This is the culmination of watching the RatM vs. Joe McSomething battle unfold today. I was drawn into a couple of tweet/facebook/blog debates with people about it, and having written enough for a post anyway, so here’s the result.
Firstly, for anyone who’s not in the UK, or has been severed from popular culture for the past month or so, today was the day the Christmas No.1 single was announced. It was between the winner of the X Factor apparently with a cover of a Miley Cyrus song, and Rage Against the Machine with Killing in the Name. The latter had come into play as a result of a Facebook campaign to get it there by some dissenters/fans.
Now, there were a lot of people who were unnecessarily trolling on both sides, but I wanted to address a few ‘points’ that I saw made by people who deemed the campaign ‘stupid’ – (particularly after they realised it was real threat, and more so after it won).
1) “You’ve ruined a poor boy’s dream”
He’s 18 – a fully developed adult, the last time I checked. And if the pre-requisite for going on X Factor is to dream assume you will receive the Christmas number one, then yes we have ruined his dream, and head-banged whilst we did it. Besides he was more just incidental to the Cowell vs Angry Mob, and I don’t think using the word ‘poor’ particularly qualifies, if he’s getting a fraction of what he’s supposed to from his contract. Besides, most these acts are disposable puppets to the producers anyway, and the ‘damage’ to Joe himself is negligible. .
2) “RatM are signed to Simon Cowell’s label, so you’re just lining his pocket”
Not exactly. Rage are signed to Epic, Simon started ‘Syco’. Both are part of Sony, but are separate divisions. Saying that, Cowell probably has some shares in Sony, but then as one tweeter said, that’d be like assuming you’re handing him over money every time you buy a Playstation. Besides, Cowell is so filthy rich that I personally don’t think he cares much – it’s more a symbolic thing, hence why it is irrelevant that Joe will get the next week’s spot. Cowell/the X Factor evidently covet the number 1 position, hence their annual assault on the charts for it. I like to think that ‘losing’ this probably pissed him off more than getting a bit more cash out of the race made him happier.
“It’s a stupid song, not Christmass-y at all! It didn’t even get to number one the first time round! Those emos are so angry and rude!”
It didn’t get to number one because it was truly alternative at the time, and downloads didn’t exist. The notion of ‘Christmas no 1’ is a bad one for music overall, since it seems to open the floodgates for any mediocre over-emotionalised cringeworthy tat to be passed off as music just ‘because it’s Christmas’. Killing in the Name is by no means festive, but why is Christmas an excuse for crap? I could write an X Factor winning single within five minutes, just lots of lyrics about ‘raising up’, ‘staying strong’ and ‘thank yous’, chuck in a few crescendo riffs and a gospel choir, and you’ve got a number one single. Without the X Factor brand (the same for the Disney brand with Cyrus’ original), it would barely have broken the top twenty because it’s so unremarkable. Killing in the Name isn’t family-friendly, but it was never intended as something to play out whilst everyone digs into their turkey.
3) “The campaign was just cynical – most people didn’t buy it because they genuinely liked it, but instead were doing it purely because it wasn’t X Factor”
Exactly, though change the word ‘wasn’t, and you’ve summed up what’s wrong with the X Factor. Its primary aim is to get the Christmas number one, and maybe if they’re lucky even produce long-term star with stand-out talent and sustainable success once in a blue moon. Its secondary aim is to promote Simon Cowell, and anyone else who’ll get on board. I heard on the radio that Cheryl Cole’s single (obviously timed with her appearance on the series) jumped up 7 places in the week ‘her’ contestant also released his single.
Ever ‘superstar’ guest performer they’ve had on, also had a record to promote, and was on there for the free mass publicity – not thanks to any merit of the show or its contestants (Robbie Williams, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, Michael Buble, George Michael etc). It’s the next best thing now that Top of the Pops has gone down the pan. The people who backed the campaign are SO cynical that they’ve collectively donated at the time of writing over £75,000 to Shelter, which is more than is coming out of the pockets of either the winner or Simon Cowell.
If a song is to get to number one, it simply has to sell, nothing more, nothing less; whether that be by spending millions on advertising via several months-worth of Saturday night TV shows, thus priming an audience of hundreds of thousands to ensure/assume that happens; or organising a viral campaign on social networking sites harnessing the irritation of people who dislike the first. You can’t turn round and say that the campaign was illegitimate, when in my eyes it was no more or less crude than the show itself.
4) “The song says ‘’I won’t do what you told me’, but you went and bought a single because a FB group told you to! Duh!”.
This is the most difficult debate. Everyone loves a rebel. A rebel song even more so. It is a little ironic that a bunch of people got together and did the same thing. It’s also mass direct action. This has always been a well-versed criticism about Rage, or anyone else that makes music whilst also having a political cause (Bono, Bob Geldof, Coldplay etc etc). All I can say is that they did not orchestrate this campaign themselves – the choice of song was by the guys who started the campaign, and presumably they picked it because it was politically angry about ‘the machine’, and most people who know about rock music have heard and like it. There’s no right answer because we’re all part of a system, so the best way to exert opinions is through consumer choices. I chose to buy something other than the X Factor single.
Ultimately it depends on what you perceive to be the point of the singles chart. Ordinarily I don’t give a monkey’s. In fact the last time I listened was exactly a year ago when I was hoping that Jeff Buckley would do what RatM did today. However, the fact that it is considered worthy by producers such as Cowell means that is still worth something – specifically by taking it away from him. One blogger has astutely observed that this will no doubt give rise to an annual anti-X Factor campaign, meaning each Christmas will become an equally dull two-horse race. Who knows?
Besides, portion of the windfall are going to charity, which is more than can be said for the other side. Joe can have the number 1 spot next week – won’t really make much difference in the long run to him, but the whole saga has satisfied a lot of other people who feel they have managed to slip the symbolic fly in the X Factor’s ointment. And judging by the amount of bitterness being displayed by X Factor fans methinks it worked. Congratulations guys! Now us fans can sit and await news of the rumoured bonus gig…