I’ve been reading a lot of coverage over the ‘surprise’ Christmas #1 ‘hit’ (a 17 year old metal rap song from Rage Against the Machine). And regardless of what you think about the campaign, the quality of the RATM song, Joe Whatshisname or Simon Cowell, it’s the commentary which is the most hyperbolic aspect of this incident. There are countless examples of ‘social media lessons’ being produced on the subject and the majority of these articles speak in hushed tones about the power of social media on popular music, and how we’re seeing a new dawn of quality over reality tv.
Now I’m a consultant, and huge advocate of social media but please folks, let’s get some perspective here.
First of all, there was no surprise that Rage Against the Machine got to number 1. As soon as the Facebook group started to get significant support (in the order of a few thousand users) mainstream media picked up the story, and massively boosted awareness of the campaign. Thus it wasn’t just grassroots action. Without mainstream media coverage, it’s doubtful it would have been successful. But with mainstream media coverage, and with the added carrot of charity fundraising as well as the amusement of anti-X-Factor sentiment, it was blindingly obvious that the campaign would succeed.
Secondly, this wasn’t about the music at all. It wasn’t about the poor blighter who won X-Factor or about Rage Against the Machine’s music. RATM was just a useful contrast to the stuff coming out of programmes like X-Factor. It could easily have been Marilyn Manson, Linkin Park or Foo Fighters. It could NOT have been a British band producing quality new content, because then it would have been a genuine competition on music. It had to be something edgy and something old so that people recognised the band name and style. I doubt many who actually bought the RATM single actually bothered to play the track at all. And contrary to the commentary out there, this wasn’t about Joe WhatsHisName’s music either. It was about Simon Cowell. People dislike the man intensely, because Cowell makes a fortune for being critical and smug. They contributed to the campaign because they hate Cowell.
Thirdly, this isn’t something that will be able to be easily repeated. It’s a novelty campaign. It might work each Christmas in the UK, but it can’t be sustained week after week. It’s not genuine social action, because it isn’t something people believe in passionately for more than a limited time period, and it’s not about breaking up an empire. It’s a frivolous and even festive prank that was pitched and supported by people who just wanted to peg Simon Cowell down.
Don’t kid yourself people. This isn’t about the public reclaiming music charts. It’s a simplistic attempt to restrain an over-exposed media personality who the public love to hate. But it won’t last and even if the event becomes a Christmas tradition, it still won’t be about music, or indeed about reality television. It is merely a witch hunt. And not a very good one at that.
ADDENDUM: I should add here, in the interest of full disclosure, I did not join the Facebook group and I do not watch X-Factor. I did not buy ‘Killing In The Name Of’ this week. I do, however, like Rage Against the Machine and think their ‘Wake Up’ was fabulous stuff.