This is an extract from one of my books, Notes From The Margins – a series of essays on culture, politics, class, cycling vigilantes, Putin’s monarchy and why an Islamic Caliphate is an idea whose time has come.
This essay looks at how Cowell presides, like an old fashioned 1960s impressario, over the fragile dreams of poor working class singers and entertainers. In an era where nobody goes out to watch live music – unless it’s a legal high festival in a swamp – Cowell has an ever tighter grip on the bottom rung of the social mobility ladder for the penniless, yet ambitious, within Britain. And beyond for that matter.
Here’s the extract, (first published in 2014) if you like it and want to sample more, then Notes From The Margin is on Amazon.
The Poor Are Often the First Casualties of War
For the privately educated sons and daughters of the rich, a career in music can be funded by mummy and daddy until the royalties from the first hit album and US tour merchandising revenue comes rolling in. The likes of Coldplay, Mumford & Sons, Florence Welch or Ed Sheeran never had to consider throwing themselves into the lions’ den that is BGT, or X Factor, but for someone born poor, there really isn’t any other choice. This desperation, this hunger for a route out of call centre work, burger flipping jobs and the like, is what Cowell’s henchmen love to show in the back story segments of the shows. Cramped bedrooms back home, shabby DFS furniture, catching the number 11 bus to work…this is the life you can leave behind if you win the Live Final, this is the Big Time.
But for every poor, working class person who makes it big from their stint in a Satan Cowell show, there are inevitable casualties. Winners can be losers too, like smoothie chops Steve Brookstein, ruthlessly dropped and crushed by the Cowell PR machine within a year of his X Factor win. Sam Bailey made the mistake of getting pregnant after her victory and unlike the real workplace – where such discrimination would be grounds for unfair dismissal – she was dropped from Syco records.
Winner Matt Cardle beat One Direction to win X Factor, but One D won the long distance race to riches and international fame. Cardle meanwhile, ended up in rehab, unable to cope with the elusive nature of fame and being part of Cowell’s music machine. The vulnerable Susan Boyle seems destined to live as a virtual recluse, caught in fractious arguments with her family over money after her global success. If ever a woman was NOT cut out for live touring in front of judgemental audiences, SuBo was that person – but still, she was thrown to the wolves after her second place result on BGT.
You see there is no re-negotiation once you’ve signed your soul away to the Devil. He owns you and if Satan Cowell is upset with you in any way, he finishes your career, just as easily as he made it in the first place. Like a Bond villain from the 70s, he lounges on his super yacht, surrounded by a bizarre harem of ex-girlfriends, lackeys and PR spinners, running an empire built on fear. Nobody dares check if the phone votes are actually being counted, or whether the whole thing is a con trick like Hughie Green’s Clap-o-meter back in the 60s. Newspapers, magazines and internet bloggers are all too hungry for spoon-fed X Factor/BGT stories to risk biting the hand that feeds them.
The price we all pay for handing over mainstream music TV to someone like Cowell, and his imitators, is immense. No Bob Dylan, Michael Hutchence or Bryan Ferry will emerge from the X Factor, no Amy Winehouse will storm American Idol and there won’t be a new Morecambe and Wise making a debut on BGT. We live in an age where complete imbeciles compare One Direction to The Beatles; talent cannot even be spotted anymore – not by the audience, not by the judges, who are little more than glorified sidekick stooges to the circus ringmaster.
Here’s a news update for Don McLean – the day that Satan Cowell appeared on Pop Idol was the day the music died.