August 23, 2010 – 3:17 pm
Never thought I’d blog about X Factor. I don’t own a telly, and so I don’t watch it, and the very idea of the show is utterly repugnant. Seriously – I despise everything the X Factor stands for. But last night, record numbers of people did watch the show – and lots of them are complaining that autotune was applied to the vocals.
Some people see it as cheating. Comments like “but it’s a singing contest!” abound – both in mainstream media and on the internet. In fact, it’s probably the most talked about thing of the day. People are genuinely outraged.
And while it’s incredibly significant that X Factor has been autotuned… it’s sure as hell not important – and here’s why.
1) Singing is not just an ability to hit a note perfectly. Use autotune or don’t use autotune. I don’t care. If it’s a singing contest with autotune, then maybe the performances themselves will matter, rather than pitch-perfection, and the contestants really getting inside the lyrics and meaning them will start to count for something. I doubt it, but it’s possible.
But then, I’m a fan of Tom Waits, Barry Andrews, Marianne Faithful, Lloyd Cole, Rickie Lee Jones, Joe Strummer, Bob Dylan, Kim Gordon, Thom Yorke, Betty Carter, Lou Reed, Kim Deal, Robert Smith… In fact, now I think of it, most of my favourite vocalists have a fairly liberal approach to actually hitting the note perfectly every time.
2) X Factor is not a singing competition any more than Big Brother is a television programme about ‘reality’.
3) The only reason the autotune was used was so that there would be outrage. Make no mistake. No professional television audio engineer would be that hamfisted with autotune unless they wanted you to notice it.
Their voices weren’t manipulated – ours were
This last point is the important one here. Autotune is not being used in X Factor to enhance the music or improve the singing. It’s being used as a metanarrative device.
Its sole purpose is to get us talking about it on Twitter, on Facebook, on the radio, television and the press.
The whole point here was to have a media furore, and bring the X Factor to the top of the media agenda. If you failed to spot that, then you fail Media Literacy 101. It was clever. It was manipulative. And it worked brilliantly.
Even I’m talking about it – if only to say ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’.
Now let’s not mention it again. It only encourages them.