Dec 09

Selling In The Name Of

FT/66 comments • 9,831 views

One of the things that’s fascinating about the UK Top 40 is that a device designed to be a pure expression of popularity also works as a reflection of so many other things. People buy songs: if enough people buy a song it gets into the charts, or to #1. Simple! But so simple that it neglects one very important element: why somebody is buying a song.

There’s a baseline assumption that people are buying a song to listen to it because they like it. But of course that’s not the only reason: often people buy songs because the song is part of a wider experience. A world cup, a summer holiday, a movie, a TV show, a human tragedy. This isn’t “hijacking” or manipulating the charts: the pitiless charts, after all, don’t differentiate between purchases out of loyalty, love, or grief. A song bought as a souvenir has still been bought.

This is important for understanding why the X-Factor winner gets to #1 every year. People who dislike the X-Factor often criticise it for reducing music to a soap opera, but this misses the point: it’s rather like people who slate wrestling for not being a proper sport. The X-Factor is a narrative which happens to involve music. It’s an interactive narrative, and it’s a multimedia narrative, with a central thread (the weekend shows) crossing over into magazines, newspapers, YouTube, Twitter backchannels, et al.

Millions of people follow and participate in this story – pick sides, vote, shout at Simon Cowell from their armchairs, wonder what it means that Lloyd gets through for another week and Miss Frank don’t, and so on. The music is a necessary part of the story but it isn’t the story itself: light entertainment is simply bigger than pop, always has been. 19 million people watched the X-Factor final, a figure four times higher than the total sales of this country’s highest-selling single EVER. They’ve followed the X-Factor not because of the amazing pop it might or might not produce, but on its own terms as narrative and spectacle.

So where does the winner’s single fit in? In the Guardian, Peter Robinson called it a “lap of honour”, and this is roughly the truth: it’s a way of celebrating the achievement of winning the show (itself as tough and pressurised a gig as reality TV has to offer) not a look forward to the winner’s career (or lack of it).

But the charts being the charts, people still have to buy the single in sufficient numbers to get it to No.1. One of the odd things about the Rage Against The Machine anti-X-Factor campaign is its apparent belief that Simon Cowell has mind control powers and that the people buying Joe McElderry’s single are somehow under his command. The focus on Cowell rather than on the Joe buyers is a sensible one – best not to dwell on how the machine you’re raging against is actually your auntie or your kid sister. But honestly the Joe fans aren’t buying a song because Simon tells them to, any more than Russell T Davies is forcing me to buy a Doctor Who DVD set. They’re buying a song either because they like it, or because it’s a souvenir of an experience they enjoyed, or both. They’re playing one last part in the series’ shared narrative.

And why are RATM buyers buying that? Much the same reason – they have a narrative too. It’s a cruder one – stop the X-Factor winner from getting to number one and piss off Simon Cowell. It’s a shorter one – built up over the space of a week or two. But there’s a lot of inarticulate power around it: for many buyers it taps into a more general frustration with pop and music and reality TV and the charts and a sense that “real music” doesn’t get its just reward any more. And to some extent “Killing In The Name” has always been “Frigging In The Rigging” with dreads and a conscience, so there’s an understandable element of adolescent glee around the whole thing.

It might work (though I said that last year too): there have been a lot of these kind of gesture aesthetics campaigns in the last couple of years and sooner or later one of them will come off. The charts are a perfect ground for it: because they’re so digitally driven now there’s no physical cost in buying several copies of a single, no pile of “Killing In The Name” cluttering up your home when you already own it. Buying RATM is basically casting a vote in a big poll, except you have to pay to vote. Much like an X-Factor phone-in, in fact.

So the whole thing comes down to a clash of stories, or rather a clash of people paying to be part of a story. The big difference is that what’s at stake – “getting to #1” – doesn’t really matter in the Joe McElderry narrative (where the single is a reminder of a story that’s already had its happy ending) but is the entire point of the Rage one, which means the Rage story has force and momentum on its side.

Plenty of people have pointed out that these are good times indeed for Sony, who make money off both tracks. But it’s also a fascinating case study for marketers, because it pits two of the big “social media marketing” ideas of the late 00s up against one another. On the one hand the crafted, immersive, interactive experience – on the other the power of the flashmob and the viral. Who’s gonna win?


  1. 1
    Steve Mannion on 15 Dec 2009 #

    I think being #1 does matter to the X-Factor narrative tho. It’s happened every time so far. Cowell does seem to care about topping the charts (look at Westlife and the seeming need to try and beat the Beatles record and claim the first ‘downloads only’ #1).

