When was the last time a Gary Barlow song made you laugh? Or made you cry? Or made you laugh and cry, and think at the same time. When was the last time Gary–or indeed anything that represents the mainstream chart pop industry in the last twenty years–gave you anything remotely resembling a good time?
I only bring this up because I understand that, in his role as an X Factor judge, Mr Gary has been attempting to legitimise his opinions on “what is good” by describing performances that aren’t played cool enough, that are exuberant, that contain a shred of personality as “too cabaret”.
Thing is, I think I know what he means. I think he means that a performance doesn’t fit into the garbage-compactor-from-Star-Wars narrow (and ever narrowing) range of aesthetics that the pop industry thinks they can wodge onto the shelves of Tesco with a reasonable expectation of commercial return. And I think that’s what he means when he talks about being “relevant” too. Not relevant in any meaningful sense in terms of musical creativity, not relevant in the context of the living, changing wider world. Just relevant in the limited context of the most commercial, most lifeless kind of pop music imaginable. The kind of music referred to as product.
Which is fair enough. It’s not as if X-factor has ever made any bones about its intentions which is to create one, or potentially more, mainstream pop acts, complete with an engaged fan base and a tabloid history before the first song even hits the shelves.
I must admit I’m trying hard to think of anything less relevant than that.
Be that as it may though, back to: too cabaret. Let’s just say it’s not gone down too well in the cabaret and variety scene–which is, if ever there was one, as rich, vibrant and inventive a source of entertainment as you can find in the UK right now. It’s not nice when someone uses the name for what you do as a put down.
Ben Walters covers the reaction in Time Out. And, cabaret being what cabaret is, has delivered a very, very fine response.
A response which made me laugh, cry and think. A response which is satirical, and fun-poking, and nose tweaking and, above all things, relevant. Because, what cabaret, is Mr Gary, is an artform that engages with the world. It climbs down off the stage and sits on its lap and fucking engages with it.
Cabaret, in its broadest sense, is what ALL entertainment should aspire to.
And for this, right now, I am prouder than ever to be a practitioner of the art of cabaret–and I raise my metaphorical Finkle Homburg to Matthew Jones and the Cabarati, who totally coincidentally have produced the catchiest pop song of the year.