The John Lewis Christ­mas ad: XFactor for indie-folk fe­males

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION - Brian Boyd on mu­sic

IT’S Asth­matic Indie-Folk Fe­male Cover Ver­sion Syn­drome (AIFCVS), and it’s a sure a sign of Christ­mas as any. Fill­ing the req­ui­site spot this year is Gabrielle Aplin and her cover of Frankie Goes to Hol­ly­wood’s The Power of Love (a hor­ren­dous song to be­gin with, but see re­view, page 15), which is tipped to be the fes­tive No 1 in both Ire­land and the UK.

The beauty here is that Aplin, a per­son­able 20-year-old from the ever-grow­ing indie-folk sta­ble, doesn’t need to do any promo to fling her song to the top of the charts. It’s all been done for her in a mas­sive spend by the John Lewis depart­ment store (£6 mil­lion and count­ing), which is us­ing Aplin’s cover as its Christ­mas ad­vert song this year.

The an­nual John Lewis Christ­mas ad­vert song artist is the new X Fac­tor win­ner. Back in 2009, Vic­to­ria Bergs­man’s asth­matic indie-folk cover of Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child o’Mine didn’t just make the John Lewis ad a me­dia talk­ing point – helped shift more than 70,000 copies of the song it­self.

But it was the fol­low­ing year the John Lewis fes­tive ad re­ally went into or­bit. El­lie Gould­ing (young, fe­male, indie-folk back­ground) cov­ered El­ton John’s Your Song, and that was so suc­cess­ful it spent half a year in the charts and sold 725,000 copies. Such was its reach that Wil­liam and Kate Wind­sor sum­moned Ms Gould­ing to Buckingham Palace to sing it live for them for their first dance as a mar­ried cou­ple. (Skrillex be­ing un­avail­able.)

Last year, Amelia Warner (young, fe­male, indie-folk . . . you get the pic­ture) got the gig with her cover of The Smiths’ Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, which sold a re­spectable 83,000 copies and was a top 10 hit.

But play the four songs back to back and you’ll hear some­thing strange: it’s as if all four singers have been in­structed to de­liver a slo-mo, overly breathy vo­cal (with the re­verb but­ton turned up to 11). Is this the John Lewis mar­ket­ing depart­ment look­ing for a sig­na­ture “sound”?

You could swap the singers around and you’d be hard pushed to notice any dif­fer­ence. And the fact that all four are young, fe­male and from an indie-folk back­ground is a bit Step­ford.

Per­son­ally, the Gabrielle Aplin track makes me want to get all Keith Moon on the tele­vi­sion; the El­lie Gould­ing song makes me feel ill (it’s so stylised it’s ridicu­lous). The Amelia Warner Smiths cover suf­fers from a BAD use OF em­pha­sis ON all the WRONG words.

How­ever, the Vic­to­ria Bergs­man song – eas­ily the least well-known of the John Lewis cat­a­logue – is ex­cel­lent. But, then, I was a big fan of Bergs­man’s de­but solo al­bum, Open Field (lis­ten to her sing Too Young). And if you’re won­der­ing why Bergs­man’s voice is a bit fa­mil­iar, it’s be­cause she’s the singer on the mas­sive Peter, Björn and John hit Young Folks.

Such is the “X Fac­tor for indie singers” pres­tige of land­ing the John Lewis Christ­mas song that the store’s mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor, Craig Inglis, says “artists want to do it, it feels cred­i­ble be­ing in­volved. It’s a re­flec­tion of a change in dy­nam­ics in the in­dus­try. We now have record la­bels and artists ap­proach­ing us, which I never would have be­lieved would have hap­pened a few years ago.”

There was a short­list of eight acts this year for the hon­our, with La Roux (by all ac­counts) just miss­ing out to Gabrielle Aplin. As aw­ful as Aplin’s cover is, the book­ies fancy it for the Christ­mas No 1.

But one thing you should re­mem­ber when you watch the Power of Love video (an emo­tive, sea­sonal af­fair that has made some peo­ple cry): it was filmed in July. In New Zealand. bboyd@irish­

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