Christmas Number One 2019

The 2019 Christmas Number One will be announced at 6pm on Friday, December 20th. This liveblog features all the latest news on what remains the most scrutinised chart race of the year. Who is in contention. And perhaps importantly who is not.

November 28th: All I Want For Christmas Is An Elephant

I've avoided the issue for long enough, so let's deal with it now. Why, amongst all the talk about which singles are likely to be up there in contention for Christmas Number One 2018, has there been little mention of what you might term the "Christmas classics". The festive favourites which dominate playlists and in the process clog up the whole of the live Spotify tables for most of December.

And it is a fair question. Ever since the dawn of the digital era the festive season has been characterised by a slew of holiday classics steadily invading the December charts, songs anything up to 30 or 40 years old mixing it up and holding their own amongst more contemporary sounds. At first, this was an amusing diversion and a chance for us to note first hand what the public's preferred Christmas classics were - with Mariah Carey's apparently evergreen All I Want For Christmas Is You leading the way time after time.

This was never really any cause for concern, as each year went by the impact of the oldies grew less and less. A consequence perhaps of ownership of these tracks reaching saturation point. I don't need to buy a copy of Mariah Carey this year as I already bought it two years ago, so the theory goes. The arrival of the streaming era has stood that notion on its head, playing a song online isn't a one-shot deal after all. Recent years have seen the holiday favourites surge in popularity in a manner they never approached during the download era. This led to the extraordinary sight last year of eight of the Top 20 singles on the Christmas chart being holiday favourites. All of which vanished without a trace two weeks later.

With the market for streaming ever-growing, there was a distinct possibility that Christmas charts of the future would come to be almost totally dominated by golden oldies. Christmas is a unique time on services such as Spotify. The long tail which results in consumption being spread across large parts of the catalogue suddenly contracts every December, and everyone (young or old) listens to the same stuff over and over again. Mostly Mariah sodding Carey. But that's no use for the music industry who want the charts to reflect what's new and contemporary. This was almost certainly what led to a subtle and unannounced change in the chart rules over the summer:

acrrules

Blink and you'll miss it, but there it is. The rule which means an older single can move from the Accelerated Chart Ratio back to the standard one now only applies to tracks within their first three years of release. Golden oldies, and in particular Christmas favourites, are stuck with their streams permanently downgraded. The net effect should be to artificially depress the chart positions of these returning classics. The chances of anything by Mariah, Wham! or The Pogues selling and streaming enough to topple a contemporary single are vanishingly small.

Not, you will note, non-existent. In the very first week that these rules came into force this summer, one twenty-year-old single became the focal point of the nation's hopes and dreams for the England football team. 3 Lions by Baddiel, Skinner and The Lightning Seeds stuck two fingers up at the rules, sold in new-found thousands and was streamed enough times to top the singles chart for the first time since 1998, ACR or no ACR. So whilst it is unlikely an old single will top the charts at the end of December, it isn't totally impossible. That's why you can still get odds, just rather longer ones than might have otherwise have been the case.

Incidentally, the chart to watch out for in this context is not the Official Christmas chart itself. That will cover sales and streams data gathered between Friday 14th and Thursday 20th December. It is the one following, one which will be based on data from Friday 21st to Thursday 27th. Five days of holiday fever, including Christmas Day itself when every Amazon Echo in the land will be pumping out All I Want For Christmas Is You and Last Christmas on a near-constant loop. Nobody is quite sure what that is going to do to the countdown.

November 24th: Don't Like To Talk About It

The UK Christmas Number One and charity have a long-standing symbiotic relationship. It all dates back to 1984 (incidentally the first time the bookmakers attempted to turn the 'race' into a betting market) and the runaway success of the original Band Aid single.

The concept underwent something of a revival at the turn of the decade. For a public tiring of the seemingly endless parade of X Factor winner singles, the chance to do their bit for a good cause seemed to be a more than adequate replacement. So we had the Military Wives Choir in 2011, the abysmal Justice Collective in 2012 and the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS choir in 2015, the latter only sneaking in under the wire thanks to the famous way Justin Bieber was persuaded to tweet and concede the race midweek.

