By 2009 the Christmas number one had become stale, with four successive years of X Factor winners reaching the top spot by Christmas day. Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis, Leon Jackson and Alexandra Burke had all had festive cheers, leaving many Brits who were not fans of the show staring forlornly into their stuffing when Winter came along.
Considering the X Factor crop of that year it was hard not to see another festive chart sweep. It was probably the strongest year in the history of the show in terms of actually good vocalists. Olly Murs, Stacey Solomon, Danyl Johnson, Jamie Archer and Lucie Jones were all good to great singers, plus the added novelty value of Jedward added a certain unpredictability to the show.
Despite the vast array of decent talent on show, it was instead a small Geordie with a big voice who won the competition, in Joe McElderry, a man who was last seen being pulled out of the crowd by Beyonce at a gig of hers.
McElderry wasn’t a terrible singer, he was actually quite good, but his whole act screamed late nineties boy band member, which even in 2009 was a dated gimmick. He was basically Leon Jackson Mark II, a fairly good looking lad who boys and girls would be interested in physically. Nothing wrong with any of that, attractive people making unremarkable music has been the standard for half a century, but the rumblings of discontent at all of this had started on a popular social networking site.
They grew when the video for McEdlerry’s winners single was released. It was a cover of The Climb, a ballad that had been made popular by then children’s icon Miley Cyrus who seems to have disappeared from public consciousness since then. I quite like Miley’s version, it’s probably her best ever vocal performance, but Joe’s version was as bland as a ham and cheese sandwich with no actual ham or cheese in it.
Also popular in 2009 was Facebook, especially Facebook groups. Finally you could join groups like ‘I’m from Essex and therefore amazing!’ or “David Beckham is the best man in the world” and not feel like a fool for doing so.
A couple from the Essex riviera hatched a plan. They created a Facebook group with the intention of preventing the X Factor winner from reaching Christmas number one. Jon and Tracey Morter picked Killing In The Name, a song by the rap metal band Rage Against The Machine that had originally been released in 1992, reaching number 25 in the UK charts.
Killing In The Name was a dynamic, incendiary song with anti-establishment lyrics which culminated in a rallying cry of “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.” Rage Against The Machine had been a band who had spent their entire careers protesting against something, and garnering controversy. It was a well known song for fans of alternative music, but in terms of mainstream awareness it wasn’t vast.
Despite this, the group grew massively in December, and by December 15th the group had over 750,000 members. Simon Cowell called the crusade “stupid” and “cynical” which only made awareness of the campaign grow even more. The Morter’s began to appear on television and radio, giving their message further accessibility and not just limited to Facebook.
The week both singles were released was the fiercest chart battle since Blur took on Oasis in 1995. McElderry had the huge advantage of having his single physically released, as well as being available via internet download. Killing In The Name was a download only affair, which meant that casual Christmas shoppers couldn’t pick it up in supermarkets or record stores.
Still though, the interest in the song continued. I remember tuning into Radio 5Live one lunchtime because Rage Against The Machine were due to be on to perform the song live from LA. An awkward interview between Nicky Campbell and his co-host Shelagh Fogarty was followed by an intense performance of the song, complete with the swearing at the end of the song being heard uncensored.
It was as punk rock as The Sex Pistols on the Bill Grundy show, or Jarvis Cocker invading Michael Jackson’s stage at the Brit Awards. A clearly startled Fogarty attempted to demean the band at the end of the performance, no doubt running scared.
I remember eagerly listening to Radio 1 for the first time in years as the Christmas countdown rolled down on Sunday, December 20th 2009. When the presenter announced McElderry at number two, the job was done. Over 500,000 people had downloaded Killing In The Name in just one week, and at least for Christmas 2009 the tyranny of the X Factor Christmas number one was over.
McElderry got his number one a week later, but that wasn’t the point. What mattered was that the first time in years the people had spoken, and been heard. To get even ten people to do something is hard, and advertisers spend millions of pounds a year try to attract consumers using all sorts of nonsense tactics.
Rage Against The Machine went on to play a celebratory free concert in Finsbury Park in 2010 in front of 40,000 fans who had bought the single and helped out the quest.
Ultimately, it was a story that could scarcely be believed.
A couple in Essex, using a glorified dating website took on a corporate behemoth that had a television audience of millions every single week. It was proof that the spirit of Christmas and togetherness isn’t a myth that is only used to sell Furbies and jewelry, and is in fact a completely real entity that genuinely exists inside all of us.
So this Christmas, as the festive classics are blared over car radios, office parties and on the phone of simpletons on buses, take the time to spend just five minutes of your life listening to Killing In The Name, and think about just how you’re going to take on your own personal Goliath in 2014.
Listen to Killing In The Name and the rest of the countdown via this very handy playlist here.
And catch up on the rest of the countdown – just CLICK HERE