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Living overseas, as I did for most of this decade, has all sorts of random benefits.  My favourite? From time to time, you get to experience the kind of thing that seems like it must have been made up for tourists, except that no tourists are within a 15-mile radius. At a trade fair in Anchorage one February (ever want to see the Pacific frozen over? Alaska in February’s a decent bet for that), I became entranced by an old man in a coat made from a bear he’d shot and killed himself. The man wasn’t that entrancing, nor is the fact that he’d shot the bear, per se. It was more that, you know, how often in your life are you ever going to meet a bear hunter, let alone one dressed for the sub-zero temperatures in a little number he’d skinned himself? I couldn’t stop stroking it (the COAT, you filthy people), much to the appalled amusement of my beloved colleague.

Last December, our final one in Dublin I had a similar moment. It didn’t involve culturally-appropriate clothing – no cloaks of finest peat for the Irish – but it was one of those things that had extra significance for happening in Ireland. I discovered that the *true* Irish national anthem is, in fact, this song:

I was in a cheesy club with some of my favourite people on the island. It was the early hours and, as they say here in a gloriously euphemistic manner, there had been drink taken. In other words, the entire place was full of rat-arsed Irishfolk holding each other up as they brought the place down. Right towards the end of the night, on came the Pogues (not literally, though that would have been an even better story). Every. Single. Person. in the room suddenly pulled themselves together, stood upright as if at Mass, and burst into pitch-perfect, declamatory, Shane-McGowan-style-swaying song. It made me beam, and beam, and beam some more. OK, so most people know some part of this song, but to be in an entire room of locals all belting it out as though Christmas depended on it; that was something I had no idea would happen.

It gives me goosebumps and makes me giggle every time I think about it. A year on, back in stiff-upper-lip England, we’ve got the song on permanent repeat this Christmas. Need to make sure our Irish-born three-year-old is word-perfect before his passport’s revoked, after all…

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Two Door Cinema Club, who play a sold out gig in Dublin tonight

Cities in The Quad, Cork by Paudie

Cities

There are people who would scoff at kneeling on the floor in a packed music venue, probably thinking it was a gimmicky way of interacting with the crowd. As I looked around Whelan’s upstairs venue however, I couldn’t help but beam at the sudden expanse of empty headspace as everyone in the audience followed the lead of the person in front and lowered themselves good-naturedly, all eyes on the band, not a sheepish expression to be found… not yet anyway. Those were to follow the next morning: this was just the warm-up. 
Guilty Optics and C!ties had spent the last few weeks working their way around the country, gigging a split 7” single released through the Limerick record label Out On A Limb before rolling into Dublin for the final leg of the tour. The venue was heaving to BATS by the time I arrived at 9pm but there was still a whole gig and an aftershow party in someone’s front room to come. Spirits were high in the air and low in the glass as we drank and smiled and splashed out on shots at the bar to bolster against unfathomable November cold. Nights like that, full of skilled musicians, new tunes, engaging listeners and dancing strangers send tiny surges of energy through me. They provide me with a national identity I can be proud of – the Ireland I know is not a place of economics or politics but art and culture and it brings a great reward to live here now, during this period of great creative wealth. And they’re not rare: this is what I do every weekend as music fan in Dublin.

Name-dropping is disconcerting, but so many people contributed to the high standard of music in 2010. I could spend a thousand words to commend the bands, record labels, promoters, photographers and producers, the great people who went out and spent money to support what they enjoyed, all the souls who create the links that mesh together into such a shimmering, strong creative fabric. Then I’d have to mention the sound engineers and stage techs, guys who drive the vans and make tea, the artwork designers and film makers, the enthusiastic radio, television and media personalities who all spend hours every day thinking up new ways to push, promote and do justice to the music in their charge. The list goes ever on but what made this year special was that people seemed to stop talking over one another. They began to communicate, realised they had a lot in common and wanted to know more. Although the quality of new albums was exceedingly high, the increased awareness and support of local music coupled with the lower overheads of digital sharing and free promotional tools of the Internet gave a secure vantage point from which everyone could see and hear the best Irish bands.

