The John Lewis Christmas ad: XFactor for indie-folk females
IT’S Asthmatic Indie-Folk Female Cover Version Syndrome (AIFCVS), and it’s a sure a sign of Christmas as any. Filling the requisite spot this year is Gabrielle Aplin and her cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love (a horrendous song to begin with, but see review, page 15), which is tipped to be the festive No 1 in both Ireland and the UK.
The beauty here is that Aplin, a personable 20-year-old from the ever-growing indie-folk stable, doesn’t need to do any promo to fling her song to the top of the charts. It’s all been done for her in a massive spend by the John Lewis department store (£6 million and counting), which is using Aplin’s cover as its Christmas advert song this year.
The annual John Lewis Christmas advert song artist is the new X Factor winner. Back in 2009, Victoria Bergsman’s asthmatic indie-folk cover of Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child o’Mine didn’t just make the John Lewis ad a media talking point – helped shift more than 70,000 copies of the song itself.
But it was the following year the John Lewis festive ad really went into orbit. Ellie Goulding (young, female, indie-folk background) covered Elton John’s Your Song, and that was so successful it spent half a year in the charts and sold 725,000 copies. Such was its reach that William and Kate Windsor summoned Ms Goulding to Buckingham Palace to sing it live for them for their first dance as a married couple. (Skrillex being unavailable.)
Last year, Amelia Warner (young, female, indie-folk . . . you get the picture) got the gig with her cover of The Smiths’ Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, which sold a respectable 83,000 copies and was a top 10 hit.
But play the four songs back to back and you’ll hear something strange: it’s as if all four singers have been instructed to deliver a slo-mo, overly breathy vocal (with the reverb button turned up to 11). Is this the John Lewis marketing department looking for a signature “sound”?
You could swap the singers around and you’d be hard pushed to notice any difference. And the fact that all four are young, female and from an indie-folk background is a bit Stepford.
Personally, the Gabrielle Aplin track makes me want to get all Keith Moon on the television; the Ellie Goulding song makes me feel ill (it’s so stylised it’s ridiculous). The Amelia Warner Smiths cover suffers from a BAD use OF emphasis ON all the WRONG words.
However, the Victoria Bergsman song – easily the least well-known of the John Lewis catalogue – is excellent. But, then, I was a big fan of Bergsman’s debut solo album, Open Field (listen to her sing Too Young). And if you’re wondering why Bergsman’s voice is a bit familiar, it’s because she’s the singer on the massive Peter, Björn and John hit Young Folks.
Such is the “X Factor for indie singers” prestige of landing the John Lewis Christmas song that the store’s marketing director, Craig Inglis, says “artists want to do it, it feels credible being involved. It’s a reflection of a change in dynamics in the industry. We now have record labels and artists approaching us, which I never would have believed would have happened a few years ago.”
There was a shortlist of eight acts this year for the honour, with La Roux (by all accounts) just missing out to Gabrielle Aplin. As awful as Aplin’s cover is, the bookies fancy it for the Christmas No 1.
But one thing you should remember when you watch the Power of Love video (an emotive, seasonal affair that has made some people cry): it was filmed in July. In New Zealand. email@example.com