Half the World Away (In a Manger)

Aurora's contribution to the John Lewis Christmas ad has been tipped to hit the hot spot. Phoebe NG examines what makes this song such a winner

NUSU
13th December 2015

Since John Lewis first launched their Christmas ad in 2007, it has soon become the “king” of Christmas commercials. As predicted by Marketing Magazine on 27 October, the choice for this year was Oasis track ‘Half The World Away’. However, in this case it is interpreted by rather less-known Norwegian singer-songwriter Aurora. With investment of over million pounds, it would not come to our surprise that songs featured in their ads are often competitors for Christmas No. 1.

There is a reason why classics like Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ has become artists’ timeless choice of cover. Generally when audience see something new, hearing something familiar makes them feel more comfortable, which is what exactly what John Lewis wants you to feel when watching this advert. ‘Half the World Away’ is known to many as the theme tune for BBC’s Royle Family. Its lyrics “I would like to leave this city… So here I go still scratching around the same old hole” describes the loneliness of the man on the moon, almost as if the storyline was created from the lyrics itself.

It may be disheartening for Oasis fans that the cover received much more views than the original on YouTube but that came to me with no surprise

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all. Oasis fans think Aurora totally ruined the classic tune, but some may think she sang with an “angelic” voice. While I do not intend to comment on the controversial matter of the singer’s technique and rendition in the article, one could not deny that the arranger successfully transformed the tune into an incredible work of PR.

The original version was a slow, acoustic tune in key of C lightly accompanied by the band. Aurora’s cover has explored new colour, texture and space among sounds. It has been tuned up to the key of A. Perhaps the decision is made in order to accommodate to the singer’s vocal range, however it does do the magic of completely changing the mood of the piece - as strange as it may sound, different musical keys do have different characters. The original’s key is often deemed to be representation of innocence and simplicity; whereas the cover’s new key of A gives more feeling of happiness. One could really feel the hope for reunion listening to this arrangement in the cover, which naturally blend into the Christmas-y mood of the commercial.

Oasis fans think Aurora totally ruined the classic tune, but some may think she sang with an "angelic" voice

The arranger also opted for a more minimalistic approach when compared to the original. They applied only a very light texture, the accompaniment was kept simple to the extent that it almost sounded like a modern-day-recitative, creating feeling of solitude effectively. It was not until after the man on the moon received the telescope from Lily (the little girl) that the music starts to become richly orchestral, instantly creating warmth and lifting the emotion of audience.

It may be disheartening for Oasis fans that the cover received much more views than the original on YouTube but came to me with no surprise. By linking the new rendition to universal sentiment of Christmas, the cover managed to reach more new audience who were separated by generations or musical tastes. It was certainly a success from marketing point of view. But commercialism often overpower artistry when they meet together: it made audience focus on sensation the whole “package” created for us.

Phoebe Ng

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