Dublin's Road Records, which closed this summer

To look back, hindsight is 19/20. We only want to remember the good times but it’s important that we don’t forget the less fortunate. Recession took a terrible toll and it was a sore blow to lose the dear, familiar music store we knew as Road Records in July. Its website is gone but like an old friend or family member, faint traces and memories remain everywhere. Road is by no means a special case amongst businesses that have suffered from the crunch but it was painful to see it go as the owners, Dave and Julie, were amongst the most supportive figures of independent Irish music. Other record stores have also suffered as digital music trends overtook physical sales but one of the more heartening stories was the return of Plugd Records in Cork which reopened on new premises after an uncertain closure. However, that was pretty much as bad as things got. One of the nicest things about music from Ireland in 2010 was the dearth of bad news.

Adebisi Shank

It’s been a long year yet it flew past in song-length fits, bursts of 40-odd minute albums and hour-long live sets, hundreds of them weaving together into a multi-coloured tartan calendar of genres and styles that individually, could be tacked to cities all over the world but are happening all in one place: Ireland. For me personally, it’s been richly rewarding as a music writer, never once finding myself at a loss for something fresh and exciting to share with my readers. Over two hundred new albums were released by Irish artists this year and a breathtaking number of those are top-rate. Groom’s fourth album Marriage struck the perfect balance between imaginative whimsy, The Redneck Manifesto returned from a long hiatus with gloriously warm new songs in Friendship and Adebisi Shank avoided the second-album curse by realising their full potential in a brand-new fashion that was soon dubbed ‘rainbow rock’. New names sprang up of course; The Cast of Cheers are perhaps the most well-known breakthrough act of the year on the back of their free album Chariot, James Vincent McMorrow found a legion of new fans while Hipster Youth, Meljoann,

Meljoann

Solar Bears and Strands brought explorative twists to the electronic realm with their individually tailored brands. These are just a handful of impressive offerings from the full-length releases – there is barely enough room to cover everything, like Villagers and Two Door Cinema Club who exploded into mainstream popularity or the ones who finally released brilliant records after a very long wait, such as Cap Pas Cap, Nouveaunoise, Melodica Deathship and The Dinah Brand.

Videos and photographs, EPs and single tracks, records and downloads, the radio sessions, television shows, festivals and showcases, exhilarating live performances and extensive success have made this the best year of Irish music many have ever known. Seeing so many new people enjoying themselves was especially satisfying, particularly the new young music fans out at gigs…they make the best carriers to spread word.
The sheer expanse of what Ireland offered musically in 2010 has been well above anything we’ve seen before – for every rock band with a weighty legacy that Ireland can claim from the past fifty years there are ten new bands today making far better music. If that sounds like a tall tale, well, even the most supportive patrons of new music are struggling to explain how or why that has happened now. What matters is that Ireland’s new musical culture was embraced and finally treated with the respect it deserved. Even abroad, interest was highly attuned to what was happening amongst bands here.

Solar Bears

Music websites like Altered Zones, The Fader, Pitchfork and the Quietus all kept ears cocked in our direction and even newspapers such as The Guardian and Telegraph ran features and profiles on our local bands. There’s been a paradigm shift in the perception of what Irish music is; the old guard of traditional rock is crumbling rapidly and the cheap facade of boy band pop has slipped. The landscape that can be seen beyond the debris is still mysterious but in place of misty glens there are sweaty, energetic crowds, real indie-rock drifts through the air instead of grieving wails, oversized gold dressing-room stars of nondescript celebrities have shrunk out of sight, leaving a bright gleam on the horizon as a new dawn rises.

Nay McArdle has spent the last five years exploring the bands and venues of Ireland, writing and photographing along the way. Her daily music blog Harmless Noise just passed its first anniversary. She has two children, two cats and great taste in bad films.

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Smoke Fairies are Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, a British folk/blues duo who combine plucked guitars and harmonies to create lush, ethereal songs. Their critically acclaimed debut album, Through Low Light And Trees, was released earlier this year and produced by Jack White of the White Stripes. The band took their name from the summer mist that collects in the hedgerows of their native Sussex, and Jessica (above, right) answered our questionnaire ahead of their gig on Dublin’s Workman’s Club on December 7th.

