Sunday, 6 April 2014

Why The Voice & The X Factor are NOT Responsible for "The Death of Music."

Pictured: My favourite band.  Partly for reference.  Partly because... I just wanted them there.

Last night saw Jermaine Jackman win the third series of The Voice UK.  Millions watched his emotional rendition of And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going as the tears streamed down his face, moments after his name was announced.  And whilst those who watched and enjoyed the series were cheering (or debating whether their favourite act should have won instead), hundreds, if not thousands of angry people were bashing away at their computer keyboards, insisting that shows like The Voice are killing music.

Now, I'm not going to lie to you.  Whilst I really enjoy The Voice, conversely I hate The X Factor.  And it wasn't all that many years ago that I would have been one of the people ranting about how its dominance really is killing music.  But then I matured - because yes, I believe that the "TV singing competitions are killing music" argument is an immature one - and I came to realise that music is still very much alive.  And the only people capable of truly killing it?  Is us.

Hear me out on this.  Yes, I know how insanely irritating it is that we've reached a point where having the latest X Factor winner bag the Christmas number one spot is almost inevitable.  And yes, I see that the largely bland cover versions they churn out as their debut singles aren't exactly inspiring.  But I also see the kids watching those shows from a young age and developing an interest in music.

Taste in music, to borrow a Doctor Who-ism, is not something that necessarily travels in a straight line.  It's a ball of wibbly wobbly, music-y wusic-y... Stuff.  Take me, for example...

That is me, wearing the uniform of the obsessive Manics fan...  The hippo is optional.

I was about to say that my music taste has its roots in late 80's and 90's pop, specifically boybands.  However, that's not entirely true.  Whilst the first music I "discovered" for myself were the likes of Take That (okay, they were hugely famous, so it wasn't hard to "find" them), the first music I loved was the stuff I had grown up listening to as a very young child.  To put it another way:  It was the music my parents listened to.  Consequently, I loved Abba, The Beatles, Elvis, The Carpenters and Queen long before I was into anything else.  Then I got into 90's pop - probably because I became a teenager in the 90's - followed by Britpop, followed by the Manics and various other guitar-based bands.  I also love a lot of classical music.  In fact, when it comes to music, I'll give most genres a try, even if I don't end up liking them much (with the exception of most modern club/dance music - to HELL with that noise).  What I'm trying to say is just because it could be argued that I spent a lot of my adolescence listening to generic pop music made by manufactured bands, it doesn't mean I was then tied to only listen to that for the rest of my life.  The same goes for the youngsters watching The X Factor and The Voice; they may hear a song covered by a competitor on either show and like it.  Since we live in a much more digitally advanced age than when I was growing up, they may instantly google the lyrics to see who sang the original.  It might get them interested in a genre - Motown or soul, for argument's sake - that they had never even heard of before.  And that is definitely not a bad thing.  That marks the regeneration of music, rather than the death of it.  After all, those kids could well be the artists of the future.

Still, it's not the idea of formulaic pop being pumped into our youngsters' ears that bothers most people.  It's the thought that singles from X Factor competitors dominate our charts - from One Direction to Olly Murrs, it's hard to find a weekly singles or album chart that doesn't feature someone connected to the show.  And if they're selling thousands of copies of their music, what's happening to independent bands and artists?

Well yes, they might be struggling more to gain recognition and radio play, what with so many of Simon Cowell's protegees taking up the airwaves and getting all the sales.  And that's undoubtedly a bad thing.  But their music isn't dead.  New bands are out there, playing little pubs and clubs, doing all they can to be "discovered," just as they always have been.  They're on the road, supporting more established bands and artists.  They're recording videos and putting them up on YouTube.  They're giving away free downloads on their websites; the digital age is, if anything, making it somewhat easier for new bands and artists to make themselves heard, in spite of the reality TV juggernaut.

And that's where we come in.  You see, if you're vehemently against reality music shows and you don't see the artists they produce as making real music, then you've got to support the artists that do.  You need to be at those pubs and clubs, supporting your local, unsigned bands.  You need to be buying albums and encouraging your friends to do the same.  You need to be supporting independent radio stations, who champion music that the mainstream so often miss.  

Reality TV caters to a certain genre of music.  You'd never discover a new Manic Street Preachers on The X Factor.  It's mainstream music for the masses and yes, I get frustrated at times, seeing how low risk it all is.  How generic.  But it's not the only music that's out there and believe me; it won't be the only music that the kids who consume anything that falls from the Simon Cowell production line will end up listening to and enjoying in their lifetimes, even if it feels like it is.  All shows like The X Factor and The Voice are doing is providing the kind of music that a vast majority of people want to listen to.  They're not challenging their audience or giving them anything new, but then their audiences aren't really asking them to.  And whilst critics of the shows may not agree with me, I think it's fair to say that - whether you like the music they sing or not - both TV programmes have discovered people with genuine singing talent, who may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Reality TV isn't responsible for the death of music.  Music is alive.  We just have to encourage people to look for it in more than one place.

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