Topics Covered: Music and Meaning; Music and Identity, Music as Popular Culture
This year’s X Factor UK’s inclusion of a contestant called ‘Honey G’ has ushered a media ‘frenzy’. Positioning herself as the ‘future of UK Hip-Hop’, and ‘the real deal’, a mid-thirties accounts manager from ‘North Weezy’ has become a joke figure within the media. This article examines why her authenticity as an artist has been questioned, and what that potentially signifies about viewers’ expectations, both of X Factor as a TV show, and what constitutes an ‘authentic artist’.
The X Factor
X Factor positions itself as a ‘tastemaker’, an outlet for ‘popular music’, set up as a democratic voting system. (Using ‘popular’In the traditional sense of the word, ‘popular’, or ‘of the people’, “
The semantic system or “rules of the game”(Schutz, 1951, p78) of any culture can be learnt and enacted with phrases and behavioural / visual expressions. Identity, though essentially a self-reflexive state of mind, is also often inextricably linked with others’ acceptance. Whilst Honey G has grasped some of the Hip-Hop lingo, she displays none of the ‘categories’/ ‘images’ of black female rappers (Keyes, 2000, p256-265) associated with the subculture. Seen as an ‘actor’, an alter ego, labeled ‘the British Donald Trump’ and David Cameron in Disguise, she might see herself as the next Missy Elliot, but others see her as a ‘modern blackface’. Her identity and that which others perceive are worlds apart.
Within music fandom there can be fractures and debates amongst communities based on ‘significant codes’ (Williams, 2006, p182). The first two codes can be used in relation to Honey G’s backlash. Her background affiliation into Hip-Hop (described as a ‘subcultural art movement’ on wikipedia, originating in African-American ‘scenes’) and authenticity and identity is questioned and rejected. She is seen as a parody of what she claims to embody.
X Factor positions itself as ‘for the people’. Essentially, the public allow them to exploit that role, engaging in a pseudo-democratic, highly emotional process of elimination to find a new ‘pop star’. Honey G represents a contradiction, firstly in affiliating herself with a subcultural movement that does not fall into the usual constraints of ‘pop music’ and secondly not falling into the usual female categories associated with that genre / movement. Is Honey G a ‘straightedger’ of Hip-Hop, whose identity has been rejected as inauthentic? Accused of being used as a tool in watering down Hip-Hop (and therefore Black culture) into an arguable ‘simulacrum’ (Baudrillard) or replicated art without the aura (Benjamin), Honey G’s inclusion on the show has caused a stir. Not only because she defies the characteristics of her genre, but because there is an emotional disconnection. Whether she is ‘fake’ or the competition itself ‘fixed‘ is irrelevant. Seen as one of the “most surreal and mildly disturbing cultural phenomena of the year”, the show is being talked about, which is no doubt the main objective of producers.
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Gaby Hinsliff. “Honey G: When The Music Stops Will The Joke Be On Us, Or On Her? | Gaby Hinsliff”. the Guardian. N.p., 4 Nov 2016.
Keyes, C. “Empowering Self, Making Choices, Creating Spaces: Black Female Identity via Rap Music Performance”, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 113, No. 449 (Summer, 2000), pp. 255-269 . American Folklore Society
Lola Okolosie. “Honey G’S X Factor Act Isn’t Funny. It’s Modern-Day Blackface | Lola Okolosie”. the Guardian. N.p., 2016. Web. 11 Oct 2016
Saunders, Tristram. “Professor Green Slams Honey G, As X Factor Act Denies ‘Racism’ Accusations”. The Telegraph. N.p., 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
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Williams, J.P., 2006, “Authentic Identities: Straightedge Subculture, Music, and the Internet”, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography Volume 35 Number 2 April 2006, pp. 173-200. University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
“Is X Factor Rapper Honey G Really David Cameron In Disguise?”. Mail Online, Web. 10 Oct, 2016