What’s the first record you ever bought?

I had lots of records at home so I never really thought about buying any myself. I am very cheap so the first record I ever bought with my own money was a Take That single from the bargain bucket in Woolworths. I wanted to fit in with my friend’s Take That obsession but the 10p tape was as far as it ever got. I think I bought a compilation tape on the same day called Summer Dance Party too.

What’s your favourite smell?

Sweet Peas, warm sponges and the boiler room at primary school – I could never get enough of that smell and spent most of break time with my face up against the boiler room air vent.

Have you ever had a nickname?

I always wanted to be a cool kid with a cool nickname but no, sadly none have ever stuck. People used to shout ‘Donkey Girl’ at me out of car windows when I went out for walks because I always took my donkey Antoinette with me everywhere, but I never embraced it.

What is your favourite room in your house?

I have a room full of plants. Katherine went around and stuck eyes on them so they are all like little friends.

What are your guilty pleasures?

Naps in the afternoon and tinned food. Also, showers are better for the environment, but I do like long bath sometimes.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

When I go on ferries I like to dress up as a sailor.

Who is your closest female friend?

It would have to be Katherine from Smoke Fairies, I have known her since I was 11.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?

No, I am indecisive so I would never be able to get one.

Where would you most like to live?

London is fun, but I have always thought it would be good to live in New York for a while. If not the city, then somewhere in the countryside with some land so that I can have a donkey and some sheep.

Who was your first kiss and where did it happen?

I am not going to go into any sordid stories like that.

What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?

How good is your knowledge of music? It is like asking how good is your knowledge of the world? Everyone is going to have a different understanding of it. It’s more of a stupid question than unusual.

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?

I just got given a new Hofner Guitar to substitute my old vintage one that I broke while I was on tour. I have never owned a new guitar and it is all shiny and perfect, but it won’t be long before it gets a few scratches in it.

What is your favourite word?

Right now all I can think of is: Tentacle.

Who was your first love?

Karen Carpenter and she still has a place in my heart.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become?

I would like to think I would have dedicated time to becoming something else creative, perhaps an illustrator, but there is still time.

Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone?

No, but there are many albums I have repeatedly bought as gifts.

What happens after we die?

Your guess is as good as mine.

What female historical figure do you admire most?

There are thousands, so it is impossible to have just one. I like reading biographies of historical figures. I have just finished reading a biography of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. She was one of the first women to be involved in British politics and had a great sense of style but she did have a few problems, mainly gambling. I think women like Rosa Parks, Amelia Erheart, Florence Nightingale were far braver though, to name just a few.

Sum yourself up in three words:

Stubborn, Sarcastic, Ridiculous

And finally… What are you anti? What are you pro?

Anti: smoking in public places

Pro: riding the bus

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Gold-digger Amnesty

Thoroughly depressed with the state of the nation, I decided to cheer myself up yesterday by listening to some nice, brainless pop music. I feel the qualifying adjective is important here, because there’s also very clever pop music out there, but that’s not of any use to me when I want myself opium’d up by dithering beats and sugarsnap lyrics, is it?

If there’s one thing stupid pop music has taught me, it’s that if there’s one career group more maligned than Fianna Fail politicians or IMFites, it’s gold-diggers. Yes. Young women (I calls ageism, for it appears biddies are disqualified from rushing men for the moolah) who are attracted to men more successful than themselves are terrible hussies altogether. Perhaps even responsible for a portion of our current economic woes! Gold-diggers: breaking bankers, one suit at a time.

See, I was bopping along to Cee-Lo Green’s wonderfully catchy “Fuck You” (“Forget You” to anyone still relying on the radio to get them their aural jollies) when I paused, took a breath, furrowed my brow. Cee-Lo’s complaint is that his ladyfriend left him for a much more affluent gentleman, one who owns a car and has no problem taking the lady for the odd spin in same. Seeing them spinning about the place makes Cee-Lo feel most disgruntled. If only he had the kind of money that could buy him a car! Then he could still be with the gold-digger, whom he still loves, but also really resents because she’s not turned on by penury.

