Heroes & Villains: Ed Harcourt on Simon Cowell ; the 21st-Century Troubabour (below) Chooses a Pop Svengali as His Villain

Article excerpt

"THE MUSIC industry is a culture awash with sycophants and yes- men. There's far too much decorum and protocol. My harsh criticism may be tough on some people, but in the main it tends to have a positive effect ... most importantly, it separates the wannabes from the real stars, and does so as swiftly and uncomfortably as possible."

By all accounts this is an eloquent and insightful soundbite from the most honest man in the music industry - Simon Cowell. As the hugely successful, famously outspoken judge of TV talent shows such as Pop Idol, American Idol and ITV's latest Saturday night offering, The X Factor, he's a man in control of his future assets, career and new- found celebrity, relishing in his notoriety while smugly showing us around the plush LA mansion he admits he hardly lives in on an episode of MTV's Cribs.

At BMG, the record company he works for, Cowell helped to achieve sales of 25 million albums worldwide. This is pretty impressive stuff - and there is every possible reason why I, a musician, could or should be horribly envious of Simon Cowell. Well, I hate to disappoint but ...

It's not the high-trousered waistline or your bog-brush haircut, Simon, it's the fact you seem to think you've always retained some kind of wise- owl integrity in this godforsaken business. Reducing teenagers to tears on television is not the reason why I see you as a villain. What really makes a great pop song or a real star? Is it the bowel-disrupting warblings of Robson & Jerome or is it Westlife grimacing on the edge of a cliff, shirts torn open, clenched fists and meaning every word? This is such terrible and ugly pop music, Simon. I'm not just a fan of Seventies songwriters and indie rock, as you may expect - I've been digging pop hits for years, just not yours. You say that those with the most attitude have the least talent but I'm afraid this statement is quite misleading towards your devoted public (who used to love to hate you but now love to love you). What you really mean is, "I am the devil and your soul is mine. You have no say in the matter. In return you will be famous for a few years and then discarded into the lake of fire. …