much else now is there?When I was a kid in the 80's you had The Tube, The Whistle Test, The Chart Show, Top of the Pops, Other Side of Midnight on Granada. There was probably a couple more. There was exposure for a huge range of bands and types of music. The top 40 and the coverage the media gave to music was eclectic. I remember thinking Spandau, Duran Duran and Wham were teeny bop pop when I was 7. (I actually quite like all of them now in small doses!).

    You can only eat what is put in front of you. I find it curious that the Acid house generation isn't running tv and programming now. Maybe it'll be another 5-10 years before they get in to those kind of positions.

    I don't accept that Cowell is merely giving people what they want. He's discovered a formular and he's executing it perfectly. It's almost riskless for him and the industry.

    But the Beatles didn't do it with Sgt Pepper. Marvin with What's going on. There will always be an underground, risk takers. I wouldnt be surprised of Cowell himself gets bored with the formular and takes a few himself in the next few years. He's certainly astute enough.

    The Creative industries (music, film, tv, radio etc) have become much less interested in risk taking, they've become a corporate sausage factory. It'll take something special to shift the prism through which things are viewed, but I think it can happen eventually.

  15. greg wilson December 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    Hi Les, thanks for your comments – good to see that the post has prompted some debate.

    As I said in the piece ‘my problem with the X Factor isn’t so much the show itself’, it’s more to do with its all-powerful status, which goes far beyond the Saturday night timeslot it occupies. Even if I try to avoid it I can’t – for example, I might be listening to BBC Radio 5 in the car and the next thing there’s a full-blown discussion about the programme (even though it’s broadcast on ITV) and Radio 1 is constantly talking about it. If it was a simple matter of turning the TV off that’d be fine, but it’s not – it’s become part of our cultural fabric.

    I don’t think the X Factor domination can be compared with the domination of The Beatles back in the 60’s. The Beatles were creating groundbreaking original recordings that will be around well after we’re all dead and gone – I don’t think this can be said about the X Factor releases. This is what I mean about the culture being diluted, just as it was in the ‘teen idol’ period between the taming of Rock & Roll and the emergence of bands like The Beatles, The Stones etc. There are periods when Pop music has an edge and when Pop music plays safe, and I believe that things have been way too safe for way too long.

    I’ve no problem with how much money Simon Cowell makes, and I take my hat off to his business acumen, he’s obviously a very shrewd operator, but, as with any monopoly, I don’t think it’s healthy that his various companies have such a big piece of the pie. It’s not so much Simon Cowell I have an issue with, but the general state of popular culture, and the X Factor is a major symptom of that. Simon Cowell is a brilliant marketing man, but I’m not a big fan of the music he’s associated with – I don’t think he’s brought anything of true substance to the table in his record company career. You might disagree, but I don’t think the record industry is a better place because this self-made man holds a powerful position – he’s hardly a Berry Gordy, a Chris Blackwell, or a Richard Branson as far as his appreciation of music is concerned, and that’s always the important thing for me. If he was providing artists on the same level as those illustrious people I’d be the first to sing his praises. It’s not a case of knocking someone for their success, but more knocking what they represent, and I can honestly say that that I’ve never been moved to buy anything recorded by one of the acts on his shows (for the record, I never liked what Stock Aitken Waterman represented either).

  16. Adrian Luvdup December 22, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

    Greg, you’ve very eloquently expressed exactly how I feel about all this.

    The other thing I can’t understand is that my generation, and ones before mine (and a few after) embraced music and film from many decades before our time whilst still seizing upon the music of the “now” – I can honestly state that from what I can see, all that’s changed – I’d say the majority of teenagers in the UK have absolutely no interest in music or movies from “as far back as” 5 years ago, never mind 50 years ago or more. That’s why you rarely get the same artist on the NME front cover twice these days, most bands don’t stay popular long enough anymore (partly through their own mediocrity, admittedly but also through the ever increasingly disposable nature of music ) to leave a lasting impression.