At first I felt for Cee-Lo. As a wurkin’ class ladette, I understand how difficult it is to get by in life without a pot to piddle in. There’s, let’s see … underpaid jobs, holes in the arse of your pants, running out of restaurants without having paid and having to resort to getaway bicycles to avoid arrest. It’s a hard-knock life. I also know that there’s no law requiring a woman to get hot under the collar for a partner who’s just not cutting the wholegrain organic mustard when it comes to ambition and success. I’m much more likely to fancy a motivated, educated bright spark than a couch potato with a grudge; does that make me a gold-digger? I think not! Take that, Mr. Green!

Likewise, I am perplexed by Timbaland’s hip-pop song “The Way I Are”, which in a lyrical sense comprises of a gruff man barking out all of the reasons no one should touch him with a bargepole. “I can’t even buy you flowers!” he snaps, though without adding that he’s happy to grow or pick some instead. He is then mollycoddled by a husky female telling him that it’s grand, that so long as he’s got his mojo in the bedroom he can do without it in the real world, hinting that it’s more than his ego she’d like to massage. And this is just preposterous. You can’t reward the useless like that! Sure they’ll never learn if you keep telling them that despite their barely being able to afford the chips on their shoulders, catches of either gender will be only too happy to cast their kecks aside for a hop off them. Did I miss the memo about drive, integrity, and fiscal independence not being aphrodisiacs after all? No, I didn’t. Because they are. Huge big ones. Pulsating ones. Oh yes.

Hip-pop girls have retorted these points more melodiously than me, of course. Fado, fado (in the 90s), TLC, in their song No Scrubs, told layabout boys that they were going to have to do a little better than be roaring out random compliments from their mates’ cars if they wanted to pitch woo successfully; yet t’was far from gold-digging they were reared.

The funny thing is that hip-pop boyos have long rapped, yodelled and purred out the characteristics of their ideal ladyfriend, and having economic savvy, her own career, and half a brain were never on their To Do lists; gold-diggers are ok if you’ve got the money for them, but a right slap in the testicles if you’ve recently become a victim of the worldwide recession. Well, lads; reap the whirlwind. The gold-diggers have become accustomed to a certain level of achievement from their life-partners; there’s no point complaining about it now, not when she had to spend all that money on implants to impress your shallow arse in the first place.

Back to Cee-Lo, who pouts that his gold-digger’s new friend is “more an X-Box” while Cee-Lo himself is an “Atari”. I suppose he realises that Ataris were made redundant back in the dark ages. Certainly no amount of dewy-eyed sentimentality will convince me to trade in my next-gen console for one of them dinosaurs. And that doesn’t make me a gold-digger (or even a Digger T. Rock).

It makes me a prudent, prudent lady.

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The current issue of The Wire

As an admittedly somewhat infrequent reader of The Wire (the magazine, rather than the cult Baltimore-based TV show) I could empathise with much in this article by writer Anwyn Crawford about why she won’t be subscribing to the music magazine again.

In her opening paragraph, Anwyn tells us

I haven’t been shy about my growing discontent with The Wire over the past few years: with its bloodless writing, dull obsequiousness to a small gallery of icons (perhaps the magazine’s sub-masthead should be A Lee Renaldo Bulletin Board), and above all, its alarming gender imbalance. I had already made up my mind not to re-subscribe, and December’s new issue is an unfortunate justification of my reasons why.

I’ll leave you to read the entire piece yourself – it is fantastically written, with a great dose of humour scattered throughout the scathing critique of what Anwyn perceives as The Wire‘s imbalanced approach to women artists and writers – but for me it echoed so many of the reasons why I am an ‘infrequent’ reader of The Wire.

Unlike other music magazines (or websites), I feel I have to be very deliberate when reading The Wire. It’s not a mag that you can just flick through while drinking a cup of tea on a Friday evening. No. For me, it requires time, space and focus. It brings me back to the UCC library and poring over academic texts in an attempt to formulate an answer for an essay due the next day; the feeling that out of the dry sentences I have to pull something tangible that makes sense to me.

