RATM Christmas Follow-up: Was It A Fix?

I’ve started mentally drafting this a few times, but almost all of them just ended up with me reiterating everything I said in my ‘Futility Of Fighting Fire With Fire‘ post over on stevelawson.net.

However, this evening, someone linked on Twitter to This blog post claiming that it was a campaign masterminded by Sony. And now the process of saying ‘is it?’ and ‘if it is, how dare they!‘ has started. I’ve been asked my opinion on it, both the veracity and the meaning of it, so I thought I’d scribble down some thoughts.

I don’t, truth be told, think the blog post sets out a particularly convincing case for it being a fix. It’s all good conspiracy stuff, but a bit thrown together. Not particularly good journalism, for sure, and at worst is just a piece of willfully opportunistic nonsense drummed up as link-bait for the blogger concerned.

But, the weird thing is how many people seem to be really bothered by the implication that it’s a fix.

If this is a set up, a Sony campaign, it changes nothing. Whether it is or it isn’t, a bunch of internet nerds hyped back into the charts an 18 year old massive rock hit (it’s on Rock Band) – the biggest hit by one of the world’s biggest rock bands, a band known to millions as rock’s voice of discontent – as a ‘protest’ at X-Factor songs getting to the Christmas number 1 position in the UK singles chart. Both songs were released on record labels that were part of the Sony group, so either way Sony win, no one in the whole world chose between the two when deciding what to buy, so all it did was add more sales to the charts, not actively dissuade anyone from buying music deemed ‘unacceptable’.

No, it was an act of lazy cultural snobbery targeted at an institution (the UK singles chart) that ceased to mean anything years ago. As an act of musical defiance it was lazy – ‘yeah, let’s pick a massive selling rock classic that everyone knows that has swearing in it!’ As an attempt to prove that the internet is a force for good in changing the world of music it did exactly the opposite and proved that even on the internet, people resort to the same tired old bullshit of thinking that meaning comes from volume, and the vehicle for mass action is stuff-that’s-already-massively-successful-via-the-old-model.

It was still one song picked as the lottery winner, it was one act – already rich beyond our imagining – who got the golden ticket, the wave of support of indignant web-users, angry that kids and old people could possibly watch XFactor and then want to buy the single that the entire story had led up to over the last few weeks. No-one thinks it’s great – the people who bought it are the same ones who made Pure And Simple by Hear’Say the fastest selling single of all time, but now can’t even remember the name of the band, just that one of them looked like Shrek and that other one debased herself in the jungle… It’s not about music. It’s not about culture, or convincing people that shouty sweary rock music is somehow intrisically better than manufactured pop.

500,000 sales of one song says that the people on the internet are still more interested in being involved in something big than they are in something good.

  • Thank your mum for dinner,
  • smile at a Big Issue vendor as you buy a copy,
  • volunteer for Crisis,
  • buy fairtrade,
  • recycle,
  • and yes, buy indie music from artists whose lives are impacted by every single sale, then thank them and tell your friends.

But do it cos you love it, because it’s good, not because you need to be in mass-opposition to something for it to have meaning.

If Sony fixed this or if it really was grass-roots, the outcome is the same and nothing has changed. Joe will be number one next week, the charts will still never be a reflection of music that I – or anyone else for that matter – really loves. They’ll still be the 40 least offensive, most expensively marketed, best hyped tracks that are around today, and they’ll have nothing to do with what any of us actually listen to.

And I’ll keep telling everyone about the great music I come across on the web – not because I want to start a movement, but because it’s good. Because it soundtracks my life, it’s my music, my story, and I don’t need to hate some X-Factor kid whose surname I don’t even know and whose music I’ve never knowingly listened to for it to be important. It’s important because it’s good, because it’s a sustainable practice that helps the music I love to keep existing, and it’s an act of gratitude to the people who keep making music that makes me feel like the world is a good place to be.

Fix or no fix, nothing has changed.

