Well, they won.
On Sunday, it was announced that the massive Facebook campaign to take Rage Against The Machine’s 1992 anthem “Killing In The Name” to the British Christmas #1 position, thereby reclaiming it from the winners of television’s “The X-Factor” (who have held the position in an iron grip since 2005) had been successful. The song was downloaded by over 500,000 people to comprehensively beat “X-Factor” winner Joe McElderry’s version of Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” .
The Independent reports that McElderry was gracious in defeat, acknowledging the excitement of being part of the ‘much-hyped battle’.
Rage vs “The X-Factor”: Where do we go from here?
So, where to now? Admirably, the campaign has raised £65,000 in public donations for the British homeless charity Shelter, with Rage Against The Machine also pledging to donate their royalties to the charity and to perform a “thank you” concert in the UK in 2010. But the charity aspect was only one facet of the exercise, which was aimed chiefly at proving to “X-Factor” main man Simon Cowell that the public was tired of his contestants’ sterile cover songs and wanted a #1 by a “real” act.
Sadly for the campaigners, it’s doubtful that this result will have any more lasting effect on Cowell than to make him mildly annoyed for a while. His outlandishly successful career as a music industry mogul has been long enough for him to realise that such a stunt is unlikely to be carried off again; if he and his empire were expected to vanish in a puff of smoke the minute McElderry’s single failed to make #1, the Rage fans will be sorely disappointed. The very fact that its winner has held the coveted position for the past four years is testament to the show’s enduring popularity. And, having gained massive exposure as this year’s winner (and large amounts of public sympathy following his chart defeat) McElderry, described by The Guardian as ‘a perma-smiley white boy from South Shields’, has an enormous opportunity for a musical career — and, who knows, perhaps even future Christmas #1s.
Predictably, the campaign’s founders, Jon and Tracy Morter, have also gained significant exposure (to which, if you’ll forgive my cynicism, I’m sure they don’t object in the slightest); the Telegraph even reports that Facebook groups have sprung up calling for Mr Morter to be knighted. It’s entirely true.
And it must be said, their effort in spearheading the campaign was tremendous. But, one wonders, couldn’t that effort, and the effort of the 50,000 people who bought the single, have been put to use for a better cause than a petulant reaction to a television show? While I don’t know whether “X-Factor” will still be around in ten years’ time (given the constantly-evolving state of digital media and its avenues for introducing the public to new artists), it’s entirely possible that it will, and that this year’s incident, while it seems like a big deal right now, will be confined to a mere footnote in the history of the British charts. Plus, it’s no secret by now that Cowell’s record imprint, Syco, is a subsidiary of Sony, and, with “Killing In The Name” owned by Sony BMG, there’s been much speculation that Cowell may profit financially no matter which single was victorious.
At the end of the day, the reason by the winner’s single has topped the charts for the last four years is because its singer captured the public’s affection. People bought the single because they wanted to. I haven’t even seen the show — it’s not broadcasted where I live — and I admit to not being the biggest fan of the type of music it’s produced thus far, but I am aware that when someone wins the contest, it’s because the public voted for them to be there.
I enjoy “Killing In The Name”, and I’m glad the campaign has gained it a new audience, many of whom weren’t born when it was first released. But, remember when at the start of my previous article “I Won’t do What You Tell Me” on this subject, I said my first impression of the exercise — prior to researching its origins – was that it was one of the silliest things I’d ever heard? Well, it’s brilliant how much has been raised for Shelter. But unfortunately, as to the main objective of the campaign, I have yet to change my mind.