Too cabaret!

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”.

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.

10 thoughts on “Too cabaret!

  1. Not that I’ve ever watched more than about 30 seconds of X-Factor, and that was a few years ago, but I think you’re right; from his position, it IS a valid criticism in the same way that an act might be described as being “too punk” or “too operatic” to fit within the narrow confines of the show’s (er…) “creative vision”.

    I’m so glad, of course, that the comment has provoked an intelligent, fun and (above all) creative response. Which is just as it should be.

    Incidentally, you might be interested in this review on

    1. What I love is the amount of talent and creative thought that has gone into making something that sounds *exactly* like you would see on X-Factor, with an earworm catchy chorus that just goes on and on, and on. Which is the perfect satirical response as far as I’m concerned.

      (And thanks for the review, REALLY chuffed with that!)

  2. My favourite bits are the self-referential lyrics at the end – “look into the distance, look into the camera” etc. I was only mildly surprised when the whole thing didn’t modulate up a key for the big finish, and for everyone to stand up simultaneously. What a great job.

    1. I was waiting for the step-up modulation too, Chris. But I kind of like the earworm repetition of the hook line over and over at the end. And over.

      F&M are just so good at that kind of thing.

  3. Awesome. My first thought at “too cabaret” was “if that’s not quite code for ‘a bit gay’, it’s headed in that direction.” Nice to see them nailing that on the “Don’t wear something that suggests” line.

    1. Yup, they didn’t miss that one. And it was important not to – because the whole thing is not just a diss of a non-huge-commercial alternative entertainment form, it’s also about the reasoning behind the really quite specific X Factor styling choices.

      The more generic you look, the wider your appeal = the more votes = increased chance of winning and highest sales on single release.

  4. Wonder if there’s any chance of it being actually released as a single; then we could get a campaign going for the Christmas Number One Slot. Or have we had too many “Anything but the X-Factor winner” campaigns for that to work now?

    1. I think a lot of people have had the same thought, but for me that would be diluting what is effectively a perfect small-stage cabaret response into something that gets mass appeal for the duration of the season and then be yesterdays fish and chip papers.

      Sure it might raise the profile of the genre and more people might go and seek it out as an alternative to going to the flicks on a Saturday night, but F&M aside I don’t see it doing any one’s career any real favours. And I don’t think it was done for that reason anyway.

      For me cabaret works best on the small stage. When it gets mass exposure it loses its teeth and becomes light entertainment. Nice in that respect, though, to see a really positive message in the youtube comments from Paul Daniels.

      There’s a man who knows.

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