Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Man Who Hijacked Christmas

Call me a cynic. Simon Cowell has, as I am one of those who is just delighted that the Rock Band 'Rage Against The Machine' is challenging the single by the X Factor winner, Joe McThingie, for the No. 1 slot at Christmas.

I admit I know naff all about this band and their single, 'Killing In The Name', is about as Christmassy as 'God Save The Queen' by the Sex Pistols but this is one in the eye against the 'Formula' that makes Cowell and his backers millions each year. To boot, young Joe's voice is one I have heard many times before but cannot put names to it and the single, 'The Climb' is sugary claptrap, hastily put together to target the sales cycles that will get it into the charts for Christmas. If that is the standard of British music this year, then we have not progressed much. On the album side, Susan Boyle is dominating with historic high sales on - at least she has a profoundly different voice and helps light up old songs. McThingie, meanwhile, is all formula even though his voice is very good he brings little new life to existing songs as Will Young embarrassingly did not either.

The 'Formula' is cynically designed by Cowell & Co. The X Factor show serves up on a plate an audience participation melee which is carefully designed to build up to Christmas so that he delivers a package of around 30m viewers to his advertisers ensuring he gets top dollar on rates while a guarantee of a No. 1 single for the winner, regardless of what tripe they sing - it really does not matter as a big proportion of the audience who voted for the winner will buy the single even if they sang 'Bah, Bah Black Sheep' - frankly.

And that's how Simon Cowell has hijacked Christmas.

But two can play at that game. Cowell spends a good deal of his vast profit to ensure that the 'Formula' delivers the hit single at the right time via the prodigious viewing figures of the show. What is new is that the internet has the ability, through social networking, to take the germ of an idea of an individual and spread virally - for free - across the globe and get people to do things. The 'Formula' would not work if it cannot guarantee the Christmas No. 1 and Cowell will be a few pence poorer as a result.

But there is more than that at stake. Britain has always been the seeding ground of cutting edge music from Punk Rock to Glam Rock to Northern Soul - we have a history of innovation in music that comes from the grass roots. This whole Christmas affair is one strike back for the people who still fight to get on the bill of the local pub or club, who take their demo tapes around by hand to studios, who busk at Underground stations in the hope of being discovered. Talent endures and karaoke is just rehashing old songs with a slight difference and while that has a place, surely it is not at the top of the charts at Christmas.

While I am on the subject, I saw the dreadful video and song by Cheryl Cole the other day. She is beautiful, have no doubt, but dressed in stupid clothes and made up to look like some dominatrix took away all the good things about her. It's like the hair advert she does - all is fine until she opens her mouth and even some of that is dubbed. Talent does rise to the top - I am not that much of a cynic, but surely when we have grown bored with the 'Formula', as inevitably we will, the likes of Ms. Cole, as gorgeous as she is, will outlive their purpose.

I actually think it is Simon Cowell who has cynically used his 'Formula' to manipulate Christmas to fuel his personal wealth and excite the likes of Sir Philip Green to back the worldwide advance of the X Factor to make him even richer. Good luck to the guy - each to his own and he works hard for his success.

But let's make Christmas ours again. If Rage Against The Machine achieves that, then I am all for cynicism.

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