White male mediocrity triumphs again at this year’s X Factor

This year’s winner of The X Factor is a 20-something white male: brown of eye, square of jaw, and vague of stubble. Sound familiar?

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So, Matt Terry has won The X Factor. Who is Matt Terry? Picture this: a 20-something white male, brown of eye, square of jaw, and vague of stubble. He wears River Island and probably occasionally puts on a highly questionable hat. He loves his mum and his girlfriend. He can’t sing amazingly but he can mostly keep in tune. Asked to describe himself in three words, he’d respond with “just a normal bloke.” He cannot believe this is happening to him.

Sound familiar? Well, that’s because Matt Terry has won The X Factor before. Except then he had a different name, going by James Arthur or Ben Haenow. Some version of this man wins the X Factor every other year, and now he triumphs again, barely distinguishable from those who have gone before him.

Matt Terry is just the latest in a long tradition of white male mediocrity, stretching back through Matt Cardle and Shayne Ward all the way to Steve Brookstein. They are usually not the best singers of the bunch, and certainly not the most exciting potential pop stars. And yet, Ben Haenow won over triple threat Fleur East, James Arthur beat superior singer Jahméne and Shayne Ward triumphed over the nation’s favourite bin man Andy Abraham.

Perhaps this says something about X Factor voter demographics (Terry’s core fanbase is seemingly middle-aged white woman with, in the words of Stuart Heritage, an “uncomfortably maternal lust”). Ultimately, in a year where The X Factor has been accused of several counts of racism and homophobia, it’s not all that surprising that viewers ultimately opted for a straight, white male of average singing ability amongst so many vocalists. But will Matt Terry have the talent to make it as a pop star in the real music industry after the glow of the winner’s single fades? If we look to history for our answer, the odds are not in his favour. 

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

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