So for now, have a listen to Miriam Jones – she’s great, relatively unknown, lovely, and waiting to hear from you about how much you love what she does:

<a href="http://miriamjones.bandcamp.com/album/being-here">Always Been Between by Miriam Jones</a>

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19 Comments

  1. I’ve just pressed play and expected Neil Young to come rushing out at me after two seconds – then, I was met head on by a lovely fresh vocal that reminds me of a few people and nobody, all at once… Quite nice while I type to you…

    Great run-down on the RATM / JOE / SONY …”thing”

    It’s true, we all know it, well, those of us with any musical appreciation beyond what is thrust at us via a 600′ high banner spinning from a gold plated helicopter covered in money.. (whoa)… music IS what it used to be, you just have to try a little harder to find it – like this track “Being Here” it’s still going and I quite like it and think I could happily listen to an album by Miriam (Thanks, Steve)

    Sony, spin or not, won that round – good for them, RATM get to come to the UK and do a show hosted by Cowell (So say LiveNation in a press release?) and, as you say, Joe will be number one next week…

    Everyone wins, well, except those artists that actually need this type of promotion…

    So… Good article, thanks for the music, see you out there…

    Sime

  2. The same people ran a campaign last Christmas to get Rick Astley to number 1 instead of the X Factor – something those who claimed “it was all about the music” seemed to have missed. They just hit it lucky with their choice this time.

  3. There’s been a significant update on the Lyle blog following a comment from moogyboobles that you should read.

    Personally I think this was nothing more than a teenage style prank to get a song with the word fuck to Xmas number one. The xfactor guff that surrounded it was just a vehicle to get it momentum.

    Any pretence at a grander protest or more significant ‘meaning’ is tiresome BS

  4. Can’t imagine you turning many rage fans onto miriam jones. ( Think i’m in a fairly small minority in owning albums by both miriam and rage ) far as the number one goes i think the christmas number one still means something to the general public so rage at number one can’t be a bad thing. Sure sony were the big winners, i’m hoping rage will use the publicity to promote their politics ( they usually have something interesting to say ) failing that it still made me smile ( nothing wrong with a bit of panto)

    1. I can’t imagine many Rage fans reading this – the readers here are a fairly consistent bunch, some of whom may like Miriam, some may not. No biggie either way.

      Meaning and the perception of meaning are two different things. But that’s a whole other blog post, and I’ll have to re-read some Viktor Frankl first πŸ˜‰

  5. Wise Christmas words Steve. On the up side though, the sale of RATM’s single has raised cash for the charity “Shelter” I hear.
    Personally, I’d still rather hear “Killing In The Name Of” to at least give us a change from the hardy perennial that is the X-Factor Christmas #1. I realise it’s a small (and, I’m ashamed to say petty) victory; pleases me though.

    Merry Christmas (and to quote RATM) Β£%@#er #%€$ers
    Yours Childishly
    xR
    πŸ˜‰

    1. I don’t have any objection to it being there – it’s a completely harmless event and like you, I really like the song – that whole album is fantastic. But I haven’t heard it anywhere yet, because I don’t listen to the radio or watch TV. Clearly no-one is going to play the naughty words at the end cos we’re terrified of kids hearing on the radio the kind of language they use all the time in the playground… Are you honestly expecting to hear less of the Joe thingie-whats-hisname single? I’ve not heard it, and wouldn’t know it if I did (don’t as yet even know what it’s called) – I can’t imagine that many malls are going to be adding Killing In The Name to their Christmas list…

      So far, I’ve heard Driving Home For Christmas by Chris Rea about 8 times, and it still makes me smile. And Roy Wood’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ is a great tune and arrangement with borderline psychotic lyrics – what kind of damn foo’ wants Christmas every day? That’s mentalism!

      So Killing In The Name being at number one has so far impacted me purely in text form. Though obviously, I own the album, so could easily put it on and listen to it. As could, I’m sure, a vast number of the people who bought it AGAIN (that I find genuinely baffling).

      πŸ™‚

  6. Arguing over which song is “better” all depends on what “is” is. πŸ˜‰

    I agree with you Steve. Nothing has changed, fix or no fix.

    I must however add that it gives me a warm feeling to know that there are still 502,000 odd people (over a million if you look at the Facebook page) out there at least who feel passionate enough about music which has soul and substance to take part in this campaign.

    I think it’s deeper than cultural snobbery or making a difference. I think it’s about the human spirit rebelling against an automated machine which sucks the life out of music and gives you the impression that most people actually like the soul-less pop idol stuff. This perpetuates the image that this music is actually popular when as you well said, it’s just non-offensive and heavily marketed.

    For me, it’s more about the message of RATM and the message of X-factor and for this I do care, deeply.

    So, more Rage, less X-factor in the Zeitgeist, even just for a week, brings a smile to my face, no matter how I look at it. πŸ˜‰

  7. that there are still 502,000 odd people (over a million if you look at the Facebook page) out there at least who feel passionate enough about music which has soul and substance to take part in this campaign.

