Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 18 December 2009

Rage Against Simon Cowell

I haven't paid much attention to the music charts for well over a decade now (I'm in my mid-thirties). Nevertheless I have been following the viral internet campaign to get "Killing in the Name" by Rage Against the Machine to No 1 for Christmas instead of the latest X Factor winner's single with interest.

I have read some comments pointing out that RATM's record label is also owned by Sony (which owns Syco, Cowell's label) and therefore it's ultimately just giving more money to the same massive company. There are also other comments that it would be better to give the 29p or 79p or whatever you spend on the song to charity. These points and others are fair and well made, however I hope that the campaign succeeds.

For the last 4 years, whoever wins the X Factor has gone to No 1 with the single released. In the past there was sometimes a genuine race to be the Christmas No 1 (most recently in 2003 when Gary Jules won with his cover version of "Mad World"). I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that Simon Cowell has taken over the Christmas No 1. The more I read and hear as well, the more that the sense of entitlement from Cowell and his acolytes comes through. Have a look at this strop from X-Factor judge Cheryl Cole who mentored the eventual winner Joe McElderry:

I would be devastated to see Joe lose possibly the best thing that could happen to him in his life. Every aspiring pop star dreams of a number one record.

It is a beautiful song. He put his heart and soul into every single week of The X Factor and I cannot bear to see him lose out to a mean campaign that has nothing to do with his efforts.

If that song, or should I say campaign, by an American group is our Christmas number one I'll be gutted for him and our charts.

A "mean campaign that has nothing to do with his efforts"? "devastated"? "gutted for him and our charts"? Like the X Factor winner getting to Christmas No 1 has anything at all to do with "our charts". It's all to line Cowell's pockets and keep the X Factor bandwagon rolling. Also, as if a life beyond Joe's wildest dreams is not already awaiting him! And her attempt to rally us round by appealing to our sense of patriotism by referring to RATM as "an American group" is frankly pathetic. It makes me wonder what "line" she would have taken if the campaign single had been British which I am sure there would have been. That response has clearly been carefully planned.

If there's a campaign, and I think the campaign's aimed directly at me, it's stupid. Me having a No 1 record at Christmas is not going to change my life particularly. I think it's quite a cynical campaign geared at me that is actually going to spoil the party for these three (the X Factor finalists).

The thing is, I bet Cowell is really, really annoyed about this. The fact that he is making statements about it and getting his employees to do so shows that he is rattled. He has good cause to be too. His comment about the record not getting to No 1 not particularly changing his life is disingenuous. The "guaranteed" Christmas No 1 has become part of the X Factor "package". It has become expected and feeds into the whole supremacy narrative that Cowell has built up for himself during this decade. If Rage Against The Machine get to No 1 instead of Joe's single then that supremacy and most importantly the momentum is damaged. It will affect Simon Cowell and although I expect X Factor to be around for a good while yet we may well find that when it eventually dies, this was the first cut. Cowell is shrewd enough to understand this intuitively.

Now I know there are much more important things going on in the world at the moment and that in the grand scheme of things this is a silly little spat. Notwithstanding that, I bought a copy of the RATM single this week. I am happy to be part of a campaign to send a message to Cowell that the charts are not his to do with what he wants.

Oh, and aside from all of that I have very fond memories of "Killing in the Name". It was one of the songs of my university years and I spent many a happy 4 minutes in clubs thrashing around on the dancefloor to it. Irrespective of anything else I would love to see it at No 1 anyway.



Jeff said...

Why do you care so much who is number 1 in a random chart?

I find this RATM stuff absolutely bizarre.

Martin - TheUniversityBlog said...

I'd love to see RATM at No.1, just for a laugh. Simple as.

There are enough fans of X-Factor and the various Simon Cowell shows for this to not matter at all. And with Cowell getting huge exposure (and money) in America, I'm sure this matters even less to him. Regardless of whether or not the campaign's about him, this will only strengthen his presence.

Cowell is probably more than happy to put out statements to add fuel to the situation. Why not get all Joe fans to come out in force and buy even more copies of the single too? No matter which song reaches the top spot, the X-Factor brand should remain undamaged.

If anything, this chart 'battle' improves the situation. While I haven't heard Joe's song, I keep reading how it's a less exciting affair than previous winner singles. With all this RATM excitement, the song doesn't really matter now. Again, smiles all round.

Yes, some statements (and, as you say, strops) are relative nonsense. But it's entertainment and this stuff gets lapped up, with many people feeling involved and passionate.

