Jessica Hamby: “I think if you’re going to be a novelty act with any longevity people need to like you. I’m not sure many people like Honey G.” Rose L: “I started off strongly believing she was an act like any one of Sacha Baron Cohen’s personas, but I am now a bit dubious.”
In saving Honey G on Sunday, the judges took the positive spin that she had shown fighting spirit. Graceless and aggressive were other ways to describe her fist-pumping behaviour as poor, long-suffering Ryan accepted his fate with grace and equanimity. It unwisely undermined her previous character references, Louis once having called her “one of the nicest contestants”.
So let’s take stock. Where are we with Honey G? To what extent was she deramped this week, and to what end? And what’s the endgame?
We have to start by giving kudos to producers. We were dismissive when they introduced Honey in the coveted first audition show pimp slot, writing that the joke “bored us after 6-7 seconds, let alone the 6-7 weeks required from a novelty with longevity”. Yet here we are, going into week 8. (We console ourselves by having seen the potential of Saara Aalto in the same article. It’s curious to think that one of the final five would have missed out had Ivy-Grace Paredes got her US visa; the show presented Honey as the beneficiary of Ivy’s bureaucratic troubles, but we reckon she was always going to be wildcarded so it must have been Saara who got the reprieve).
By the time we did our pre-lives 1-12 prediction, we’d come around to Honey sufficiently to slate her for the traditional sixth-placed novelty act finishing position. After week 4, we made the case that producers were gunning for the final with her, and weighed up whether the public would play ball.
The internet memes such as Mummy G and Granny G continued into week 5. They didn’t make an appearance in week 6, but that didn’t matter as Honey was in the pimp slot with a massive 90s take on the Bee Gees’ ‘Stayin Alive’. The judges had been completely positive about her huge productions up to this point.
That changed in week 7, when we had neither internet memes nor pimp slot. Still, a huge amount of effort had gone into her presentation. The VT was a fun continuation of establishing her persona, as she bantered with a black cab driver who appeared to have wandered off the set of Mary Poppins – “H to the O to the Chim chim cher-ee!”
The performance started with a specially made video of Honey G getting the tube to Wembley Park, which brilliantly segued to the stage, as the tube carriage arrived on the backdrop, and the doors opened. Rewatching the production, there’s plenty that’s great about it. One red flag about the performance was the amount of early distracting spotlights not focused on her.
There was a big audience reaction and another four-judge standing ovation, though it felt slightly toned down from previous weeks. Our ears pricked when both Louis and Sharon pleaded for votes, which suggested producers knew she might be in danger. Which made Nicole’s parting critique that “towards the end I wondered if I’m starting to see the same thing week after week” all the more surprising. It was genuinely damaging, and went unchallenged by the other judges. If Nicole had slipped it in without really meaning to, the others didn’t seem to mind.
Does this suggest producers were reconciled to a possible bottom two appearance sooner rather than later, and perhaps happy for it to happen on a week when her most likely singoff rival was wounded puppy Ryan Lawrie? That’s our best guess.
The plot thickened overnight on Saturday with the story in the Daily Star that Honey G had got most phone votes the week before. The Star used to be reliable in its leaks, and they usually came to light when someone producers didn’t want to win was doing too well. But in the app era, they got the extent of Ben Haenow’s semi-final lead wrong, and their suggestion that Anton Stephans won the first phone vote in 2015 turned out to be completely off. The point of the story may have just been to feed the narrative that it’s an “open race” that producers have been desperate to push over the last few weeks.
As it was, Honey G did end up in the bottom two on Sunday. The “she might win!” narrative didn’t last long, then. Stripped of the big production, the singoff made for through-the-fingers viewing, as Honey went for a detour around the judges’ panel and cosied up to Simon. Her attempt to engage the audience with “When I say Save, you say Me!” unsurprisingly fell a little flat.
But it’s the ill-advised fist-pumping that’s made us revisit our longstanding assumptions about Honey G and her relationship to Anna Georgette Gilford, which we’ve previously compared to that of Ali G and Sacha Baron Cohen. In his exit interviews on Lorraine and the like, Ryan offered a similar comparison – Leigh Francis’s comic character Keith Lemon. He went on to say, “The accent changes. Sometimes she’ll be really posh, other times she’ll be doing the street talk. I think she’s really smart and she knows what she’s doing and it’s working really well.”
