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I won't sugar-coat it, this was quite a nervy week. The single had to set quite the pace to hold its own against a relentless onslaught of Christmas-themed streams, but in the end, something approaching justice is served. One week later than it probably should have done, Sweet But Psycho by Ava Max climbs majestically to the top of the Official UK Singles Chart.
The track does so in what is no less than its tenth week on the Top 100, meaning that even in a year when many singles shot straight to the top of the charts, we have had three different tracks which instead did not reach their ultimate peak until their chart life was well into double figures. George Ezra's Shotgun took a meandering 14 weeks to top the charts in the summer, whilst These Days from Rudimental reached the top in its own tenth chart week back in April. Ava Max is also the seventh female singer to reach Number One in 2018, hard on the heels of Jess Glynne, Dua Lipa, Demi Lovato, Halsey, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. Although she's notably only the third to do it entirely solo.
Brace Yourselves, I'm Going In
Ava Max's chart victory was hard-fought and in the end a narrow one, her margin of victory a mere 152 chart sales to make this the second time this year the Number One race has been settled by fewer than 200 copies. Because let's not pretend this is a normal chart in any sense of the word. Covering sales and streams from the 21st through 27th of December the market is more or less entirely dominated by Christmas songs. By the 24th and 25th the most popular tracks were doing close to 2 million streams each per day - but of course, neither of them were contemporary hit singles.
In fact this week's Number 2 single, All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey shatters the all-time streaming record set just a few weeks ago by Ariana Grande. Over the past seven days, it was played no less than 15.3 million times, a total which would have been far higher had it not been for the fact that the final day of the chart survey, the 27th, saw streams of Christmas songs crash to far lower levels as everyone grew bored and moved on.
The fact that despite these huge numbers the single is still only Number 2 (for the third time in its chart career, matching the peak it scaled in 1994 and 2017) is because, as we've previously discussed, older "catalogue" product is permanently relegated to the Accelerated Chart Ratio. The mere fact of this appears to cause furrowed brows amongst some of the deeper-thinking chart purists who would doubtless prefer a situation where this week Mariah Carey would be enjoying her third straight week at the top of the charts. So yes, if it makes you happy, there is an alternate universe where All I Want For Christmas Is You was the 2018 Christmas Number One. Except that without any changes there would be nothing to prevent it from landing the crown in 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and indeed for the next ten years beyond that. And nobody would care about Christmas Number One ever again.
Even as it is, the sheer overwhelming streaming figures for Christmas music in the last week has rendered this week's chart a raging absurdity. 25 of this week's Top 40 tracks are festive songs, the vast majority of which are 3, 4 or even 5 decades old. A further 28 pepper the listings further down, meaning 53% of this week's Top 100 is made up of songs which will inevitably vanish into thin air in a week's time. This is a best-sellers list which defies analysis, study or enjoyment. It tells us nothing about the overall popularity of contemporary pop music, allows us no room to spot trends or note the effectiveness of any promotional work. No student of cultural history will be able to look at the countdown and understand anything about 2018 culture. No, this chart is a pointless carbuncle made up of stuff your mum likes to hear. As one music industry insider put it to me during the week: "the chart does not exist to tell us that people listen to Christmas music at Christmas time".
Without further change, this is only going to get worse in a year's time when the new year listing is based on sales and streams from 20th-26th December 2019. There genuinely will be little point even compiling and publishing a list for all the useful information it will provide. I don't believe anyone wants to go down the route of excluding older songs (or even Christmas songs) from the listing altogether, but I would not be surprised to see the next round of rule tweaks including one to further increase the streaming conversion rate for catalogue product to further sweep the debris away.
On The (Small) Upside
For now, it is what it is. It seems at least appropriate to note some of the more surprising seasonal hits which have surfaced, primarily due to their placing on the most prominent Spotify curated playlists. Hence Michael Buble's take on the old standard It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas accelerates 16-7 to give the crooner only his third ever Top 10 hit single and his first since It's A Beautiful Day hit Number 10 in April 2013. One place behind him is Leona Lewis' comparatively contemporary One More Sleep which returns to the Top 10 for the first time since it reached the Top 3 on its initial release, also in 2013.