You're right that Cowell is a shrewd businessman, so he'll come back stronger. X-Factor has grown in popularity over six series and doesn't look set to disappear. I don't see this situation as the 'first cut'. He's dealt with controversy in the past and used it to his advantage. Whatever happens, you can be sure he'll turn everything he can into a big fat pile of win.

Jeff said...

Fair enough Mark. Doing something inoffensive for a laugh is rarely a bad thing and let's be honest, it is an ace tune.

It does just seem such a phony war particularly, but not just because, of the Sony link and such a, forgive me, silly, trivial thing to get so passionate about.

Each to their own I suppose and perhaps I just need to lighten up but I fear this RATM stuff is making the opium for the masses more potent rather than less.

Tom King said...

Do remember that a large amount of money from the RATM single is going to charity - Shelter, I think. The Facebook group has already raised over £12,000 outside of the record sales.

Andrew Hickey said...

Beowulf - not a penny from the RATM single is going to charity (I believe some from the X-Factor single is). The money raised by the Facebook group is the only donation involved.

Ryan said...

@Andrew Hinkley
according to the Guardian via the 6music interview
Morello also said some of the proceeds from the sale of Killing in the Name would go to a UK-based charity called Youth Music, which provides children with access to music education and training. They also said the the homeless charity Shelter would receive some of the profits.

William Satire (Jr.) said...

Some good friends of mine had this as their first dance at their wedding. It was hilarious (in a had-to-be-there way) to see them singing it to each other after taking their vows.

I've always forgotton to ask them what the song was, so this campaign allowed me to buy a tune I have fond memories of.

I bought this and Tim Minchin - White Wine In the Sun at the same time.

Doug Daniel said...

I think this really started last year, with a much more genuine effort to get Jeff Buckley to number one instead of Alexandra Burke. His famous cover of Hallelujah is undeniably excellent, whereas hers was the usual by-the-numbers "here comes the key change, don't forget the high note" type of cover you come to expect from X-Factor contestants. So I think there was a genuine feeling that if any version of that song should go to number one, it should be Buckley's.

However, that campaign failed, and so I think this year people just want to prove that it CAN be done, even if it does require a massive concerted effort. I'm not entirely sure why Killing In The Name Of was chosen - I would have thought it would have been better to get one of the famous Christmas tunes on top, so I suppose it's just because whoever started the campaign just went for the first song they could think of with swearing in it.

It's a fairly pointless exercise in the grand scheme of things, especially as the charts themselves haven't been of any relevance themselves since at least the 90s as they're essentially what the record companies and music industry as a whole have deemed to be what people should be listening to... But yet, I just know I will be massively disappointed if the campaign fails.

It may be a cynical campaign, but then the record industry itself is probably the most cynical aspect of popular culture there is. If it does fail, it shows that no matter what rubbish is put out by the X-Factor, people will buy it. I gave up on the idea of the general public having any semblance of musical taste a long time ago, but it would be heartening to see evidence that they CAN say "no" to the rubbish they are force-fed by the media when they put their minds to it.

Personally, I would have chosen Stefan Dennis' 1989 song Don't It Make You Feel Good, which would have been much more hilarious than a good rock tune that will just require a few bits to be bleeped out.

john wall said...

Simon Cowell has all the leverage against American Idol. They know that he is the biggest reason that people tune into watch the show, and without him the ratings would take a tumble. He might just be using all this as a ploy to get more money from the network.

rakeback said...

I like the idea a lot. Im so sick of the bubblegum pop music with these talentless kids selling music purely based on their image...Miley Cyrus is the name that comes to mind immediately. I hope they make it to #1.

Alex said...

I don't think the people who re a part of this campaign have listened to the lyrics of "Killing in the Name":

*"And now you do what they told ya. And now you're under control"

*"Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!"

The song preaches the exact opposite message to joining a bandwagon such as this.

dazbert said...

I disagree. I think a personal choice, grass roots campaign like this is something to be celebrated.

The network pap that controls so many, on the other hand, is what really should be raged against. Pubs were left empty last weekend while people stayed at home to suck on Cowell's teat, and conversely the high street will be full today as people queue up to buy what he told 'em.


Unknown said...

I can't get wound up about this either way. That's possibly because I don't like the RATM song - if it had been some song that should have been number one but was kept off by a manufactured mass marketed song then that would be another thing - Ultravox, Vienna comes to mind.

As you know I'm the princess of trashy tv but that doesn't mean that I'm blind to the dark arts of the industry. To be honest, I think that reality tv genre is just another way for record companies to manipulate the charts in the way that they always have.

Ian Ridley said...

More on the charity side: Rage Against The Machine have said they will also donate some of their royalties to Shelter. The Facebook Group has raised over £85,000 so far