The X Factors

How blue-eyed soul singers are every bit as strange and fascinating as the mutants of X-Men. 

 

It’s an objective fact that, “Black culture” is “cooler” overall than “White culture.” At times, it seems as if internet memes are a continual cycle of fads started by Black youth that disseminate everywhere until White soccer moms kill it. There’s just something unique about the Black experience that just makes our fashion, speech and entertainment appealing to mainstream White audiences.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in music. All American music, both White and Black, can trace its influence back to early 20th century gospel and blues. From this era comes the intangible quality called “soul” that is a prerequisite for Black artists. But this quality isn’t privy to only Black people. Throughout the years, plenty of White artist have uncharacteristically displayed this skill as well. Some could even say they are musical version of “mutants.”

Running with the thought that blue-eyed soul singers are mutants, I thought it only made sense to compare them to the most popular mutants in pop culture, The X-Men. This rag-tag group of humans with special abilities has always served as an allegory on how society deals with social issues such as race and sexual orientation. Why can’t we use it to analyze and understand the next great cultural evolution, White people with soul?

wolverine

WOLVERINE – What You Won’t Do for Love (Bobby Caldwell)

One aspect from the comics version of Wolverine that hasn’t been shown with the Hugh Jackman versions, is the character’s berserker rage. In the comics, Wolverine can go off in fits of rage and with his claws, eviscerate everything within his general vicinity. He holds nothing back and anything in his way is destroyed.

This is exactly how Bobby Caldwell approached the song “What You Won’t Do For Love.” From the first note of the song, he just GOES FOR IT and demolishes every note with unabashed soul. It’s a marvel to hear (get it). The funniest part about this song is the visual. Caldwell is a middle aged dude that looks like White Jesus. Him being this soulful is against all the laws of nature and physics.

Cyclops

CYCLOPS – Too Close (Alex Clare)

No one really likes Cyclops. He doesn’t really have that much of a personality and that makes him the least empathetic in the love triangle between him, Wolverine and Jean Gray. In addition, he has one of the worst powers. Nothing positive can come from being able to shoot lasers out of your eyes. To combat that, he must wear glasses that are supposed to look cool, but red-tinted shades are over rated. (Yes. I’m looking at you every baseball player, ever). Every once in a while, he can come through in a pinch but most of the time, I’d rather focus on the other mutants.

Much like “Do For Love” on paper, ”To Close” shouldn’t work. A white guy trying sing soulfully over dubstep is a risky proposition and to no one’s surprise, it doesn’t quite work. Like Cyclops, dubstep thinks it’s cooler than it actually is, which makes it more annoying. This is sad because I think that  Clare has a decent voice and there are some gems in the song…but not enough to make it a game-changer.

beast

BEAST – Gone (*Nsync)

Beast is an interesting mutant to assign a song to. While he has the physical traits of a gorilla, he also is the smartest of the X-Men, earning a PhD in BioPhysics and Genetics. He is the embodiment of human potential both physically and intellectually. But that’s not what I want to focus on. The part I want to focus on is his transformation into the blue hairy creature we all know and love. You see the fur is not a part of his natural state. He accidently got it while experimenting on a serum that would temporarily give even mutant abilities.

The transformation is key to the song comparison because before “Gone”, *Nsync was a lily, white boy band that just sang pop hits. The Blackest thing they did before this was rip off “Just Got Paid” by Johnny Kemp note for note. But with this slow, soulful and sensual song, we saw the transformation from a kiddie bop boy band to a fully-grown man band. More accurately, this song signaled the transformation of co-writer Justin Timberlake. For the first time, we heard the sounds that he would eventually use on his first solo album, Justified.

storm

STORM – Lost Without You (Robin Thicke)

Storm is bad ass. She’s a game changer. She’s literally an African goddess. She can control whether which means that her mood can mess up everyone’s day. I addition to being able to control literally any environment she’s in, she is also the token Black character of the X-Men, a point that’s key to the song she get’s assigned to.

P.S Storm/Halle Berry also are the reciters of the worst line in screenwriting history.

Not too many White people knew who Robin Thicke was before “Blurred Lines.” But like how Storm is everyone’s favorite Black mutant, Robin Thicke was R&B’s favorite White boy. Do you need to set the mood for an intimate evening with your partner? Put “Lost Without You” at the top of your playlist to instantly prime the room for a sensual night.

juggernaut

JUGGERNAUT – Never Gonna Give You Up (Rick Astley)

The juggernaut is a larger than life villain that is literally an unstoppable force. Once he starts running nothing can stop him. He’s crass, he’s annoying, but for some reason the internet loves him. One of the most popular YouTube videos of the mid 2000s was “Juggernaut Bitch“. A dub over a X-Men: The Animated Series episode where the big guy repeatedly yells  “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” It’s one of those classic YouTube videos that shouldn’t work but somehow is hilarious. The clip was so popular that the movie version of the Juggernaut had the line added to his dialogue (not very well, but we all got the joke)

