When popularity doesn’t sound so cool anymore

In recent years, it had become extremely predictable that whoever wins X Factor, his/her debut single goes to No 1 over Christmas. But not this year. Joe McElderry, who won the TV talent contest this year, was beaten by a song almost his own age and had been denied the top spot – apparently stirred up by someone starting a Facebook group a month ago with the idea of usurping the X Factor winner from the no 1 slot.

‘…Killing In The Name, an expletive-heavy rock song first released in 1992 by the Californian rock band Rage against the Machine, won the battle for Christmas top spot on the basis of downloads only. It sold about 500,000 copies last week, about 50,000 more than The Climb, McElderry’s earnest ballad…’ (21 Dec, Guardian)

I seldom pay much attention to the Christmas No 1 since it’s always something rather expected (or in some cases, peculiar) title that got to the top of the chart at this time of the year (I think back in 2000 the song ‘Can We Fix It’ for ‘Bob The Builder’ won!). This year however, it all of a sudden had become a bit of a social and cultural event. Not entirely sure if it has anything to do with music anymore. It also gets me thinking about what it all means to be ‘popular’ these days.

I can’t stop wondering, is it such a cool thing to be on top of the chart as Christmas No 1? Did people who choose to download the song done it just out of a rebellious spirit and not really in support of the music they love? Do the people who joined the fan group page really care about the band? Is it such an achievement for winning the battle with just 50,000 downloads when the song has been around for more than a decade?

Social media network has become an outlet for opinions. I often find that ‘fans page’ on Facebook is more about a desire to be part of a group than anything else. When the Guardian broke the news to Morter that he had won, he said: “I think it just shows that in this day and age, if you want to say something, then you can – with the help of the internet and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. If enough people are with you, you can beat the status quo.” So it is not really about music is it?

But at least it’s a bit of a charity event – the band will give all profits of the single to the homelessness charity Shelter, and will perform a free victory gig in the UK to thank those who bought their single (will they welcome ITV to do a reality TV show for them?).

At the end, we should all know that being the ‘most popular’ doesn’t always equal to ‘top quality’ – often it simply reflects the taste of the mass. When we understand that, there’s no need to feel angry against it.