Sunday, 20 December 2009
RATM vs X Factor Joe
I am sitting here, gleeful. For the first time in about 15 years I listened anxiously to the UK Top 40 and the result was music to my ears - Killing in the Name Of, a track which reached a mid-20s position in the chart over 16 years ago had achieved the unthinkable - Christmas No 1. I'm not a massive Rage Against the Machine fan and I'm sure lots of people who bought their single this week are the same. But this outcome is a victory on many levels and I cringe when I hear 15-year old girls talk about how this campaign was an attempt to 'sabotage' Joe's success. Sabotage would have entailed burning the warehouse housing Joe's single or barricading HMV. It wasn't really about Joe. It was a battle for musical democracy, a battle against Cowell's media monopoly and a lesson that no campaign is too ridiculous in the age of social media.
In the same way that tension builds up in a country before a political or social revolution, the threat to dethrone what has seemed like a benevolent dictatorship of mediocre music has finally come to fruition. Despite being a massive X Factor fan, I'm not actually interested in the music produced by the winner. I watched it because there's nothing more satisfying than sitting and passing judgement on people who are trying to 'make it' in the music business. As a bit of a music snob, watching an 18-year-old singing Elton John songs (no matter how good he is) is never going to convince me that such an act is worth spending money on. I like bands. Bands who have struggled, who have gone from nothing to something through years of constant songwriting, playing small gigs and probably ditching a drummer or two. Bands who actually create music, using instruments and who can make you mosh when you watch them live. The X Factor represents the exact opposite of this. The winner's single appeals to those who have no real grasp of what it takes to write an awesome song and have probably never played an instrument in their life. It's for musically fickle glory supporters. I actually said in the office this week that whoever voted for Joe should be forced to pre-order his album a year in advance - I bet only half would actually want to listen to it by the time it was released. Joe is a good singer, but he's not cut out for a career as a pop star.
This whole campaign also proves that (despite most people's assumptions), Facebook is actually controlled by people in their twenties and thirties, not teenagers. RATM were a band of the nineties - in the era of Seattle grunge, the Beastie Boys and properly hard hip hop. The people who bought Rage's single this week are the same people that were teens in this bygone era - where guitar-based bands ruled the charts and saccharin ballads only cropped up once in a while. In the last few years it was thought that these particular consumers of music had no part to play in the shaping of the Top 40 - a thought which has now turned on its head. As I get older I always think music was better back in the day. Lots of people think the same - hence why a 1992 song could become No 1 in 2009. Joe was still in nappies when Rage first released Killing in the Name of, he probably had no idea who they were before this race kicked off. He's only ever known the chart music of the Noughties - lacklustre, over-hyped and hidiously commercial.
At the end of the day, despite all the allegations by Cowell's people of 'hijacking' and 'sabotage', one fact remains - RATM sold more copies of their single than Joe 'I look like Cheryl's little brother' McElderry. If the Monster Raving Looney Party suddenly stole a general election because they got more votes than Labour or the Tories, there would probably be an equal amount of outrage but nothing concrete to disqualify them. In Britain we live in a democracy - musical, political or otherwise and there will always be 'upsets' when only one winner can prevail. I just happen to be on the winning team this time!