Home > Culture > Conformity is Rebellion: Rage consumers did what they were told

Conformity is Rebellion: Rage consumers did what they were told

So Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name Of became this year’s UK No. #1 Single. I listened to this song on YouTube for the first time on Friday night. For those few of you who have not had the fine pleasure of hearing this before, it ends with a repeated refrain of “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me”. A standard anti-man type of song then. So to get at the man of manufactured pop music, a Facebook campaign started, ultimately successful, to try to beat Joe McElderry, winner of the X-Factor from getting the #1 spot. Thousands of people did what their friends and a Facebook group told them, and bought this Rage Against the Machine song.

I’m not writing here against Rage Against the Machine. I heard their song in isolation, didn’t think it was great, but have no particular objection to it. My taste in music is conservative enough, between The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, ABBA and R.E.M., but I do occasionally listen to punk or metal, like The Clash, Metallica or the Sex Pistols. It’s the campaign here I wasn’t impressed by. It’s been pointed out many times, but both songs were owned by Sony, so whether or not the campaign was covertly orchestrated by them to try to get the top two slots, it achieved as much.

I’m quite a fan of individualism, just not the collectivist sort. If people had bought the X-Factor winner in the past few years just because it was the thing to do, this was no less the case for those who bought Rage Against the Machine this year. There was nothing rebellious in this act, or at least nothing positive. Ideally the charts should reflect the music people want to hear, not the destructive pleasure people get out of something else not topping a chart.

Some people may not like it, but pop music is popular. Millions tuned in week after week to see who was in or out of the X-Factor, with nearly 10 million watching the final. Even if you have no interest in the X-Factor, as I mostly had, why is it considered sophisticated to deride others’ pleasure? Those who bought The Climb did not necessarily mean to suggest it was great music. They enjoyed it on the night, wanted to hear it a few more times, maybe it was they wanted to tell their friends they had it. Whatever it was, it was probably not a mass attempt to get the X-Factor song as the Christmas #1. They bought The Climb because they genuinely wanted to hear it, not because they were told to.

Surely an anti-groupthink attitude towards the X-Factor would be to ignore it completely, to simply not care whether it or anything else reached the #1, and to dismiss such charts as just a flash in the pan.

As I’m writing about music, here’s a song the Pet Shop Boys released earlier this year that I’ve come back to listen to a few times in the past week.

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