Since 1952, having the chart-topping single in the week leading up to Christmas has been a very big deal in the U.K. The Beatles did it four times. The Spice Girls did it three years straight. Queen won twice with the same song (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), and even Pink Floyd (“Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)”) got in on the action. But for the last four years, the winners of The X Factor, a pop singing competition lorded over by American Idol judge/svengali Simon Cowell, have dominated the Christmas charts, including treacly covers of the AI-dictated Kelly Clarkson single “A Moment Like This,” a song from The Prince Of Egypt soundtrack (“When You Believe”), and the ubiquitous “Hallelujah.”
With yet another X Factor winner, Joe McElderry, expected to cruise to Christmas #1 with yet another cover—this one of Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb”—the Internet said "Fuck you I won't do what you tell me." A grassroots Facebook campaign, launched by Jon and Tracy Morter, sought to game the system by encouraging music fans to support Rage Against The Machine’s profane, anti-authoritarian anthem “Killing In The Name” as the Christmas single. The song’s long-shot candidacy gained momentum throughout the week, as Brits tired of the Cowell juggernaut responded in huge numbers; today, it eked out a victory with a stunning 502,000 downloads to McElderry’s 450,000. Some fun facts about the upset:
• Rage Against The Machine enthusiastically lent their support to the campaign. Sales of the single were funneled into the homeless charity Shelter, which benefited to the tune of £60,000. The band also promised to reunite for a “thank you” gig in England next year if the “Killing In The Name” made #1, and alarmed censors by performing a live, uncut version of the song on BBC Radio 5. (The BBC actually trusted RATM would self-censor the song’s expletive-filled conclusion. So naïve, it’s kind of adorable.)
• McElderry had never heard Rage Against The Machine’s music until this week. He was not impressed. Money quote: “I wouldn't buy it. It's a nought out of ten from me. Simon Cowell wouldn't like it. They wouldn't get through to boot camp on The X Factor - they're just shouting.”
• Asked for a response to his chart defeat, Cowell congratulated the Morters, but said he was “gutted.” Merry Christmas, everyone!
Here’s video of the BBC Radio 5 appearance: