For four years in a row Simon Cowell’s X-Factor has dominated the Christmas number one slot in the charts. He’s certainly not the first person to send bland, manufactured porridge masquerading as music to the top of the charts but he is the first to insist year on year that there is no alternative.
Year after year he unleashes all the corporate power at his disposal, including a prime-time TV show which acts as a long-running, dedicated advertising campaign that puts QVC and the Shopping Channel to shame, all in the service of his ever-burgeoning fortunes.
Stacked against him were a married couple in Essex, Jon and Tracy Morter, who decided that enough was enough and launched a campaign from their living room to depose the dictator.
How were they going to do it? By backing Killing In The Name by rap-rock band Rage Against the Machine (RATM).
Leaping beyond all their expectations the campaign, based mainly through the internet as the song was no longer available in the shops, became a mini-movement with almost a million people joining the Facebook group and over half-a-million people buying the single in a week.
Joyously it topped the charts with no corporate backing nor even, initially, with the knowledge of the band itself.
This is not the first time a counter-cultural song has made Christmas number one. In 1979, Pink Floyd’s anti-establishment anthem Another Brick In The Wall made it to the top spot and in 2003 the melodic but extremely unchristmassy Mad World, about suicidal thoughts, also benefited from a similar campaign.
However, we probably cannot include Ernie (The Fastest MilkMan In The West) in this list unless Benny Hill’s anti-capitalist pretensions were buried pretty deep.
The RATM campaign encouraged those buying the single to make a donation to Shelter, the homeless charity during this particularly cold winter. There have already been around £70,000 of online donations to the charity and the band chose to donate the unexpected royalties to the charity, with guitarist Tom Morello saying: “We graciously extend the same invitation to Simon Cowell.”
Cowell was having none of it however and said it “feels like a little kid being bullied,” presumably referring to his protege rather than himself. It was an extraordinary thing for him to say when his show, the X Factor, thrives off the humiliation of applicants. Cowell has never been averse to making children cry on live TV and he seems an unlikely champion against bullying now.
However, he topped this astonishing remark when he claimed the RATM campaign was “cynical” – as if anything could be as remotely cynical as his dominion over the music industry with overmanufactured pap and the millions he has ploughed into a four-year campaign to own the charts.
As Morello says, “Simon is an interesting character who seems to have profited greatly from humiliating people on television. We see this [campaign] as a necessary break with his control.”
After expressing how privileged he felt about his song being chosen as the anti-corporate anthem by the grass-roots campaign, Morello stated that whether it is a “small matter like who’s the top of the charts, or bigger matters like war and peace and economic inequality, when people band together and make their voices heard they can completely overturn the system as it is.”
Here we come to an important point. While most of the media have focused on the fact that the song has a feisty beat and strong language, the band themselves were always far more than just rockers with a rebel pose.
Rather than being content with just writing anti-capitalist lyrics, they were committed to participating in struggle, mainly in the US.
Over the years they have taken part in many protests and campaigns, including the time that, together with radical film-maker Michael Moore, they managed to shut down the New York Stock Exchange, or when Morello was arrested on a trade union-organised protest in defence of garment workers.
While Cowell lives in an obscene palatial mansion in Los Angeles it was RATM who in 1999 released an album The Battle Of Los Angeles in direct response to the rioting in their home city dedicated to celebrating working-class resistance.
When asked whether they were hypocrites for being signed up to the big music corporation Sony, which Cowell also works for, Morello said: “When you live in a capitalistic society, the currency of the dissemination of information goes through capitalistic channels. Would Noam Chomsky object to his works being sold at Barnes & Noble? No, because that’s where people buy their books. We’re not interested in preaching to just the converted. It’s great to play abandoned squats run by anarchists, but it’s also great to be able to reach people with a revolutionary message, people from Granada Hills to Stuttgart.”
Of course it’s a small victory, but it’s a victory nonetheless, and one which demonstrates that left-field ideas are far from dead. It will have given hope to every socialist who feels isolated or believes that the forces ranged against us are too great, and hope can be a powerful thing.
From this moment on, every Christmas office party will have the excuse to play this official Yuletide song where employees will get to scream in front of their bosses the song’s refrain – “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”
Cowell and the X Factor assumed that they owned us, that they know our tastes better than we do. Then they had the gall to complain when RATM managed to get any airplay at all – as if it was their right to go unchallenged because of their wealth, power and prime-time TV.
RATM’s victory was a warning shot in a week where Cowell had announced that he was going to take on politics and show the politicians how it was done in general election year.
It’s almost as if they realised that this single event was more than just a rejection of one song but of the whole practice of their industry. An industry that thinks of music as units sold rather than something that speaks to their sadly missing souls.
In a different context, Morello said: “What are they so afraid of? It made me think about what scares them. Is it really four musicians from Los Angeles who’ve got a point of view? Is it really just this music and these rhythms and these words? Is that what they’re scared of? I thought I’d think about it and you know what? My conclusion is this: nah, they ain’t scared of us, they’re scared of you!”
Source: The Morning Star