Shocking news in a year of Drake holding the top spot for 15 consecutive weeks: the synthetic, indie Closer, lovechild of Halsey and the Chainsmokers, has fallen to number two after a measly four weeks. Four! Shocking, really. They may as well have just not bothered. And it has been ousted by James Arthur, also known as that guy who won the X Factor a few years ago.
This alone is pretty impressive. With a few exceptions too obvious to name, contestants of ITV’s creativity-commodification juggernaut have a public lifespan of approximately 15 months before fading back into what, for pop artists, is considered obscurity: playing daytime slots at small festivals, performing at the occasional student club and the like. But no! It is the third day and James Arthur has risen from the tomb of all-star reality shows and subpar product endorsements to climb the lofty charts of the UK top 40.
The vessel for this commendable achievement is Say You Won’t Let Go, which, aside from being excellent advice for Leonardo DiCaprio as he dangles off of a bit of door in the middle of the 1912 Atlantic Ocean, is also a song. A romantic, acoustic, generic song about a guy refusing to be broken up with. It’s certainly not unpleasant – at least, not for the first few listenings – but, unsurprisingly, is reminiscent of every other white, scruffy twenty-something male’s song from the last few years with its semi-sad lyrics and oddly specific verses that contrast with the vague, repetitive choruses. This is, undeniably, a trick to get the song to be memorable. It starts off just different enough to be distinguishable from everything else, while the core of it follows the same tried-and-tested formula. Unfortunately, this trick doesn’t work. As of writing I have it on loop, because otherwise I can’t remember anything about it.
The song, like many byproducts of Simon Cowell’s hordes of starlets, is so carefully crafted to what is popular right now that it becomes utterly forgettable. Royalty-free stock music has more character than this song. But that’s unsurprising, considering the machine from which it came from; close your eyes and you can imagine the strobe-lit X Factor stage, the adoring studio audience, the frozen grins of the four judges as they nod along from their LED plinth, a panel of gods whose holy scripture is The Sun. Cowell will never die, so long as he has these faux-heartfelt, factory-produced muzak songs fuelling his label. It seems like we’re stuck with this forever then.
I can’t help but wonder what James Arthur would be capable of if he were allowed by his managers to throw off the shackles of “Appealing To A Target Audience” and “Making What Sells”. He certainly has vocal talent, and when he’s not singing about the usual clichés like coffee in the morning and dancing the night away, lyrics such as “then you smiled over your shoulder/for a minute I was stone cold sober” demonstrate that, somewhere beneath his X Factor surface, Arthur also has some creative talent. But for the most part, this song is nothing more than a void filler to tide us over until the next multi-week hit. But as long as it doesn’t outstay its welcome like every other god damn song this year, I think I’ll be okay with that.