I do love the fact that The Wire is not an advertiser-driven, chart-focused magazine; that I can pick up an issue and only have heard of a small handful (if any) of the artists mentioned within its clinically laid-out pages. It is an education for me, and learning about music is something that I relish. But reading certain articles is like reading a menu in Dutch when you know nothing more than the word for waffle. You won’t get far and you probably won’t learn much in the process.

Music, for me, is about emotions, feelings, the stirrings inside you when you detect a change in beat or when two voices swell in harmony; it’s about the hairs on your arms lifting when a particular lyric strikes you where it hurts.  It’s not a dry element. It doesn’t always have to be about chord changes, soundscapes, or middle eighths. Yes, writing about music is like dancing about architecture but there can – and should – be emotion invested in both. Reading The Wire, sometimes it feels as though all the emotion created within and by the music has been sucked out, leaving an arid landscape strewn with rusting, unfamiliar, instruments.

The now defunct music magazine Plan B (you can download the PDFs of all the issues at that link) generally struck a great balance between po-faced deconstruction of musical texts and expressing exhuberant joy at the discovery of fresh, new music. Like The Wire, I learned a huge amount from reading it but never felt I wasn’t intelligent/knowledgeable/prone-to-beard-stroking enough to really ‘get it’.

Unlike The Wire, Plan B (which was created by Everett True of Careless Talk Costs Lives and edited, and later published, by Frances Morgan) clearly attempted to have a gender-balanced approach. I subscribed to it for a year and each time I saw another woman pictured on the cover my heart leapt. There were lots of female and self-described feminist writers of both sexes and so female and male musicians were treated as they should be: equals.

Sure, Plan B wasn’t perfect (some articles could be a bit too self-congratulatory) but it was a sad, sad day when it folded.

Of The Wire, Anwyn says:

Since 2006 The Wire has put seven female artists on the cover, and that’s if you count Trish Keenan, one half of Broadcast, who shared the cover with her collaborator James Cargill in October 2009 – the only woman to appear on a Wire cover that year. 2006 was a seeming high point in gender parity: three female cover stars, and only one for each year since. Seven out of forty-eight covers really isn’t fucking good enough.

Here’s a link to those covers so you can see for yourself.

This under-representation of female musicians on the covers of music magazines is nothing new – next time you’re in a bookshop, take a look at the music magazines (usually housed beneath the ‘men’s mags’ such as Zoo or FHM) and see if you can spot a woman on the cover. (On that point, when I first started buying music magazines and realised they were housed in the ‘men’s lifestyle’ section in Eason I knew that embarking on my dream career of music journalist would be an ‘interesting’ journey for a feminist.)

Why not count how many women you can see on the covers of Q magazine this year (two solo covers: Cheryl Cole and Lady Gaga – and two group shots: Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen together in a group shot; and Lady Gaga again in a group shot). The reason I mention Q is that the response to ‘there aren’t enough women on the covers of music magazines’ is often ‘but that’s because it reflects the amount of women working in music‘.

This is not true – particularly in the case of Q, which covers mainstream rock, indie and pop music. In fact, the female musicians it covers are usually from the pop arena. And you cannot argue that the pop realm is oestrogen-free.

Our own Hotpress is actually one of the better magazines for featuring female cover stars but there is still not an equal balance.

Then there are the magazines aimed at bassists, guitarists and other musicians. You could learn how to play the entire Led Zeppelin back catalogue on guitar in the time that passes between the appearances of women on the cover of Total Guitar or Bass Guitar Magazine, for example.

The first woman to appear on the cover of Total Guitar was Brody Dalle, then of The Distillers, in the February 2004 issue.  On the cover was written:  “The 50 Guitarists You Need to Hear this Year (and yeah, she’s one of them…)”.

The strangely apologetic editorial read:

“Yeah, that’s a woman on the cover. And it’s the first time TG’s had a female guitarist as its cover star (we suspect it may well be the first time any guitar mag has had a female as its cover star). She’s not on there ‘cos we’re doing a feature on ‘Women in Rock’, or because she’s got her tits out. She’s there for the same reason all our other cover stars are – because she rocks…And if it makes you feel better, next month we’re back to hairy blokes who play really fast.”

