It was going to be the fifth year in a row.
Another forgettable non-musician, having survived the gauntlet of self-important judges and self-regarding “music” execs, was being set up to clinch the 5th UK Christmas no. 1 in five years. And all thanks to Simon Cowell and the X Factor music-creation system.
For a fifth year, instead of a real tune, a real band with a career either already developed behind them or promisingly ahead of them, what was essentially a contest-winner got to see what it felt like to have a Christmas no. 1 single, while the rest of the UK are deprived of actually having a decent tune for Christmas.
Then a group started on Facebook proclaimed “ENOUGH!” And positing that, if as many members of the social network got together and downloaded Rage Against the Machine’s killer 1992 song Killing in the Name, music fans might just be able to shoehorn in a real band with actual values, their ranks smelted from musical ability, originality and, god forbid, THEIR OWN SELF-PENNED TUNE!!!
It not only seemed an underdog pipe-dream, but was presented even to be immoral by spokespeople and the media – the campaign was hailed as “mean” by pneumatic hair-factory Cheryl Cole, and “stupid” by none other than “ruiner of all things good” Simon Cowell. It was as though the predominant mass opinion, gauged by its voting of anything but the gifted but ultimately puppet-like Joe McElderry (whom I sincerely hope gets into theatre and music for real as soon as he can get clear of the X Factor’s contracts) was somehow rude in thinking it had a choice, and an obvious choice at that.
Rage’s tune prevailed by some 50,000 downloads. This morning all the papers are tattooed with the face of Zach de la Rocha screaming into a mic on the stage at 2007’s Coachella gig that saw the band’s first performance after reforming. It’s a thrill for an alternative metal fan like me to see such a blatant hijack of mass media by the very thing it seeks normally to ignore with comfort.
However, a lot of noise is being made about the supposed Pyrrhic victory the #RATM4xmas movement has achieved, given that SyCo, the record company whose name so well reflects Cowell’s music machinations, is itself owned by the same fatcats at Sony who own Rage’s 1992 self-titled release, and Killing in the Name by proxy.
This however is not the issue – we are all fundamentally aware that around four corporations own every last outlet of traditional broadcast media. Hey, Telegraph and co. – good argument – those masters own the rest of you as well. Is that supposed to be some kind of argument in favour of simply sitting back and accepting the inevitable crap, or is it rather a cue to fight it, even if the battleground is still within the frame of reference of music sales? Well, that’s what it became.
It’s not about ownership and never really was, although the music industry’s conglomeration is certainly what led to this garbage being over-promoted in the first place – this was in fact a fight against the predictable mechanisation of the charts.
Why do you think the X Factor is even SCHEDULED to be on at this time of year? The show’s process sought to ingest a long-standing cultural phenomenon (the Christmas number 1) into its already overstuffed portfolio of money-making avenues. And, even if for just one year, the UK’s citizens retorted with “Fuck you I won’t Buy What you Sell Me!”
It’s not a character-assassination. It’s not a random rejection of one song for another. It’s not even a rejection of the X Factor per se. It’s a rejection of mediocrity being built into the system. It’s an extra votebox on the X Factor, one that votes for neither candidate, and votes AGAINST the show’s fallout on the charts itself.
So Fuck you Simon Cowell – and fuck you Barbie – for saying it’s a “mean” move. “Mean” is to further distort the musical landscape with cross-promotional garbage and trickle-down syndication. “Stupid” is how you’ve treated the British Public, playing on the same emotional associations that makes voting so popular in politics (and the act of voting in either sphere really does as little in the long-term for your own visions of the music industry as it does for the world of politics.)
In all reality you think it’s mean because we voted against your efforts to get a Christmas number 1 by proxy, since Simon can’t sing and Cheryl’s sales, while still deplorably overpowering, weren’t going to cut the mustard this Yuletide.
Maybe next year you can try again with a 14-year old singing On the Road Again by Willie Nelson.
And maybe next year we’ll try again by gunning for Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills by Pantera.
Merry Fucking Christmas. I really mean it.