It’s weird how quickly the pop world forgets. On planet pop, Chris Brown can beat his girlfriend to within an inch of her life, continue to display violent, abusive behaviour and then return to the top of the charts barely a year later. The pop-consuming public’s memory is short and its tastes are fickle, something we saw again in the redemption narrative of X Factor winner James Arthur. After releasing an embarrassing diss track featuring a slew of homophobic slurs, Arthur quickly fell out of public favour, was dropped by his record label and descended into Steve Brookstein levels of irrelevancy. But then came ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’, a trite ballad that reflected the market’s appetite for earnest slow tracks sung by miserable white guys and, suddenly, all was forgiven. The song was a smash hit, Arthur was re-signed by his record label and, just like that, the public loved him again. Perhaps it’s less accurate to say the pop world forgets and more accurate to say it just doesn’t care.
Aiming to recreate the success of ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’, Arthur has released new track ‘Naked’, a cliched love song that manages the impressive feat of being both sleep-inducingly dull and unnervingly creepy.
On ‘Naked’, Arthur essentially rewrites ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’, giving it only the slightest of tweaks. As he’s learned, the British public loves a turgid ballad they can listen to on Heart FM on the way to work, sandwiched between Take That, Sam Smith and more Take That. Arthur’s latest effort is perfect Heart fodder, innocuous and insipid, the strigine crooner rehashing the tired conceit of being naked (but like, emotionally naked because deep) in an effort to portray himself as a vulnerable lothario rather than a knuckleheaded bigot.
But as well as being as tasteless as a celery sandwich, Arthur’s lyrics have a certain creepiness that gives the song a rather bitter edge. “Don’t be scared,” he urges his would-be lover, before declaring “I’m trying to make it clear that getting half of you just ain’t enough.” To make matters worse, the grating refrain of “I’m standing here naked, naked” doesn’t have the intended effect of making Arthur sound vulnerable, but more pathetic, like Milhouse’s dad begging his wife to take him back. But to his credit, Kirk van Houten always wore underwear.
Personally, I blame Heart FM for allowing James Arthur to claw his way back from the X Factor graveyard. Because Heart FM listeners don’t care if that nice owl-looking lad off the telly uses the word ‘queer’, do they? They just like that song Jamie Theakston keeps insisting is good. They don’t want a pop star who’s interesting or not a shithead, they just like mushy man-ballads that sound like euthanasia. The blame, sadly, has to fall at their sensible shoe-wearing feet. If James Arthur had stayed chilling with Brookstein in X Factor hell, we would never have been subjected to a dump of a song like this.