If there is ever a blue-eyed soul artist that can embody The Jugernaut’s path of viral stardom and unstoppable momentum once he gets started, its Rick Astley. Rick Rolling was and still is the most unique fad that the internet meme culture has generated. And it’s easy to see why people are obsessed with the video. This pasty white dude who can barely dance opens his mouth and sings with the bass voice of a 6’3 Black man. It’s spectacle at its highest.

mystique

MYSTIQUE – Fell In Love With a Boy (Joss Stone)

Mystique is an extremely interesting character because she can change her appearance to look like anyone. This reality has lead to some significant plot developments concerning identity and inclusion. It could also lead to some interesting discussion about appropriation, if done right. At the end of the day, the question surrounding Mystique is intriguing: Who are you when you can be anyone?

All of these questions of identity made the sheer existence of Joss Stone’s “Fell in Love with a Girl” at interesting case study on blue-eyed soul. That’s because this song has a double layer Whiteness. First, we start with Joss Stone, a British-born soul singer who fully embraces her genre with album titles like “The Soul Sessions” and “Mind, Body and Soul.” You take this singer and have her cover a White Stripes song that sounds like it could have been recorded by the Ramones. And not only does she do this cover, but she does it REALLY well. Now White songs being covered by soulful Black artists is nothing new. Just listen to Whitney Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You” or Lauryn Hill’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” It’s just that White people soulfully covering other White people songs is a level of evolution even I’m not be ready for yet.

jg2

JEAN GREY/PHOENIX – Rolling in the Deep (Adele)

Jean Gray is the most powerful mutant out there. She can pretty much do anything. Telekinesis? Mindreading? Flying? All skills in her CV. Even when she’s killed, she just brushes it off and comes back even stronger as Dark Phoenix. At this point, she is damn near undefeatable.

Adele is Jean Gray. The soul credentials are undeniable. She puts so much of herself into her music that instead of giving then proper titles, she just names them after the age she was when she wrote/recorded the songs. But not only is she one of the greatest voices of this generation, she also is multi-talented. Her perfectly rapping Nikki Minaj’s Monster verse in Carpool Karaoke could serve as her application for Wakandain citizenship if she so chooses. And Adele also has her own Phoenix story. After almost losing her voice and taking significant time off, she came back the next year with “Hello.” Anything that doesn’t kill her makes her stronger.

px

PROFESSOR X – Sarah Smile (Hall and Oates)

Professor X is the leader of the X-Men and is the founder of _________________. Not only is he one of the X-Men that is in the greatest control of his abilities, he is also has been a teacher and mentor to many other mutants by helping them gain control of their abilities. Because of his prominence as the one of the thought leaders of the two major factions of mutants, he serves are a guidepost for many of the young minds that follow in his path. He is everything you want. Commanding but passionate. Strong but vulnerable. All the traits you want in a leader.

Darryl Hall and John Oats are the godfathers of the blue-eyed soul music. Coming of age during the middle of the Philly Soul movement, Hall and Oates found the perfect balance of staying true to the sound but also making it all their own. H&O’s music never sounds forced or borrowed, it just sounds like Hall and Oates. And Sarah Smile is their Magnum Opus. The song is powerful in the high spots, smooth in the low spots and is delivered in a way that make your face scrunch up when you hear it. This is the song that all of the other artists on this list should have studied before attempting their own song. A song truly to be admired.

mag

MAGNETO – This is a Man’s Word (Christina Aguilera)

As a teenager, Magneto was imprisoned in a concentration camp. As a result, he is obsessed with never being powerless again. Power is his sole focus and he believes that mutants’ superior abilities gives them license to exert that power over the human race.  Magneto is confident, he’s not afraid and he knows there is nothing you can do you stop him.

Earlier, I said that Adele was one of the best voices of this generation. Well Christina Aguilera is one of the best voices of all time. Don’t be fooled by the simple pop songs like “Genie in a Bottle” this girl has pipes. The only proof you need to support this case is her performance at the Grammy award’s tribute to James Brown. Christina took one of THE GODFATHER OF SOUL’s most soulful songs and UPPED the ante. Wearing a white pantsuit that would even make Hilary Clinton raise an eyebrow, ‘Tina did the equivalent of a Mortal Kombat fatality on the song. This wasn’t the quite, soulful stirring of Robin Thick and Hall and Oates we talked about earlier. This was three minutes of screaming at the top of your lungs but still in expert control of your instrument. It was bold, fearless and undeniably soulful.

It’s not a man’s world anymore and it’s not a world of black-only soul either.

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