Since 1971, when Slade battled Wizzard for the coveted spot at the top of the charts, Christmas number one has been seen as an achievement of huge cultural significance in the UK. However, with the influence of pop radio dwindling, number one spot being monopolised by Simon Cowell’s X-Factor and guerilla campaigns aiming to get unlikely candidates to clinch it, is the Christmas chart battle still relevant?
When compared to previous festive chart battles such as Slade vs. Wizzard, The Darkness vs. Gary Jules or even the legendary Rage Against the Machine vs. That Guy from the X-Factor, 2017’s race can’t help but feel a little bit underwhelming. Speculation seems hard to come by and in amongst the stress and excitement of the season, the old chart battle struggles to find a place even in the back of one’s mind. One reason for this could be our potential candidates. A google search indicates that this year’s race will most likely be between Ed Sheeran and Beyonce or…Ed Sheeran and Eminem. There is a potential wildcard in the form of a campaign to get Last Christmas by Wham! to number one for (unbelievably) the first time, but it’s hard to get excited when it’s overwhelming likely the crown will go to the man who has been omnipresent in Pop culture for the rest of the year anyway.
Another possible reason for the muted (or nonexistent) excitement for Christmas number 1 in modern times could be the effect that the X-Factor had on the charts. From 2002 onwards, Simon Cowell strategically planned his yearly karaoke competition to culminate in the release of a winner’s single which would, inevitably, due to the popularity of the show win the Christmas number one. This sense of inevitability took the excitement from the chart battle for many, with Dan of aforementioned band The Darkness stating “when it stops being a question of ‘who’s going to be number one?’ and starts being ‘which X Factor competitor is going to be number one?’ all the fun’s gone out of it. In a way, it’s changed British culture for the worse, because the Christmas number one was a cultural phenomenon.”
When considering the reasons for the change in attitude towards the charts, it must also be considered that the way people listen to music and the cultural monoliths that shaped the charts have changed considerably. Traditionally, people got their music from the radio and TV shows like Top of the Pops. This meant that popular culture was fairly homogenised, with people old and young often consuming the same music. However, in 2017, music has never been more accessible with the internet and streaming, which leads to people discovering different types of music and relying less on the traditional mainstream outlets. Radio 1 does still have an effect on the charts, as can be seen by Sheeran’s dominance, but it’s audience is smaller than ever and mostly consists of those under 30. For a Christmas hit on the scale once seen, a single has to reach people across various age groups.
The lessened interest in the charts is a self-fulfilling prophecy, with press and media outlets being more hesitant to cover the chart battle and people therefore thinking about it less. Online streaming means that many tracks from the classic Christmas canon enter the charts once again, which shows that appetite for quality festive singles isn’t going anywhere. But can artists capitalise on this and start releasing singles which reinvigorate the race for the once-coveted number one spot? Maybe next year.