The war that has waged for dominance of the Christmas singles chart in the U.K. has been decided. In the blue corner, "X-Factor" reality pop T.V. show winner Joe McElderry, with his Miley Cyrus cover (Yes, Miley Cyrus cover) "The Climb", stands shaking at the knees a few thousand copies behind his competitor, according to HMV. In the red corner, pulsing with '90s angst, Rage Against the Machine are enjoying the sweet smell of victory with their 1992 semi-hit "Killing in the Name." The two songs are as different as ebony and ivory, but without the harmonious relationship. In fact, the feud has been more a contest of "cool" versus "cushy": those who are willing to drop an "F" bomb 17 times versus the teary-eyed and inspired.
But what has made this battle so interesting isn't the contenders themselves. It's the rallying of the troops. Every year the "commercial" hit is pitted against a niche, cooler underdog. The tidal wave of music consumers are more-often-than-not barely slowed down by "real" music lovers who, unfortunately for their much-loved bands, are more inclined to swap, create, or "acquire" than flock to the shops. This time, however, a neat little Internet gimmick known as "social networking" has allowed the conventional greasy-haired, black-shirted unconventionalists to band together in the virtual realm and take on the beast of popular music (even though, it might be said, Rage Against the Machine isn't exactly obscure or unpopular).
The campaign to oust Simon Cowell's pop machine has been steadily growing on Facebook since December 13th, thanks to the group "RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE FOR CHRISTMAS NO.1". "Fed up with Simon Cowell's latest karaoke act being Christmas No.1?" asks the group. Then buy "Killing in the Name" as a "protest to the X-Factor monotony". The group has attracted more than 450,000 members (2 percent of the U.K. Facebook population) in the two weeks of its existence.
In the campaign for Rage Against the Machine to get the Christmas No.1 spot, a salute is owed to Facebook for its ability to organize the disorganized. Simon Cowell and his music manufacturing machine have been reminded of the fact that no one man decides the fate of the music industry. It is a democratic process. "The silent majority has spoken," said my 15-year-old brother via his Facebook status. Rage has been accomplished against the machine. At least, that's the idea, right?
However, like most attempts to stick-it-to-the-man, the effort is futile in the long run. Cowell is not cowering because his grand scheme has been undone. As one Facebook RATM group member points out, "Rage Against the Machine is under Simon's Sony deal anyways, so no matter what, he'll still be getting money." Come to think about it... bringing another Sony band under the radar at Christmas time was an excellent idea for the record label. No matter who won the battle of music ideology, Sony won the war. And the profits are no doubt mounting. For Cowell, and Sony, and Rage Against the Machine (who, let's face it, originally only got to number 25 in the charts with "Killing in the Name" and will find an ever-appreciated popularity boost in their stocking this year) Christmas has come early. Thanks Facebook!
On the downside, Joe McElderry is suffering a slew of rub-it-in-your-face comments from RATM fans on his Facebook page. "I've just read that British Airways are after cabin crew, Joe," says one gloating commenter. "So the list of future employment options are.. Tescos, Burger King and now B.A." Another user simply says, "Britain thinks your a Number 2." It's a harsh way for a fresh-faced 18-year-old to start his music career... but at least Facebook users will have successfully cremated any sense of naivety left in Mr. McElderry before Christmas Day. (By the way, Joe, Santa isn't real...)
Friday was the last day for Brits to buy their way to victory. By midnight GMT, all the votes were cast. Tom Morello told the Sun newspaper: "This really does seem like the biggest 'which side are you on?' moment in the history of UK music."
A nice idea, Tom. But in the end... we're all on the same side, no matter how rowdy the crowd get. Perhaps ebony and ivory, "cool" and "cushy", Rage and Joe, live together in perfect harmony after all.
Read the preamble to this article on A Day Like This.