I don’t relish being the one to point out that the Emperor’s bollocks are on show, but the FaceBook/Twitter “campaign” to artificially get Killing In The Name, a 17-year-old Rage Against The Machine single, to number one for Christmas, is at best “a bit of fun” (the defence many have made on Twitter) and at worst a deluded act of musical snobbery.
The theory goes: evil Simon Cowell has the singles chart sewn up and can claim the Christmas number one as his own no matter who wins The X Factor, which is cleverly timed to climax just before Christmas; ergo, if we (whoever “we” are) get together and all buy the Rage Against The Machine single in the key week beginning December 13, we can bring down his hegemony and put a record with the word “fuck” in it at the top spot, rather like last year, when “we” failed to get the Jeff Buckley Halleluyah to number one instead of Alexandra Burke’s cover of his cover. Yay! #ratm4xmas!
I understand the NME and various other media outlets are supporting the “campaign.” Why not? It’s just a bit of fun. Maybe. The pair who started the campaign on FaceBook say: “None of the admins have anything to do with Sony music or Rage Against The Machine themselves. We’re just 2 music fans who want to bring back the Christmas No.1 excitement to the UK
(plus we’d love to see a Christmas No.1 containing the word ‘fuck.’)”
1. They’ve dealt with this on the FaceBook page (they don’t care!), but I’ll restate it for those that don’t know: Rage Against The Machine are – or were – signed to Epic, part of Sony Records. Simon Cowell’s Syco Records is licensed through Sony BMG. Whether it’s #ratm4xmas or #whoeverwinsxfactor4xmas, one of the largest music and entertainment conglomerates in the world pockets the lion’s share of the cash. Actually, this is not important, as most music is released through a tiny handful of such media conglomerates, and it would be sweet if Rage got a few dollars, but it is ironic. If someone at Sony had started the #ratm4xmas campaign, they would have deserved the afternoon off. (By the way, I don’t happen to think Rage Against The Machine’s admirable and selfless political campaigns – they truly rage against sweat shops, torture, war criminals, Fox News, poverty, repression of Tibet etc. – are in any way diluted by the fact that they are – or were – signed to a major record company. There is something to be said from subverting from within.)
2. Some on Twitter seem to think that buying one single and not another one will topple “capitalist consumerism.” Nothing needs to be added to that.
3. Others on Twitter seem to think that Simon Cowell’s “empire” needs “toppling.” Why not Google’s empire? Or Amazon’s empire? Or Microsoft’s empire? Maybe they think those empires need toppling too. I suspect not. Because those empires provide things that people on the left approve of, whereas manufactured pop music – eek! – is for idiots and plebs, who are too stupid to know how bad the music they like is, and the choices they make on iTunes or in HMV are in some way inferior to the choices made by Rage Against The Machine fans. (By the way, the #ratm4xmas campaign seems to have little to do with Rage Against The Machine, and plenty to do with the fact that the song has “fuck” in it, which isn’t magically going to be played on Radio 1 or the Christmas Top Of The Pops anyway.)
4. Since when did Zach de la Rocha and Tom Morello start worrying about who was number one at Christmas? In Britain? It’s nice that the FaceBook “admins” want to get back the “excitement” of the Christmas number one, but wouldn’t it be better if the “excitement” was based on who bought which single? There’s no suggestion that Cowell is cheating his records into the charts, so surely the X Factor single has as much right to go to number one as a record being orchestrated into the chart by a FaceBook group. (About 230,000 have signed up to the group, so they must be counting on 230,000 sales – unless members are going to buy more than one, which really does make a mockery of the “excitement.” A fixed chart is no longer a chart, surely?)
5. There is no harm in orchestrated block-voting, but organised direct action is far more powerful when it’s to do with things like elections or civil rights or referendums, as opposed to the number of singles being sold in a week.
I do not watch The X Factor, nor am I likely to buy one of its singles, but it’s not because I am boycotting either, or because I think I am better than the people who do like it. I don’t like The X Factor and I know I don’t like it because I have watched it in the past; my dislike is not based on reflex snobbery. I don’t like it because it manipulates the contestants who apply to be on it and exploits their desperation and sometimes their mental instability for entertainment. It also devalues crying, as everybody on it cries all the time – what will these people do if, say, a family member dies? Where will the extra tears come from? How much harder can they fan their faces? I object to the editing. And I object to the fact that it obviates the need for record companies to seek out talent and nurture it. It’s a smash and grab on the charts, and if the hapless, stage-managed, madeover artist survives the year, that’s a bonus.
It seems to me that Simon Cowell is a very, very astute record company executive and A&R man; he also just happens to be one whose giant ego allows him to play a pantomime version of himself in a talent show that’s as tightly scripted and plotted as a soap. Fine. Let him have his fun. More people bought Susan Boyle’s album in its first week than bought the Arctic Monkeys’ debut album in its first week – so why are the people that bought the Arctic Monkeys album in some way more discerning than those who bought the Susan Boyle album? It’s a lot of people in both cases, just from different demographic sectors. I scent snobbery here, and I don’t like it. The X Factor is light entertainment. When I was little, summer-season artists like Bobby Crush and Lena Zavaroni got in the charts after being on Opportunity Knocks. The only thing that’s changed is the sheer scale of the thing.
If the success of The X Factor drives more musicians underground to make their own angry response and put it out without Sony, then good. But herd-buying a song from 1992 to stop a song from 2009? Fuck you, I won’t buy what you tell me.