    But then I guess I'm just another middle-aged grumpy old man these days to most of those teenagers.
    Hey ho...

  17. Mark Cathcart December 22, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    I see this slightly differently, your position is well stated and articulated Greg. However, I fear the real problem is that the UK has now become just like the US, where mediocrity is not only acceptable, it's encouraged at every level. Mediocrity doesn't challenge, it doesn't offend, it doesn't require change.

    I can see the parallels with some of the earlier industry moguls, but leaving aside Cowell as I think Les and others have stated the case for his defense well, I think he is a symptom, not the cause.

    My theory on why the US has almost never led the "arts" since the early 1960's with one or two exceptions I think applies here. Historically the UK was a small, fairly crowded country, with a few standout cities including London, Liverpool, Manchester, maybe Sheffield and Glasgow. Because everyone was mostly on top of each other, and because there were national newspapers, TV and Radio stations, to be successful you had to be different. News travels fast, cults and fashions catch on fast.If you are good you struggle, if you are different and good you get on.

    In the US, the opposite was almost universally true. It's a huge country, where not only is everything regional, it is even subdivided into categories within region. To get on you have to be part of a tribe. Tribes are big because of the size. In order to get on in a tribe you have to work your way up and that mostly requires that you are not different, just good and committed. Over the years the average tribe members have become increasingly aware of how to manage their tribe, and it is thus harder for someone new to come in a shake things up. This is especially true in the "arts", but is also true in everything from politics, to cars and food. The old all you can eat, nothing you can taste mantra is still true. Cater for the masses, not the individuals.

    The problem the UK has now is not that it's become the 51st state, thats too simplistic. It's that with the explosion of choice that the Internet has bought, especially in music, the long tail, that is there are millions of people buying and downloading and playing online hundreds of millions of tracks. I'd never consider buying anything from the top-50 any more because I have unlimited choice. In the old days I'd buy from the top-50 from time to time as Radio-1 was almost my "online" reference. I worked for Hearsay Records in Hemel Hempstead and on Wembley market for a while, I was Greg Edwards gofer for a summer, then I had the influences of friends. Now days I have the influence of hundreds of virtual friends.

    The problem is that for many people, the staggering array of choice is just too much. And so, like the American "tribes" they've falling back into believing that what is on TV must be good, and its too troubling and time consuming to go find anything else. This sadly becomes self fulfilling, instead of becoming more connected, people become more isolated, and technology provides them a fix of the same in more ways.

    It's not all bad news though, it just means the traditional measures of success are no longer valid. I disagree with Les in his assertion that the Christmas #1 wasn't important. Of course it was, certainly in the Radio-1 generation it was. However, things have moved on. For me the beatport top-10 is interesting and introduces new electronic music. The amazon.com mp3 charts are interesting, but really soundcloud and mixcloud are my standout ways to measure new music.

    I'm convinced that the Saturday night shows and their measure of value will decline over the next few years, however you categorize the current 5-15 generation they will have a different perspective, different choices, and different measures. Let's hope that spurs them onto to producing new and innovative music and doesn't cast them off into the wilderness of mediocrity.

  18. Les Adams December 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    Hi Greg,

    I understand completely. The media and the general public seem to be obsessed with celebrity and that status has been awarded to people who really don’t deserve it. Some just seem to become famous for being famous without actually doing anything of value. I too am fed up with hearing about them.

    I stopped reading newspapers some years ago because I really could not care less about Peter and Jordan, who was dating who or which footballer was in trouble for adultery. I do not understand why people find it interesting unless their own lives are so dull that they need to focus on others.

    Another aspect that I find very worrying is the use of sexually explicit images. Many of today’s pop videos are almost pornographic and this among other cultural influences is breeding a generation who think it is ok to exploit sexuality. To some degree I blame the pop video for the decline in musical appreciation as today’s kids listen with their eyes and will buy a record because they think the singer is hot, rather than musically talented.