    I think many of the RATM-buyers are in mainly ‘for the lols’. A fairly lazy way of amusing oneself – semi-consciously waiting for someone else to give them an opportunity to participate in some kind of democratic exercise with minimal effort but at least an initially powerful sense of having changed something Big (if not ultimately v Important).

    I don’t have a problem with that – certainly no more than the problems I have with X-Factor, nor the ironies around it. KITN is still probably one of the most simple direct, literal examples of a “fuck you” to have already made the top 40, which seems reason enough for its selection.

    Tho I hate the ‘Christmas #1 is important’ idea, I still seem to like the ‘charts can be unpredictable and a proper battleground’ idea so am fairly approving just on that basis.

    As is often the case tho, South Park put it best: “Giant Douche vs Turd Sandwich” (I did/do quite like KITN tho!)

  2. 2
    Tom on 15 Dec 2009 #

    Yes, I was a bit rushed in that section: what I meant is that getting to #1 doesn’t matter to Joe buyers YET – the “stop Rage” defensive card hasn’t really been played. (And probably won’t be, since the physical CD sales will wipe out RATM’s narrow lead I’d assume)

    Whether it succeeds or fails the campaign has been interesting in showing up a couple of weaknesses in the X-Factor machine – firstly that the winner’s record is kind of vestigial and unexciting compared to the massive hype of the final few weeks of the contest proper. Secondly that Cowell is simply too central – and he really doesn’t have to be – which allows the RATM narrative to work.

  3. 3
    Ben on 15 Dec 2009 #

    I feel as though in this instance, it’s got more to do with the “special” place that the battle for Christmas #1 always held in the hearts of music fans in this country. The last charts before Chrimbo were always the most keenly contested, the ones where no-one really knew which song would triumph, the one where a genuine one-hit wonder could reach the peak. Some of the Christmas #1s in recent times were genuinely awful (I’m looking at you, Robert the Builder). X-Factor, by monopolising the Christmas #1 spot, has made the Christmas charts all too predictable. For me, this isn’t just about hatred of Cowell (though I do detest the man). It’s about trying to make the Christmas charts an interesting battlefield once again. People are fed up of the fact that Cowell has removed the mystique from the Christmas charts. There’s no point buying your favourite Christmas song in the hope that you might help it get to #1, unless your favourite happens to be the X-Factor song.

    It didn’t need to be ‘Killing In The Name’, and I would have probably bought whatever single the campaign suggested. It’s more about harnessing the collective to strike a blow against Cowell’s chart dominance. But KITN is as good a choice as any – the ultimate song choice for the angry teenager.

    Rage will win, incidentally. I have no doubt about this. Whatever their reasons, the Rage buyers are influencing friends to follow their lead, and the power of that snowball effect will see them edge out Joe whatshisface.

  4. 4
    Tom on 15 Dec 2009 #

    I am quite interested in where the idea of the “special interest in the Christmas #1” came from: when did people start caring about it? I think we’ve discussed this on Popular but I can’t remember where.

  5. 5
    Tom on 15 Dec 2009 #

    It feels a bit bogus to me anyway – what gets to #1 is interesting EVERY WEEK OF THE YEAR DAMMIT. Where are all these Christmas glory hunters when it’s a wet sunday night in February and the choice is between a JLS record and the third single off a Kings Of Leon album eh?

  6. 6
    Steve Mannion on 15 Dec 2009 #

    Ha ha – Christmas #1 Carers = Brazilian footballers moving to Premier League clubs

  7. 7
    Tom on 15 Dec 2009 #

    Anyway FWIW I’ve decided I’m happy if RATM gets to #1 despite it being one of the worst records ever made, because it’ll be fun to write up on Popular. And it’s not as if Joe M will be denied the top spot with 4 pre-christmas shopping days of next week to count.

  8. 8
    ade on 15 Dec 2009 #

    ive got a number of problems with this whole thing

    there was a similar campaign last year involving jeff buckley

    2008 no.2 jeff buckley – sony
    2008 no.1 alexandra burke – sony

    2009 – ratm – sony
    2009 – joe whatshisname – sony

    and yesterday the bloke behind the ratm campaign was suddenly moaning that the facebook page had been taken down and that would impact on the charity donations

    what charity donations ? how is buying a sony track from itunes going to help a charity (unless of course the name of that charity is called sony music)

    i should add i used to work for sony music europe before i quit and left the business

  9. 9
    Pete Baran on 15 Dec 2009 #

    Actually that timing really helps RATM, as Christmas singles are a bit of a last minute stocking filler buy. You know someone liked the X-Factor, you can’t think of a quick small present and bingo the single gets bought. Last minute presents though are more last minute than seven days before.

    How much does this gesture cost? 0.79p for the clean version and 0.29p for the explicit version. Does two version being sold make a difference here (ie: who is buying the clean version)?

  10. 10
    Tom on 15 Dec 2009 #

    The 29p ones don’t count towards the charts, apparently – needs to be 40p or more.

  11. 11
    Pete Baran on 15 Dec 2009 #

    Aha, the futile 40p gesture!!!

    Hold up, I sense a whole new campaign. Quick to Facebook to get people to buy the 0.29p version and moan about this ridiculous rule. Can I get sponsorship from Sony.

    (The sad thing is of course that some internet savvy new band should be doing this to propel them into the charts – more Florence And The rather than Rage Against The)

  12. 12
    Leon Trimble on 15 Dec 2009 #

    I think a LOT of people do love the actual music of rage against the machine, especially that song. the fact that people who do are most likely to have made a conscious choice against buying into the mainstream may also be a part of it, as well as the narrative you speak of.

  13. 13
    Jo on 15 Dec 2009 #

    The charity bit of the RATM campaign:

    Over £32,000 raised in just over a week – not bad for something born on Facebook.

    And apparently the 29p Amazon downloads *do* count.

  14. 14
    Tom on 15 Dec 2009 #

    #12 Leon I’m certainly not saying that people buying RATM don’t love it. I think on both “sides” there will be people who:

    – love the song
    – think the song is OK but want to buy it for emotional reasons
    – don’t like the song but want to buy it for emotional reasons

    My guess – and it’s just a guess – is that RATM will have more of the first AND the third of these.

    #13 charity is always good, cf also the X Factor Finalists’ sterling efforts with their Frankenstein cover of “You Are Not Alone”

  15. 15
    fivelongdays on 15 Dec 2009 #

    I think the RATM campaign has a bit more humour to it than the terribly po-faced Buckley one last year (Hello, Leonard Cohen’s version was way better than both) and, in a way KITN is a bit of a lazy choice, but I’m taking part, because, hell it will make the charts interesting again.

    Besides, if RATM win it’ll annoy a lot of posh hipsters who preach musical inclusion, but get very, very snooty when anything loud, metally and full of guitars gets played.

  16. 16
    Al Ewing on 15 Dec 2009 #

    RATM’s arguably more beloved of posh hipsters than Joe M is, and I don’t think one particular side has the monopoly on ‘snootiness’ here. The abyss gazes also, etc.

  17. 17
    Lex on 15 Dec 2009 #

    There’s another possible motivation that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere yet – people buying RATM as an anti-Cowell move not because they’re disdainful of X Factor generally, but disappointed at how this particular season of X Factor’s gone? A poor final line-up, an extremely dull winner (especially when Leona/Alexandra/JLS are all plying their trade, constant reminders of Joe’s paucity of spirit), and especially the various shenanigans over the course of the series – not even the allegation that Cowell was fixing it, more the obvious ludicrousness of talented singers being sent home by the judges before eg Lloyd, the twins.

    Apart from that I don’t know why anyone cares about the Xmas No 1, and I don’t believe that too many people actually care about either of these two terrible songs – both just COMPLETELY SUCK – whichever one wins, we all lose. It’s depressing but appropriate that this pop year is ending with a debate over an embarrassing ancient joke band and a bland little boy who may as well be Gareth Gates exhumed. Who could possibly want either of these acts around at all? UGHHHH.

  18. 18
    thefatgit on 15 Dec 2009 #

    Strange, this one. I know many who are rooting for Rage, probably own KITN already and are going out to buy it again. Maybe if Cowell had stuck to the original plan and had a song ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AND ARRANGED for the winning finalist, rather than offering a cover version of “The Climb” or last year’s “Hallelujah” to the winner, then we would be less inclined to join the RATM/Buckley campaigns. Cowell has gotten lazy, resting on his laurels, safe in the knowledge the X Factor finalists triumph every year. In the grand scheme, it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans really, but if this new xmas #1 does end up being either RATM or Joe McElderry, then my friends we have seen the power of democracy in action. The X Factor camp being The Government and the RATM campaign being The Opposition. Sony, of course is Head Of State.
    I suggest a Third Way. Buy Lady GaGa!

  19. 19
    tonya on 15 Dec 2009 #

    As an American, I have to say that of all the things that have fascinated me with British pop over the years, the hoopla over the Christmas number one has always been the strangest. Do you all sit around in your paper hats singing it? Does it play underneath the Queen’s speech? Are the lyrics baked into your figgy puddings? I was a big Top 40 countdown listener as a child and I don’t think there even was a show at Christmas, Casey just counted down the year’s hits.

    p.s. A Moment Like This, Leona’s X Factor single, was a cover of Kelly Clarkson’s Idol-winning song. The conspiracy theories around the Idol winners’ songs revolve around the same bunch of 19/Syco friends getting writing credits.

  20. 20
    swanstep on 15 Dec 2009 #

    I’ve decided I’m happy if RATM gets to #1 despite it being one of the worst records ever made
    Even allowing for a bit of hyperbole, I find the last bit quite extraordinary. ‘Killing’ is Rage’s first single, and what a brutal, unholy, complete statement of intent it is. Very, very rarely do bands come roaring out of the gate like this, fully formed, and speaking their own language. (The Smiths were another.) Even if a given wunder-band’s special sound and distinctiveness turns out never to be quite one’s own thing (Rage’s political science fiction isn’t in fact quite *my* cup of tea – I needed their stunning Springsteen cover to find my way into the band), well, a moment’s reflection should confirm that that’s, as it were, *your* problem not theirs. Retrospectively, this is one of the singles of the ’90s, just as it was obvious post-Matrix that their ‘Wake up’ was one of the best ‘first album’ album tracks ever (Best since The Doors ‘The End’? Maybe.).

    Anyhow, the song’s brutal power and overall semi-incoherence (It’s didactically anti-didactic isn’t it? compare with the militarist anti-militarism of the original Day the Earth Stood Still – the galactic police-force will come and kill us all unless we curb our violent tendencies) chime brilliantly with the current cultural moment. People who don’t want to do what Simon Cowell tells them to, mostly do want a bunch of bigwigs in Copenhagen to tell everyone (especially everyone else) what to do, and to generally lay down the law for the whole planet. And the more worldy-governmenty power to bust heads if people don’t do what they’re told, the better. ‘Rage for a Different machine’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it I suppose (but ‘F__ you, you’ll do what I tell you’ scans!). The power to accurately express cultural contradictions 17 years into the future would be a very odd power for one of the worst records of all time to have. ‘Killing’ is a great record and would be one of the all-time great #1s.

  21. 21
    Tom on 15 Dec 2009 #

    Eloquent stuff Swanstep but I’m completely unconvinced – rather than “expressing cultural contradictions”, the very example you give “expresses” how BLOODY ANNOYING the song’s adoption as an anthem is and always has been. The irony you point up just isn’t in the record, as far as I can see.

    Mind you, my perceptions are coloured by having been a student in 1993 – the sinking feeling when “Killing” started up and the dancefloor emptied of fun and filled with stomping knobheads will take a lot of reassessment to shake.

  22. 22
    Tom on 15 Dec 2009 #

    But I’ll change “one of the worst records of all time” to “one of my most disliked records of all time” if you’d like!

  23. 23

    mmm figgy pudding

  24. 24
    Steve Mannion on 15 Dec 2009 #

    This song’s original release co-incided with my ‘Rock year”, but I still preferred Senser hehe

  25. 25
    Geoff on 16 Dec 2009 #

    The first time I remember there being a manufactured ‘battle’ between ‘real’ and ‘manufactured’ music for xmas number 1, was in 1987, when the original of When I Fall in Love was released up against Rick Astleyºs cover, which at the time was favourite for the top. This appeared to split the vote, allowing the Pet Shop Boys to sneak through )and thank god for that.

  26. 26
    fivelongdays on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Al @ 16 – fair point BUT I would argue that, while there is snobbery among the Metal community (oh, I know, I know) it is restricted to the Metal community (and if anyone can think of a better term than that, I’ll be pleased!).

    As it stands, though, anti-metal snobbery seems to be very strong in the mainstream, which is where my annoyance lies. Besides, it’s not the pro-Joers that are the snooty types, it’s the anti-Ragers (if you see what I mean).

  27. 27
    poohugh on 16 Dec 2009 #

    I would not be surprised if some zany marketers are behind this facebook group cf. ‘Bring Back Wispa’ campaign. No one seems to be mentioning this!
    Also: 29p downloads do count towards #1 http://is.gd/5pJCz

  28. 28
    Tim on 16 Dec 2009 #

    fld, is it possible to have a non-snooty anti-Rager position? Or is thinking RATM are completely foul necessarily snobbish / snooty?

  29. 29
    CarsmileSteve on 16 Dec 2009 #

    @poohugh, didn’t we say the same thing last year about the buckley campaign?

    having heard the chap on 6music the other day he did seem genuinely surprised that this had amounted to much more than him and his mates having a laugh.

    and yes steve, obviously senser >>>>>>> ratm :)

  30. 30
    Lex on 16 Dec 2009 #

    It’s so wrong-headed to see this as a “manufactured” vs “real” music battle, especially if you’re on the pop side – you’re happy to be represented by Joe McElderry? Really?

    I’m very happy to be snooty about both acts – I don’t care whether people buy singles for the “wrong” or “right” reasons, my disdain for people buying either RATM or McElderry is based on the same thing, ie the songs. just. suck. completely. At my most generous I couldn’t give either more than 1/10 (and I am rarely generous).

  31. 31
    Kat but logged out innit on 16 Dec 2009 #

    It would actually be excellent if Lady Gaga had a Christmas #1 – she seems to have dominated this musical year even more than Simon Cowell has.

  32. 32
    will on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Re 28: My standpoint on Rage has always been nice politics, shame about the music. They’ve always come across as decent, clued-up types in interviews, yet I can’t abide their shouty incoherent racket.

    And yet I’d be very happy if they came out on top on Sunday because a) for the first time in years it’s made the race for the Christmas Number One spot genuinely exciting and b) yes, anything that wipes the smug grin off Cowell’s face has got to be a good thing.

  33. 33
    McShank on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Part of me really wants to see RATM win just to see whether or not it can start phenomena of its own. I can see it now, each year the adolescent, anti-corporate (ROFL) denizens of facebook lining up and signing up for a range of excitingly “anti-pop” anthems. I conceive of dozens of groups all vying for their spot as main contender via the wax and wane of facebook groups: The “RUN DMC – Christmas in Hollis” group collapses so all it’s members flock to the “John Cage – 4:33”.

    It’d be like an interesting version of the Tory party leadership race.

    Finally, they’ll each select their winner and we get to see which audience packs more buying/voting clout for that year, creating a kind of meta-talent contest of it’s very own. IT’LL BE GREAT!!!

    One other point though, if this was really supposed to be a reaction against corporate pop, wouldn’t it have made more sense to pick a tune on an independent label. Buh! Better luck next year :D

  34. 34
    Tom on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Lex’s points are well made – I found Joe a likeable reality TV contestant, a natural 3rd-placer who had the good fortune to be able to hold a tune in a duff year for the X Factor. He would have been a shoo-in for that “search for a Joseph” thing the BBC did for instance. But actually wanting HIM to get to #1 is a bit crazy.

  35. 35
    Billy Smart on 16 Dec 2009 #

    KITNO’s rejection of the military-industrial complex is – I would imagine – a nuance lost on most of the song’s listeners then and now, for whom NOT DOING WHAT YOU TELL THEM! relates to more immediate and less abstract concerns, such as homework or tidying their rooms.

  36. 36
    Tom on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Y’see even that I can get behind – who wants to do their homework man? – what I found at the time was that the song was taken up without even those specifics (let alone its howl of frustration vs police racism) and very quickly became a thing of pure sentiment. NOBODY IS TELLING YOU TO DO ANYTHING YOU ARE OXFORD UNIVERSITY STUDENTS DRINKING TWO QUID SNAKEBITE AT AN INDIE DISCO sorry sorry I’ll calm down now.

    This whole thing is quite therapeutic actually.

  37. 37
    Conrad on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Two terrible singles. God, Rage Against the Machine have dated badly like so much early 90s grunge and indie rock music.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony were behind the entire campaign, although that is crediting their marketing people with a fair bit of ingenuity. It’s entirely plausible though as not only was last year’s Buckley effort a Sony/Sony thing as someone pointed out earlier, there is plenty of dislike for Syco within Sony – pissing off Cowell and making loads of money in the process. Sounds like a win win.

  38. 38
    Ben on 16 Dec 2009 #

    This Sony versus Sony thing is nonsense, incidentally. The media and the Rage haters have raised this as an issue with the campaign, but they’ve misunderstood the purpose of this campaign. In any case, let’s face it, the music industry has condensed to the point where nearly every song in the charts every week comes from one of about three or four powerhouse labels. I suppose the campaigners could have plumped for a track on a genuinely independent label but that wouldn’t have satisfied the objectives, in the sense that the aim was best served by using a song which already has an established level of popularity. Choosing KITN over another Rage song (perhaps ‘Wake Up’ or ‘Bulls On Parade’ or ‘Sleep Now In The Fire’) makes sense if your only aim is preventing X-Factor from getting to #1.

    If it was genuinely about sticking it to ‘the man’ (i.e. Sony), the alternative would have been to campaign for all the Cowell-haters to illegally download the X-Factor song. But that would have served no benefit whatsoever, in that the X-Factor song would still have got to #1, and Sony’s revenues would have been unaffected. Better yet, try and persuade people who would have bought the song to instead download it illegally.

    As for the ‘are Rage any good at all?’ question, you’re all perfectly entitled to your opinion, and I can understand that they are something of a Marmite band, but I happen to think they’re brilliant. ‘The Battle of Los Angeles’ was a phenomenal album, and they were terrific at Leeds and Reading back in 2000, just before they split up. The Generation X anarchist act sometimes seemed a little contrived, but is it any worse a way of selling records than the Cowell method? Are Rage any less entitled to try and spread their political message through music than, say, Billy Bragg?

    Also, Tom Morello is one of the Top 5 guitarists of all time. Fact. People should buy this record to honour his talents if nothing else!

  39. 39
    Steve Mannion on 16 Dec 2009 #

    After the horror and fear of 9/11 my first jokey thought about the whole thing was “Oh no RATM will become relevant again!”

  40. 40
    Tracy Morter on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Our original idea, joking about my husband and I, just thought how funny if it would be if it got to number one. A classic song in it’s genre and has a controversial history (Bruno Brookes accidentally playing the explicit version).
    We are also terribly nostalgic for the festive chart topper race of our childhoods. Even if they were cheesey (and we love a bit of cheesey music) we loved it, the whole excitement of watching TOTP on Christmas day is a big part of our childhood memories. Again this ties in with buying in on the experience.
    Obviously a whole lot more has been read into the campaign though.
    It wasn’t like we expected people to join, let alone this many!
    We’ve really enjoyed seeing other artists and songs get support for the top spot too and raising so much for Shelter.
    This is nothing malicious at all against the contestants or those who enjoy the music.

  41. 41
    Steve Mannion on 16 Dec 2009 #

    I would just like to know what festive chart battles people actually have in mind when they are being nostalgic for them. Can’t think of any that were particularly exciting or interesting personally.

  42. 42
    CarsmileSteve on 16 Dec 2009 #

    pogues and kirsty?

    Tom, if you were paying TWO QUID for a pint of snakebite you were going to the wrong discos. deffo shouldn’t be more than a quid fifty, ideally 70p…

  43. 43
    Tom on 16 Dec 2009 #

    I thought about changing it to one fifty but it scanned better and the coven prices WERE a rip off so two would not have surprised me.

  44. 44
    AndyPandy on 16 Dec 2009 #

    This rubbish getting publicity 16 years after it should have been forgotten – what a bloody nightmare: surely the track by RATM is the musical equivalent of a particularly immature 13 or 14 year old stamping his feet at his mum and dad because they won’t let him have his way.

    Probably fitting really as I should imagine most of RATM’s audience were rather embarrassing adolescents who as recently as the early 1990s still thought there was something daring about swearing on a record.

    I might even have to buy this Joe McElderry thing now…and isn’t that just it though in that far from damaging Simon Cowell’s empire this campaign just gives it even more publicity…

  45. 45
    thefatgit on 17 Dec 2009 #

    The South of England’s oldest surviving rock club, The Agincourt on the A30 at Camberley, still plays KITN every Saturday. Resident DJ Brad Garrood encourages everyone to flip the bird at him at the “F**k you I won’t do what you tell me” bit.

  46. 46
    Steve Mannion on 17 Dec 2009 #

    Andy, to defend RATM somewhat, you can pretty much accuse any angry shouty rockers as just being juvenile impressionable melodramatists or whatever. But 13-14 is the age where a lot of people start realising and getting angry about the state of things, and not unreasonably in many cases. It’s not like KITN is actually about personal/trivial problems, tho it is annoyingly vague. The inanity is less of an issue considering the company this song kept in the charts then and now.

    Rather than being nostalgic for the supposed ‘Christmas #1 importance/battle excitement’ I’m almost ending up nostalgic for non-joke songs this angry (convincingly, justifiably or not) being hits.

  47. 47
    CarsmileSteve on 17 Dec 2009 #

    RATM 40k ahead on the midweeks apparently, 250k to 210k

  48. 48
    swanstep on 18 Dec 2009 #

    I agree with much that #46, Steve Mannion says, but I’d add that what comes through loudest and clearest from various anti-Rage out-bursts above (top marks to #17,Lex’s ’embarrassing, ancient joke band’!) is something like social aversion, disgust, and contempt. Somebody felt distinctly superior to someone else.

