One of the difficulties of betting on the X Factor is deciding if the market is over-reacting to a performance that causes a hitherto less-heralded act to plummet in price, or if punters are latching onto a genuine shift in the underlying landscape.
After week 1, for example, we wrote a series of articles explaining why we thought it was market over-reaction in the case of each of the three acts who crashed from double-figure to low single-figure odds (The Risk, Craig Colton and Misha B). After week 3, we did the same thing for Johnny Robinson as his ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ caused his win odds to plummet.
And after last week’s show, it was the turn of Little Mix – the band formerly known as Rhythmix – to catch fire in the win market, as their odds shortened from 40-1 to 12-1. The girls have certainly had debate raging in the Sofabet comment section. Pete D likened them to an advancing “steamroller”, Simon sees them as the “dark horse”, and fiveleaves reckons they can go all the way: “A group are plan A… not another boyband in an already flooded market, but a girlband.” Rob reckons “not saying they will win, but a top three finish will serve very nicely for both them and the producers”.
Our view is closer to that of KingKong’sDong: “There is no way a girl band will win. Absolutely no chance of LM doing better than JLS or 1-D”. Here’s why we find it hard to imagine Little Mix quite getting to the final, let alone winning it.
Just as we argued last week in relation to Johnny, the idea that Little Mix are genuine contenders revolves too much around the evidence of one week in which the big hitters underperformed. Little Mix’s rendition of ‘ET’ was one of the better performances on a night when market leaders Janet Devlin and The Risk did terribly.
Significantly, the renamed girlband also got a very helpful running order slot (9/10) and what fiveleaves rightly called “one of the best ‘vote getting’ vt I’ve ever seen on this show”, focusing on Jesy’s insecurity over her weight. As Pete D mentioned, this has had an incredibly positive online reaction.
The question is, does this help from producers indicate that Little Mix have usurped The Risk as the favoured group to win the show? Or does it merely indicate that producers were keen to keep them around for another week, and thought the girls needed all the help they could get to clear the bottom two?
Our instinct is the latter. The Risk had had three great positions in the running order before last week’s death slot, and the simple explanation for sending them out first in week 4 seems to be that this was the best way for the show to bury the ridiculous fact that they had been forced into replacing one of their members with the lead singer of the previously rejected Nu Vibe.
The Risk will quite probably prove to be a better band now that Ashford has replaced Ashley, so there is reason to think the show will resume its favourable stance towards them. We must also consider that their ability to survive the week 4 death slot without falling into the bottom two suggests a reasonable level of support – something which is backed up by the YouGov poll conducted for The Sun last week (see page 3 of the linked pdf), which showed The Risk doing really rather well.
That poll, conducted in the run-up to last week’s show though published after, also suggested Little Mix were doing rather badly. If this had been reflected in the first two public votes, then producers may well have felt a need to boost Little Mix with the penultimate slot and great VT to try to keep them clear of the bottom two.
And why might producers have been especially keen to avoid a week 4 exit for Little Mix? Our theory is that they will not have wanted the exit interviews to focus too much on the name change, because the saga of legal wrangling with a charity over the original Rhythmix name casts the show in such an unflattering light.
Now that Little Mix have survived at least a week under their revised moniker, this should be less of a concern. Producers may thus become more relaxed about the prospect of them dropping into the dangerzone – something which seemed to be the case in week 3, as suggested by the relatively poor slot in the running order (4/11), and judges’ comments which ignored the performance to indulge in a pantomime spat over the definition of rock.
Having said that, I do think producers will be keen to keep the girls around for as long as the public are willing to play ball. Apart from not seeming to care much for them in week 3, programme makers have generally done their best for Little Mix, astutely positioning them as normal girls who other girls can relate to and who, in Tulisa’s phrase, won’t “steal your boyfriend”. They’re not so much a girlband as the girlnextdoorband.
This has helped them to achieve already the best early results in recent girlband history on the show. 2010’s Belle Amie had been in the singoff in week 2 before going in week 4, 2009’s Kandy Rain were gone in week 1 and Miss Frank in week 3, while 2008’s Bad Lashes and Girlband were eliminated in the first two weeks.
Arguably the only time programme-makers have seriously got behind a girlband before is 2007’s Hope. And they had already been saved from the bottom two by this stage in the competition, going on to survive another singoff in week 5 before exiting in week 6.
Producers seem to have learned a couple of lessons from Hope. They haven’t allowed Little Mix to become unbalanced by having one obviously better singer (Hope infamously became known as “Phoebe and the Woo-Woo Girls”). And they haven’t made them seem threateningly sexual (Hope’s vampish Raquel came across very much as though she might be the boyfriend-stealing type).
The trouble is, while their portrayal as normal girls may have been what’s helped Little Mix to the halfway stage, isn’t it going to be a problem when it comes to winning the show? If they’re going to become contenders, then sooner or later they will need some serious judge pimping of their talents. And as soon as that happens, it undermines their USP of being unremarkable. The more they start to look like potential winners rather than against-the-odds survivors, the easier it will be to imagine them stealing your boyfriend.
Perhaps (in answer to Boki’s question on the subject) this is how we should interpret the fact that Gary chose to turn to Louis during his comments on Little Mix and remark “I can’t call the top three this year”, rather than simply stating “you girls could make the final”, which would be a more obvious and traditional way of motivating support.
Another possible explanation for this curiously roundabout way of communicating the idea that “your vote for Little Mix is not a wasted vote” could be that the show were worried about Little Mix landing in the bottom two despite their best efforts, and they wanted to save Gary’s blushes if that happened.
There is also the question of whether Little Mix have it in them to deliver the kind of performance that would justify the judges raving about their specialness rather than their normality. ‘ET’ was decent but fell a long way short of feeling like the kind of game-changing magic moment that would win over the larger section of the public beyond their core demographic. Before then, their best number was ‘I’m Like A Bird’ in week 2, which was heavily reliant on the backing track.
One Direction’s inability to create such a game-changing magic moment was one of the main reasons for their failure, as we stated in one of our review of 2010 articles. And this was a band that felt much more meticulously planned than Little Mix – as tpfkar rightly observes of this year’s bootcamp reject manufacturing process: “We saw them standing in a room putting lots of contestants into groups, it looked almost random”. One even wonders whether Little Mix might have been tossed together simply because they are all the same height.
Along with The Wanted and JLS, One Direction’s current chart success justifies Dug‘s comment that: “The current girlband market is not half as saturated as its male counterpart… The Saturdays haven’t neared the chart successes of the Sugababes and Girls Aloud.” But don’t forget there’s a reason for that – boybands generally sell more records. Girls Aloud and the Spice Girls show what’s possible, but can we really mention Little Mix in the same breath?
Ultimately, perhaps the new name tells us all we need to know. As Euan says: “If you have big plans for anything in a “contest” you don’t give it a name with LITTLE in it. Concious or not it’s not really a name to inspire confidence.” Hitting buttons marked with words like “ordinary”, “normal” and “little” has avoided the cannon fodder fate that traditionally befalls X Factor girl bands, but equally it makes us think their journey will not get them to the final.
Agree? Disagree? As always, please let us know in the comments box below.