Times have changed and people are no longer afraid to pull back the velvet curtain to reveal bullying, exploitation and harassment
For years, Simon Cowell was the main gatekeeper at pop’s paradise. You barely brushed near the charts without his say-so, and a wink (literal and metaphorical) could pluck you from obscurity and into a life beyond your wildest imagination.
When you’re in the business of making fairytales come true, very few people are going to question your wizardry. Well, until now, that is.
There has been criticism before of Cowell’s hit factory. Former X Factor winner Steve Brookstein famously spoke out about his treatment, saying: “It’s amazing how many doors close when you part company with Cowell. It’s almost like leaving a mafia family.
“Because he’s so powerful, it’s virtually impossible to get any attention once he’s lost interest. I felt completely done over.”
His words were dismissed as the sour grapes of an also-ran.
But we are living in different times, and not just because Cowell’s stranglehold on the charts isn’t what it was. People are calling out bullying, harassment and injustice, and to hell with the consequences. Crucially, the public appear finally willing to listen.
Fast becoming known for telling it like it is, Jedward took a pop at Cowell on Twitter this week, describing him as “nothing but a bad facelift. It shouldn’t be normal that all artists have to face the emotional and legal battles when all they wanted to do is sing!
“The biggest regret in life was not telling the judges on X Factor to f**k off.”
Cher Lloyd, class of 2010, added her tuppence in a TikTok video: “They sold me the dream just to exploit me,” she sang. “Said ‘darling, darling you’ll go far if you shake that a** and date a star. And if the record’s taking off we’ll take the money’.”
Fellow X Factor alumnus Rebecca Ferguson has demanded a parliamentary enquiry into bullying and harassment within the music industry. In a series of tweets, she accused unnamed executives of “covering up sexual assault for your seedy friends” and “grooming 17-year-old boys who are confused about their sexuality”.
Cowell isn’t being accused of sexual misconduct here, but his handling of the X Factor alumni is amounting to a noisy wave that he can’t afford to ignore. And let’s face it, their game can only be called clean or fair by the label bean counters.
Let’s look at that much-mentioned ‘million-pound contract’ promise, for a start.
According to a contract leaked to a British newspaper in 2008, the X Factor’s winner receives a £150,00 advance and 15pc from single and album sales. The only chance of hitting the £1m mark is several years down the line.
“We make over a million pound commitment to the winner. That’s why it’s described as a £1m recording contract,” countered Cowell. (It’s unclear as to whether the nature of the deal has changed since then).
The music industry has long been a cut-throat business in which you either buckle up or get out of the way. Most executives would likely warn others of the unpredictable and ephemeral nature of the game, but that also doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t assume some level of responsibility for its young charges.
At a time when people aren’t afraid to pull back the velvet curtain in ways they didn’t dare to before to reveal bullying, exploitation and harassment, this is a conversation pop can no longer afford not to have.
Known as ‘Thandie’ for over three decades after her first acting credit misspelled her name, actress Thandiwe Newton is reclaiming the original spelling (the name is Zulu; her mother’s tribe is Shona).
“I’m taking back what’s mine,” she told British Vogue.
Referring to the origin of the anglicised version, Newton explained: “The director of my first film asked to use my actual name for the character — because it was authentic and beautiful. I felt flattered and agreed.
“And then in the credits they used my ‘nickname’ to differentiate from the character name. They stole my name. And I’m taking it back.”
Closer to home, Irish Love Island star Yewande Biala noted that a fellow contestant ‘refused’ to use her name because she couldn’t pronounce it.
It’s definitely worth the rest of us taking a pause here and understanding exactly why getting the pronunciation of a name — especially an unfamiliar one — matters.
Dismissing a name that expresses someone’s nationality or cultural heritage simply because it’s ‘too hard to remember’ shows that you are putting your convenience, or your comfort, ahead of someone else’s identity. Aside from that, someone shouldn’t have to explain their real name over and over.
A word in your shell-likes: if you’ve learned how to say Tchaikovsky, Michelangelo or even Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, you can probably have a go at remembering another one.
Elsewhere in showbiz, Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page is now being tipped as the next James Bond, after his abrupt departure from the Regency dramedy.
Naturally, Page is playing down the Bond rumours, as appears to be entirely par for the course within the franchise.
With James Norton, Idris Elba and Jack Lowden doing the same coquettish dance for years, the ‘next Bond’ caper feels like it’s been going on for ages.
At 31, Page is a few years younger than Bond is in Ian Fleming’s novels. By the time producers get around to making their minds up, though, he should be bang on cue.