Phew! She wasn’t there because she was getting her tits out – but if you’re offended, there are plenty of men to focus on instead. Brody was one of two women in the ‘Top 50 Guitarists’ list. The other woman was Ani Di Franco. What did the writers have to say about her? “The words ‘bisexual’, ‘feminist’, ‘acoustic’ and ‘protest-singer’ might strike fear in the hearts of many, but not us (in fact, they give us a hard-on.)”

There may not be a great ‘conspiracy’ to keep women off the covers of music magazines and give them minimal coverage on the inside pages. But there is an acceptance in most quarters that is just ‘how it is’; that putting a woman on the cover of Q or Uncut or Mojo or The Wire or Rolling Stone or the NME a few times a year, or for the ‘women in rock’ issue is good enough.

That showing Lily Allen in her knickers and Muse in their suits is somehow unproblematic and should not raise questions about how female and male cover stars are portrayed in overtly sexual/non-sexual ways.


Sure, there have been magazines solely dedicated to female musicians but the ideal would be male and female musicians on an equal footing. If women are seen as the ‘minority’ or the ‘outsider’ in music magazines then does that encourage women to create music? If women are relegated to the minority in writing for and editing these magazines (notably, Krissi Murison is the first female editor of the NME, while Louise Brown is the first female editor of Terrorizer) then does that encourage young women to write for these magazines?

One thing this lack of women – or invisibility of women – in music magazines has done is ensure women will try to fill the gaps in the music world by writing zines or starting websites themselves (like Pink Noises, dedicated to women and electronic music).  So, no, women don’t sit back with a resigned sigh and accept things as they are – they rail and revolt, they enthuse, write, rant and blog. They write about Riot Grrrl and female singers and feminism in music, all things that are rarely, if ever (with the exception of Plan B and The Guardian‘s music section) covered in the music press. They create their own space and give previously mute women an unwavering voice.

Yet, still, equality is not there in the mainstream press.

After reading Anwyn’s piece, I am not going to stop reading The Wire. But I hope that the editors of the magazine read her incredibly thorough and impassioned article and analyse their approach to gender (im)balance in their publication. They owe that to their readers.

For all music publications – both online and off – alienating female readers is not a smart move. We are readers, we are writers, we are musicians, we are creators. We deserve an equal space in the music world and we deserve representation in all arenas.

Why? Because we rock too.

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Tripod. November 6 2010. Soul-funk singer Sharon Jones tells us it’s the last night of a European tour she and the Dap-Kings started on April 6. From the power in her voice and the way she’s shaking her moneymaker on-stage, it’s not obvious.

Last here two years ago, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are back in town with a new album, I Learned The Hard Way. All kinds of soul and blues legends – Charlie Musselwhite, for one – tour the US of course, and if they get as far as London, they don’t always make it to Dublin. Little wonder a few hundred 20 to 70-somethings are dancing and swaying for all we’re worth.

Ms Jones is 110 pounds (we know this thanks to bandleader Binky Griptite!) of energy, fun, guts and likeability. Born in Augusta, Georgia, hometown of James Brown, 50-something years ago, she has all the soul, the storytelling craft of someone who grew up singing in church.

100 Days, 100 Nights

Whether she’s talking present-day hard times, setting up the mini-narrative in each song or re-enacting why she loves to dance – it’s in her blood literally, a combination of West African and Native American ancestry – Jones can weave a story, all the while working her way through a stunning setlist from Mama Don’t Like My Man to Window Shopping.

How Do I Let A Good Man Down?

And then there’s the legendary Dap-Kings, aforementioned Griptite, Dave Guy, Thomas Brenneck, Neal Sugarman, et al, houseband for Brooklyn-based, indie label, Daptone Records, whose funky tones you’ve heard on Amy Winehouse’s album Back to Black in 2008.

Welcome to the Saturday Afternoon Dance Party here on WDAP… Tell Me

Jones’ route to success was anything but overnight. Advised to lose weight, even bleach her skin, she got her break when recording backing vocals for funk maestro Lee Fields and The Soul Providers, the first incarnation of the Dap-Kings. She was 40 years old. She’s certainly made up for lost time since. The European tour may be over but the indefatigable Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are back on the road in December to New Zealand and Australia.

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I was tempted to start this post with an explanation of who Katie Waissel is, “for those of you living in trees”, but then it occurred to me that not even the most moss-choked canopy-dweller could have escaped the X Factor 2010 convoy. X Factor updates are, at this point, like Brian Lenihan’s financial discrepancies – all over the place. The front covers of newspapers. The home pages of news sites. The stream of witticisms on Twitter. Your teenage sister’s Facebook status, with your granddad’s comments just below. Simon Cowell has created a monster, but it’s a monstrous guilty pleasure, and the entire global neighbourhood’s been feeding the bloody thing.

Katie Waissel is one of the finalists. She’s in the “Girls” category – female soloists under the age of twenty-eight. She’s blonde, ambitious and ballsy. And everyone hates her. She’s the pantomime villain, the air-kissing personification of all that is wrong with tabloid culture. Katie is not so much this year’s Marmite; she’s this year’s Festival Of Painful Inoculations.

All of this stems from the fact that X Factor 2010 is not her first stab at fame. Katie has previously appeared in an online reality TV show, following her adventures trying to “make it” in the US. She has released an album in the US, and was set to release a second before appearing on X Factor. This does not endear the public to her; no one wants seasoned grafters on X Factor. They want humble, simpering, tearful newbies who shuffle in, cap in hand, singing for a supper they never knew they were hungry for.

Katie is not the only contestant who’s clocked up a bit of experience in her chosen profession; Treyc Cohen, Mary Byrne, Matt Cardle, John Adeleye, and Liam Payne (of cobbled-together boyband One Direction) have all been beavering away diligently at their music careers, from fronting indie bands, to having their own merchandising lines, to winning MOBO awards. Yet none of them have taken the same flack as Katie Waissel.

Let’s take Matt Cardle as an example. The “painter and decorator” fronts indie four-piece Seven Summers, whose album is enjoying chart success on the back of likeable Matt’s X Factor performances. To my knowledge, Matt has said that he could yet return to Seven Summers after his X Factor experience (provided, I assume, he doesn’t win outright). Yet there was no mention of Matt being an experienced singer during his original audition; he was sold to us as a doe-eyed chappie with no idea of how good he really was.

Katie’s original audition was similarly sugar-coated. After Simon Cowell disagreed with her prepared piece, she began to sing We Are The Champions, but forgot the lines, and begged to be given a second chance. She was cute, a bit eccentric, and that was enough of a persona to present to the viewing public. Now we realise that both Katie and Matt have recorded albums, performed in front of crowds, written their own music … why, then, is only Katie sprouting devil horns?

Perhaps it comes down to acting skills. Katie never really came across as modest, and there was always something self-aware about her quirkiness. Matt has the mannerisms, the cheeky grin, and the self-deprecation to tickle our awwww reflexes, not to mention a wavering falsetto that makes him sound like he could burst into tears at any given high note. He is a bunny-rabbit of a man, non-threatening … we feel it possible that he doesn’t even know the meaning of the word “obnoxious”. Katie is far from obnoxious, but there’s nothing fluffy about her, either. She comes across as a girl who’s quirky for the sake of being quirky, and boy, do we hate cynicism in our lassies.

“Simple check-out girl” and shrinking violet Mary gets away with her performing, single-releasing past, because she’s humble and good-natured and piteously overweight. John, because he’s got watery eyes and a thankful smile. Treyc because she’s got a big bum and an even bigger voice (and make no mistake on X Factor – the voice will out). Liam because he seems unassuming and dear God, he’s all big eyes and cheekbones. Katie’s terrible error is that she seems to have a strategy. We find her “irritating” – her clothes, her hairstyle, her poise, even her low, jazzy voice. Katie Waissel simply … doesn’t hide her motives well enough.

And perhaps we still feel that that’s no way for a young woman to behave.

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