360: “What immediately struck me about Saara’s extremely Asian-themed getup this week was that if this is construed as racist given that Saara is a white woman, it will take the heat off Honey G’s act being called out as blackface and offensive.”
In a world of safe spaces, trigger warnings and microaggressions, perhaps the most controversial recent addition to the lexicon has been “cultural appropriation”: wearing a sombrero is evidently up there with the N-word in the eyes of some. We’re fascinated by the idea that producers could try to drum up support for Honey G by tapping a backlash against political correctness, an aspect of the zeitgeist which arguably helps to explain both Brexit and the initially long-odds novelty candidate in the US election surprisingly making it to the final.
To recap: Honey G has been accused by being offensive to black people, by the likes of Professor Green, Lily Allen and Guardian columnist Lola Okolosie. She’s been defended by the likes of Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, who said: “Come and speak to real victims of racism who have seen their kids shot up. These people complaining ain’t got a clue. A middle-aged white woman rapping along to Dre and Tupac ain’t even close to being racist.”
Showing Honey G getting support from racially mixed schoolkids was producers’ clear, if implicit, response to the criticism in her VT this week. We also loved 360’s theory above that the unfathomably Japanese-themed staging for Saara was a deliberate attempt on the show’s part to widen the “cultural appropriation” conversation from Honey G. If so, that’s some trolling, and it’s certainly been picked up in the press.
Let’s recall that the live shows started with Saara being called “Zara” from “abroad” by her Brexit-supporting mentor, which left a sour taste. This week Saara’s VT credited tolerant British X Factor viewers for teaching Finns that it’s okay to be different. Sometimes you just have to admire the show’s chutzpah.
We at Sofabet have checked our privilege and we’ll leave it to Lily Allen and 50 Cent to pass judgement on the offensiveness or otherwise of Honey G’s schtick. The question for betting purposes is what Middle England will make of it. Imagine a VT of lovely, cosmopolitan Saara – who speaks a bit of Japanese, by the way – being confused to be accused of racism on Twitter for wearing a silly wig. Now imagine a VT featuring Lily Allen-esque “offensive” headlines, Honey G wiping a tear from her sunglasses or even – would they go there? – Anna from her eye, and then a Skype with a supportive 50 Cent.
We imagine ITV viewers would sympathise with Honey G, much as GOP primary voters were attracted to Donny T. And while we still very much doubt that producers would want Honey G to win the competition, we reckon they’d love to get her to the final without needing a sing-off save if possible. Just imagine the media speculation about whether voters would finally come to their senses.
No “Insecure Jesy”
Martin: “It was like the Insecure Jesy VT but if it were being spoofed by Ricky Gervais. I half expected one of them to wink at the camera.”
Anyone unfamiliar with the Insecure Jesy VT should watch it. It’s a masterclass, and it’s what set Little Mix on their way in 2011. We see Jesy in tears about people online saying mean things about her weight, and saying she knows she’s not as slim as the other girls – and Jade reassuring her that she’s pretty, and giving her a hug.
There were indeed superficial similarities in 4oD’s VT this week: they read mean things about themselves online, and there was a tear (though fewer than with Jesy) and a reference to insecurity. But there were a few differences. First of all, we’d just seen Ryan also reading mean things about himself in his VT, so the emotional impact was somewhat lessened.
Then there was the intrinsically comical nature of the second comment they read out: “You guys are terrible, you sound like a bunch of cats being strangled”. As Martin said above, it was as if scripted by Ricky Gervais with the intention of evoking a guilty laugh. It just goes to show that, while you’re competing on this show, perhaps ignorance is bliss.
It’s also significant that the criticism was of their singing and performing ability, not their weight or looks. Harsh as the phrasing was, it’s also fair game in a way that the Jesy criticism wasn’t – if you go on one of these shows, you’re kind of accepting that the public are going to sit in judgement of your vocals and entertainment value.
And it meant fewer girls will have shared this experience. Very many potential Little Mix voters will have empathised with Jesy’s self-doubt about her weight and attractiveness. Not many potential 4oD voters will have had their own singing ability harshly critiqued.
The criticism was also levelled at all four of them – that meant there was no opportunity for rebuttal, as with Jade and Jesy. Instead we saw them say “it makes you question everything”, as if implicitly accepting that maybe the critics have a point.
The Art of Non-Motivational Praise
Woofie: “I am not sure about 4OD I think they have had a reprieve but it didn’t feel as though it would be generating a significant voter interest outside their current base”
It’s an article of faith on this site that criticism that seems unfair motivates sympathy and therefore votes, whereas criticism that seems fair doesn’t. It’s trickier to interpret praise from the judges, but we think you can often distinguish vote-motivating praise from non-vote-motivating praise. 4oD this week are a good case study. Let’s look at what the judges said.