For all the fuss we make about Christmas Number One hits, it is fun to note that the three highest-charting classics of the week are all hits which notoriously stalled at Number 2 in the year of their first success. Mariah is at 2, Wham!'s Last Christmas is at 3 and The Pogues' Fairytale Of New York is at 4, all three having been Christmas runners-up in 1994, 1984 and 1987 respectively. The latter single continues to discombobulate radio programmers who have to balance its continuing popularity with the set of abusive lyrics in the middle, ones which our increasingly paranoid and puritanical society would rather pretend weren't there. Sadly this does mean most airplay of the track was in the form of a rather ham-fisted edit which clunkily replaces the passage with alternate audio, taken from a live performance of the track on Top Of The Pops in January 1992, which substitutes "cheap lousy faggot" with "cheap and you're haggard" and which frankly from my point of view is five times as offensive as the original might have been.
Given the amount of virtue-signalling hand-wringing from some quarters over the lyrics of Baby It's Cold Outside, it amuses me no end to see the veteran song make the Top 40 at Number 39, this in a version by Idina Menzel and Michael Buble. It is only the second time the composition has been a chart hit in this country, a rendition by Cerys Matthews and Tom Jones having reached Number 17 for Christmas 1999.
Alexa Play Katy
The most fascinating Christmas hit of all though is in fact a contemporary one. Shooting to Number 23 is Katy Perry's Cozy Little Christmas, its chart performance all the more fascinating given that it is available as an exclusive on Amazon Prime Music. Hitherto considered one of the smallest of the streaming platforms, this marks something of a first that a track exclusive to that platform has managed to surface on the charts in this way. Of course there are probably exenuating circumstances - you can bet your bottom dollar that it is high up on Amazon's own seasonal playlists and so as a result available to a great many ears who just happen to be using the platform to stream through Echo devices. Plus of course it is a brand new release and unlike almost every other festive hit on the chart this week it is not subject to ACR streaming reductions
All I can do is share this briefest of clips with you. Because even the video is exclusive to Amazon.
Don't You Remember?
What of last week's Number One single? Almost needless to say it could not sustain the kind of sales which propelled it to the top a week ago. We Built This City from LadBaby doesn't quite make the record drop it was expected to, but still takes a 1-21 fall, the second single this year to fall from Number One to outside the Top 20 following the 1-97 drop "enjoyed" by 3 Lions back in the summer. We Built This City isn't quite the least successful Christmas Number One of all time, that honour going to the Lewisham And Greenwich NHS Choir who fell 1-29 in January 2016 in what was then an all-time record.
The Number One album this week remains The Greatest Showman soundtrack, meaning it ends 2018 with its 24th week at the top of the charts, meaning it has spent 46% of the year at the summit.
Bold indeed is the artist who releases new material for this chart, given the sheer impossibility of gaining any kind of visibility. We should at least acknowledge Post Malone who did just that, his new single Wow. charts this week at Number 52.
I'm In All Your Fantasies
So that was this week's waste of time. Next week is the pingback chart as all the Christmas hits vanish as quickly as they arrived, everyone else rockets into their true market positions, and we attempt to pick up the pieces of the holiday market. I'm no great fan of fantasy charts but on this occasion, it is actually useful to note just how things might have looked in a normal week. In a world where Christmas songs did not exist, this week's Top 10 would have read:
1) Ava Max (Sweet But Psycho)
2) Ariana Grande (thank u, next)
3) Halsey (Without Me)
4) Mark and Miley (Nothing Breaks Like A Heart)
5) Post Malone and Swae Lee (Sunflower)
6) LadBaby (We Built This City)
7) James Arthur and Anne-Marie (Rewrite The Stars)
8) Pinkfong(!) (Baby Shark)
9) Freya Ridings (Lost Without You)
10) George Ezra (Shotgun)
The takeaways from that? The Top 3 "normal" hits are the same as they have been for the past few weeks. LadBaby didn't underperform in Week 2 quite as badly as its chart position may at first suggest. Baby Shark has benefitted enormously from being played on a constant loop during the school holidays and it too has performed far better than its real-world chart position shows. George Ezra though - wow. End of year retrospectives have clearly marked the summertime Number One out as one of the best-loved hits of the year. But this is where you see how Christmas hits badly distort the true picture, Shotgun this week isn't in its rightful place back in the Top 10, it is languishing down at Number 33.