Robbie Williams: from World Cup opener to X Factor saviour?

Robbie Williams: from World Cup opener to X Factor saviour?

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Harps are fine in moderation, Feel is a certified pop monster and you can’t go wrong with chucking some opera on to a power ballad like Angels, yet Lost in Showbiz cannot help but feel Robbie Williams’ World Cup opening will be regarded by future historians as a tragic missed opportunity. That opportunity would be for the Rudebox hitmaker to perform 2016’s soaraway, Top 70 comeback single Party Like a Russian, a feat of pop preposterousness that sampled Prokofiev, implored listeners to “have it like an oligarch” and, in one breathtakingly audacious 11-second segment, managed to rhyme refutin’, disputin’, Rasputin, “brutes in Louboutin”, highfalutin’ and “boys put the boot in”. Yes, it even had a line about boys and boots. Like football boots!

Having missed this week’s open goal with a clumsy panache not witnessed since Diana Ross at USA 94, Robbie’s next move should be a dead cert. There are reports that, fresh from upsetting Jimmy Page over planning permission for an underground swimming pool, Robbie is set to join The X Factor’s judging panel. It’s the perfect match: the days of either the singer nor the show being able to walk a single to No 1 seem long gone; each has enjoyed on-off relationships with Gary Barlow; both make little sense to teenagers; and neither made it in America. Both are entertainment behemoths in freefall – household names too big to fail, but having a decent stab at it anyway. There’s a chance we may be on the verge of witnessing a pop cultural tandem skydive, but could these two negatives perhaps, as in the spooky world of mathematics, become a positive?

This has been a long time coming, with Robbie having long shown Sinitta-level determination to insert himself into the X Factor world, to the point where in 2011 he appeared at Barlow’s judge’s house literally dressed as Sinitta. We won’t, apparently, just see Robbie joining the panel: he will be accompanied by his wife, the actor and sometime Loose Woman Ayda Field. They will become The X Factor’s first husband-wife judging team (in the UK at least – of which more shortly) and may well be the first two UK X Factor judges to have enjoyed intimate relations, although perhaps we should wait on the content of Louis Walsh’s long-threatened tell-all book before we draw a line under that particular supposition.

At this stage, it is Lost in Showbiz’s solemn duty to remind the world that three years ago, on the other side of the world, X Factor viewers met Natalia Kills, an entertainer who first rose to prominence in a Jasper Carrott sitcom, and her double-rudely named musician husband Willy Moon, who barely rose to prominence at all. In a parallel universe Kills & Moon might have enjoyed success with a series of slightly gothic romance novels, but in 2015 they were judges on X Factor New Zealand. After one performance, Kills took exception to a contestant’s decision to wear a suit and announced that the poor chap had copied her husband, who apparently invented tailoring. “Do you not have any value or respect for originality?” Kills asked. “It’s cheesy, it’s disgusting. I personally found it artistically atrocious. I am embarrassed to be sitting here in your presence having to dignify you with my opinion.” Kills’ happy-go-lucky husband offered: “It feels cheap and absurd, it’s like Norman Bates dressing up in his mother’s clothing … I feel like you’re going to stitch someone’s skin to your face and kill everybody in the audience.” Kills continued: “It’s disgusting, makes me sick. I can’t stand it.”

Kills concluded by stating that she was “ashamed to be here” – not a predicament that troubled her for long. While this sort of live TV moment is precisely the sort of feedback the UK’s X Factor could use in order to get back on front pages, at the time all did not go well. Co-judge Melanie Blatt echoed viewers’ thoughts when she offered Kills a summary of events via Twitter (“Sorry love, you’re a twat”), and within days both Kills and Moon were fired from the panel.

So, let’s hope Robbie and Ayda don’t get too carried away behind that desk and let’s cross our fingers that the pair’s critical dissection of endless Ed Sheeran covers will instead give way to a primetime, Saturday night slanging match over whose turn it is to put the bins out, whether or not crisp packets qualify for recycling and when IF AT ALL the back door is going to be fixed, because no domestic along these lines has ever not been entertaining.

In any case, the Williams and Field double-pronged attack on Saturday night TV makes absolute sense for Robbie. With all due respect to that collection of album offcuts he released with the artwork that showed him climbing a tree without any pants on, Robbie’s greatest artistic creation of the past half-decade did indeed involve Ayda and consisted of him live-tweeting the birth of the couple’s second child. One particular highlight was a video showing Robbie parading around the hospital bed belting along to his own song Candy as it blasted out of speakers, then stroppily turning off the music when his heavily-in-labour wife refused to engage in a call-and-response section. It was an absurdly comic two-hander with flashes of humour, truth, despair and banging tunes, which is surely all any of us really want from The X Factor.

Peter Andre.

Illustration: Nick Oliver

Peter Andre gets on board with Ace venture

In “for your consideration” news: there’s a new Thomas the Tank Engine film on its way and Peter Andre, very much the Minnesota skyscraper raccoon of British popular culture, incessantly climbing but never entirely certain if the public is cheering him on or shouting at him to stop, has a starring role. Whether Andre’s cinematic venture will top Ronan Keating’s turn in the abysmal 2014 Postman Pat movie – with its curiously political plot about skilled workers being replaced by automated delivery solutions – remains to be seen, but Pete has a trick up his sleeve: acting lessons from Al Pacino.

Well, sort of, but it’s a bit complicated because Peter Andre is, after all, a deeply complicated man. Andre says he paid £85 for an online acting course from Pacino, adding that Steve Martin also does a really good one about comedy. “You learn so much within minutes,” Andre gushes. “They’re incredible lessons.” The Steve Martin detail would seem to suggest Andre is talking about masterclass.com, a knowledge-sharing venture (or “money-making exercise”) that you should never visit online unless you want it popping up in your Facebook feed from now until death, and which has roped in Martin along with other inexplicably huge names such as Helen Mirren, Deadmau5 (sans helmet), Marc Jacobs and Diane von Fürstenberg to record video content that punters then pay to access. Confusingly, Pacino isn’t listed on their site. In fact, the only substantial online record of any Pacino acting masterclass is a spoof video from comedian Peter Serafinowicz, which culminates with “Al Pacino” embodying the persona of a student’s dead cockney uncle.

Curiously, and this may explain some of the confusion, Serafinowicz as Pacino looks startlingly like Peter Andre, and one is left to wonder whether someone has simply conned Andre out of the best part of £100 in exchange for a comedy YouTube link. We may only get to the bottom of this mystery if and when the Thomas movie arrives with a yellow car called Ace – for this is Andre’s role – bellowing in an unconvincing east London accent. But let’s not get bogged down in the detail because even if Andre has been scammed, who’s laughing now?

Peter Andre, that’s who. Andre is now a proper movie star. Not just that, but he has recorded a song called Free and Easy for the Thomas film’s soundtrack, doubling the number of Oscars for which he will be eligible. This could be the greatest slide into Hollywood glory since the Rock, so who cares where that £85 went?



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