“Louis, I want to say congratulations, because I love the song. 4 of Diamonds, you really truly shined like diamonds this week. I feel like this week is a turning point because finally I get to know and feel who 4 of Diamonds is as a group. It’s natural, it’s classy, individually it sounded great, you got to showcase your voices as individuals and hamonies, and it was beautiful, really fresh.”
“I agree, it’s one of my favourite songs, I always think of the movie Bridesmaids, which makes me smile. You made me smile, it was really beautifully sung. I can see you blending as a group, I can feel the connection between each one of you and it’s getting more and more easy for you each week, and I like that.”
“Louis, it was a brilliant song choice. I think this is probably the best performance we’ve seen on the live shows. If you get through, going forwards, girl bands have got to have confidence, and it has to come from you. I know it’s tough being in the bottom, but if you portray confidence, people believe in you. So let’s forget about what’s happened in the past, you’ve got to make people believe in you. But like I said, perfect song choice, you’ve got a shot with that.”
“Everything worked tonight and you actually looked like an amazing new girl band, and we need a new girl band. I’m really proud, I love working with you, and they’re genuinely great friends, Dermot, that’s what makes them different from all the other bands out there.”
Note that all three other judges initially directed praise at Louis for the song choice, and Simon concluded with it, which had the effect of diluting the praise for the group themselves. Contrast Simon’s later comments to 5AM: “everything felt like it came from you tonight”.
There was also plenty of praise for the group themselves, of course. But here are some of the things we generally consider vote-motivating that were absent for 4oD:
- A standing ovation. That first look at the judges after a performance is always revealing. Are they standing? Are they applauding enthusiastically, or dutifully, or not at all? Are they looking delighted or bored? Here all four were applauding, but firmly seated.
- Explicit vote shoutout. Nobody said anything like “I want people to vote for you”, or “I really hope the public get behind you this week, you deserve it”.
- Longevity shoutout. Nobody said anything like “the show wouldn’t be the same without you”, or “I can see you in the final”, or “you’ve become the dark horse of this competition”.
- Comparison to other acts. Simon said “the best performance of the live shows”, but viewers will surely have understood from the context that he meant “your best performance”. Praise feels less meaningful when the comparison is to the act’s previous performances, rather than to their competition.
- Real-world praise. Similarly, there was no “recording artist”, “number one hit record”, “gap in the market”, and so on. The only thing resembling that was Louis’s “you actually looked like an amazing new girl band, and we need a new girl band”, which was somewhat undercut by (a) it’s Louis, (b) the note of surprise, and (c) we obviously don’t need a new girl band.
But this is a subtle area with lots of room for interpretation and disagreement. What makes your ears prick up in judges’ praise? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Stu: “I didn’t view 5AM’s struggle to find a suitable song negatively. It made them look more determined and hard-working than anything”
On our first watch of 5AM’s VT, the alarm bells rang when Kieran said: “It’s all about song choice. If you don’t deliver, you could be going home. Simple as.” We thought that framed their quest for the right song as clutching for their one shot at survival, rather than just trying to be the best they could. Admittedly, it’s a line that could easily be missed – unlike when Ryan had a similar VT storyline in week 3, when his previous bottom three appearance provided obvious context.
We also raised our eyebrows at the inclusion of the line “I like the song, I just don’t like the song with us singing it” – the suggestion being that they’re capable of taking good songs and making them bad. It’s the opposite of the “you could sing the phone book” line which has been used as praise on this show. If we were intending a VT to be helpful, we’d have had them say something like “yeah, that’s pretty good, guys, but I think we can do even better”.
Still, we can certainly understand how many commenters – as exemplified by Stu’s comment, above – interpreted it as helpfully intended. The high praise from the judges retrospectively cast that light on it; if they’d called out the vocals as being bad, it would have cast the VT in a different light. Many in the comments also shared our sense that the vocal performance would have merited some judge criticism, rather than the four-judge ovation and gushing.
Which brings us to a highly speculative thought: this was the third week of app voting during the show, so producers may have a good idea of the extent to which the voting during a performance predicts the Sunday evening total. VTs, staging and arrangements obviously can’t be changed on the fly, but is it possible that they might be able to decide whether comments to later acts should be positive or negative depending on how the vote is going so far? Or would that be too much of a logistical nightmare?
As ever, do let us know your thoughts on these and other pressing concerns below.
Photos via ©ITV / @ThePixelFactor