The Sofabet readership are well aware of the importance of song choice, especially after the debate that has raged in the comments over whether Ella’s “wedding song in the style of a funeral” (in tpfkar’s summary) was intended to harm or misguidedly intended to help. However, programme makers don’t just pick compositions at will. There’s a legal team asking permission for use of tracks. This is one reason why certain songs get repeated from series to series.
The repetition of certain songs can be an indicator of producers’ intentions. We at Sofabet are firmly of the belief that programme makers prefer to run with tried and tested methods of pimping or deramping acts. This means songs that have worked well before are more likely to be used to help an act and vice versa.
Here we point out some classic examples before looking at what this year’s repeats tell us and delving into the coming weekend’s possibilities.
In 2008 a moody, guitar-led version of Billie Jean help to propel David Cook towards the American Idol trophy – showing that, in contrast to Ella’s ‘You’re The One That I Want’, in the right hands it can work well to take a iconic pop classic and slow it right down. Later that year, a similar arrangement was given to Austin Drage on X Factor UK to vastly more polarizing effect. Louis and Cheryl hated the number, while Simon optimistically hailed it as the performance of the night. It was only two weeks later that Austin hit the bottom two and left the competition to pursue a career in taking his top off at G.A.Y. bar.
In 2011, Amelia Lily tackled the barbiturate version Billie Jean from the opening death slot of a quadruple cull-a-thon (each mentor had to eliminate one of their own acts – and although there was no public vote, the usual tactics were employed against the least favoured). At the expense of Queen Misha (never forget!), Pixie McTwee and the internationally acclaimed Sophie Habibis, Amelia was sent packing.
So what do we read from this kind of song choice? We can debate whether it was meant to help or hurt Austin (as we can with Ella). But with a history of unhelpfulness established in the UK X Factor franchise, there seemed no doubt that the choice was being used to help bury Amelia Lily.
In the same series, Misha B received two helpful ‘by association’ numbers. Firstly, and immediately preceding bullygate, was Purple Rain – the belter that propelled Ruth Lorenzo on her first of two double week bounces and also played a part in steering Danyl Johnson well clear of the bottom after his first and only singoff appearance. It’s an anthem of salvation – one that might have done well to rescue Ella Henderson should the producers have wanted to recover her fully.
Two weeks later, Misha B performed Proud Mary, which famously saw Rachel Adedeji propelled from bottom two to one of the most impressive vote tops in the first half of a series. Proud Mary was a song that saw both Rachel and Misha praised for their regeneration and warmth. It saw Misha B live to die another day.
The 2012 series has thus far seen a fair few repeat numbers. Week 1 looked superficially positive for the overs with Kye performing the popular Man In The Mirror, as previously interpreted by Diana Vickers. Melanie busted out a series 6 stonker in the form of Danyl Johnson’s With A Little Help From My Friends. But ultimately neither prospered. Ella, on the other hand, had no such early problems coming off a rendition of Rule The World that trumped Stacy Solomon’s version.
Week 2’s most obvious songbook standard came in the form of Union J performing Bleeding Love, the holy grail of X Factor alumnus number ones, also covered with simpering tedium by series 7 winner Matt Cardle. At this, pre-damaged goods stage of the contest, it seemed a benediction upon the favoured boyband. Also singing was Lucy Spraggan, who performed a remix of Kanye West’s Gold Digger – Aiden Grimshaw’s ‘artistry’-laden audition number.
In week 3, Jade was lumbered with Free, a number previously butchered with a cabaret-cleaver by cruiseship warbler Sami Brookes. Whether or not it was an intentional burn, sending a middle-ground act out with such a track cannot create a positive association. Jade left the following week.
Tulisa’s Little Star, however, sang You Got The Love, as previously performed by Tulisa’s Little Muffins in last year’s live final. It was, in my humble opinion, Ella’s standout performance of the series. It wasn’t too wet, warbly or piteous and altogether constituted a proper, strong, pop moment without sacrificing her vocals. The association can hardly have hindered Ella.
In week 4, Kye opened the show with Let Me Entertain You, as did Rachel Adedeji in series 6. Love him or hate him, Robbie Williams is a very individual and charismatic performer and Let Me Entertain You is a hard song to cover in its original style. My feeling is that the selection was motivated by deliberate sabotage.
In the same week, James Arthur performed Sweet Dreams.There has been debate over the mixed messages in the production he was given, but historically, it wasn’t a bad song choice. It was done by HRH Kittke Brucknell to help her bounce in week 4 of 2011 (with a stage show that included Kitty’s incredible spinning wheel of death), and it made Rebecca Ferguson look as dynamic on stage as she ever had when singing it in the 2010 final.
Similarly, week 5 saw James singing Don’t Speak but the association clearly had more to do with guest stars No Doubt than with Katie ‘Sod It’ Waissel. Ella on the other hand, got to interpret Winner Cardle’s Firework which can’t have damaged the implication that she was perhaps on the road to victory. Funky Davros Jahmene perfomed Listen, echoing one of X Factor’s greatest moments in Alexanda Burke’s winning duet with Beyonce. Project Pimp Jahmene continued in full force.
In week 6, Union J performed a more than slightly dull arrangement of Coldplay’s Fix You, as covered in the previous year by Janet Devlin. Upon hitting the sing-off the boys performed Set Fire To The Rain a la Craig Colton. Whether any particular feeling from producers motivated these associations is dubious but if anything they reflect ambivalence. Both numbers were praised during series 8 but neither saw an act to the final.
There weren’t any repeats last week but this week we get Motown and Abba. A word of warning for Motown song choices. In the two previous shows which have featured a Motown theme, the eliminated act has sung Dancing in the Street (Misha B in the 2011 semi and The Unconventionals in the opening week of 2006). As a song choice, it’s a kiss of death.
What might producers look to as a good Motown choice? Well, they were obviously helping Little Mix as much as possible last year and chose Keep Me Hangin’ On, though it’s not as suitable for the all-male cast left this year. Leona Lewis sang I’ll Be There from the pimp slot in that 2006 Motown week, and it’s one of a number of songs that would suit Jahmene.
As for Abba, we’ve only ever had one such themed week in X Factor history, also back in 2006. Tim B has already suggested Winner Takes It All for Christopher Maloney, and producers may agree. If they decide to switch tack and make it seem like Maloney is on his way to win the competition, there’s no better title. They may also remember that the same song saw Ashley McKenzie eliminated six years ago.
Beyond this, the song references nervousness (seeing me so tense / no self-confidence) and loneliness, which may also please programme makers out to get him. Though if producers wanted to go the whole hog in making the Liverpudlian appear needy for votes, they could always give him One of Us (one of us is lonely / one of us is only / waiting for a call).
With the competition entering its final stages, it’s worth bearing in mind the track record of the tracks selected. They are often a further indicator of producers’ intentions. As ever, do let us know your thoughts on this subject below.