It is Sunday evening as I write this, meaning there are a little over four days to go before, as the Official Charts Company likes to put it, the starting gun is fired on the race to be Christmas Number One 2018.
A reminder: the final pre-Christmas chart will be based on sales and streams taking place from Friday 14th December until midnight on Thursday 20th. The full chart will then be revealed on the Radio One chart show from 5pm on Friday 21st. So by the evening, we will all know what the fuss is about.
At this precise moment, it is still very hard to see past Ariana Grande. Right at the very start of this process, it was possible to have some doubts as to whether she could sustain her place at the top of the singles chart for the seven weeks it was going to take for her to still be there at Christmas. Five weeks into her reign those doubts have mostly evaporated. Last week her overall chart sale leapt by a full 50% following the release of the official video for thank u, next which also handed her a streaming total which broke the all-time record. She is Number One with a chart sale of 83,660 copies. Her nearest rival in the market, Ava Max, is Number 2 with a mere 45,310 sales. As far as any other contemporary hits go, she is unbeatable.
The bookmakers agree. Here's the latest Paddy Power market as of Sunday evening:
If this were a horse race, it would be viewed as unbackable and punters would be better advised to focus on the place market to predict which of the long-priced entrants was most likely to finish runner-up.
However, I'm unconvinced this is entirely a one-horse race. Because there's another which is showing amazing form, even though it has been hobbled in the stables and is limping along on three legs.
As previously noted, all the "Christmas classics" and indeed anything over three years from release is locked permanently into the Accelerated Chart Ratio as far as the charts are concerned, its streams counting for half those of contemporary hits. The same assumption was that this would handicap the golden oldies sufficiently to prevent them from taking over the top end of the singles chart as they have done in recent Decembers.
However, last year the Christmas songs - and in truth, we are talking about one Christmas song in particular - did not have the benefit of YouTube plays. And views of the video for All I Want For Christmas Is You appear to have almost totally negated any disadvantage the move to ACR may have put it under.
On this week's charts the 1994 Mariah Carey single has vaulted 28 places to Number 6.It is the 14th most-purchased track of the week, but on the streaming chart (which does not take ACR into account and is based on pure numbers alone, the track is the second most popular of the week. And as I speak it is now the Number One track on Spotify, having been played just over 600,000 times on Saturday. Compared to 540,000 times for thank u, next. Now OK, bear in mind this is the weekend when casual listening on Spotify soars, and it may drop back a little during the week. But those are still significant numbers. As we saw last year, daily streams of favourite Christmas songs edge towards a million as Christmas week itself approaches. These are numbers with the potential to be large enough to negate ACR and send the 24-year-old song to a surprise position at the top of the charts the week after next.
There's clearly been money for this. Mariah Carey was 21.0 on Paddy Power on Saturday. As the graphic above shows she's moved into 13.0 Take it from me, that's a huge price, and right now that is where the value in the betting market lies.
Still, anything can happen between now and then. There may still be an unknown unknown ready to swamp the market from out of nowhere. Or it could come down to a straight fight between crystal-voiced divas from a generation apart.
Right now I'm torn. If All I Want For Christmas Is You makes Christmas Number One because of a million grandma streams at the expense of any contemporary hit records it will be a raging absurdity. On the other hand, if it does top the charts, I'll win enough money to buy myself a brand new laptop in the new year.