    But LOADS of music has soul and substance. All the music I listen to has soul and substance. I refuse to listen to music that doesn’t have soul and substance in my estimation – every person who bought it will have a different classification of what that means, what music does that for them. For some of them, Enya will make them cry, for some it’ll be Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion, and for others they’ll get something magical from obscure 70s funk records. To suggest that one song selling more copies than another is somehow emblematic of caring about soul and substance is to hand WAY too much credence to the notion of pop charts.

    Soul and substance has nothing to do with popularity, and everything to do with personal narrative. As much as I love RATM’s music, I actually think this undermines it’s power and message, reducing it to a slogan, far removed from the critique of institutional racism that Killing In The Name’s lyrics actually comprise.

    But, as I’ve said, it’s not that I don’t think it should be there, just that it means nothing for it to be there πŸ™‚

    1. “To suggest that one song selling more copies than another is somehow emblematic of caring about soul and substance is to hand WAY too much credence to the notion of pop charts.”

      I agree. The charts mean nothing to me personally and I don’t think that’s what made me tingle here.

      I was trying to say that without the campaign this conversation wouldn’t have been taking place this Christmas.

      I think the fact that it is means that the campaign stirred the pot just a bit and since we’ve established it wasn’t rigged I feel warmed by the mere fact that it happened. Cheap victory as Rich said. Still it makes me smile where even just knowing that the X-factor machine exists makes me queasy to say the least. πŸ˜‰

      I agree that the original intent of this particular song was directed at something more serious. I don’t think the campaign will damage that message much in the long run.

      Someone tweeted Sabotage would have been a better choice. Maybe.

      All talk of “better music” or popularity is irrelevant to me in this case.

      Don’t you think this campaign was punk Steve? If you do, wouldn’t you agree the World is just a slight bit better off because it took place? Just a tiny bit? πŸ˜‰

      1. ah, I’m not letting you get away with the ‘this conversation wouldn’t be happening of it wasn’t for XYZ’ – that’s the most lazy defense of any action πŸ˜‰ You’re much smarter than that… ha!

        I don’t think it was in the slightest bit punk. Punk would’ve been about people putting on gigs, making their own music and ignoring the charts altogether. So much of what we think of as punk wasn’t a remotely punk ethic. My favourite ‘real punk’ is Mike Watt – don’t think he’s ever troubled the charts, but has been making awesome vital music for close to 30 years. A massive inspiration.

        I think the world is exactly the same because of it. The only way it’s different is that some people now think of themselves and their internet peers as revolutionaries, like 15 year olds buying Che t-shirts from Walmart. Sony and the charts people are going to be more than happy with all the ‘we won, we beat the x-factor’ BS because the end result is sales, and sales on their terms, through their outlets of music on their labels…

        So much in the industry is about getting people to buy music for reasons other than just liking it – branding, tribalism, tv-shows, campaigns – they’re all cut from the same cloth, and are all a distraction from us weaving our own beautiful and complex narrative where the musicians who make the music we choose to wrap around ourselves aren’t totemic mythological people but are there to be spoken to, congratulated and encouraged. The world would’ve been a much better place if those 500,000 sales had been pointed at the nation’s indie artists. Or, of course, if the campaign had just been to donate to Shelter, but that’s another red-herring. πŸ˜‰

        1. Morning!

          “Punk would’ve been about people putting on gigs, making their own music and ignoring the charts altogether.”

          That to me is almost like the Sex Pistols ignoring the Queen. πŸ˜‰

          “The world would’ve been a much better place if those 500,000 sales had been pointed at the nation’s indie artists. ”

          I agree. It wouldn’t have worked tough as a short term campaign. That type of thing needs to happen in the long run.

          “The only way it’s different is that some people now think of themselves and their internet peers as revolutionaries, like 15 year olds buying Che t-shirts from Walmart.”

          Still, apart from the Wall-mart bit, better than 15 year-olds buying the X-factor winners t-shirt don’t you think? πŸ˜‰

          I get what you are saying though I think we may be stressing the details here when the basic idea is quite revolutionary.

          I refer to an article twoted by Andrew Dubber this morning…

          http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/mark-steel/mark-steel-where-next-in-the-battle-against-the-establishment-1848137.html

          The quote that sums it up for me is this…

          “So their success challenges the central obstacle seeping through the country, which is cynicism.”

          I think this ignites a bit of optimism in the minds of many people who have not yet “gotten” the power of the Internet as a platform.

          An individual with a good idea and a platform to spread the word has become a force to be reckoned with.

          This gives me hope.

