Monday, 10 December 2012

Don't (always) make it your own

TV singing shows like the X-Factor are infamous for their repeated use of nauseous clichéd phrases like 'It has been a rollercoaster' or 'You have been on such a journey.' (Pause to cringe.) But one such phrase that hasn't had the attention it deserves is 'You have made that song your own.'

This is a feature of the age of recording stars. In the olden days, if a song was ascribed to anyone (and many weren't) it was the composer. Now, though, it's the performer. When competitors are asked what they are going to perform they don't say 'New York,' (say) they say 'New York by Alicia Keys,' not meaning she wrote it, but that she recorded it. So making a song your own is essentially about singing a song someone else has recorded, but putting your own mark on it so it doesn't sound like their recording, something this year's X-Factor finalists were particularly strong on.

That's all very well in the context of the show. If you do, say, a Michael Jackson song and do it purely in the style of Michael Jackson, you are an impersonator, not a performer in your own right. But the trouble is when you apply the same logic to music that doesn't have the taint of pre-ownership. And this is where things went horribly wrong when the X-Factor finalists sang Silent Night when the Downing Street Christmas tree was switched on. If you haven't seen it, and have a strong stomach, you can hear it at around the 42 second mark in the video below.



Oh dear. Each of the three tried very hard to make 'Silent Night' their own. And thoroughly ruined it. This is because with most decent music, what is important is the music, not how clever you can be in your rendition of it. If, for instance, you listen to different recordings of Beethoven piano sonatas or Byrd motets you will hear subtle differences of interpretation. But it is the music itself that shines through. The performer is secondary to the music. And these sad little people thought it ought to be the other way round.

I'm not saying Silent Night is a great piece of music. It is a simple tune written to be sung simply. But by attempting to make it their own, those three murdered it. Excruciating is probably the best word. Surely someone in the X-Factor production team could realise this. You can almost see David Cameron's blood curdle - just look at his expression in the starting still on the YouTube video above. Whether or not you support his politics, it's not fair that our Prime Minister had to suffer this. X-Factor - you should be ashamed of yourself. Learn a bit more about music, and a little less about showing off, please.

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