Assignment 1: ‘Honey G’ and the X Factor identity crisis

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’.

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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’, “especially the common people; relating to the masses”). A guilty pleasure for some; for others a ‘sensory’ and ’emotional ‘experience that requires repetition as part of its make-up (Frith, 1998), X Factor could be accused of being the height of passification, standardization and reproduction that Adorno warned of. Key phrases are certainly regurgitated regularly:”You made that your own!” rejoice the ‘judges’ whilst the contestant does another cover of a cover. The repetitive format has been jarred, however, with a contestant that doesn’t seem to fit the X Factor mould.

Questioning identity

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 backlashHer 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.

quote-what-s-wrong-with-hip-hop-is-the-system-that-controls-the-definition-of-it-there-needs-to-be-more-saul-williams-199087

In Conclusion

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.

References:

Baudrillard, J. 1994, Simulacra and simulation, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Frith, S. 1998, Performing Rites, Harvard: Harvard University Press

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.

SCHÜTZ, A. 1951, “MAKING MUSIC TOGETHER: A Study in Social Relationship”, Social Research, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 76-97

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

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3 thoughts on “Assignment 1: ‘Honey G’ and the X Factor identity crisis

  1. What intrigues me the most with your train of thought on this blog is the notion that the X Factor and the public are engaging in a ‘pseudo-democratic, highly emotional process of elimination to find a new pop star’, which, I would question further away from your following argument regarding Honey G’s contradictory nature (which, may I add, is a fascinating and flawless argument regarding inauthenticity), that by entering this process are they simply reaffirming age-old notions of suspension of disbelief to sell the product, that by positioning itself for the people, and the people positioning themselves for X-Factor, they are simultaneously agreeing to a hegemonic ideology regarding the millennial and reality TV, which is an entirely different identity debate. If you’re looking to continue this trail of argument further, I would suggest reading the work of Ruth Deller (2014) who explores specifically the role of gendered performances in the X-Factor, however uses a wealth of theory applicable to more central notions of identity and authenticity, particularly Sontag’s (2001) work that you could argue suggests that talent shows are ‘aesthetically driven attempts by ironic sensibility to dethrone the serious.’

    Bibliography

    Deller, R. (2014). Gender Performance in American Idol, Pop Idol, and The X Factor. In: J. de Bruin and K. Zwaan, ed., Adapting Idols: Authenticity, Identity, and Performance in a Global Television Format, 1st ed. Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
    Sontag, S. (2001). Where the stress falls. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

  2. This program is not popular in Asia, so it did not get too much attention. But I’ve seen Honey G on TV show when I live in UK . in your article , you pointed to Honey G as hip-hop singer recognition has been questioned. I would suggest that you could compare with other hip-hop singers and explain how they are different, and through this way, the audience will be clearly.

  3. The topic of discussion is quite critical in today’s industry as it has heavily affected X Factor which has produced dozens of talented musicians. I strongly agree that X factor may be having an identity crisis, i strongly agree with the quote you have entered from Keyes about her not having any real hip-hop attributes or background, that itself should be a reason for her not to be accepted by the public a a hip-hop figure yet here we are. I think you could compare this topic of identity with popular music culture. Perhaps look into what makes the hip-hop culture what it is and where she would fit in the culture itself rather than just an entertaining figure formed out of X Factor.

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