Entertainment

The X Factor's Honey G Is the Pantomime Villain We Needed to Round Off 2016

But what is her motive? Why is she on this show, doing this thing, the actions of someone being tested by science to see how much embarrassment the human body can withstand without dying?

by Joel Golby
03 October 2016, 11:00pm

Sharon Osbourne said it right: "She walks like a policeman."

This was at the Judge's Houses, where, in front of a baffled Robbie Williams and the aforementioned Osbourne – with her vibe of an understanding aunt who is just ever-so-slightly too pissed to watch her eight-year-old niece give an impromptu recorder recital – in she strode, shoulders back, stride curving her feet round in great loops like a golem pulled fresh from the earth, cap on right way round, shades reflective.

She approaches a microphone stand like it is three teens frantically hiding spray cans who she was about to write up for truancy. She approaches a microphone stand like she's just stopped it for doing 35 in a 30 zone. She approaches a microphone stand like she's just about to do it for affray.

And then:

Listen closely to the wind as it whips around you and announces autumn, crisp leaves and the air fresh, sharp apples and cold breath, early nights and dark mornings. Listen to the wind as it brings with it X Factor, and thick soups and crackling bonfires and charred chestnuts, and marks the end of the year to come. Listen to the wind as it whispers: When I say Honey, you say G

Honey—

Honey—

It is 2016, and the only sane thing that can happen now is that Honey G can win The X Factor.

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You know about The X Factor, don't you, even if you don't watch it: every year it rolls on, as bombastic as ever, the most American thing we produce on British TV, the same things happening year after year after year: an endless audition round that always includes some old, carefully-dressed guy in a suit singing some 50s classic through his teeth and being politely put through; two boys with cross-on-chain necklaces and underwhelming voices are saying, "Please, Simon, please, I'm begging you, we need this, please"; Sharon, cackling breathlessly at someone deranged; Dermot O'Leary, with his sleeves rolled up to his elbow, greeting every contestant with the same startled "Hello!"

It is the same story teased out over a series of weeks: one contestant can play guitar and closes their eyes when they sing; an over-25 with A Set of Pipes and a failed career as a backing singer is voted out within three weeks; a group is cobbled together from somewhere between three and a thousand northern girls who can't quite sing; a boyband, smooth faces and enormous hair, squabble playfully in front of the wind tunnel camera and look surprised in every selfie they take before spending a year being interviewed loads by Capital FM. A girl who cries a lot and has a tattoo down the side of her hand controversially loses a sing-off with five weeks to go. A shy-but-talented young gay man is told, "It's just so great to see you find yourself on that stage," before halfway through the competition he's told, gravely, "We need to see more from you," and he attempts, in a leather bomber and low-slung pants, to dance. The soloist who consistently performs the best and is exactly middle-of-the-road enough not to be pushed into the competition's recurring theme weeks inevitably wins.

So the engine roars up again like clockwork a year later. So the cycle continues.

Enter Honey G.

The first job is to assign Honey G significance in the X Factor universe, and in this instance she is technically the "oddity act", the Rylan or Jedward or Wagner of this year (but she's also, in many ways, a slow-walking agent of the apocalypse, one of the first signs that the show itself is dying – we will get to that). The oddity act works as a sort of clutch in the early X Factor live rounds, stopping the lorry of the show from rolling down the hill of believing its own hype. By Christmas, the show is so sincere and so huge and so OTT that it is difficult to watch without catching your breath in your chest, and after 12 weeks of that the audience would straight up die, so from October through early November the format requires someone who can't quite sing or dance to embarrass themselves on live TV in front of some well-trained dancers and puncture the bombast. This is what Honey G is for.

The second job is to figure out, like: is Honey G problematic? Honey G very much toes the line between "your boss, three pints in at the Christmas party, tells the only black employee, 'I can rap, you know' and then says 'sizzle' a lot," and, "an entire summer's worth of Iggy Azalea thinkpieces, all crushed up into one". But it's hard to truly know whether or not Honey G is problematic with a capital P. I have asked a number of people, all of them more informed than me, and the consensus still falls in a very grey area. It does definitely feel like there is some naïve piss-taking going on here – ask Honey G where she is from and she will tell you "north weezy" with a double-fisted gesture. Ask her name and she'll say "Honey G" in an estuary accent. Ask her to perform and she will take the songs of black rappers and present them as a joke – so she's definitely ticking a lot of boxes on The List of Things That Just Feel Somehow As Though They're Wrong. I don't know: I just feel like the end of the Honey G story is her, sat sombrely on the Good Morning Britain sofa, solemnly taking her reflective shades off and fixing the camera with two pink-lidded pinprick eyes, and saying, "When I say 'sorry', you say 'for the racism'."

