The August Riots

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Thursday, 17 December 2009

Rage Against The X-Factor – Will it be a Happy Christmas for Joe McElderry?

The past few weeks have seen one of the greatest displays of ‘people-power’ ever to affect the popular music scene, with what likely began as a joke amongst friends having escalated into a mass movement designed to influence the outcome of this year’s race for the Christmas Number One. The group on the ubiquitous social networking website Facebook ‘Rage Against The Machine For Christmas No.1’, encourages members to purchase copies of the band’s 1992 single ‘Killing In The Name’ between the 13th and 19th of December in order to break the X-Factor’s supposed monopoly over the Christmas Number One. For the past four years the winner of the ITV talent show has taken the number one spot, but this year popular Geordie Joe McElderry faces a difficult fight to take his single ‘The Climb’, a cover of the folk song popularised by Miley Cyrus, to the summit. Despite winning the show’s finale with a huge 61% of the vote, McElderry trails the anarchistic anthem in the iTunes and Amazon download charts, leading bookies to take “the unusual step of suspending betting on who will take the coveted slot”. According to the Daily Mail, the anarchistic ‘Killing In The Name’ has sold 175,000 copies thus far, whilst McElderry’s ‘The Climb’ has reached just 110,000. The decision to suspend betting on the outcome of the chart battle was reached because of bets “up to £1,000” being placed on Rage Against The Machine, making the betting “unviable”. Despite the bookies’ actions, HMV spokesperson Gennaro Castaldo, speaking to the Daily Mail, said “there really has been a massive Facebook campaign for Killing In the Name Of but I think X Factor will knock it off”, adding “we are expecting that most customers will actually buy this single in a store rather than online.”

The Facebook group, which now has over 800,000 members, explicitly states that its intention is simply to make the race for Christmas Number One more interesting, rather than a foregone conclusion as it has been for the last four years. A similar ‘protest’ campaign last year to get Jeff Buckley’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ to number one instead of Alexandra Burke’s attracted a fair amount of interest, but nowhere near as much as this year’s. Despite the group also stating that it isn’t directed towards X-Factor creator Simon Cowell, the music mogul was quick to condemn the idea and bring all the attention onto himself, as appears to be his want. Talking to the Guardian last Thursday, Cowell commented “if there's a campaign, and I think the campaign's aimed directly at me, it's stupid”, going on to brand it “cynical” and “very scrooge”. The latter may seem a rather ironic assertion given the large amount of money Cowell stands to make from McElderry’s success, and the fact that the ‘Rage Against The Machine For Christmas No.1’ group has helped to raise over £30,000 for the homeless charity Shelter. Cowell isn’t the only big-name to get involved in the fight for the coveted number one slot, with Rage guitarist Tom Morello issuing a rallying call on Twitter, writing “England! Now is your time!" having found out about the campaign. Morello also announced today that he would donate his earnings from the campaign, with which he has no involvement, to Youth Music, a charity designed to help young musicians in the United Kingdom.

Such actions make Cowell’s objections seem rather self-centred but one can’t help but feel sympathy for this year’s X-Factor winner Joe McElderry. A fantastic young talent, his performances of the Elton John ballad ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ and Journey’s classic ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ had both the crowd and judges in raptures, and are just two examples of his singing versatility and consistency throughout the competition. It would be a real shame for someone so unassuming, modest and level-headed to miss out on a dream Christmas Number One slot, and a large part of me hopes he doesn’t. Although I welcome any attempt to break the X-Factor monopoly over the Christmas Number One, and hugely object to the ever-increasing commercialisation of music, of which Simon Cowell is very much guilty, I would hate to deny a talented young singer the success he has battled for over the past months. Having said that it would be a sad day when music ceased being art and became nothing more than a commercial tool, and for this reason the campaign must be seen as an effort to ‘reclaim’ music from people like Simon Cowell. The fact that he has taken it as a personal attack, despite Tom Morello confirming the campaign to be a “grass roots effort and “nothing against the candidates or the guy that runs the show”, makes the prospect of hearing a truly great song at Number One for Christmas very alluring indeed. It remains to be seen who will claim the title, but one thing is for sure; Tracy and Jon Morter’s campaign has rejuvenated the battle for the Christmas Number One. Perhaps Simon should focus on the song’s anarchistic rallying cry, “f*** you I won’t do what you tell me”, as it may be a sign of things to come.

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