I blame Love Actually.
The race for the Christmas No.1 between Blue and aging rocker Billy Mack, as depicted in the much-loved-if-actually-completely-terrible Christmas movie, has fixed a romanticised notion of the annual chart battle in the minds of the Great British Public. In Richard Curtis’ world, the entire nation is fixated on the No.1, every pop star is desperate to reach the top of the charts and any record is in with a chance.
That has, undoubtedly, been the case on a number of occasions over the years, albeit probably rather fewer than you imagine. But a quick glance at the latest midweeks reveals a rather more prosaic contest.
At least red hot favourite Ed Sheeran has made an effort, wheeling out the big guns for his duet versions and making a video that pays snowy homage to Wham!’s seminal Last Christmas promo. Somewhat ironically, that looks to have been enough to see off the campaign to get Last Christmas itself – denied the No.1 spot in 1984 by Band Aid – the festive chart-topper George Michael always deserved.
Yuletide standards by Mariah Carey and The Pogues are also heading back to the chart’s upper reaches off the back of gigantic streaming figures and, with the business now built on streaming, the influx of such old songs is now an annual event. What point is there trying to write a new Christmas song when the public is likely to just stream the classics non-stop instead anyway? Against such a backdrop, even heavyweight artists such as Sia and Gwen Stefani struggle to make an impression with new festive offerings.
Similarly, the once perennial British penchant for a novelty/charity single at this time of year doesn’t get a look-in nowadays (unless you count Big Shaq).
The rest of the Top 10 challengers are all regular releases that could have appeared at any time of the year. Nothing wrong with that, except that the UK Christmas Top 40 was once a riot of unpredictability. Now the hegemony of global streaming charts ensures that it’s pretty much the same as everyone else’s, taking away what used to be one of the industry’s key opportunities to engage with more casual music fans. If Rage Against The Machine took on Joe McElderry in 2017… well, neither would get anywhere near No.1 to be honest.
In the real world, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. In the charts, however, it’s beginning to look a lot like any other time of year, actually…