Third thing to address is the question, "Is Honey G being real with us?" and the answer here is, "Clearly fucking not." You can be outraged by that, or you can just accept at face value that slicker pop stars have for years adopted absurd oversized personas to make them stand out. In that way, Honey G is essentially just Jessie J if Jessie J really, really looked like she had to regularly take back medicine.

And fourth is to figure out the motive of Honey G, i.e: why is she on this show, doing this thing, the stiff actions of someone being tested by science to see how much embarrassment the human body can withstand without dying? This is a question I have put, off the record, to a number of people working in television in my time: "Where," I ask, whispering behind an assistant director or shouting it over pint, "where do you find these people?" And the answer is always the same: a little shake of the head, a disbelieving chuckle, and the words, "They just find us." TV is often painted as exploitative, a system designed to profit from those without the mental faculties to realise it, but from what I can tell, even without the large looming monster of reality TV franchises, people would still be out there, in shades and a cap, being really weird for no money. The X Factor is just a really well-lit pub open mic night, when you get down to it. The only difference is that people actually watch it.

Actually, let's tap that analogy: a really well-lit pub open mic night? Or the greatest hide-in-plain-sight wrestling division in the world?

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Honey G is a heel. A heel, as defined by Wikipedia:

In professional wrestling, a heel (also known as a rudo in lucha libre) is a wrestler who is villainous or a "bad guy", who is booked (scripted) by the promotion to be in the position of being an antagonist. They are typically opposed by their polar opposites, faces, who are the heroic protagonist or "good guy" characters.

Note the consistent outfit (shiny aquamarine bomber, insanely reflective shades, red cap, white jeans) of a heel. Note the "I'm the realest" hype talk of a heel. Note the fact that she looks like she could flip Louis Walsh neck-first and backwards off a turnbuckle, like a heel would. Right now we can confidently say the words "singing is a non-contact sport", but after 12 weeks of Honey G I think we will be reassessing that notion. Honey G adds a chaotic frisson of potential violence to The X Factor. That alone should be celebrated. Can you see Honey G ripping her top off in the middle of a rap remix of "La Vida Loca" and leg-dropping Simon Cowell? I can. I absolutely can see that.

Another reason we can confidently say Honey G is a heel is that a heel rarely acts alone – there is almost always a point in the heel's storyline when it turns out they were just a dumb evil puppet for some higher master, a bit like Bane in that Batman film – and Honey G answers to no mortal man nor woman, only her god, Sharon Osbourne. Sharon Osbourne, the arch madame of competitive pop. Sharon Osbourne, a woman who can turn the word "darling" as much into a coddle-in-your-bosom welcome as she can a slice-your-throat-with-it threat. Sharon Osbourne put up with Ozzy Osbourne for a hundred years beyond the lifetime doctors predicted for him, and she has come out as hard as steel. She is not playing around.

My theory is that Sharon Osbourne is as tired of The X Factor machine as you are, and is this year bringing it down from the inside with the Trojan Horse of Honey G.

But then after the relentless mania of 2016, perhaps Honey G is exactly what we need. This year has been bananas: legends keep dying, huge tectonic changes have shocked every atom of politics, we're all poorer, we're all sadder. I'm saving my definitive "most 2016 moment of 2016" for an end of year list, obviously – a man needs to leave some lists behind over Christmas! – but right now it's somewhere between the formation of Chewbacca Mom as a concept and the fact that Christopher Biggins got kicked out of Celebrity Big Brother in such a way he vowed a penitent trip to Auschwitz afterwards. Every second and every inch of this year is completely upside-down and loop-a-doop. It entirely makes sense that it will be closed with Honey G, legs unbending and unrhythmic, singing The X Factor's winner's song on stage while glitter surrounds her and Sharon Osbourne smiles.

And the camera will zoom in on Sharon, her face both taut and electric, eyes at once dark and alight, and with her wicked snake's tongue and evil lizard's lips she will whisper, "When I say Honey, you say G." And we will know that she played us.

@joelgolby

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