    To its credit, at least X-factor has remained family viewing!

  19. Les Adams December 22, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

    I also agree that the music of today has no longevity. We have become a throw away society where everything is a trend and we seem obsessed with moving on to the next one. From music to mobile phones and game consoles, nothing is made to last.

    Whilst there can be no doubt that advances in technology have given us global communication and made things possible that our grandparents never dreamed of, we are in danger of not appreciating what we have.

    I agree with others that Simon Cowell is a symptom, not a cause.

    There is an appreciation of music from earlier decades and a song played on the radio can take us back to the era. I wonder what the “Classic Gold” radio stations will be playing in 30 years time. Flo Rida? Beyonce? Peter Andre? Any of these artists or their records may take us back to a day, or even a year, but not an era. Nor will the videos be there to hold up the music which I fear will then be exposed for what it was, formulated fashion music.

    My guess is that such radio stations won’t exist. Nostalgia will cease to exist because in 30 years there will be nothing worthy of remembering, let along appreciating.

  20. Andy December 22, 2010 at 5:27 pm #

    I believe in an individual's ability to self determine. People choose to engage with the programmes you discuss. There is no mass deception. It may well be mediocre but it is popular and therefore pop.

  21. TC December 22, 2010 at 8:20 pm #

    Celebrating the ordinary has indeed been the defining factor of the last decade. Anyone can be a celebrity, a pop star, a newspaper columnist, a dj. The more ordinary you are, the better and I suspect, the less media savvy you are and the more malleable, you are the better! But, I disagree with Andy that there has been no mass deception. "You decide" is the catchphrase from the reality show, Big Brother. That decision, however, is based on the bias the tv producers decide to show in the edit. The same goes for the likes of X Factor, BGT or indeed any reality tv show. We, the viewer, only see what the producers want us to see. We don't see the best of the talent that auditioned. We see only the ones who are crazy, deluded or ordinary enough to make a Saturday night show palateable. X Factor aren't interested in finding the best talent in the country. They are about making a TV show and the more fraught with "human drama" the tv show, the more attractive it is to watch and the more chance Simon Cowell has of creating hit records. This is his stock-in trade. He doesn't scout for talented artistes, he looks for what can be identified with by the mainstream tv watching population and flogs a music product through the medium of TV (Zig and Zag, Robson and Jerome). Not going to set the world alight but, fair play to him for his audacity and business acumen. But let's be clear about one thing...he is not a music expert, he is a marketing expert.

  22. Cosmic Boogie December 22, 2010 at 9:33 pm #

    I thought long and hard after reading this article, and all of the comments, about how to articulate a cleverly constructed comment here. However, I am not sure I can do that so I will just blurt it out. I dont think Simon Cowell is killing the music industry in any way shape or form - he is merely giving it the tools to reinvent itself and create something new and beautiful to prove that creativity and originality will always be. For that, and the extremity of his high trouser line, i applaud him.

  23. Cole December 22, 2010 at 9:53 pm #

    What a fun read... thanks for the great post Greg (once again), and for the dialogue about this in general. We in the states have this on sooo many levels (music, tv, movies, art, celebrity, politics, etc...), and it's been a frustrating ride trying to wade through it all, regardless if one is an artist or merely a fan of art. The saddest part is that there are so many more people here feeding into it all... buying the US WEEKLY's and going to the Michael Bay films... effectively voting with their dirty dollars. The centers of culture like LA, NYC, CHICAGO, DETROIT, and my home SF have a ton of folk who "get it", but there a fuck-ton of douchebaggery in-between. This feeds the beast, and thus it shits out more garbage to go back into the cycle. Boooo...

    The positive side to this is that it may help to inspire the fire inside others to fight back with art... perhaps creating a "Killing in the Name" of their own. Strife tends to inspire creativity... So until we fix it, or people wake up, let the sillyness unearth the gems!

