Thoughts About Rage Against The Machine vs X Factor
First of all, I should throw my hat into the ring and explain that I do not mind who is Christmas No.1. The concept of a festive chart-topper being an icon of a golden age, a holy institution that needs protecting from the dead hand of commerce is not one I can ever remember happening. It has always been dominated by the biggest forces in popular music - because it's the No.1 selling single for that week, duh! - and a target for cheap cash-ins and novelty nonsense.
Just because the biggest force in popular music used to be the performers, and it's now the TV execs who make the show that finds the performer is neither here nor there, nothing has actually changed, and therefore nothing is likely to change 'back' to how it was before. It wasn't like that before, so how could it?
And the hallowed Christmas No.1 only works as an embodiment of the spirit of Christmas because Christmas itself does contain a lot of excitement about stuff which, if you look at it with a vinegary eye, is just disposable and shiny, much like pop music itself. It's a perfect fit.
Now, I don't watch X Factor. I've explained why before, and most of what bothers me about it still seems to be happening (Leona and Alexandra's success notwithstanding), so we're just going to have to agree not to get in each other's way. But the thing the show does do which will always get my support is make the best kind of song that it can, and then make it available to be bought by the public.
It strikes me that there is a nasty streak of snobbery to the Rage Against The Machine campaign, because essentially the people behind it not only don't approve of the song the X Factor has made - before they have even heard it, which is always lovely - but they don't like the people who DO like it. They think these people are easily-led. They may use words like "sheep" or "masses" or "plebs" or "chavs", and they believe themselves to be above such obvious mind-control.
Then, in order to prove that this is the case, they have decided to try and convince other people - people who are clearly not "sheep" - to all gang together and buy a song which is very old, and which they probably already own, not because they like the song - it's a good song, let's make that plain - but because this will teach everyone a lesson. And indeed it has.
What it teaches us is that the best way to discredit institutions that you do not approve of is not some idle protest, but to work harder and replace them with something better. It teaches us that we should not be wallowing in revolutionary rhetoric from the past - especially not revolutionary rhetoric which comes from the same enormous entertainment corporation as Simon Cowell - when we could be enjoying the benefits of the present.
By which I mean: Why is Mumford and Sons not in the Top 5? Hmm?
Most of all, it teaches us that you cannot fight fire with fire. If you wish to be free of manipulative pop music, you should not seek to manipulate people.
A friend of mine on Twitter recently suggested a far more worthy Christmas campaign where people agree to go out and buy (or stay in and download) any single they like, provided that a) they like it and do not already own it, and b) that's it. The idea being that if you are going to make a gesture of support, you do it for something with which you genuinely feel an affinity, rather than trying to back a winner.
And that's really what makes the chart - the everyday, run of the mill, non-Christmas chart - an exciting place to be, because it's a snapshot of public taste. People like songs and they buy songs, that's it. Anyone trying to mess with that - even in as light-hearted a way as Chartjackers did - shows a basic contempt for the chart which can come across as contempt for music, or worse, for the public at large.
In a year where more singles were sold than ANY OTHER YEAR EVER, the chart takes a more central role in our cultural life than ever before, and it is worth far more than these silly stunts would suggest. It's about celebrating what we're doing, not trying to destroy it.
So, let the X Factor winner have their moment, it won't last, nor will the show. At some point we will all move on to something else, just like we always do. Maybe Lady GaGa will save us all. But if she does, it will be because her songs make more people want to buy them than those of other singers.
That's your real golden age, right there...