And he was happy!

Why was Wagner (I hope his name doesn’t cause confusion) much more interesting than most of the other acts on the first live show of the 2010 X Factor, despite being markedly less vocally accomplished?

He is older, and this is certainly important. Notwithstanding heart-stopping talent, it’s invariably more interesting to watch a 50-year-old sing (communicate emotion, situate a technical code within the context of a life) than a 17-year-old. This is particularly the case when the environment is one directed so aggressively away from diversity and age, towards constricting consensus. Wagner’s comparative lack of investment in the prize of the programme and thus his closer proximity to the real of each contestants’ abilities and experience is likewise crucial. Pure theatre, meanwhile, combined from these elements but consisting in more, is the true injunction of Wagner. And he was happy!

With John and Edward last year, and Wagner this, The X Factor is at least opening itself to an injection of the kitsch sublime (albeit one easily subsumed). The X Factor may now be entering its ‘late’ phase. Embrace the madness, as even Cowell interjected last night.

I wrote in the Journal of Music earlier this year that the power of the programme lies in the crosshatching of unisonality as experienced through music with the intensity of the collective gaze, as opposed to its wild pageantry, its consensual hearkening to an abstract ‘now’, or its deleterious ‘narratives’. When people are singing better, the X Factor is generally more engaging (except when it is embracing the madness). Mary’s, not least because of its vocal power, was the most engaging performance last night. Music is powerful, and the music on The X Factor is often overwhelming in its combination of aesthetics and collectivism. This is why the programme lays such a strong and, at this moment, seemingly universal claim on the emotional economy of so many people’s weekends.

Amongst the infuriating ephemera last night, meanwhile, particularly wearing were the false dramatics of the ‘difficult’ rehearsal, the judges’ inveterate ability to whitewash a performance with whatever critical narrative suits the needs of the programme (see One Direction), and the repeated appeals to candidates’ ‘uniqueness’ (how many ‘uniques’ before the concept becomes meaningless?).

Something else that seems unresolved. What tense does the X Factor happen in? When does the X Factor actually happen? When a performance is complete, it is spoken of in almost canonical terms – the memory of The X Factor is short-term, and one hour is a life time in this universe. Virilio’s dromology, the logic of late capitalist speed, the hypermodern implosion of humanism, captures perfectly the effect. We can’t make much purchase on the ‘nowness’ of a performance before it is sublimated by the irresistible force of the past tense. But the other way, protentive time, is warped in this space too. Events seem pre-ordained, the judges’ comments warmed up in the crucible of the ill-informed (except Danni) before the event has taken place. Perhaps this last is merely a result of the judges’ (not Danni) astonishing rhetorical vacuousness, a vacuousness which begets the comments’ seeming generative contour.

When knowledge could have happened without human volition, originating before its human mediation, it bears a spectral relationship to time, is almost adjunct to it. Wagner, again, was so refreshing because the judges still don’t have a code with which to blandish him (he also looks like the joyous older brother of Javier Bardem).

I know The X Factor did happen, and it did so last evening, but I’m still incredulous as to its purchase on time.

These are some of the many confusing tensions one experiences when watching The X Factor.

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