Can social networking defeat Simon Cowell?

It’s always a surprise when the mainstream stumbles blindly upon something truly great, tries to pinch it, claim it as their own and then scampers off into the distance as if nothing untoward has really happened.


I hadn’t been keeping up with all the latest X Factor gossip, so imagine my surprise when on Saturday night I witnessed four fresh faced lads smiling (smiling?!?!) their way through a hammed up, chirpy version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.


Yes, eventual winner Alexandra Bourke managed a slightly better version than JLS (despite the inevitable, inappropriately uplifting crescendo) but when the 20-strong backing choir had trooped off stage I had to question if Laughing Len’s Old Testament referencing classic really was suitable material for a TV talent show.


Covering Hallelujah is of course nothing new. According to The Times, the song has been covered over 100 times – not least in the film Shrek.


But the real problem for many fans is the fact that its defining version was recorded in 1993 when Jeff Buckley covered it –shortly before his death.


Perhaps unsurprisingly then Facebook is alive with a sense of outrage about what Simon Cowell and his cronies have been up to.


First up there’s the ‘Stop The X-Factor losers releasing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah as a single’ group. With 802 members, the group formed to “register our utter disgust” at the idea that an X-Factor performer should be allowed to sing the song. “I for one am unwilling to stand by and watch some X-Factor simpleton strip the song of its beauty and meaning and reduce it to a horrid Karaoke parody,” says group moderator Tristan O’Dwyer.


Tristan hasobviously been unsuccessful in his mission. So too has the online petition to Simon Cowell: “We the undersigned petition you to change the winner’s song on this years X Factor to something different. This song is art, it’s history and it is special to a lot of people.”


Elsewhere on Facebook thoughisthe “Make Jeff Buckley’s Version Of ‘Hallelujah’ The UK Xmas Number 1” group. The moderators here are a little less forthright, stating that “‘Hallelujah’ is a wonderful song and it seems wrong that a winner of X Factor should get to be number 1 with it over Jeff’s sublime version.” This slightly less radical approach has attracted an impressive 2,073 members thus far.


Early signs for this group are quite hopeful. Buckley’s version has entered the charts this week higher than the X Factor version (despite not having had an official re-release). In another twist The Sun too has waded into the debatewith a campaign to promote the Buckley version.


However like any true counter culture there is of course the inevitable in-fighting and splinter-grouping. Witness for example the more radical end of the Hallelujah spectrum represented by the “If I listen to anyone singing “Hallelujah”, it will be Leonard Cohen” Facebook group.


Founded on the belief that “Leonard Cohen wrote the song, and no matter how many TV shows and movies the Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright versions appear in, his version will remain definitive, specifically his performance of the song on “Cohen Live”,” these hair-shirt puritans may well split the vote – it’s Ralph Nader all over again.


This is perhaps not a true test of the strength of social networking. There’s a limit to the number of Jeff Buckely fans out there after all – and a further limit to the number of them who really give a damn about the X-Factor.


Can a few social networkers really stand up to the might of a show that attracted 15 million viewers – and persuaded 8 million of them to stump up the cash to exercise their rights as a viewer and phone in their vote?


Obviously not. But any dent that they make in the impact of Cowell’s latest protege will show the strength of social media against a giant of traditional media. This is in no way a fair fight but it will be very interesting to see what happens.


Personally I’m just disappointed that Cowell et al didn’t choose to cover my favourite Cohen composition. In 1968, Sesame Street regular Buffy Saint Marie recorded an experimental version of Cohen’s poem God Is Alive / Magic is Afoot. You can hear the results here.


I’d give anything to see JLS perform that on prime time TV.

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    What about the Happy Mondays version of Hallelujah? I’m pretty sure if JLS had been allowed to cover this they would have won!

  • Never underestimate the power of the crowd to undermine figures of apparent authority – especially smug svengalis. My money’s on Buckley … go Facebook go.

  • I think thats where social networks are incredibly powerful: when there is an issue that people feel strong enough and passionate enough to make a stand however micro. With the economy as it is, will people feel the need more than to act as a collective? As registration to dating sites has gone up by 18% as people want to ‘share’ the tough times ahead, will we see people taking a much more active part in the community, virtual or real? Akin to the community spirit that pervaded World War II?