    MUSIC SAVES...

  24. Dave Ashmore December 22, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    Great stuff Greg. Now if only the musicians would produce stuff to galvanise youth in the same way that the likes of the 60s psychadelic and folk bands did. Music and politics has been divorced for sometime. Bill Hicks was raging about this in the late 80s.
    There looks set to be more civil unrest next year. We needs a soundtrack to it........

  25. Mark Cathcart December 22, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    @Les, as good as your initial defense of Simon Cowell was, and it was, I simply can't let you get away with two sweeping generalizations like "I also agree that the music of today has no longevity" and "There is an appreciation of music from earlier decades and a song played on the radio can take us back to the era."

    I suspect both of these are a measure of how important music is in your life now, and where your life intermingles with music today. My 29 year old has fantastic memories of even early Kyle songs, we can both tell you EXACTLY where we were when we first heard Deadmau5 SLIP, and while some of the tracks of Greg's Random Influences mixes take me back, many of them are just music from that decade.

    Music was totally unimportant to me in the 1980's life had taken over. Asides from maybe 5-tracks I can't recall any of it, and it certainly doesn't evoke any strong memories or make the hair on the back of my neck stand-up. Thats not the case with tracks like X-Press2's Lazy, Stronger by the Sugarbabes, Put Em High by Stonebridge and especially recently Greg's own edit of Leo Zero's Rabbit Heart, which I even got my daughter to hand carry on vinyl from the UK.

    Any of these has the same effect on me today as hearing Idris Muhammad - Could Heaven Ever Be Like This, or something important to me from the 70's.

    The problem with the X-Factor and it's ilk is its easy consumption by the at home generation. No matter what their age.... its not offensive, it doesn't require them to think, and after a few plays, hey thats song is quite catchy, like say anything by Mud in the 1970's Kylie, Jason or almost any manufactured music. The real music listeners have gone elsewhere, they are not the people buying the tat on x-factor, they mostly don't listen to radio-1 which has for the most part become a parody of itself.

    Music only had longevity to the people who liked it... remember, even Beethoven had his detractors...

  26. Gavin Kendrick December 22, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    I approach this whole issue from a slightly unusal (and perhaps sheltered) perspective: I’m twenty-five and I haven’t owned a television for the past six years. I’ve never watched an episode of Popstars, Pop Idol or The X Factor. I have seen quite a few clips on YouTube over the years, and though they provided some amusement and enjoyment, I didn’t go on to watch a full show.

    My love lies in music found off the beaten track, and whilst I don’t scorn the musical output or integrity of these shows, I’ve just never paid them much attention. My usual disinterest was suspended though when I read Greg’s point about the manufactured teen idols of the late 50s and early 60s being swept aside by the ‘real deal’ artistry of bands like The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks and The Animals.

    It had never occurred to me before that for previous generations, the pop charts were a place where music borne of free artistic expression could be found. Even the institution of the Christmas number one and its previous uncertainty was a cultural phenomenon I was largely unaware of, presuming – like David Firth so brilliantly satirised last year – that the charts had always been controlled by a handful of major labels:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pehHOqx7JXg

    Of course, music with widespread and thus commercial appeal is absolutely necessary. My first introduction to house music came from Liverpool’s local radio DJs, and later via labels such as Rulin’ and Defected, who were then signing the most commercially viable underground club tracks and giving them major releases. Many underground heads deride such labels for doing this, but, truthfully, without their palatable introduction, I would never have discovered the hundreds of deep house and techno 12″s I cherish so much today.

    I have had one concern about shows like The X Factor and Pop Idol though. I feared that they were teaching a generation that the value of one’s creative expression is to be judged by a small group of people in positions of power, whose interest lies not in artistic merit but solely in financial gain.

