Davina McCall: Can Big Brother distract us from our own reality shows?

The original titan of the genre transfixed audiences in a more forgiving and less self-aware age – a comeback seems irrelevant

Fancy another one?, as Davina McCall would say. After five years away, Big Brother is back (and if you can say anything about it without attempting a terrible approximation of narrator Marcus Bentley’s accent, then I salute you).

During last week’s Love Island finale, it was announced that the original reality TV titan will return in 2023, moving to ITV2 and its new streaming platform. Rumours are circulating as to who might host it. Superfan and Celebrity Big Brother winner Rylan seems the obvious choice and though he tweeted his elation that it is coming back, he clarified that he had not been asked to present. “V early days re team/host etc,” he said, which is not necessarily a no. Five years is not a long absence. Big Brother stretched on long past its prime, though I was surprised to find that I knew who had won up to as far as series 11. Reading the names of series 12-19 winners is like looking at someone else’s school photo. Not a clue. If there is any mass yearning for Big Brother, then surely it is for those earlier days, aired through the 00s, when seeing the minutiae of ordinary people’s day-to-day lives was still a novelty.

Now, most of us are routinely engaged in broadcasting the mundane details, from posts about food and holidays to shady updates alluding to minor rows. And we have already moved far beyond the familiar, on to the creative overload of TikTok and Reels, which tap into any niche interest that it’s possible to conjure up and, to borrow a line from Big Brother 5’s Michelle Bass when she sang Pie Jesu, it has put a Beyoncé spin on it. That is to say, it has endless trills and variations running through it already.

This is a more self-aware and less forgiving age and reality TV has spent the past few years examining its conscience and having its legacy tested, through documentaries such as Jade: The Reality Star Who Changed Britain and the excellent podcast Unreal: A Critical History of Reality TV. Will it come back chastened and meek or will it be forced to do even more to compete for a sliver of our fractured attention spans? Will there be enough interest in attention-seeking, media-savvy strangers attempting to co-exist for several weeks under constant surveillance? We are all under such surveillance anyway; cameras are whipped out at school sports days and car accidents and proposals and mass brawls.

Big Brother preempted the culture. Is there any room for it, now that the people have taken over?

Beyoncé: a new album or just a work in progress?

Beyoncé: a drip feed of controversies.
Beyoncé: a drip feed of controversies. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The arrival of any new Beyoncé record is always going to be a spectacle, but the release of her seventh album Renaissance seemed relatively low key. There was a lead single, Break My Soul, which inspired a harmless smattering of discussion about whether a multimillionaire superstar singing about quitting one’s job was palatable or not, and then the album arrived, as it was supposed to, leaked a little early, but largely ignored by fans who respected their idol’s wishes to wait until launch. It was stuffed with bangers, destined for the dancefloor, thrillingly busy and, on the surface, controversy-proof. Even a track called America Has a Problem turned out to be about love and desire, rather than the political rallying cry that its title suggested.

Still, a drip feed of controversies made their presence known. The tracks Energy and Heated – both about to be extremely covetable in Britain’s impending winter of doom – have caused issues. Kelis objected to the “interpolation” of her track Milkshake, credited on Energy, claiming she had known nothing about its use. It has since been removed.

On Heated, Beyoncé was called out for the use of an offensive slur, like Lizzo before her. And just as Lizzo did, she has changed the lyric, in this case, to “blast”.

I can think of albums that dropped songs, such as the Strokes losing New York City Cops on the American release of Is This It, following 9/11, but the revision and tweaking of details within songs, even after an album has been released, feels new.

The Renaissance vinyl release, which drops in September, may force a more fixed version into place.

Annemiek van Vleuten is truly a fabulous tour de force

Annemiek van Vleuten, winner of the Tour de France Femmes.
Annemiek van Vleuten, winner of the Tour de France Femmes. Photograph: Papon Bernard/AP

Congratulations to the Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten, who has won the first proper Tour de France Femmes. In a statement, she said that she was “super-proud” of her historic victory, which should usher in a new age for women’s cycling. It is particularly sweet given that last month she announced she would retire from professional cycling at the end of 2023. What a way to bow out.

I lost myself in the statistics for a while, not least the fact that her top speed on the Super Planche des Belle Filles stage was 95.4kmh, or just shy of 60mph, with 2,490m of elevation. It certainly puts slogging up the inconvenient single, very small hill on my cycle into town into perspective.

“I hope it’s a big start and we can build this into an even bigger event,” said Van Vleuten, echoing another very recent historic win for women’s sport.

Just as the victorious Lionesses are using their success as a platform for demanding more access to football for more girls, and pulling new audiences along with them, the hope is that this entire event, and not just Van Vleuten’s victory, will prove to be a foundation on which to build.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 250 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at observer.letters@observer.co.uk


Rebecca Nicholson

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