Why is cabaret a dirty word on 'The X Factor'?

Gary Barlow and pals have a problem with the C-word. The cabaret scene has a problem with them

The word ‘cabaret’ is an insult on ‘The X Factor’. But now the scene’s performers are fighting back, reports Ben Walters.

Mat Ricardo

Judgements on ‘The X Factor’ veer between two poles. The best contenders can hope for is to be called ‘relevant’ – that’s pop-speak for doubleplusgood where Gary Barlow and pals are concerned. At the other end of the spectrum, acts the judges don’t like are often labelled ‘cabaret’ – meaning cheesy, showy, based on belting out big notes or pleasing middle-aged cruise passengers. It’s a bit like the playground use of ‘gay’: a derogatory misapplication of a word that describes something real and unworthy of denigration.

Now cabaret performers have had enough. Led by Frisky and Mannish, they’ve made a video striking back. Shot in Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, it starts at a meeting of the ‘cabarati’, hanging out in their hula hoops, feather fans and diamantehorned bowlers: just another day in the office. Then comes a devastating Barlow-style ballad, ‘Say No to Cabaret’, during which performers are made over in bland ‘X Factor’-wannabe style. It rounds off with an invitation for the show’s judges to come to an actual cabaret show and see what they’re missing. You can see the results for yourself below.

It’s a project spurred less by disdain than frustration: Frisky and Mannish are ‘X Factor’ devotees and Radio 1 regulars who just want fair treatment. It’s all in good fun but rooted in a serious point about smearing a valid art form; think of how some people persist in associating all hip hop with violence. Another recent episode of ‘X Factor’ saw Tulisa hop on the cabaret-bashing bandwagon – but what would she make of someone dissing a performer as ‘too grime’ if their music was nothing like it?

Nor is this sour grapes: many cabaret acts are regularly invited on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. But they prefer to push boundaries, keep control of their work and interact with audiences, so it’s a no from them.

Using ‘cabaret’ as a dirty word is lazy, and it’s missing a trick. The underground scene is not only thriving but increasingly influencing the mainstream, as current shows like ‘Forever Crazy’ on the South Bank, the West End revival of the musical ‘Cabaret’ and the Tiger Lillies’ recent version of ‘Hamlet’ at the Royal Festival Hall demonstrate. ‘Relevant’ enough for you…?

Watch the London cabarati's response to 'The X Factor'

View Time Out's cabaret galleries