    When I considered the artists, producers and remixers responsible for the music that has excited me most in the last twelve months, however, this fear was abated. Artists like Georgia Anne Muldrow, Fatima, James Blake, Jamie Woon, Jacques Greene, Floating Points and Kyle Hall are all in their twenties. They are pushing boundaries and creating new, original, authentic and soulful music. They are from my generation – the generation who were supposed to never think – as Barnaby Raine so brilliantly describes – “of anything bigger than our Facebook profiles and our TV screens.”

    The fact that some of their music is finding its way onto prime time Radio 1 shows and reaching a national audience is thrilling. Although childish, I did raise a smile at robbadobdob’s YouTube comment on the radio rip video of Zane Lowe playing James Blake’s ‘Limit To Your Love’: “Good to see people from the underground scene getting the coverage they deserve. Good on you James, spunking in the faces of Simon Cowell and all the other manufactured pop stars.”

    Greg hopes “an ever increasing amount of younger heads will wake up to the realisation that the rich culture they’ve inherited, their birthright, has been buried beneath a mountain of mediocrity during recent times.” They are. And they continue to do so. Saturday night TV is just the wrong place to find them.

    _____

    I also posted this response with links to music and video here:
    http://www.soundofdusk.co.uk/index.php/2010/12/celebration-of-the-mediocre/

  27. Henry December 22, 2010 at 11:05 pm #

    Like Cosmic Boogie, I've thought hard about if/how I can add anything useful to this already extensive debate, and it boils down to this...

    I haven't watched the X-factor for years, but through the inevitable tweeting I was made aware of the song choices for the Guilty Pleasures installament. I found the suggestion that songs by Chaka, Fat Larry, Blackstreet, Arctic Monkeys & Led Zeppelin(?!) were somehow Guilty Pleasures to be iffy, even bordering on dogmatic when you consider the size of the audience.

    If these artists are Guilty Pleasures, what constitutes non-guilty pleasures & "real" music? Westlife, by any chance? Louis would certainly think so, it seems....

    My snooty indifference actually gave way to something resembling genuine anger when I heard that these songs were being tagged with the GP label, but as a guy who I respect greatly (despite only knowing him through Twitter) said at the time; "We must not get mad, we must get even. Open your rhyme book, blow the dust off your MPC and create" (I'm paraphrasing, but this is almost word for word).

    What I'm rambling towards is the idea that Cowell's machine has it's place - let those who enjoy it, enjoy it, and let those of us who are angered by it be spurred into exploring and creating the alternatives.

    I'm off to listen to Will I Am's latest creative meltdown (I worry about that lad).

  28. Les Adams December 23, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

    Hi Mark,

    Re your quote, “I suspect both of these are a measure of how important music is in your life now, and where your life intermingles with music today”.

    I have been in the music business since 1979. In my career I have worked as a club dj, record producer and recording artist. My Djing career continues today and I play out every week in a large venue to an audience of 800+ 18-30 year olds. I have always played the current trends of music, from r’b through house, funky house, jungle to drum & bass, techno, Garage, UK Garage and hardcore. I also present a two hour80’s jazz funk and soul show weekly on Sky digital.

    My interest in all spheres of music has not faltered and I am very familiar with the songs you mention and have played them many, many times.

    Whilst I am able to appreciate the merits of every genre and consider myself to be on the ball with new releases and styles, I stand by what I said. Much of the music of today is very formularized, particularly in “house” music where the rhythms, drum sounds and production have barely changed in ten years. Still the Roland 909 Bass drum & snare feature as the prominent sound. It is possible to listen to almost a minute of some tracks before the identity becomes apparent. If we go back to the late 80’s and the chart dominating Stock Aitken & Waterman productions, they always used the same drum and keyboard sounds which may have given them a “sound” but after a while it became the same old same old thing every time. The singer became almost seconarey to the production

    By contrast, going back to the pre-drum machine era, all instruments were played and recorded live in the studio. Even the same drum kit recorded in a different studio using different mics and ambience sounded different, add real guitars and instruments and every record had a sonic identity.

