Oops, I didn't do it again

Clem Garritty
Co-Founder & Executive Creative Director
Oops, I didn't do it again

If you were one of the 123 million people watching The Super Bowl last month you’d have seen a half time performance by Alicia Keys. She’s great. She’s always great. Even if, when performing live in front of the most watched telecast in TV history, her voice falters slightly in the opening notes of her biggest hit: ‘If I Ain’t Got You’. Firstly, it’s crazy to think this banger of a song is now over 20 years old and secondly, the rough note hardly matters. When you’ve had as confident and consistent a career as Alicia Keys, you’re allowed the odd wobble, no one’s keeping a tally.

If you aren’t one of those 123 million sports fans and, like me, only plug in to The Super Bowl to see what dizzying spectacle they have managed to put on for the halftime show, then you may have found yourself on the NFL’s official YouTube channel; where you would have seen a notably altered version of Keys’ performance. Here there was no bum note. The slow crane shot, dreamy piano keys and billowing red dress were all as they should be, but the opening pitchiness had been artificially corrected and Alicia was now note perfect.

Which is… good? I guess? No more fluffs? End of article? But ever since watching this I’ve felt a strange underlying sense of unease and I’ve struggled to quantify why. Autotune has been around for decades and we know that people don’t always perform live. The whole thing is part of a big, shiny illusion that we’re mostly happy to participate in. What I think gives me the ick is this increasing pursuit of a clean-cut, perfected world; a world where lines are never fluffed and mistakes never made. Who cares if there’s the odd wrinkle and occasional cock-up? Isn’t it the idiosyncrasies and rough-edges that, when reflected back at us, make the biggest impact and make us feel seen? Is this increasingly edited world missing the point and leaving us lost? I’d like to argue that the messy bits are what keep the arts and our culture colourful, textured and appealing. Mistakes don’t have to be bad. Why? Well…

1. We need a laugh

Imagine a world where we weren’t blessed with the gift that is Elías García Martínez’s fresco ‘Ecce Homo’, or more specifically: the botched restoration attempt made by 81-year-old Cecilia Giménez who so fabulously failed to recreate the divine glory of Christ; and instead painted my favourite ever portrait of a gibbon. Or imagine if you had never experienced the rare whole-body cringe induced by John Travlota butchering the name Idina Menzel so spectacularly at the 2014 Oscars that he nervously yabbered “the wickedly talented-” (squint at autocue, think i’ve got it) “-Adele Dazim!” (sigh of relief, nailed it). What about Gary Lineker famously fouling himself - a pun I’m disgustingly happy with - during a 1990 World Cup match against Ireland? What about that amazing clip of Guy Goma getting interviewed on BBC News - who’d turned up to interview for a job as a ‘data support cleanser’ and was accidentally wheeled out as an expert in the Apple Vs. Apple Computer legal dispute? Chef’s kiss. Gemma Collins falling over on Dancing on Ice? Or Gemma Collins falling over at The Radio1 Teen Awards? Or Gemma Collins falling over on Celebrity Big Brother? What I’m saying is mistakes can unite us, for one fleeting moment, in a shared sense of genuine joy.

2. We need training grounds

Think of some of the greatest TV shows such as Seinfeld, Friends, Parks & Rec, Money Heist, Schitts Creek, The OA and even the hallowed Game of Thrones. All of these were almost cancelled early in their runs due to low viewing figures. And yet, eventually, they each found their footing, and now hold their places in the ‘top’ lists of most TV nerds (as one, I’m allowed to say that). However, these days new shows are increasingly being cancelled after their first or second season due to poor performance. Channels and SVODs are less and less likely to give new work the platform to develop storylines, characters and arcs that will eventually speak to a growing audience. But shows need time to develop, to experiment, to find their shape - and I don’t just mean TV shows. Comedy shows, fringe theatre and, yes, immersive experiences all need to respond to audiences to evolve. No stand-up special is going to be perfect when first performed, no musical is going to be great without previews and no immersive chocolate factory tour is going to work without test audiences.

And training grounds are vanishing. The Edinburgh Fringe is prohibitively expensive, artists can no longer really ‘experiment’ at the festival - the cost is so astronomical that performers need to ensure a solid show that draws in solid audiences or they’re financially screwed - and usually even the smash hit shows fail to cover the soaring costs. In 2012, Vault Festival was launched in the tunnels beneath London’s Waterloo Station and was immediately seen as a younger, scrappier sibling to Edinburgh. Late-night comedy, sticky plastic pint cups and a smelly railway arch?! It was like being in Auld Reekie but without the expensive train journey, extortionate accommodation and (sadly) bagpipes. Just 2 months ago however, Vault Festival announced its closure after failing to secure funding to launch in a new venue. Waterloo station needs to make way for more public toilets, more M&S Simply Foods and, of course, more Prets. It’s startlingly similar to those who remember SHUNT’s closure at London Bridge Station over a decade earlier, and ultimately it’s incredibly sad. These places to experiment and grow have fostered some amazing talents: from Liz Kingsman and her brilliant and globally loved ‘One Woman Show’, David Rosenberg, stand-ups like Joe Lycett and playwrights like Joseph Charlton; whose play 'Anna X' graduated from Vault Fest to the West End where it starred The Crown’s Emma Corrin.

If we start to jettison stuff in its larval stage because it’s ‘a bit messy’ then the stuff in question will never graduate to a polished state that people can enjoy. I’m not saying Alicia Keys - more than 25 years into her career - needs this training ground, but if we start to doctor the imperfect then we’re going to see less and less of it. And if we see less of it, we’re going to become impatient with the imperfect stuff.

3. We can break the mould

November 9th, 1989. East German politician Günter Schabowski (imagine a 1980s step dad who’s also a headteacher), accidentally announced that the restrictions on travel to West Germany were to be removed. The government had in fact discussed this, but not decided to do it at all, and Schabowski - reading a hand scrawled note on a scrap of paper in a pile of many - appeared aware of his mistake as soon as he’d made it. But the damage was done: huge crowds of people converged on border gates demanding to be allowed to cross. The Border Guards, having received no orders about it, at first attempted to refuse, but eventually the pressure grew too strong and a couple of officers ordered the gates opened. The flood of people was unstoppable, and by the time people started to go home, some were already breaking bits off the wall and pulling down some of the barriers. This little accident was the catalyst for the opening of the border between East and West Germany, and a few months later, the official destruction of the wall itself. Pretty epic accident.

Long live mistakes, they’re not always bad, and if we airbrush them out of culture we’re going to start freaking out when we make them in our own lives. Mistakes can inspire us, maybe even unite us, and if they don’t manage to do either, at least they can make us laugh along the way (I refer you once again to this photo).

Want more like this?

Want more like this?

Insight delivered to your inbox

Keep up to date with our free email. Hand picked whitepapers and posts from our blog, as well as exclusive videos and webinar invitations keep our Users one step ahead.

By clicking 'SIGN UP', you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

side image splash

By clicking 'SIGN UP', you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy