By Derek Parreñas, Photo: PA
United Kingdom, December 20, 2009
“… so it really is history in the making. It’s the Christmas Number One for 2009. Rage Against the Machine and ‘Killing in the Name’. Thanks for listening, and good night!”
-Scott Mills, BBC Radio 1 DJ
Back then, the number one single in the U.K. every Christmas had been from the winning contestant of Simon Cowell’s “The X Factor”. But on December 2009, two fans of the nineties politically-aligned rap-rock band Rage Against the Machine, Jon and Tracy Morter, started a Facebook campaign called Rage Against X Factor to bring the band’s 1992 debut single, “Killing in the Name”, to the top of the charts for that year’s (and decade’s) Christmas singles charts. For the uninitiated to this band’s aggressive blend of rock, this is a song about injustices found in the United States police departments and it includes sixteen repetitions of the line “F*ck you, I won’t do what you tell me” ending in a blaring dissonance summed up with “Motherf*cker”. Hardly a common Yuletide jingle if you ask me.
Simon Cowell agreed, and went as far as to comment, “If there’s a campaign, and I think the campaign’s aimed directly at me, it’s stupid. Me having a No 1 record at Christmas is not going to change my life particularly. I think it’s quite a cynical campaign geared at me that is actually going to spoil the party for these three (Jon, Tracy, and the band).” Suffice to say, he was confident that his prized fighter, Joe McElderry, the winner of that year’s X Factor, and his rendition of Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb” would be on top of the charts, as tradition would dictate (At least, tradition the past four years.). Joe was on top of the charts at first, but slowly, Rage Against the Machine would begin to catch up, eventually overtaking him.
As far as support was concerned, the campaign was praised by members of the band and other music critics and makers, alike. According to Rage Against the Machine frontman, Zack de la Rocha, “We’re very very ecstatic and excited about the song reaching the number one spot. We want to thank everyone that participated in this incredible, organic, grass-roots campaign. It says more about the spontaneous action taken by young people throughout the UK to topple this very sterile pop monopoly. When young people decide to take action they can make what’s seemingly impossible, possible.” In fact, the band decided to hold a free concert on June 6, 2010 in London to celebrate the accomplishment, the movement of the British youth to take out mindless pop music out of the ears of the public.
This isn’t supposed to be some outdated news article on what transpired two years past in some far away country. This is a retrospective.
So much money spent into bringing this band to the top spot, to be heard on radio stations and music television channels all over Britain. And it wasn’t just constricted to Britain. News of the campaign’s success reached all the parts of the civilized world. From the United States to France, from Brazil to Spain, from Russia to the Philippines, it was at least featured shortly on news media. A testament to the power of people when they choose to convict themselves to an idea, it was supposed to usher in a new world of music.
A world wherein Justin Bieber and company wouldn’t prosper, wherein the music commonly heard had meaning and artistic value, wherein people could play said music and feel as if they weren’t giving their mind to some auditory carcinogen. To be the antithesis of that world that “got you thinkin’ that what ya need is what they sellin’, make you think that buyin’ is rebellin’”, as how Rage Against the Machine put it in their song “No Shelter”. It was one of Rage Against the Machine’s political agendas, to put a stop to no-thought mass consumerism.
And where is that world? Justin Bieber is still alive and kicking, and he just released a Christmas album. Other artists are still around, selling their catchy pop melodies to thousands and millions of people. In fact, around February, a new artist released a pop song about “getting down on Friday”, a song that tells us how Saturday comes after Friday and Sunday after that. Even if it got a lot of criticism and even credited as the “worst song ever”, that song holds its fair share of fans. That was something you heard on radio, television, even at your computer.
There is a counter-culture to that, where their songs are hardly heard on radio, television, and at your computer, the hipster culture. A movement from the 50’s from white kids listening to Jazz, bastardized at the end of last decade; it has become synonymous with unfounded arrogance because of their fascination with the underground. Post-2009, hipster culture seemed to rise. Everyone around you suddenly was a hipster; a mockery of what it stood for: the new pop culture phenomenon. Was this the world envisioned by a band dressed in working-class attire? Maybe not. Even Justin Bieber is a hipster.
Then there are shows like X-Factor, American Idol, and the like. Here, the movement has truly gotten its goal. Audiences of said shows have begun to decline, leaving a lot of them in limbo as to whether they would get another season. Ratings plummeted, people don’t want to watch another journey of a new Simon Cowell-manufactured pop star, later forgotten in a year. What happened to Taylor Hicks? We don’t know either. And have you even heard of Joe McElderry? You’re probably thinking, “Who’s that?” Look up a bit, I think you’ll see his name.
One of the names buzzing around the news today is the Occupy movement. A series of protests undertaken by the youth in America, targeted at the inequality of wealth distribution in their country. A movement that has been visited by members of Rage Against the Machine from time to time. Another news-catching world protest was the Libyan revolution that overthrew Gaddhafi’s regime, another youth-fueled movement. And lately, in Russia, the public demonstrations against Vladimir Putin’s victory in an election that had a 140 percent voting turn-out, wherein the police have stiffened against protesters. These revolutions around the world are some among the multiple that have taken place, post-Rage Against the X Factor. Sure, there may be other factors to consider, but this is one of them. Hark back to the frontman’s words, “When young people decide to take action they can make what’s seemingly impossible, possible.”
Though the Rage Against the X-Factor movement failed musically, it has spurned on what underlying lesson was in the movement, youth taking action. And it may have other ways of manifesting itself. You, EcoSocer, how do you think this has changed your life?