    Listening to today’s r’nb music, particularly the female artists, the records are very much production led ad the singers are interchangeable. They could sing each others song and most people would not notice or care. Producers have taken over and to all intents have become the artists. Yes, George Martin was very influential in the way the Beatles sounded, but their identity did not hide behind his production.

    I think this lack of individual identity or recordings is why they are not so memorable. Yes, Stonebridge “Put ‘em high” was a great record, but was it really that different to dozens of other funky house records? Stonebridge do what they do very well and are often the choice to remix other artists records, but they always come out sounding basically the same, that is why people go to them, but I don’t think their productions are particularly memorable.

    I conclude that it is this lack of individuality and the churned out production lines of records currently dominating X-factor and the charts in general that makes the current music forgettable and not the stuff memories are made of.

  29. Mark Cathcart December 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    Thanks Les, re Stonebridge, thats exactly my point. It's nothing special, yet, for me it's totally memorable, it has longevity for me, and I suspect it always will have. Thats why I chose those records, not because they were original, brilliant, and new but to demonstrate, as always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    I think we've arrived at the same point, but from each others perspective. If you had a great, life changing moment over the holidays, and an x-factor song was playing... When you are young, small things, your first kiss, your first girlfriend, that great night out take on extra significance and for many, it's the music that defines those moments. It creates an imprint, a pathway in your mind to the memories, the styles, et al.

    My point was NOT to question your taste, your musical credentials, or even debate the value of the x-factor type music, merely to make the point that music from today plays just as much significance to the todays young and the important events in their lives just as it did for us and mostly they have a much wider choice than we did.

  30. Les Adams December 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Hi Mark,

    I explained my background because I didn't wan to sound like my Dad, dismissing modern music as rubbish because I was stuck in the past. No offence taken!

    Yes I think we arrived at the same point. I think it is just a shame that the music industry has become such a machine, rather than being about talent and originality.

    The positive side to this is that modern technology allows people to make music that otherwise would not be able to do so. This enables talent to develop and the internet provides a showcase for it. No bad thing.

  31. TC December 23, 2010 at 11:36 pm #

    The comments generated by this post of Greg's have been really interesting and have helped me galvanise some thoughts of my own with regards to the state of popular culture in the 21st Century. The obsession our culture has had with celebrity and shows like X Factor and Big Brother which creates celebrities of "Ordinary folk" for being "ordinary", demonstrates how powerful a medium TV still is despite the new technologies. The Simon Cowell’s of this world have a tight grip and monopoly on this media and of course a fresh wave of artistic endeavours may only catch public prominence through the new technologies. It has been pointed out by other people’s posts, fresh and innovative music/ art is being created and, if you know where to look on the internet, you can find a wealth of interesting stuff that’s buried under the surface of mainstream popularity. Trouble is, most people are overwhelmed by choice on the ‘net and instead become passive and begin to accept surface level only, eventually suffering cultural malnutrition.
    Something that may resolve this in time and breed interest and excitement in new works that eventually reaches popular consciousness are, as Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his book “The Tipping Point” ,the “mavens” or in the instance of the internet, the bloggers (such as Greg) who are gatherers of information and are often the first to recognise exciting cultural phenomena. But because these types of bloggers aren’t motivated by financial gain but merely a desire to share information of fresh creative endeavours, it will hopefully serve as an ante-dote to the cynical manufactured promotional campaigns that have become all too familiar.
    I think there is definite sea change in the air.

  32. Tornike December 26, 2010 at 5:05 pm #

    I am with Les Adams 100 %. I will never buy a single record produced by X Factor and I know exactly what game Simon Cowell is playing (good for him), I am fully aware that X-factor has not and is unlikely to discover the next Nile Rogers. Nevertheless I think X-Factor is a reality TV at its best and I should not be insulted by others because I enjoy watching the show.