Sacha Baron Cohen and Leigh Francis are, of course, fully in on the joke of their creations, and we’ve always assumed that Anna must be, too. The periodic tabloid “revelations” that Honey has been “exposed” as a middle-class recruitment consultant have always been a head-scratcher, given that her first audition features Cowell asking “and what’s your real name”, to which Honey replies, with what looks like a knowing smile, “Anna Georgette Gilford”. We’ve been assuming she interacts with the production team as Anna, and that they have been in cahoots in plotting her character’s progress through the show.
However, if producers and Anna have been having a weekly off-camera chuckle about Honey’s good run, we would have expected more composure during the singoff – she didn’t look to have been mentally prepared for it. Which got us wondering, is it conceivable that she’s actually Honey G all the time, even with production staff? Surely not – and if so, they’d better have a good psychologist on staff. Let’s hope it was simply that Anna got caught up in the super-charged atmosphere of the singoff and misjudged how the character of Honey should be reacting to the judges saving her.
Finally, where to go from here? Now that they can’t conceivably talk up her chances of winning – something that Simon acknowledged on Xtra Factor soon after his singoff decision – do they need her competing in the final any more? It’s worth reminding ourselves that she could still perform there as a guest, even if going out beforehand.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that Anna has given media interviews detailing a difficult personal past. Will producers be able to resist a valedictory “how Anna become Honey” VT? Or will they prefer to try to preserve the enigma they’ve been presenting her as right until the bitter end? Either way, there’s probably another week or two of controversy to be wrung out of her.
Who’d have thought Honey G would tie us in so many knots? Your thoughts are appreciated.
Dermot’s Fried Chicken
Piresistable: “I’m wary of making this point, but I got the sense that the show was emphasising that these [5AM] were black guys… Dermot mentioning the fried chicken at the end set an alarm bell ringing for me.”
Alan: “You’re suggesting that the producers sat in a meeting and decided to tell Dermot to mention ‘fried chicken’ as a deramp and that he played along with it?”
Piresistable: “I don’t know, when I hear fried chicken I think of Fuzzy Zoeller’s comments about Tiger Woods after the 1997 Masters.”
Funnily enough, we also thought of Fuzzy Zoeller when Dermot’s post-song question referenced the fried chicken in 5AM’s VT. (Masters champions get to choose the following year’s menu; Zoeller controversially referred to new champion Woods with the loaded epithet “boy”, then hoped he wouldn’t have to eat “fried chicken or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve”.)
We won’t be adding the Fried Chicken Deramp to our Big Book Of X Factor Tactics, though, much as it would amuse us to do so. It’s a theory we’re happy to dismiss after just a moment’s consideration. But we do think it was worth that moment’s consideration. And this seems like a good opportunity to step back and consider whether and how we can identify when the rabbit hole beckons.
We’re sure that, like B F Skinner’s pigeons, we at Sofabet very often mistakenly perceive significance in something random or meaningless. The purpose of considering small details, like fried chicken, is that you can profit from being the earliest to spot weak signals. But as weak signals are, by definition, hard to distinguish from noise, some lapses into tinfoil hattery are an unavoidable hazard.
Ultimately, those who accuse us of being conspiracy theorists miss a vital point: unlike debates about shape-shifting Illuminati lizards, the theories we entertain here bump up against the weekly sanity check of the public vote. That doesn’t prove or disprove particular theories, of course – you can be right by accident – but, in the long term, your bank balance tells you if you’ve become detached from reality.
Why do we think Dermot’s Fried Chicken merited at least a moment’s consideration? Two reasons. First of all, we definitely believe that Dermot’s post-song questions are sometimes precision-engineered to subtly reinforce particular narratives – and Dermot is consummately professional and always on-message, hence why he’s known in these parts as “the silent assassin”.
Second, we believe the show is conscious of when it’s portraying acts in ways that Middle England will feel either comfortable with or challenged by. A couple of examples: when they wanted to give Gifty a shot at a moment, they replaced her crop with a blonde wig; and “Zara” from “abroad”, tapping into lazy xenophobia, wouldn’t have happened if the show had been invested in Saara early on.
So, yes, we can imagine different circumstances in which Dermot’s Fried Chicken might look significant. But it’s all about context, and nothing else in 5AM’s treatment suggests any desire to reinforce othering cultural stereotypes. If it was scripted with any intention, we’re sure it was positive – to remind viewers of the family warmth of the VT. More likely it was simply ad-libbed without any ulterior motive.
