It is time to deal with the massive elephant in the room. All attempts at predicting how the charts might play themselves out at the end of December, all of our supposed expertise and analysis become irrelevant in the face of the unexpected novelty.
And it is wise to be cautious given the way the 2018 Christmas Number One market was upended literally at the last minute by Ladbaby, an online blogger who self-released a charity track and blasted past the competition to take the crown.
In doing so, he shattered a number of preconceptions. The prevailing wisdom (expressed boldly in these pages) was that in the streaming era it was no longer possible for a one-off charity release to gain the kind of traction needed to obliterate the market. After all, such tracks rely on old-fashioned sales, which are fewer and fewer in number now. But of course it is Christmas and the usual rules of engagement do not apply. No matter that no singles ever sell more than 10,000 copies or so in an average week. If you release a track which hoovers up enough publicity (and has the added cachet of then far more people than usual will buy it - most importantly people who do not normally buy singles.
Several years of relatively "normal" pop records - Clean Bandit, Ed Sheeran - reaching Christmas Number One lulled us into a false sense of security. And having had a few years off from playing the "game" of sending something quirky to the top of the charts at Christmas, last year it was just like old times and everyone piled in. Yes, the absence of Amazon mp3 store data midweek gave a false position of the fate of the single, but in retrospect, we all should have seen it coming.
So, could the same thing happen again this year? I'm still tempted to say "no", if for the simple reason that lightning rarely strikes twice. Second time around the joke isn't as funny. Everyone had their fun last year and with a few exceptions will want to move in. Plus of course, where Ladbaby led, plenty of others will have the notion to follow. He stood out last year because he was the only person attempting such a stunt. This year we may well see an abundance of chancers. None of whom are likely to end up with the kind of publicity and traction needed.
In one sense there is cause to regret the events of last December because once more the Christmas Number One was elevated to something in and of itself, an event separate from the usual ebb and flow of popular music. The 2016 and 2017 festive chart-toppers will be played forever as pop classics. I guarantee I'm the first person since January to remind everyone that Ladbaby existed. And that's wrong. Because the song at the top of the biggest chart of the year should be one we all want to remember.
Even so, keep an eye out, and treat any one-off novelty that marches its way up the midweeks with deep suspicion. Especially given the way the current second-favourite in the Paddy Power betting is an entry which scares the crap out of me.