Thursday 22 August 2019

Criticism is not trolling - Cheryl's X Factor performance was simply below par

Cheryl performing her new single on ITV’s The X Factor (Dymond/Thames/Syco/REX/Shutterstock).
Cheryl performing her new single on ITV’s The X Factor (Dymond/Thames/Syco/REX/Shutterstock).
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

In her four years off the musical radar, Cheryl packed in a lifetime of living – a second divorce, new love, baby Bear, relationship breakdown, single motherhood – so her return to the stage with a new single, referencing her tumultuous love life, was always going to generate a few column inches.

However, the furore that erupted after the 35-year-old's performance of Love Made Me Do It on The X Factor was nuts.  She was torn to shreds by some viewers, and journalists, not only for the performance itself, but also her choice of sexy pre-watershed costume (which prompted 15 complaints to Ofcom), her face, and some elements of the press even implied she had been ‘snubbed’ by quite possibly the nicest man in music, Nile Rodgers (who later came to his own, and Cheryl’s, defence on social media). 

Even Cheryl, who usually maintains a dignified silence about such matters, felt compelled to rant on Twitter about the ‘sheer level of unbalanced negativity’ towards her from the ‘tabloid press’ being ‘frankly shocking’.

“This level of relentless abuse should not be tolerated in any walk of life. From my appearance, my body size and shape to my performance and even dragging innocent people into this like they did to Nile Rodgers simply for a clickbait headline is totally uncalled for," she wrote.

"It also gives the trolls a bigger voice and platform.  What’s even more surprising to me is that some of these people are the first to write that we should be being more socially aware and conscious of online bullying and mental health awareness. Is this any different?”

She ended her post thanking her fans for “being strong minded enough to not be influenced by the negativity”, and added a note at the end of her message saying: “PS… I did watch my performance back and I LOVED IT!”

Cheryl is, of course, quite right to condemn any negative commentary on her size, shape, face or any other aspect of her body from the media, or similar trolling on social media, or, as she says, ‘dragging’ poor Nile Rodgers into it.

However, there is a distinction between trolling and criticism. In her statement, when she says, “From my appearance, my body size and shape to my performance” she lumps in criticism of her performance with trolling her appearance but these are two distinctly different things. Criticism of a performance is part and parcel of being a musical artist.  She sat on the judging panel for X Factor for quite some time doling out her opinion on a variety of singers’ vocals and live performances.  When music critics review gigs they review the artist’s vocals and performance.  This is part of the deal.

Taking Cheryl’s Sunday night appearance as a performance from a professional artist, it could well be argued that it was below par.  She lacked energy. She didn’t seem like she was invested. It was lacklustre.  She looked uncomfortable.  Of course, it’s a subjective art, this criticism lark, and other people may have been impressed.  But, if social media is any gauge of how people feel, a lot of people felt that Cheryl’s performance was not good.  Some were trolling her, but many armchair critics (two decades of reality shows have led us all to believe we're Louis Walsh - there's an irony in there somewhere) were simply pointing out that it wasn’t a great performance.  It wasn’t Britney at the VMAs 2007 level bad, but it was not up to par for a professional artist.

Even compared to her own previous live performances, it fell short.  Kudos to her for singing live but compared to the amateurs vying for the X Factor title, she sounded distinctly average.  There are, of course many acts who have carved successful careers despite their less than hair-raising vocal talent (Robbie William's we're looking at you), but for those artists the performance becomes so much more important, and if the dance element of Cheryl's performance had been impressive nobody would have noticed the vocal.

Speaking of the dancing, it was reminiscent of her previous performance on the X Factor stage in 2009 when she sang Fight for This Love.  Her vocals weren’t exactly spectacular then either, but she gave it socks when it came to dancing and interacting with her back-up crew.  She smiled.  She looked like she was enjoying herself.  She is usually a phenomenal dancer.  Not so on Sunday night.

Cheryl has a 20 month old son so maybe she’s not sleeping much.  Maybe she’s a bit out of practice after four years off the stage.  There are myriad possible reasons why she didn’t quite pull it off.  Whatever the reasons, the fact remains it was a poor comeback, even by her own standards.  And it’s perfectly acceptable to say that.  It’s not trolling or shaming or bullying, it’s criticism, and it’s important to remember the distinction.

A brief history of Cheryl's videos, most of which prove she's actually got the moves...

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