My guilty TV pleasure
With TV and movie watching and critique there is, like with a lot of things, a smidgeon of snobbery. We all have guilty pleasures such as watching the Eurovision Song Contest, soap operas, reality TV and talent shows. Sometimes we catch them on the sly so that we appear the most sophisticated of purveyors by not owning up to tastes that might affect our cultural cred. But we are all culture vultures if we care to admit it, and the low- and high-brow cultures should be blown up for what they are, for it’s an unnecessary division. I have always been a fan of mashups anyway, for flying in the face of this divisive dichotomy.
I confess that my guilty pleasure is the UK version of The Voice. What is yours?
It certainly has its critics, and a certain disdain from the music industry; some within the inner circle, and the media, have even compared it to karaoke. But it still manages to average eight million viewers, so it appeals to a fair few. The Q&A sessions on the couch really still do not appeal to me, so I usually skip those bits. But I can see how they want to appeal to the viewers by pampering to the gossip trivia needs of the couch-huddling and phone-voting masses.
To me, the show’s main strength is the coaching that established artists give to contestants. And if you are an artist, I am sure you would not shirk at the likes of Jessie J, Tom Jones, Kylie Minogue, Ricky Wilson, Danny O’ Donoghue, and Rita Ora coaching you. The banter and competition among them is a right good old back and forth. Notably this year between Tom and Ricky, and Ricky and Will.i.am, respectively. The fact that there is a nice diversity to the panel also helps, by adding such a wide choice of musicians/producers that you just have to like at least one of them in some way. They may all fit into the pop genre, but they are far from in the same pocket.
And of course the real surprises are often with the “blinds,” where you get such left-field covers of songs such as ballad versions of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from this year, and “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” from 2014.
The “blinds” is also one of the widest appeals to a mass audience, and maybe keeps some of the critics at bay. The panel being blind is the crux of the matter when it comes to The Voice, and supports the concept by really enhancing the brand. It must be frustrating for the coaches not to see the artist, and also to compete with their colleagues and possibly fail to get their favourite talents. Of the current panelists, Will.i.am is and always has been a late filler of his team. Note, though, that the coaches can steal their favourites from their competitor’s team later in the series, so it is not all dark clouds over the “blinds”.
I identified a range of underdogs this year. From the opera-usher-turned-singer Lucy O’Byrne, single mom Karis Thomas to, of course, Vikesh Champaneri. He was the kind of underdog you just had to get behind, as even his family and friends were not initially there to support him. He also came across as a humble guy who does not realize the talent he has.
In the early shows, the head-to-head battles were heavily criticized, but the coaches have really teamed the battlers up better over the course of the series, and become subtler with song choices. I loved the battle this year between Classical Reflection and Emmanuel Nwamadi, for many reasons beyond the match-up of contrasting styles. It may also be the fact I liked the song choice of “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics.
Always a great choice, series in and series out, are the duets between the coaches and the contestants. This year I really thought Will.i.am and Lucy O’Byrne would be a flop, that they’d miss a lot of notes. But somehow it worked in its quirky sassy way.
I may not always agree with the winner, and rarely do. But you cannot dispute the democracy of a public vote, rather than a critics’ award; it is almost like the fans’ award for the best club player of the season in football. This year although I did not expect Stevie McCrorie to win, I think we can all say he certainly has a distinct voice that also happens to have a mass appeal.
The takeaway from the whole show for me has been a new appreciation of Will.i.am. He is such a genuine, hard-working cheeky chappy. I knew him only vaguely from the Black Eyes Peas, but has no view on him as a producer, let alone a person. And I really appreciated him even more when I discovered his altruism giving back to the community, through this great BBC One documentary where Joanna Lumly also discovered what a cool cat he is.