Another one of Dermot’s questions also prompted some debate in the comments: some felt that when he asked Saara if she could remember her first audition, he was trying to trip her up. Again, our view is there’s nothing there – the simplest explanation suffices, that this was nothing more than a convenient segue into the pre-ad break film calling for auditionees for 2017.
But we may be wrong, and we love that the Sofabet comments section always entertains such speculation respectfully and disagreements are polite. On which point, we’re now getting to the stage of the series where emotional investment can lead to more tetchiness, groupthink and confirmation bias, so please consider this our annual plea to maintain the friendly, open-minded atmosphere that recognises our mutual interests in discerning signals from noise.
DGiles: “The VT was neither motivating or demotivating, as everyone gets she’s Finnish now and the focus was on missing her family (which is understandable) NOT missing Finland as a country – which would have been bad.” Sindi: “I think you’re right about Saara’s VT. It could well be seen as merely symphatetic.”
Saara’s VT this week showed her speaking foreign with her family, back home in abroad, as elegiac music swelled in the background. We wrote in our quick reaction post that it was clearly intended to demotivate votes, and it may be worth spelling out why we thought that.
In general, there are helpful and unhelpful ways to emphasise a foreign act’s foreignness. Brexit notwithstanding, we reckon Middle England reacts with open arms to a message of “I know I’m not from here, but I love your country and I want to integrate”. See, for example, Saara’s week 4 VT of embracing Hallowe’en, or week 6 attempts at regional accents with radio presenters.
Conversely, it’s less helpful to portray a foreign act as clinging to home comforts – the embassy VT has become a running joke here since Andrea Faustini’s Italian embassy visit in 2014 coincided with his first singoff appearance. Of course, we can all sympathise with Saara missing her family – but the sheer amount of subtitled Finnish in this VT was enough to raise a red flag for us.
But there’s a bigger factor. The core message of the VT was: she’s homesick. We’re not suggesting any viewers consciously thought they’d do Saara a favour by not voting for her so she can get back home quicker. The point is that the VT established no natural, subconscious pathway from sympathy to motivation to vote. “Poor Saara misses her family – I’ll vote for her” isn’t a natural thought progression. Contrast week 6’s VT, where it was perfectly natural to think “Saara loves being in Britain – I’ll vote for her.”
In that sense, the homesick VT is psychologically similar to the VT that suggests an act’s X Factor journey has come to a natural end, or that they have already achieved some redemption in their personal life – and, indeed, Saara’s VT also featured her talking about her “long journey” paying off. It encourages you to feel warm and sympathetic towards the act, but doesn’t provide a pathway for that emotional response to resolve into a desire to vote.
Still, it wasn’t the most unhelpful VT they could have given Saara: the Finnish Ambassador still hasn’t whipped out the Ferrero Rocher for Saara and her lesbian fiancee, who is back in the news this week. Perhaps the invite will come soon.
Woofie: “I think the app with the Facebook/Twitter identity logins the producers will have significant data on the voting patterns… Wouldn’t surprise me they if employ statisticians/ research assistants using some sophisticated computer software analysis tools.”
We’d be amazed if producers weren’t doing everything they could to mine the data they can access via the app – after all, the potential value of the data is the only reason they’ll have been willing to give up phone vote revenue by giving away free app votes.
We’d be interested to hear from commenters with data analytics experience just how much producers can do with the app. For example, when you install it, you have to agree to give it access to the audio on your phone – does that mean they can correlate an act’s fan base with what kind of real-world music they like to listen to, to help with choosing helpful or unhelpful songs?
We do have the impression that producers have got to grips with the app data more this year. It’s been a consistent theme of the Sofabet comments to feel that producers haven’t yet fully shown their hand, and we also haven’t had any really crude hatchet jobs – mostly they’ve just kept acts in their lanes, and that seems to have given them results they’ve anticipated and been happy with.
Until this week, that is. Honey G’s singoff appearance was the first time we got the impression they may have made a mis-step. With yet another reference to the vote being close at the bottom, it looks like their superior understanding of voting patterns from the app is somewhat counterbalanced by the app’s tendency to reduce margins for error as people split their free votes.
Let us know your thoughts ahead of the weekend’s ‘Louis Loves’ themed quarter final.
Photos via ©ITV / @ThePixelFactor