    Follow Tom’s template:
    ‘Heroes’ plays, gets a response, and someone scowls from the shadows YOU’RE NOT HEROES YOU ARE OXFORD UNIVERSITY STUDENTS DRINKING TWO QUID SNAKEBITE AT AN INDIE DISCO.
    And so on. How depressing. I assume we’ve all been there, but it’s not pretty.

    I somehow managed to avoid any particular social associations with Rage and encountered them pretty strictly as music, from which perspective KITNO feels pretty awesome. It reminds me a lot of the Who’s ‘I can see for miles’ in terms of its basic energy level, and distinctiveness – the sense that nobody else plays together like this. And KITNO’s lyrics are certainly no more vague than ICSFM’s. That lead-off repeated couplet, ‘Some of those at work forces/Are the same that bore crosses’, in particular, resonates pretty strongly these days after a decade of Blair and Bush. (The couplet also makes the song a little subversive for xmas.) Ironically, it may resonate in future even more strongly as theological/eschatological terms seep into all the anguish around climate change, where it’s Rage’s WTO-protesting children carrying the crosses and summoning righteousness.

  49. 49
    Al Ewing on 18 Dec 2009 #

    I thought it was ‘burn crosses’?

  50. 50
    Tom on 18 Dec 2009 #

    Yeah isn’t the idea of the song to equate the police and the KKK – suggesting that the LAPD includes far right elements? (A pretty credible suggestion)

  51. 51
    Tom on 18 Dec 2009 #

    And yes, there was an awful lot of social aversion going on! On both sides, in fairness: the RATM dancers would be scowling in the shadows for the entire rest of the evening once they’d got their “fuck you”s out the way (except when Nirvana came on). “Who is telling you to do stuff?” doesn’t seem to me to be an ENTIRELY cynical question when confronted with a mass response to “Killing”.

  52. 52
    swanstep on 18 Dec 2009 #

    Hmm, I just checked the cd and it has lyrics for all songs except KITNO! Googling around for lyrics, people are all over the map on both lines of this couplet. At any rate, I hear what I hear, and I think the song makes good sense as a general diatribe against militarism conceived as a system of normative justifications and social behavioral control with roots in religious and racial/tribal conformism and zealotry.

    My understanding is that up until end of the ’90s the LAPD ran a semi-military (‘urban pacification’) model of policing that tried to make do with relatively few officers overall (relative to the population size they had 1/4 the cops of NYC IIRC), but then to deploy massive, overwhelming force in rapid response to outbreaks of violence etc.. That model’s supposed to have been replaced by a more conventional neighborhood policing model, but go here to confirm that the LAPD’s connection to the military is nonetheless still very strong. E.g.,
    LAPD officers that are military veterans are highly encouraged to wear their military ribbons on their LAPD uniform.
    Anyhow, this is the level at which I took Rage’s more general points to connect up with LAPD stuff. Rage shared with NWA et al. an image of East LA as Beirut/Baghdad under occupation by US forces.

    Lastly, sorry if my previous note was a bit grouchy. It’s certainly true that many interesting bands with aggressive sounds (e.g., Nirvana, Fugazi) have been publicly troubled by some of the ‘meathead’/’fratboy’/etc. audience they attract, and I should not have suggested that there’s anything wrong with anyone *else* having the sorts of qualms that the bands themselves often have had.

  53. 53
    cis on 18 Dec 2009 #

    the official ratm site has “burn crosses”, if that counts for anything.

  54. 54
    swanstep on 18 Dec 2009 #

    @#53,cis. Damn. I guess that means that *my* Rage probably isn’t the real Rage. What a pain! :)

  55. 55
    koganbot on 19 Dec 2009 #

    But The Man Can’t Bust Our Music (Columbia Records ad in Rolling Stone in 1968*; Columbia is now owned by Sony).

    *That info is from a blog, so may not be altogether accurate, but I do remember the ad, since it stirred up controversy and contempt.

  56. 56
    Alan Connor on 20 Dec 2009 #

    I could never bear the thought of the Coven and avoided the song at the time, but listened to it many times in process of writing http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8419446.stm (“burn crosses” for sure?) and found something new each time. Esp Morello. Some alternative lyrics came up in a class of 199x thread on Facebook:
    Fuck You I Won’t Tidy My Bedroom
    Fuck You I Won’t Wash My Keffiyeh
    Fuck You I Won’t Do My Revision


  57. 57
    Tyler on 10 Jan 2010 #

    Very nice post. I do, however, find your final question (integrated experiences vs. viral ‘grassroots’ strategies) a very interesting one. I don’t necessary know if it is a question of ‘winning’ for Marketers. Both strategies have strong advantages and disadvantages.

