When asked what he does for a living, Simon Cowell says his job is to “guess what’s going to be popular.” In fact, the strange genius of the X-Factor format is that guessing nothing to do with it. By voting, the public tell Cowell what’s going to be popular. All that remains for Cowell is to frogmarch the winner into a studio and position his golden bucket at the bottom of the chute marked “Simon’s share”.
And yet, even with such a failsafe mechanism in place, Cowell still sometimes gets it wrong. Why? Because, once in a while, he lets his own preferences impede what really is just a simple popularity contest. Take Jedward, for instance. When it came to John and Edward Grimes – Ireland’s teenage answer to The Cat In The Hat’s Thing 1 and Thing 2 – it wasn’t just that Cowell didn’t get it. It was the fact that he didn’t even get that his not getting it was keeping the twins in the contest.
If you were young enough – six, maybe seven – Jedward’s X-Factor run was probably like being a punk in ’77. Punk was a movement that valued dumb gusto over talent. Punk also bewildered the establishment much as Jedward have done with Cowell. And on Planet Jedward, the twins even tackle a sacred text from that era, namely The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks. Would this version have made John Peel weep, just as the original did? Arguably not. By the same token, if your kids choose to spend their pocket money on Planet Jedward, there are some things you’ll feel wiser for overhearing: on Under Pressure (Ice Ice Baby), the crunching gear change between the Queen/Bowie bits and the gonad-clasping Vanilla Ice bits; and Ghostbusters which features this priceless exchange: “Yo Edward, you know what I wanna go do today?… I wanna go bust ghosts.”
For all of that, however, Planet Jedward is an album that dances (with defiant ineptitude) in the face of critical appraisal. As an attempt to preserve Jedward’s unique Jedwardness, it succeeds. Does that make it a good thing? The more you think about it, the more you understand why Calvin Harris felt compelled to storm the stage in the middle of their X-Factor appearance last year, armed with a pineapple. On Planet Jedward, that’s as sane a response as any.