Fans of Rage Against The Machine are still slightly stunned. ‘Killing In The Name’ actually made it to Christmas Number One against the X-Factor juggernaut. But behind the fun of the first decent chart battle in years, the whole episode served to highlight some interesting issues regarding the current state of the music industry.
The incredibly temporary nature of ‘stars’ in modern pop music was one of the main issues inadvertently raised by supporters of Joe McElderry. The reason celebrities associated with the X-Factor were thrown into such a flap by the Rage campaign was because the stars generated by these sort of shows are so disposable, and so soon overshadowed by the next set of winners, that if Simon Cowell can’t offer the winner an immediate Number One single, it is unlikely they will ever get one. He certainly can’t offer the contestants a career; just look at Steve Brookstien, winner of the first series, who now plays in Pizza Express.
A standard condemnation of the Rage campaign, which was levelled by many critics including Cowell and Cheryl Cole, was that Joe McElderry “deserved” to be Christmas Number One because he worked so hard to win X-Factor. The X-Factor lasts four months. While the contestants genuinely do give it their all, do they really “deserve” success in comparison to all the talented bands who tour dive bars relentlessly in order to build a fan base? The instant exposure delivered by the X-Factor is something most artists can only dream of. When Joe McElderry did reach Number One the following week, it had taken him 118 days since first appearing on the X-Factor; The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been playing for 26 years, but are yet to top the UK charts.
Those who listened to BBC Switch after the Chart Show on Radio One were also treated to a revelation about just how artistically constrained the pop stars turned out by X-Factor really are. Talking to Annie Mac and Nick Grimshaw, Joe McElderry said “I’d really like to do some more upbeat numbers on my album… I hope I’m allowed to.” That single sentence summarises exactly what is wrong with this area of the music industry. Joe McElderry isn’t an artist; he’s painting by numbers.
Music isn’t real unless it’s an expression of passion, something you believe in, something genuine. At the core of it, that is the real reason why a band who have always stood by their beliefs, whatever the consequences, were able to beat a cover version of a song released by a Disney character earlier that year. And it’s also the reason why people will still be listening to Rage Against The Machine long after Joe McElderry has been forgotten.