    For example, an integrated strategy ensures high levels of awareness but it’s very expensive to create a TV show (or spot), advertise it on a number of channels and staff various social networks to ensure that conversations are maintained with users.

    On the flip side, a grassroots viral strategy (Rage asking their fans to buy with very little paid media and no production) can prove effiective and can be very cheap. That said, if you’re not a brand that already has a passionate fanbase, it can be very hard to get something to resonate (and I’m ignoring the dozens of entertaining YouTube video’s that happen to go viral!)

    Smart marketers try to use both strategies; develop a large, integrated and holistic campaign and try to augment it with some grassroots (re: cheap) approaches that could take off if they are seeded and discussed among the right people.

    Excellent topic and great post.

  58. 58
    weej on 21 Dec 2015 #

    Six years later, Louisa Johnson has only managed to just about scrape into the top 10, and nobody’s making much of a fuss about it. Things have, apparently, changed.

  59. 59
    Tommy Mack on 21 Dec 2015 #

    Did anyone see much of the latest X Factor? The last series I saw any of was the One Direction one but Mrs Mack persuaded me to watch a few episodes this year. It felt exhausting, Simon Cowell’s own Be Here Now* with everything turned up to eleven: every quandary presented as a heart-wrenching crisis, deadlock week after week, loads of melismatic emotional megatonnage in the singing stakes. It gets to something when a contestant is talking candidly about the recent death of a close relative and you’re thinking ‘oh they’re doing this one’.

    I’m not trying to bitch and say ‘ooh isn’t X Factor awful’ but my abiding impression of it this year is that it was really tiring to watch!

    *I have just read The Last Party so I am comparing everything that is past it’s prime and overcooked to BHN!

    **Actually the only thing that wasn’t turned up to eleven was Cowell himself, clearly bored of playing the bad guy, he’s telegraphing ‘fatherhood has mellowed me’ to the extent I found myself mocking him for going soft. Come to think of it, none of the judges were big brash personalities this year which is maybe why they amped up the narrative drama to compensate?

  60. 60
    Mark M on 21 Dec 2015 #

    Re59/60: It’s interesting at least in that the argument being offered by Louis Walsh and others (sorry, I’ve subbed an awful lot of ‘X Factor crisis’ stories this autumn) for why The X Factor should continue now that ITV have acquired The Voice is that X Factor produces stars. I’m not sure how persuasive that would be to TV execs seeing their show thrashed in the ratings by Strictly, somehow. Nor do I think people think of 1D or Little Mix and credit the show that assembled them – they’ve transcended their origins.

  61. 61
    Tom on 21 Dec 2015 #

    The house of streaming has fallen on the wicked witch of the X-Factor – we won’t see a reality TV Christmas No.1 again. Possibly not a reality TV No.1 again.

  62. 62
    Tommy Mack on 21 Dec 2015 #

    #61 Tom, do you mean streaming of music preventing the engineering of massive sales spikes or streaming of TV making it harder to create big seasonal events on TV itself? Or a bit of both?

  63. 63
    Tom on 21 Dec 2015 #

    The former! It exposes the X-Factor’s achilles heel, which is that people want to buy the record to finish the story – but they don’t actually want to HEAR it. But the latter is a good point too and one I hadn’t thought of.

  64. 64
    weej on 21 Dec 2015 #

    Tom – Agreed on the whole, but also want to point out that Louisa’s single sold 39,196 copies – compared to Ben Haenow who sold 214,000 this time last year (and Shayne Ward who apparently did 740,000(!) in 2005). It may be connected to the shift in chart dates as it was apparently released on a Monday, but think it’s very unlikely that it picked up, say, another 100,000 over the weekend. It is at the top of the physical sales chart but only at number 4 in downloads so I don’t think it would be at the top even without streaming.

  65. 65
    Tommy Mack on 22 Dec 2015 #

    Until fairly recently, the campaign to get A Bridge Over You by the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir to #1 was full of references to beating X Factor/Simon Cowell but in the last week or so they’ve disappeared and any appeals to rivalry are against Justin Bieber – https://www.facebook.com/nhsxmasno1/

    I downloaded the single knowing I will never play it (it’s a medley of two songs I don’t like, done in a style that doesn’t interest me.) I have become the worst sort of pop consumer.

  66. 66
    Patrick Mexico on 22 Dec 2015 #

    No offence, but we should leave discussion of Freak Like Me for when Tom gets to it.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page