In a land far, far away, called Great Britain a yearly war wages every winter. In this magical Narnian Isle, music is still a viable commodity taken very seriously. Their denizens actually record new holiday songs every season in the hopes of having the top Christmas single of the year.
We cynics across the pond are fine to do with the recycled, rehashed songbooks – over the river and through the wood, decking the halls and all that. Why would you need MORE freaking Christmas? A trip outside for a few hours on Black Friday and we’re drowning in so much Christmas it’s enough to move to the Aboriginal outback.
But England doesn’t mess around. Music and Christmas are a very serious thing. I mean, they still have music programming on TV, AND the government pays for some of it. Can you imagine if our government gave PBS money to make old school MTV styled programming? I might actually still want to live here.
Yes, England gets downright fervent about music, specifically the ‘single’. Especially when it comes to the OZ like machinery of Simon Cowell and company, who pump out yearly soft rock balladeers with their contest shows like Pop Idol and X Factor. Yes, we have our American Idol, but it pales in comparison to the juggernaut that X Factor brings to the UK every year.
I was treated to the wonders of X Factor this October when I was staying in London. I politely watched with some fervent friends over Sunday roast and found myself drawn in by a bigger, cattier, more sordid and maudlin type of idol where the judges mentor the contestants, take sides and cut each other down so furiously I’m surprised they’re not allowed swords onstage. I have to admit I did get a little hooked. OK, a lot. It wasn’t the music, which was mostly dreadful. It was the huge soppy spectacle of it.
But truly music is the loser in this scenario, if it’s nothing more than a soapbox stump for Rhianna or Janet to pimp their new album, in between green faced kids being forced to sing George Michael covers. The winner of this contest releases a single and that song, most likely, goes on to be the Christmas single winner, no doubt to be over played through out the holiday season and beyond, knocking struggling bands off the charts and out of our memories as the new year chimes in.
This year’s X Factor winner, pie eyed Joe McElderry is an 18 year old Geordie accented charmer with a lilting, soaring voice who is as sweet as a Disney cartoon heroine. Blech. They even chose for his first single, the Christmas single in question, to be ‘The Climb’, a Miley Cyrus cover. Jesus. Come on, England! Throw some tea overboard!
Well, Jon Morter for this revolting enough to do something. Sick of the slick promotional big label machine and the ‘crap’ it pumps out, he decided to take a stand and protest by simply using social media. Jon made a Facebook page called RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE FOR CHRISTMAS NO.1. On the page he asked the fans to buy his favorite band’s 1994 single, Killing In The Name Of, instead of X Factor Joe McElderry’s new Cyrus single “The Climb”.
The kid, Joe McElderry, seems nice enough – benign in a musical theater, syrupy sweet kind of way. He wasn’t even my choice to win the thing – I would have gone with the song and dance man Olly Murs, if I were holding a UK green card, but there I go, tipping my hand as someone who has seen enough of the show to care.
The fact is, there has always been pop music that was put together in a board room. Girl groups formed in the offices of the Brill Building weren’t exactly an organic creative process but still some of the best songs ever sung.
So some pop music can’t be denied, even if the singer didn’t pen the song themselves…but the pervasive problem today, it seems, is the onslaught of boy bands and mall makeovers done on any kid with half a voice who are put on diet pills and thrust into the spot light like Three Octave Barbie. In a month their CD, filled with tuneless drivel, is overstocked at Walmart and outselling the grassroots band that actually writes music.
If you throw money and PR at a turd, the public will spend money on it. Sheeple are Sheeple, as the D Mode song goes…and the loser is not only the smaller musician out there, but ultimately the music listening public.
Enter Rage Against The Machine. Now they were invited to the party, unbeknownst to them, not because they are a small unknown indie rock band. No, they are a huge successful act on Sony, the very same Goliath label that Cowell and McElderry call home. But RATM started from humble beginnings and won each of their hundreds of thousands of fans, one by one. Not from a television show contest, but by playing small gigs and then larger ones. By touring relentlessly. By making music. And yes, by being political loud mouths and standing up for the little guy.
In an interview with UK paper The Sun, RATM frontman Tom Morello stated: “It is a historic campaign to save the UK pop charts from the abyss of bland mediocrity and we’re 100 per cent behind it. It’s really amazing and completely a grassroots uprising. It’s not like the band put this forward, it was the people. I found out about it when some friends of mine from the UK texted me.”
However, to show that it wasn’t a Sony plot, Morello promised that the band would reunite and play a free concert for London fans if they were to win the number one spot. This earned him some scorn and harsh words from X Factor kingpin Simon Cowell, and fellow X Factor judge Cheryl Cole, a former member of all girl group Girls Aloud, who was Mc Elderry’s mentor on the show. Cheryl stated “If that song, or should I say campaign, by an American group is our Christmas Number 1, I’ll be gutted for Joe and our charts.”
“The X Factor song was written by a cabal of highly paid professional songwriters and was already made a hit by a pre-teen artists from the United States. That’s nothing I would feel too proud about hoisting the flag up on.”
“The X Factor suits have been pulling out every dirty trick in the book to get their single to No 1. They’ve been pressuring the big retail stores over the price of the single and there were some shenanigans that happened with the Facebook page where it went down mysteriously on the second day.
“Some of the things they are doing seem almost desperate and that’s because they’re afraid of the people.”
As the deadline neared for the tally, Joe was in the lead by a narrow margin. Tom Morello took to twitter and urged his online fans to download on itunes and help push Rage over the edge. They upped the ante by stating that they would be donating their proceeds from their Christmas single to charity. No Sony payout for the people who helped put Rage in the number one spot.
It looked as if Joe had the Xmas single sewed up, but in a Christmas miracle come from behind victory, the American revolutionaries toppled Cowell’s teen idol and took the number one spot. Davey had conquered Goliath!
Of course Cowell was ‘gutted’ for his protege, McElderry, but was gracious enough to concede the spot to a song with well over fifteen ‘fuck you’ s laden in the lyrics. Well done. Cowell supposedly even offered Jon Morter a job doing marketing for his music label, though that might just have been the PR equivalent of licking his wounds.