On Saturday night two diametrically opposed musical worlds collided in the Mancunian sky, yet only one created fireworks: at 9.16pm, Canadian 7-piece band Arcade Fire strode confidently onstage at Manchester Central, whilst millions upon millions of members of the (formerly great) British public sat in their living rooms across the country watched Malvern’s finest pikey, Cher Lloyd, get eliminated from the X-Factor final. As one got Ready to Start, the other got ready to return to her spotty, skinny, tracksuit-clad estate, fearing a return to performing degrading sex acts on older boys in bus stops. Perhaps.
Now, before anyone gets the wrong idea, this is not a review of the gig, or the 4-hour, two day, drag-on-a-thon of the televised finale. One or other (or maybe both) may well make your day or turn you right off, but they could not be further apart in their ideals or manifestos. The X-Factor is entertainment with music at its core, apparently, yet it is so invasive of most channels of media, and therefore our popular culture, that it eliminates one of music’s greatest attributes: escapism. The yawning contradiction of the entire show is that the viewing public cling on to reality television to escape from their everyday reality lives, yet the franchise is now so enormous that it pervades every pore of reality and punctures the daydream balloon with an x-shaped tattoo needle. When the British government had to bail out our Irish friends – not including that potato-bothering child-worrier Louis Walsh – the following day no fewer than four of the largest UK tabloid newspapers had X-Factor related stories as the main headline. Is it really that important? Will a generation have to think about emigrating or finding work in another country, or lose their jobs or homes because Katie ‘Hatey’ Weasel has just been voted out and shagged the dance crew all week, whilst tweeting about how misunderstood she is?
There were breakdowns of a much more emotional and enjoyable nature occurring in Manchester. The band were so professional yet cool, that many believers were losing their inhibitions and rendering themselves utterly uncool in hand-clapping, noise-making, ooh-ing and aah-ing, as thousands of arrhythmic thirty-somethings conducted the Montreal band from the floor. Unconscious of the exhibition that one was making of oneself, nursing my solitary pint from my solitary vantage point, I became aware that I was being avoided by younger and more, er, inebriated members of the improvised choir. After a few minutes of trying to work out why – other than the obvious tool I was making of myself in the name of ‘dancing’ – the manifestation of my generational ageing became apparent: a pair of jeans, a Specials t-shirt, short hair and carrying my jacket, I realized I must have looked like plain-clothes policemen looked like to me when I was younger – they were always on their own, near the middle, dancing out of time, stood out a mile, were well worth avoiding, and represented everything I hated. Perhaps I should complete the circle and audition for next years X-Factor.