“Neither can live while the other survives.” As it was with Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, so it is with X Factor’s seesawing Two Directional boy toys. Like conjoined entities with only enough producer blood to pump through one set of veins, the two acts have wilted and neither is as yet a frontrunner in the competition.
It all started back in the auditions with the confusingly named GMD3 and the unimaginatively named Triple J. The former were the act to receive the most favourable attention whilst the latter seemed brushed over and painted as the main trio’s perfunctory competition. Despite a more solid vocal, Triple J were sent packing at bootcamp after a death-warble duel with GMD3, who sailed through to judges’ houses.
Then came the allegedly visa-related departure of urban boyband Rough Copy, leaving a spot in the groups category for the newly formed ‘Union J’ consisting of three members of Triple J plus solo male rejectee George Shelley. The comments were immediately gushing, the boys were like ‘a new band’ – the addition of George was ‘a stroke of genius.’
At this point it began to seem obvious that producers were creating a sort of second chance / underdog narrative for the previously anonymous Triple J. In stark contrast, the previously well-covered Marty McFly and the Biebers looked a little cheesy, Americanised, desperate even. GMD3 were out and Union J were in. They even had a guitar.
Then came the live shows. Week 1 wasn’t hard to call. Union J’s rendition of ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ was hardly stellar but compared to a poorly produced ‘The Best’ in a cage of light, in the death slot, with school-play American accents and zero regard for timing, it looked just fine.
Week 2 was little different, with Union J singing a contemporary mash-up on a very British theme and District 3 getting lumped with another American ‘vocal harmony’ standard. The assassination appeared complete when the latter boyband found themselves in the bottom two. But this was the point at which producers diverged from the obvious and saved the boys against Melanie Masson. Perhaps they saw District 3 as easier to assassinate at a later stage. Perhaps they saw more mileage in the ‘battle of the boybands’ narrative or perhaps they genuinely weren’t ready to jettison the group in the first place. Either way, District 3 lived to bounce another day.
And bounce they did in week 3, with an excitable, e-number-infused rendition of Madcon’s ‘Beggin’ in which the boys overshadowed Union J’s less memorable ‘When Love Takes Over.’ It was still easy to see the latter group as favoured – all you had to do was assume that producers were expecting an inevitable bounce and were happy to ride it out until week 4.
But if that was indeed the plan then it backfired when week 4 saw Union J hit the sing-off after a mediocre interpretation of Beyonce’s ‘Sweet Dreams.’ It wasn’t as if rivals District 3 put on a great show – the Sting/NeYo mash up was creepy and uncomfortable in a way that went beyond the week’s Halloween theme – but somehow they avoided the double-dip that befalls the majority of sympathy bouncers.
I can think of two obvious reasons for this. Firstly, after last year’s ‘Little Fix’ debate and Union J’s more strikingly obvious resemblance to One Direction, voters feel the four-piece are too obviously favoured by producers and have become entitled, thus rendering District 3 the underdogs. Secondly, District 3 carry the kind of bubbly, Bieberesque ‘Call Me Maybe’ Americanised innocence that appeals to young voters. Union J have been too much like a moody, M&S branded One Direction tribute to capture the imagination of the twinks and tweenies picking up the phone.
Either way, we seemed back on course last Saturday when the guns were out in full force for Dissedrict 3. ‘Dynamite’ was lacking in melody – the group’s main selling point – and judges’ comments were faintly damning.
On the flipside, Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Story’ as performed by Union J reeked of Cowellian brilliance in its staging and execution. The use of guitar, key change, the visual image of the boys ‘coming together’ on stage and the crowd going wild over Jaymi’s vocal all felt like a much more earnest push by producers than District 3’s bounce performance.
Alas, District 3 are beginning to show a Devlinesque resistance to assassination and failed to hit the drop zone. Even in a week that was supposed to be all about a Union J comeback, their rivals had a strong enough fan base picking up the phone to save them.
So here we are, heading into week 6 with both groups looking a little like damaged goods. As Sofabet has pointed before, no act has ever won the competition after an appearance in the sing-off but then again no group had ever won the competition before last year. Last year’s competition also proved that a slow start leading into a late sprint was an effective tactic, something producers might have had in mind before thrusting Ella Henderson up our nostrils with such blatant force.
We don’t currently see a winner in either group, but with One Direction having opened up the international market for British boybands, we can definitely see producers eyeing a post-show career for one of the two acts. Is that enticing enough for producers to want them in the final above one of the ‘big 3’ of Ella, James and Jahmene?
We at Sofabet don’t particularly buy the argument that producers wouldn’t want another successful boyband coming out of the show. There was space for Boyzone and Take That, Oasis and Blur, McFly and Busted. The market can therefore find space for Directions One and Two.
The question then is which? After their performance of ‘Love Story’ and news stories like these (this one courtesy of commenter Neeve), as well as their ever dominant lead on social sites like Twitter, we still think that Union J look like the alpha group, although producers must surely hope that their support is transferrable to District 3 should the latter’s fan base prove to be the more persistent. With Union J on their way down from a bounce this weekend, it really is crunch time.
Both groups have now hit the sing-off. Front runners Ella, Jahmene and James as well as oddball people’s champ Shakey Maloney have avoided it so far and Rylan has hit the zone twice but may be praying for a second bounce (the power of which is typically diminished from the first).
Logic suggests that one of the two groups is due to sing for survival this weekend and it seems safe to assume that said group would be sent home against any contestant other than Maloney or, in the case of Union J perhaps, Rylan. The real evener of scores would be the result of a District 3/Union J sing-off.
Which of the groups do you think has the staying power to reach the latter stages? Whose sympathy do you expect will run out first? Do you even think producers see space for another One Direction-style boyband once the series is over? As ever, our comments section awaits.