Last night saw the culmination of the UK's The X Factor TV music show competition, in which 27 painter decorator Matt Cardle beat off competition from Liverpudlian Rebecca Ferguson and teen boyband One Direction to win a £1 million recording contract, with Simon Cowell's Syco record label.
What was fascinating was the choice of debut release, something which has become a source of great contention in recent years, given the X Factors' domination of the prestigious Christmas number one single chart spot. Last year Rage Against The Machine successfully beat of competition from X Factor winner Joe McElderry to take their 1993 hit 'Killing In The Name' to the Xmas number one slot. It was a protest vote from the country against X Factor, Syco and pop blandless hegemony, and sent an important message, which the makers appear, to have a lesser extent, to have heeded.
This year the three finalists had individual songs to be released in the event of winning. Rebecca Ferguson got Duffy's 'Different Dreamer', boys One Direction got Alphaville's 'Forever Young', and winner Cardle got Biffy Clyro's 'Many Of Horror'. It's the last which is most fascinating to me, especially as there's a strong chance it will be at number one for Christmas next week.
Firstly, the producers have renamed the song 'When We Collide', as opposed to 'Many Of Horror'. It's a shame to see the artistic integrity of the original song compromised by tampering with it in this way, but the original's title has a strange, archaic quality which sounds vaguely Shakespearean, rather than contemporary English. Also, 'Horror' isn't exactly Christmassy. Personally, I'm always on the side of the artist, though, so I'd go with the original every time. That's probably why I'm not in a mansion sipping champagne, though.
Secondly, the choice of a Biffy Clyro song is for me a response to accusations of a lack of credibility and cool which have chipped away at the show. Biffy Clyro are a respected indie rock band, who have paid their dues, and the song has been written out of that context, that reality. They have earned to right to sing it, and in appropriating such a song, the X Factor will inevitably appropriate some of the indie glamour that goes with it, even if Biffy lose some credibility by association. I'm sure they'll not too much sleep over it, particularly when the massive royalty cheques start rolling in (anecdotally, I remember a mate getting £40 for a single play on a radio station of his song via PRS. Imagine that x £100,000 for all the poxy little radio stations in the country playlisting the song over Xmas, and into the new year!). They may even gain a new fanbase from it.
Then there are the visceral, gutsy lyrics. 'Many Of Horror' is the take of a violent, turbulent love / hate relationship. From the first person perspective, the teller of the story knows that he belongs with his opposite number, but that they are doomed to mistreat and torment one another. It's incredibly dark, particularly a Christmas song, to have the lyrics "I'll take a bruise I know you're worth it / When you hit me, hit me hard". One wonders what would have happened if a woman such as Rebecca Ferguson were singing it - the implication of domestic violence against a polite, even timid woman would be distasteful.
I'm sure the anthemic quality of the song, power of the tune, and the credibility of Biffy were a great combination, which is what made the final decision for the producers though. The general public, and by extension, decision makers, often don't care about lyrics, which often leads to history being littered with examples of songs inappropriately being appropriated. Look at the way 'Born In The USA' was used by Republicans in the 80s, even though it's a critique of the Vietnam war and blind patriotism. Or the way David Cameron likes 'Eton Rifles' and The Smiths.
In the end, though, all this debate is a testimony to the fact that, When We Collide / Many Of Horror, or whatever it's called, is first and foremost, a great song.