Cheering Pop-Tyrant Simon Cowell's Submission to Rage

How the American Idol judge lost to rock outfit Rage Against the Machine in Britain's annual December chart-battle

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If there's one thing we can be sure of, Simon Cowell's not asking for a Rage Against the Machine album this Christmas. The Los Angeles funk rock outfit trounced Cowell's pop star prodigy, Joe McElderry, selling 500,000 singles in Britain compared to McElderry's 450,000. Why do the numbers matter? It's all about Britain's time-honored tradition of closely watching holiday music sales.

In December, the British buy more music singles than at any other month in the year. For decades the competition was fierce, with bands like Blur and Oasis locked into closely-watched races. However, the winners have become more predictable in recent years. The number-one seller has routinely been whoever won Simon Cowell's American Idol-style talent show The X Factor. But this year, Jon Morter and is wife were not going to let that happen. Sick of the sanitized, commercial offerings of Cowell's show, they started a grassroots Facebook campaign to encourage Brits to buy Rage Against the Machine's expletive-infused single "Killing in the Name" en masse. The anti-corporate metal-rock anthem features the lyric "f*ck you I won't do what you tell me"--a less-than-covert blast at Cowell's brand of mass produced music.

Initially Cowell was infuriated by the Morters' campaign. But after losing the competition he congratulated the couple and even offered them a job. By and large, the blogosphere is reacting with delight to the British couple's success:

  • Finally, the End of the Cowell Pop Machine, celebrates David Rudge at NBC News: "With guaranteed TV exposure and the guiding hand of the show's omnipotent host Simon Cowell, the ballad (it's always a ballad) sung by a pretty face, inevitably outsells all its rivals.
  • A Record Breaking Event, notes NME magazine: "In taking the title for 2009, 'Killing in the Name' also set two new landmarks, becoming the U.K.'s first download-only Christmas Number One and notching up the biggest one-week download sales total in British chart history, according to the Official Charts Company."
  • McElderry Was Bound to Lose, jokes Glen Levy at Time, commenting on McElderry's hit single: "Perhaps a slightly closer look at his own song's lyrics would have provided a taste of what was to come. For as 'The Climb' tells us, 'Always gonna be an uphill battle / Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose.'"
  • Rage Against Which Machine? asks Paul Gargano at The Examiner: "In an interesting bit of irony, the Morter's desire to take down one machine has helped to strengthen another - both singles are Sony Music Entertainment properties, with Rage Against The Machine calling Epic home, and McElderry signed to Simon Cowell's Syco Music, a Sony label." The observation is even funnier considering the words of Tom Morello, guitarist of Rage, who rallied his fans to support the "big guy" over the "little guy." Morello said: "Finish line is in sight! Will David smite Goliath? Will Luke Skywalker destroy the Death Star? Will Frodo defeat Sauron? UK-it's now or never," he posted Saturday."
  • Bookies Took a Hit, notes Joanna Devane at ABC News: "Not many expected Rage Against the Machine to trump Cowell's corporate might. Some bookmakers opened with odds of 150/1, and the betting industry is estimated to have lost £1 million on the upset.
  • Look for the Next Grassroots Takeover in America, writes Rick Ellis at All Your TV: "The methods used by the Rage campaign in Britain would also work in the U.S. So it's probably only a matter of time until some campaign springs up in America to drive some unexpected track to the top of the music charts."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.