How James Arthur Sabotaged His Own Career

Of all the pop music talent show winners – other than perhaps bitter old Steve Brookstein – few have sabotaged their own career to the extent of James Arthur.

He scooped the public vote in the final of the 2012 series of ‘The X-Factor’, beating rival Jahméne Douglas pretty convincingly. His divisiveness was perhaps indicated during the show though, after he became the only contestant ever to have won the title having previously appeared in the ‘bottom two’ (as he did in week seven).

Always the rough diamond, he arrived at the auditions in Newcastle from his bedsit in Middlesborough, unemployed and looking to show off his enviable singing talent. He immediately curried favour with Tulisa, singing her track ‘Young’, and had some good back story – his parents, who joined him at the audition, had barely spoken for 20 years, and had reconciled for the big day. He was eventually snapped up by Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger for her ‘Boys’ group, alongside Rylan Clark and his fellow finalist Jahméne.

Despite actually looking pretty trendy at his audition, he pitched up at boot camp with a pair of what appeared to be his granddad’s glasses. But not in a hipster-ish way – he spoke of how he had always felt paranoid about his looks. But come the live shows, he’d transformed, swan-like (well, that may be a slight exaggeration, the glasses had gone though), and he looked at least marginally more like a potential popstar again.

And during the show itself, he appeared to be pretty well behaved. It was after he won, singing Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’ and Shontelle’s ‘Impossible’ in the final – the latter becoming his debut single – that the wheels started to fall off.

Perhaps the number one he scored with ‘Impossible’ went to his head, but suddenly he became something of a regular in the gossip columns. And not for any of the right reasons. There were kiss and tells. There was grubby sexting with fans. There were stories about cavorting with prostitutes, while still wearing his socks. Action befitting a rock star, perhaps, but certainly not a pop star from a TV show dependent on teens and pre-teens asking their parents if they can buy his music.

He trash-talked One Direction. And then Rita Ora, who he very briefly dated. A big no-no when both acts are much (MUCH) more popular than you are. You need to be co-opting those fans, not alienating them. He later apologised for his behaviour. “I’ve made some very silly mistakes. I want to thank the X Factor for giving me this opportunity,” he said. “I want to say sorry for abusing my position as an X Factor winner because I owe everything to this thing.”

But he kept on messing things up, and kept on slagging people off. In a rap diss track (what he was doing recording it, aimed at an unknown rapper called Micky Worthless, is anyone’s guess), he used a homophobic slur. His former pal on ‘The X-Factor’ Lucy Spraggan, who is gay, called him on it. In a series of text messages to her which she later screen-grabbed and published on Twitter, he slated her in a truly graceless fashion.

Because of the homophobic lyrics, iTunes offered fans refunds on the purchase of his debut album, citing an ‘appropriate exception to the iTunes Store Terms and Conditions which state all sales are final’, a disastrous turn of events for Arthur, making an already dreadful PR story much, much worse. Soon after, his label played the classic ‘acute exhaustion’ card and cancelled his forthcoming engagements.

Twitter was never his friend either. Any responsible management team would have banned him from speaking directly to such a potentially substantial audience, but the Twitter ‘rants’ came thick and fast. He tussled with comedian Frankie Boyle, who ridiculed him mercilessly. After accusing Boyle of attention seeking, he retorted: “I think if I wanted attention I’d sing covers on a talent show, inked up like a school desk in a remedial class.” Everyone sided with Boyle.

In another rant in 2014, he compared himself to the tortured killer whale Tilikum from the Sea World exposé documentary ‘Blackfish’.

In another, he blasted radio stations, blaming perceived ‘blacklisting’ of his music for his single ‘Get Down’ reaching a woeful number 96 in the charts. He also called the performance of his promotions team ’embarrassing’.

‘Britain’s Got Talent’ star Potts himself then offered Arthur some friendly advice. “You’re a talented guy and ur music is great. But you’re not an amateur anymore. Criticising ur promotion team openly on here… isn’t the best idea,” he tweeted. “Their wages come out of your budget and there will come a time when you need them more than they need u.”

With Potts having clearly seen something in the tea leaves, Syco, Simon Cowell’s label who signed Arthur after ‘The X-Factor’, dropped him. (It didn’t help that he’d recorded and posted an expletive-ladend track called ‘Follow The Leader’, which featured the lyrics ‘I’m gonna blow up your family like I’m a terrorist… slit the throats of your relatives’… charming.)

Sources close to the singer at the time called him ‘his own worst enemy’.

Most destructive to his career has been the persistent abuse aimed at others he deems to be working in detriment to his ‘art’, as well as slagging off other artists. In an interview on Polish TV, he let loose: “I have people telling me what I can and can’t do, what music I can and can’t make. People who aren’t artists don’t think about – creativity and art, they think about money.

“When you find fame or you get signed to a record label, it’s not what you imagined – because you imagined they would have 100 per cent trust or faith in you as an artist. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case – it’s what sells.”

He went on (inadvisably): “Having watched X Factor over the years, they just haven’t got it right. The male winners haven’t been believable. They look like puppets, they sound like puppets. I happen to agree with a lot of people who say it’s like karaoke. I’ve done it myself watching the show over the years and saying, ‘I’ve seen better down my local pub.’ Unfortunately, there’s a f***load of karaoke singers in the world and all they can do is make them look like good karaoke singers.”

Recent press stories have been as ignominious as ever. Over the summer at ‘Shardfest’, an event at the Norman Chamberlain Playing Fields in Shard End, Birmingham, saw him supposedly snubbing fans who were said to have wanted autographs.

Then last month, he was ‘bottled‘ during a spat in a Wetherspoons pub in Redcar. He tweeted at nearly 4am that he’d had ‘a good night in Redcar’, along with a pint of beer and a confused-looking emoji, while police confirmed there’d been an altercation involving a ’28-year-old man’ who was hit with a bottle.

“This would seem to have been a sudden and unprovoked attack, which happened without warning and was all over very quickly, as Mr Arthur’s friends managed to get the assailant out of the pub. Mr Arthur also left the premises immediately. We have been in touch with the family since this happened to pass on our best wishes,” read a statement from the pub chain.

Sleeve tatts notwithstanding, because of his ‘X-Factor’ win he was never deemed cool enough for a rock career, and has proved himself time and time again not to be family-friendly enough for a pop career. He appears to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, though late last year he announced a new record deal with Columbia Records and released a new single ‘The Truth’ in January. A new single, ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’ is out on September 9. Both show he still has a great voice, but then that was never the problem, was it.

Image credits: Rex Features/ITV/YouTube/Flynet/AP

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