          1. The Sex Pistols weren’t remotely Punk, IMHO. They were as contrived as X-Factor. It would be like the Minutemen ignoring the Queen. Oh, wait, they did! πŸ™‚

            Something being marginally less crap than some other supremely crap thing is no reason to champion it. It’s reason to invent a third option. This wasn’t a binary equation – it wasn’t ‘buy this OR buy that’ – and it also wasn’t as black and white as saying ‘buying RATM MP3s = bad’ – it doesn’t, it didn’t do any harm at all. It just didn’t do anything. πŸ™‚

            To overcome cynicism with laziness and a false sense of armchair activism is a pyrrhic victory. Spending 29p on rock star back catalogue isn’t revolutionary, it’s a short-term anaesthetic that does nothing.

            It hasn’t done any harm at all. Because it didn’t do anything – good or bad – besides making people feel like they’d done ‘enough’, like they were ‘sticking it to The Man.

            Corporations can be accidental agents of Revolution – RATM’s music is revolutionary whichever label it’s on. That’s a given. Wall-E is a fantastic seditious counter-cultural film, made by Disney and Pixar. Mike Watt’s first 2 solo albums are on Columbia…

            Infiltration of corporate entities has a long and distinguished history. But sometimes the tables are turned, and the corps make a whole pile of cash off people thinking they’re kicking against the pricks when instead they are strengthening the position of the status quo.

            I guess that was the point of this post – fix or not (now we know it clearly wasn’t) it wouldn’t have changed a thing. The outcome is the same and nothing has changed.

            What we do next though, is a whole lot more exciting. πŸ™‚

  8. Aaah I don’t know. I mean everything you say makes perfect sense, and I’d already read your earlier post on the subject, AND YET when I heard Rage were the Christmas Number One I laughed in delight and amusement.

    I think part of it is the sense of all those people out there, some of them quite young, who – even though the difference it made was in a sense trivial – have had the experience of joining with others to make themselves heard. This time it was trivial, next time it might be on something more important. Maybe that’s over-optimistic, but I just can’t see it as a bad thing.

    1. …and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone their moment of glee. If I wasn’t predisposed to analyze this stuff, I’d certainly be smiling more about it. I mean, I love the band, have played the song more times that I care to count and am delighted at the thought that more people might possibly be exposed to their politics and campaigning…

      But when it started getting pitched as ‘the people vs Cowell’ – as the internet taking on the machine of the industry, I despaired at the way that the ease of starting a campaign now means that people don’t actually think through the best way to do something, they choose the path of least resistance.

      …I’m going to give some time to thinking of alternative ‘campaign’ ideas that could promote the cause of independent music sharing, as an alternative to this kind of thing… I honestly don’t mean to come across as a miserablist – it’s not significant enough to be miserable about. It’s business as usual πŸ˜‰

      I would, however, love to hear you do a bass and voice cover of Killing In The Name, Jennifer πŸ™‚

  9. “To overcome cynicism with laziness and a false sense of armchair activism is a pyrrhic victory.”

    Do you refer to the people who supported the campaign? I don’t think the guys who started and ran the campaign were lazy.

    If armchair activism pushed X-factor of the charts it may need to be given a bit more credit. Power in my opinion is the ability to make something happen and influence the world around you. This campaign did that.

    “What we do next though, is a whole lot more exciting.”

    Agreed. This campaign wasn’t the end of anything. It’s however a reference to point to for those who doubt what can be done from an armchair. πŸ˜‰

    I say: Let the games begin! πŸ˜‰

    1. I don’t think the people who started it had much idea what they were doing. It was just internet silliness. We do that kind of stuff all the time, it just doesn’t turn into a national campaign because we don’t pick multi-million selling sweary anthems as our vehicle…

      Pushing X-Factor from the ‘top’ of the charts is a smile on a dog. It means nothing. It didn’t dent the sales of Joe Schmoe’s tune, just sold *more* copies. It’ll be a footnote in the decades-long decline in meaning of the charts, that ceased to have any intrinsic meaning when the internet removed the barrier to discovery/listening, but will soldier on for a few more decades just through the momentum an institution of that size has.

      In the meantime, an exercise like this pretends it still has meaning. If you want to maintain that pretense, go right ahead πŸ˜‰

      BTW, I’m LOVING this discussion – thanks so much for entertaining it. I really appreciate you taking the time to discuss this πŸ™‚

      1. You’re right: Joe will sell more copies. In fact I wouldn’t have even known about Joe if it wasn’t for the RATM campaign! Darn it, they got me. πŸ˜‰

        The charts have meaning to some. You know it’s horse manure and so do I. I hope this helps to highlight the manure-ness of the charts to those who don’t yet get it. πŸ˜‰

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