How Rage Against The Machine Helped Make Joe McElderry Good

What I’m about to say will scare the indie horses a bit so allow me a little context. I bloody love Rage Against The Machine. I loved them when I was a teenage boy and I loved them just as much at The Rage Factor on Finsbury Park back in June, when they made good on their promise to play a free gig if ‘Killing In The Name’ made Number One instead of Joe McElderry.

I went on to anyone who would listen about how this was a genuine moment of pop democracy in action, of people reclaiming their charts and making them dramatic and unpredictable for the first time in years. I wasn’t even particularly drunk. It was an amazing night.


I interviewed Zack de la Rocha and rather than the difficult champagne socialist of legend, he was one of the warmest, smartest most conscientious people I’ve ever met. And even he admitted: “I would be lying if I said I didn’t watch the show.”

Excluding for a second those people who will get angry on the internet for any old reason, The Rage Factor wasn’t standing against X Factor per se. It wasn’t fighting Joe himself, who nobody would deny seems an immensely likeable young man. It was raging against the idea that X Factor and Cowell have some divine right to complete control over our pop lives.

With great power comes great complacency (the Manics’ awesome ‘Golden Platitudes’ deals with this with regard to New Labour) and last year Cowell dropped the ball from a great height. The Miley Cyrus cover they were offering up just wasn’t good enough and it was time to shake things up. If he’d chosen almost any other song for the winner’s single, Rage wouldn’t have won.

Here’s the other thing. I make no apologies for loving X Factor, not because of anything it purportedly has to do with music. It doesn’t really. It’s just brilliantly entertaining pre-club television to talk about over beers or Twitter.

I’ve never voted for a reality show in my life but the people who do are voting for the person they think most deserving of the chance. It’s then down to the people paid to know what they’re talking about to do something interesting with them.

In this way the Rage campaign might just have changed The X Factor for the better. On Sunday we got the first listen of McElderry’s first single proper ‘Ambitions’. And I for one didn’t see this coming. Everyone expected them to mould Joe into some boring identikit tween-friendly Zefron clone.

But that hasn’t happened. ‘Ambitions’ is a gleaming, rather understated falsetto-led electro slow-burner that could have come from any of this generation of so-called ‘cred-poppers’.

In fact it did, it’s a version of a song by Scandi-pop band Donkeyboy, who after not exactly setting the UK on fire, are having the chance for their best song to be heard by a wider audience – one last shot at mass communication if you will.

Joe’s version isn’t quite as grubby and new wave, but a little extra gloss doesn’t dampen its irresistible thrust. Even the title evokes icy European cool. Joe McElderry, the boy who once complained of Rage “it’s just noise” may just turn out to be a more interesting pop proposition than anyone expected. And it could just be all thanks to Rage. Let the dubstep remixes spew forth, for in ‘Ambitions’ we have the first genuinely edgy X Factor single ever, and nothing can be the same again.

It’s no ‘Bleeding Love’, though. Nothing will ever beat ‘Bleeding Love’.