Protesting via the charts: Trump the “American Idiot” and other iTunes activism hits

From Rage against the Machine’s Christmas number one heist, to mourning Thatcher with “Ding Dong! The Witch is dead”.


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Donald Trump is headed to the UK this Thursday, and to mark the occasion a social media campaign is attempting to get Green Day’s 2004 hit American Idiot” to the top of the UK singles chart. Because Donald Trump is American and also an Idiot! Do you see?

Trolling the UK singles chart is a lot easier than it used to be – in the old days you had to actually record and release a single, for a start. Now you can just pick a pre-existing song that happens to fit your cause, and people can support your protest for the price of a single iTunes download – or even for free, as the UK singles chart includes YouTube views.

But Donald Trump’s UK trip isn’t the first thing to prompt an attempt at a chartjacking protest...

2008 – “Hallelujah” vs “Hallelujah” vs “Hallelujah”

In December 2008 X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke released her first single, a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, and looked all but guaranteed to take the Christmas number 1 spot (as the 3 previous winners had done).

Fans of the tragically dead warble guy Jeff Buckley got very cross about this because apparently *his* cover version was the only one that counted, and so started a campaign to try and beat the sales of the X-Factor version. To make matters even more confusing, there was a sort of splinter faction who believed that Leonard Cohen’s original deserved the top spot.

Result: For the first only time in UK chart history, three versions of the same song reached the top 40. In the end, while both Buckley and Cohen’s versions charted (at no. 2 and no. 36 respectively), Burke took the top spot, handily beating the sales of the others combined. Nothing could withstand the might of Cowell. Or could it?

2009 – Joe McElderry vs “Killing in the Name”

Self-described “#SocialMedia Hellraiser” Jon Morter’s first attempt to take down Cowell was in 2008, but his attempt to “Rickroll” the Christmas number one by encouraging people to buy “Never Gonna Give You Up” was drowned out by all the “Hallelujah” shenanigans.

But in 2009 he tried again – with a campaign to push Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name” (a song so naughty that it has actual swear words in) to the top spot ahead of Joe McElderry’s cover of Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb”.

Result: This time, possibly because Cowell unwisely rose to the bait and acted like the Christmas number 1 was divinely promised to the X-Factor winner, it worked – even leading Rage Against the Machine to play a free gig as a thank you in London’s Finsbury Park. Real music was back; in your face, Simon Cowell!

Well, it was for a week, after which point McElderry got his number one single just like Jesus would have wanted.

2010 – Matt Cardle vs Biffy Clyro vs “Surfin’ Bird” vs John Cage

Inevitably by the time next Christmas rolled around everyone wanted in on the Crazy Shenanigans, and so 2010’s X-Factor winner, Matt Cardle, faced multiple different campaigns to stop him.

His single was a Biffy Clyro cover, so the band’s fans wanted the original to beat him, while fans of being extremely crazy and zany indeed wanted “Surfin’ Bird” (“Bird, bird, bird, bird is the word”). Fans of being much cleverer than you opted for John Cage’s “4’33”.

Result: Cardle won it, easily.

2013 – “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” vs Margaret Thatcher

It was only a matter of time until someone figured out you could rig the charts to achieve something other than personally trolling Simon Cowell: you could personally troll the corpse of Margaret Thatcher!

Six years prior to her death, a Facebook group had been set up suggesting that upon the inevitable day, every member should buy “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” from the Wizard of Oz soundtrack album.

If the campaign gained enough momentum, the BBC would be forced to play it and the curse of Thatcherism would be lifted from the world, or something. When the day came, the group went viral, which was either hilarious or disgraceful depending on your point of view.

Result: It got to number two, the Radio 1 chart show pointedly refuse to play the 51 second long in full, and the world continued to turn. Both surviving Munchkins were reportedly upset.

For the sake of balance, an opposition campaign saw Seventies punk not-classic “I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher” by the Notsensibles reach number 35.

2017 – Captain SKA vsTheresa May

Okay, an original song; Captain SKA’s anti-May song “Liar Liar GE2017” in some ways doesn’t count (albeit a rewrite of their own 2010 effort about Nick Clegg and tuition fees), but it was an attempt to get a political message into the charts via a social media campaign: because once it was in the charts radio stations would have no choice but to play it and broadcast the anti-Conservative message across the nation in the days before the 2017 general selection.

Result: It reached number four… but radio stations didn’t broadcast it because they didn’t want to violate regulations about broadcaster impartiality during general elections.

So, is it worth chucking a quid at Green Day in time for Donald Trump’s visit? The thing is, even he notices at all, he might just think we’re playing him a song we’ve heard he likes...

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