Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

The X-factor flaw: the new demographics of pop

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As the X-factor’s dominance of the TV (and therefore our lives) continues unabated, plenty is being written about the contestants, and the cult-like figure of Simon Cowell.

The Observer portrayed him as a bond villain on their magazine cover, but the really interesting picture was the Sgt Pepper style montage inside. Here is a section of it.

From the Observer

How many people do you actually recognise? This, in a nutshell, is the X-factor’s problem and why it will face a key dilemma very soon.

The X-factor has an in-built problem of supply and demand. Not the show itself – it is pure entertainment, coupled with bitchy drama. The demand from viewers for the show is clearly there. It is what the show is supposed to produce, which is a bona-fide popstar for us all to know and recognise.

X-factor is asking us to care about a new person each year. Steve Brookstein, Shayne Ward, Leon Jackson, Joe McElderry: all winners of the UK X-factor, all going nowhere. Leona Lewis is doing well. The jury is still out on Alexandra Burke. And then there’s all the rest.

We don’t have the capacity. We don’t buy the CDs or download enough. We don’t have the emotional room to care about every winner. And it’s not just the winners – JLS and Olly Murs are both now welcomed back to the show as “stars”. They came second. We are also supposed to care about winners of Britain’s got Talent – which produces singers too. Even people booted out before the final are reeled out as stars. Stacey Solomon is now in the jungle, being a “celebrity”.

Pop stars don’t disappear as fast as they used to. In the past they died young, or faded away. Now everyone looks at the Rolling Stones and thinks – why not us? U2 released their first albums in the 1970s – that’s over 30 years ago now. Plus there’s all the comeback tours – the Police, Madness, Take That. It never ends.

We used to need new popstars. There was a replacement rate, much as in a normal population. But like in many developed economies, life-expectancy has increased. A pop career is longer, a pop star is healthier. They will die, artistically and creatively, a lot later. The demographics are no longer stacked in favour of the young – older people are staying with their music, young people have less spending power.

If the programme makers don’t acknowledge the problem, people will get fed up with being told “X is a star” when they clearly aren’t. They have two options: admit that the “prize” is less of a guarantee of stardom, and effectively have a devaluation of the currency, or reduce the supply, and only have a show every two years.

The two-year option isn’t going to fly, as the show makes too much money. But devaluation of the prize undermines the process.

It was once said that pop will eat itself. In this case, it’s more the supply will outstrip demand, and the bubble will burst.

1 Comment

  1. Rob, I like your insight. I have a question if I can make it clear enough to be understandable. I have been following the first series of the X-factor in the U.S. I am an older male entertainer with few credentials but the idea someone over 30 could possibly be on a popular show enthused me. The success of American Idol I understand because in many ways it appeals to me as a viewer but the age range is limited. —— My first impression of this new show was this has intentionally been pumped up to have the appeal of a circus with people dropping their pants, dying their hair in rainbow colors, screetching terrible solos and duets, contestants moaning and crying about being homeless and everyone despirate to be a super star. As the show progressed, I saw the the spectacular fan fare of stage effects overwhelmed the performances and presence of the performers and some of the background music was piped; not live. This week it appeared to me that it is the black vote that is going to be dominant in this show. We understand that because our black population is the most homogenius segement we have. And they spend more of their earned dollar on entertainment than any other group. But American Idol appeared to me to be driven by young female votes of girls from say 8 to 16 years old. Am I on track here. Is there anyway I can get some serious demographic documented statistics of who is voting and for whom on this X-factor show? Cheers.

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