One of my favourite things at Christmas is following the race for Christmas number one. At this time every year, the usually boring, monotonous pop charts become awash with a bizarre mixture of Christmas classics, charity singles, novelty tracks and protest songs. Think Rage Against The Machine, Surfin’ Bird, The Wealdstone Raider, AC/DC, Bob the Builder, Slade, Cliff Richard, Mr Blobby…
There are two elements that make this year’s Christmas chart battle particularly unusual. Firstly, the Christmas chart will be announced on the afternoon of Christmas Day itself, rather than on the Sunday before as is usually the case. This keeps the suspense going until the day of Christmas itself.
Secondly, the X Factor winner’s single, usually public enemy number one (and so often the number one) at Christmas, has effectively bombed. Louisa Johnson’s cover of the Bob Dylan classic ‘Forever Young’ entered the chart at number nine last week, the poorest opening chart position ever for an X Factor winner. It is completely out of the running, creating a bit of a vacuum.
This unexpected development is a bad sign for the X Factor, dominant in the Christmas chart race for so long. The sensational success of the Rage Against the Machine anti-X Factor campaign in 2009 (when ‘Killing in the Name’ took Christmas number one ahead of the X Factor winner Joe McElderry) seems to have been a turning point. But the power of the show itself has also been on the wane over the last five years; the X Factor simply has a smaller following than it used to. From its peak at an average of 14 million viewers for the 2010 series, the average audience for series 11 in 2014 was down at less than 9 million.
Whatever the reasons behind it, the X Factor’s decline is good news for the Christmas chart, in theory at least. This year’s failure has left the door wide open for something more interesting to claim top spot. However, such a poor opening for the X Factor winner’s single might actually have been a bad thing for the Christmas chart race this year. The show’s dominance has often served to galvanise support for protest songs or charity singles – this year the X Factor’s weakness has also meant that anti-X Factor campaigns have lacked impetus.
This year’s leading anti-X Factor campaign is undoubtedly the one aiming to take the Star Wars theme to number one. You would think that this would be a formidable campaign; Star Wars has a huge following, and the chosen track is the newly recorded theme from the recently released, ground-breaking, and hugely popular Force Awakens film. And yet, an assault on the charts failed to materialise this weekend, with the track failing to get anywhere near the top of download charts on iTunes or Amazon. The Force isn’t so strong after all, it would seem.
This means that the final result on Christmas Day might actually be quite underwhelming. With the Star Wars campaign totally reliant on download sales and clearly failing to pick up much momentum, and the X Factor single performing so poorly already, the number one is quite likely to go to someone who has already been in the chart for a while.
And that “someone” is a certain Justin Bieber. A Christmas number one would cap off an extraordinary few weeks for the Canadian singer, who has had an unprecedented purple patch of late. Bieber currently holds both the number one and number two spots in the UK chart, and has held both positions for four weeks – breaking a record of three weeks spent at number one and number two at the same time, previously held by The Beatles. How depressing… But there’s no denying his popularity, and both songs have a good chance of holding these positions for the final Christmas chart.
The best chance that the Christmas number one goes to something a little more authentic lies with the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS choir, who are aiming for the Christmas number one with their Coldplay / Simon & Garfunkel mash-up ‘A Bridge Over You’. The charity single stormed to the top of the download charts when it was released a couple of days ago, and is looking to follow in the footsteps of another choir, the Military Wives, who claimed the Christmas number one in 2011.
Justin Bieber now seems to have edged ahead again, with bookmakers making him the firm favourite ahead of the NHS Choir. But it should be quite a close one.
But don’t despair – there’s plenty of Christmas cheer elsewhere in the charts. The usual suspects – most notably Mariah Carey (All I Want For Christmas Is You), The Pogues & Kirsty McColl (Fairytale of New York) and Wham (Last Christmas) are back, charting at 12, 15 and 24 respectively in last week’s chart. Wizzard and Shakin’ Stevens were also in there.
These Christmas classics have been regular features in the Christmas chart for several years now, thanks to the rise of download sales. Their surprisingly high rankings never fail to surprise me – I mean, hasn’t everybody got ‘All I Want For Christmas’ already by now?!
For something more contemporary, The Killers have released a Christmas song for the seventh consecutive year, entitled ‘Dirt Sledding‘, and Ellie Goulding has released a cover of the traditional ‘O Holy Night‘ as a free download on her website.
Finally, if you are looking for something a little ridiculous, rapper Lethal Bizzle has released a charity single just in time for Christmas, entitled ‘Going to the Gym’. This joke song is stupid and idiotic, but also, dare I say it, funny and catchy.