    Yes I like to watch the programme but then again I also like listening to music (which is differemt to watching X Factor), I also read Balzac or Camus to name the few, as well as visiting museums around London and keeping up to date with current affairs. Just because I watch X-Factor does not mean that I am incapable of differentiating quality. Great music will always be invented along the way. Every generation has its talentless and talented.

    p.s. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone

  33. Mark Cathcart December 31, 2010 at 3:04 am #

    I heard this on the radio on the way home, its worth listening too, the comment mirror much of whats been said here too. http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2010/12/30/132477498/would-at-last-be-a-hit-today?sc=fb&cc=fp

  34. William Dunn January 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    Great article Greg. enjoyable read

  35. Dodgy Mo February 10, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    A very interesting article and certainly thought provoking. I think culturally,spiritually and ideologically we're at the dawn of a new era. Call it a rebirth, an apocalypse, an unveiling or whatever.What this implies for me, particularly in terms of a birth or rebirth, is that we'll experience a lot of stress and a certain amount of toxicity before we leave the womb of our current era and step out into a different world. To me it seems that the mediocrity we embrace today is part of that toxicity and that it will be washed away as we come into knowledge of how we're supposed to function as a society that doesn't concern itself with narcissistic urges and doesn't see the need to step all over each other in order to survive. Plus information is travelling at such a rate now that it seems we're moving towards a singularity of sorts. I think we're coming to a point where we know we've been banging our heads against a brick wall for too long and it's starting to hurt.

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  1. S H O O K M A G /////// » Features » Putting The Black In The Union Jack - August 15, 2012

    [...] Whilst the opening ceremony had its subversive aspects, Kim Gavin’s closing ceremony was much more conformist in tone, pretty much a pop concert with added frills – a ‘disco at the end of a wedding’, as Gavin had described it himself. He’d boasted it would be the ‘playlist to beat all playlists’, but it fell a long way short for me, and many others it seems, failing to stir that sense of legacy that Danny Boyle had evoked. Going by the hyperbole of the news reports that followed, backed-up by interviews with people coming out of the stadium, you’d have thought it was the equal of the opening ceremony, when, as far as I’m concerned, it left a lot to be desired. It’s ‘highlight’ was the return of the Spice Girls, with their phony brand of ‘girl power’ – all a bit outmoded when we’d witnessed true girl power, not the ‘zigazig ah’ variety, during the games. Although it did have its moments, overall I saw the closing ceremony as a timely reminder that, despite all the cultural riches Britain has unearthed in the past half century, we’re currently at the arse-end of a cycle where, as I lamented in a previous blog post, mediocrity is celebrated: http://www.gregwilson.co.uk/2010/12/celebration-of-the-mediocre/ [...]

  2. Putting The Black In The Union Jack « sallykendallmosaics - October 3, 2012

    [...] Whilst the opening ceremony had its subversive aspects, Kim Gavin’s closing ceremony was much more conformist in tone, pretty much a pop concert with added frills – a ‘disco at the end of a wedding’, as Gavin had described it himself. He’d boasted it would be the ‘playlist to beat all playlists’, but it fell a long way short for me, and many others it seems, failing to stir that sense of legacy that Danny Boyle had evoked. Going by the hyperbole of the news reports that followed, backed-up by interviews with people coming out of the stadium, you’d have thought it was the equal of the opening ceremony, when, as far as I’m concerned, it left a lot to be desired. It’s ‘highlight’ was the return of the Spice Girls, with their phony brand of ‘girl power’ – all a bit outmoded when we’d witnessed true girl power, not the ‘zigazig ah’ variety, during the games. Although it did have its moments, overall I saw the closing ceremony as a timely reminder that, despite all the cultural riches Britain has unearthed in the past half century, we’re currently at the arse-end of a cycle where, as I lamented in a previous blog post, mediocrity is celebrated: http://www.gregwilson.co.uk/2010/12/celebration-of-the-mediocre/ [...]

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