It’s that time of year again. The weather outside is most certainly frightful, advertisements sugary enough to induce diabetic coma’s plague our airwaves and Oxford Street is once again overrun with the damned, desperately on the prowl for precious trinkets to bestow upon their loved ones.
Can I hear an Hallelujah for Christmas?
And what modern festive period would be complete without a slew of articles on the race to be the most popular song at this time of year?
Unfortunately, for despairing journalists and joe public alike, recent history has found this seasonal contest to be about as competitive as a Mick McCarthy team in Manchester. Whatever puppet the marionettes over at X Factor decree worthy is inexorably propelled along a wave of spin and propaganda towards the dubious distinction of claiming the number one record over Christmas.
I suggest we call this phenomenon “The Climb”.
But it would seem we’ve grown weary of this tiresome procession; one Jon Morter certainly has. Fed up of reality tv annually dictating our nation’s favourite yuletide song, Morter embarked upon changing this most recent of traditions.
He decided to give a voice to any other like minded souls out there and set up a facebook group dedicated to turning alt rockers Rage Against the Machine into an unlikely candidate for having this season’s most popular song.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the campaign behind “Killing In The Name” has mobilised the nonconformists amongst us under a single banner. Membership of this social media group has snowballed to just shy of a million people, which has lead to a number of X Factor cronies running scared all week.
This culminated in the frankly hilarious bleating of the nation’s favourite talentless Geordie to the media a few days ago about how “mean” it would be if her favourite Geordie didn’t make it to number one.
As if whoever wins this year’s reality tv popularity contest has a divine right to be Christmas number one. Or, even worse, if a young singer’s debut single only reaches number two it represents some sort of scarlet letter for their future career.
Yet, as we stand on the precipice of derailing whatever McSinger X Factor’s production line has churned out this year, I find myself inexplicably gravitating towards Simon Cowell’s corner.
I’ve been a casual fan of Rage Against the Machine since my student days. Universities are fertile land for alternative bands and RATM’s combination of innovative music coupled with incendiary lyrics saw them become a symbol of rebellion against our increasingly profit obsessed civilisation.
No one embodied this rage better than frontman Zack De La Rocha. With his firebrand zeal and fervent politicking, he represented the physical incarnation of this spirit. RATM were swiftly anointed as the alternative rock band of a generation and basked in their reputation as a lightning rod for disenfranchised youths to rally around.
But this past week has seen them embroiled in a massive and downright cynical PR campaign to ensure they’re number one at Christmas. Impromptu media appearances to promote their brand have even seen RATM fall into tired clichés, with the oh so predictable swearing on a live BBC radio broadcast last week.
While it took all of about three seconds to get over the adolescent antics of four grown men, I’m still struggling to comprehend something else. Namely, why a band renowned for the political nature of their music would care one jot about the novelty of having the most popular individual song in the fourth week of December.
Even the track, “Killing In The Name”, is a painfully cynical choice. Admittedly, RATM had nothing to do with picking this track. But they did write it, and as a model of how to target a specific demographic it has few peers. The refrain contained in its by now infamous chorus is as calculated an example of cheap, emotive lexicography as you’re ever likely to stumble upon.
If you base your choices on doing the polar opposite of whatever someone else tells you to do, just how different are you from the sycophantic, orthodox mindset of those you despise?
In truth, “Killing In The Name” is so market oriented that I imagine Simon Cowell often wishes he could conceive of something only half as effective as this hymn for frustrated office drones everywhere.
Amidst the hatred and ire X Factor inspires in some people, this irony would appear to be lost.
Of course, the real winner in this phoney war has been Sony records who, by happy coincidence, represent both RATM and Mr Cowell’s McSinger franchise. No doubt increased sales engineered from this contest will help to line the pockets of everyone involved.
This is what’s driven me to hope the X Factor boy wins out. In spite of the myriad positive causes RATM have actively been involved in, I can’t help but wonder what change they’ve actually affected? Other than that of their bank balances of course.
Music with a message is hard to pull off at the best of times. When that comes in the form of political rhetoric, it’s nigh on impossible without coming off as pretentious or preachy.
As someone who regularly spends more time editing what I’ve written than actually writing the damned thing, I’ve learnt that the way you say something is often more important than what it is you want to communicate.
Rage Against the Machine made this look easy. Not only that, they married it with their own unique sound and created music that frequently added up to more than the sum of its parts.
But why did they pursue this path? Is it because this is what they believe in, as the public identity they’ve forged for themselves constantly promotes. Or do they believe that setting themselves up as the opposition to the mainstream is the most efficient way for them to be successful?
What I rage against most in manufactured music acts is the cynical and calculated choices these individuals and respective management teams often make.
Instant hits through focus groups or imitating somebody who’s already successful have become dominant forces in most every mainstream, creative pursuit. You can literally see this homogenisation in the constant stream of “new” acts falling off the music industry’s conveyor belt of talent.
Most of these “artists”, to any sensitive sonic performers afflicted with delusions of grandeur, don’t have anything genuine or original they want to communicate with the world. Hell, unless they’re promoting themselves or endorsing a sponsor’s product and lovin’ it, they rarely have anything to say.
All they want is to be rich and famous, and I find it difficult to blame them for this.
They’re simply a by product of a modern society that constantly promotes this message through the media. We are taught to believe in money and popularity above all else. For would be pop stars, this most commonly translates into gyrating around in their underwear whilst lip synching to someone else’s words.
And it’s a price most of them are more than happy to pay. While I don’t agree with their choice, I’ll argue for their right to choose it. At least there’s a degree of honesty in their brazen pursuit of these superficial riches.
People who portray their music as being about something more than this, however, set the bar that much higher for themselves.
By the time this piece goes live, the nation will have cast their die. Part of me hopes that the most cynical, market driven song I’ve heard this Christmas makes it to that cherished position at the top of our charts.
But mostly, I’ll be rooting for the X Factor song.
P.S. I must make a special mention of Jon Morter’s endorsement of Shelter, the charity for the homeless. He set up a link on his facebook group encouraging members to donate the same amount to this cause as they spent on downloading RATM’s “Killing In The Name”.
As ever, I have nothing but admiration and awe for truly selfless acts such as this.
So far, Morter’s facebook group have given more than £60,000 in support of Shelter and I would cheer anyone foolhardy enough to have read my devil’s advocate nonsense above to resist buying either of these songs and donate whatever you would have spent to Shelter instead @ http://england.shelter.org.uk/.
When I look outside my window today, shivering at the mere prospect of abandoning the warm confines of my cosy home to venture out into London’s frozen landscape, I can imagine no greater gift to give this season.