It means that predicting that a charity-related single will make it to the top of the charts for Christmas still appears to be a safe bet, even though times have now changed and it is no longer enough to persuade just enough people to make a 99p online micropayment to propel the sound of a cause to the top of the charts. Recent years have seen any number of well-meant charity contenders fall flat on their faces. Persuading the public that they are good people for jumping on board your bandwagon no longer works for chart domination.

But that still doesn't stop people trying. What is important is landing the first blow in the PR battle. It is one thing to record a charity record, another thing altogether to make people aware of it and perhaps even more crucially getting them on board with your cause. One such single this year has put in the groundwork already, to the extent that most of the major bookmakers have taken time to lay odds on its chances:

firetonesodds

So who then are The Fire Tones and what has prompted so many bookmakers to install them as market runners?

firetonesgrab

 

Well, there's your answer. A group of singing fireman performing - oh dear -  their own take on Do They Know It's Christmas. All in aid of both firefighters charities and the Band Aid trust (because they can't really nick their song without giving a little back after all). It hardly takes me to spell out why somebody, somewhere thought they might be in with a shot. After all, if singing nurses can do it, why can't they? But there is very little chance they will even be anywhere near the charts come December 21st. Because for a charity single to fly it has to be related to an issue that has the ability to dominate headlines and mass public attention. The Grenfell Tower appeal managed it, but that was almost certainly the last single of its kind. And you'll note that made no attempt to try to be Christmas Number One.

 

November 18th: A Grande Don't Come For Free

It is entirely possible we are already familiar with the song which will wind up as the 2018 Christmas Number One.

One year ago this week, the eventual festive chart champion Perfect was already a Top 10 hit single, Ed Sheeran's ballad holding steady at Number 6. This before we knew just what he and his label had up their sleeve to ultimately propel the single to the top.

Two years ago this week Clean Bandit's Rockabye had just ascended to the top of the charts, a position it was destined to hold until well into the new year, confounding all the expectations of casual commentators who presumed the rules of the past still applied.

As I noted in the main Chart Watch piece this week, there are just five more charts to be published between now and the holiday. Ariana Grande is this week spending her second week at Number One, meaning that to still be there at Christmas she will be enjoying a seventh week at the top. When you bear in mind that she's done so with a chart sale more than double that of her nearest rival, and is still as I speak posting streaming numbers far in excess of the rest of the market. So far this year we've seen singles by Drake and Calvin Harris trace exactly the same sales pattern, and enjoy Number One runs of nine weeks and eight weeks respectively, seven for Ariana Grande's thank u, next seems well within the bounds of possibility.

Her present chart domination means that for now, Christmas Number One is all but ruined as a betting exercise. Not wanting to take any risks, all the major brands who have opened a book so far have installed her as a comfortable favourite - or at least they had, see below. It is only on the Betfair Exchange where there is fun to be had. There's still too little cash been staked for the market to resemble anything approaching reality, but that does mean there are slightly better odds available on some singles.

Betfair1811

At the time of posting (Sunday afternoon - things may well have changed by the time you read this), you can still get a tenner on Ariana Grande at the rather more interesting price of 4.2 (ie stake £10 and get £42 back) with more cash waiting to be matched at slightly lower odds.

Why do I note that the market doesn't resemble reality? Because Ariana's not the favourite on the exchange. This is:

Betfair1811b

That's because some opportunistic soul has laid the CNCO single at odds of 2.0 and there's still £23 of his stake unmatched. What is probably the same person has laid it for £1000 at 1.01, risking just £10 in the process and waiting hopefully for enough people to fancy it at that price to bring in some returns. That's basically people gaming the exchange and trying to take people for mugs. Because no sane person rates CNCO's Hey DJ (Remix) as a Christmas chart contender. And our wild laying friend will be waiting a very long time for it to be such a racing certainty that people are prepared to stake £10 for the chance to win 10p. That self-same gambler may well be the one who has backed it at odds of 500.0 with a stake of £2. They are now playing a long game of waiting for someone with £1000 burning a hole in their pocket and prepared to risk it all for the chance to win that £2 off him.

Back in the world of the sane, there has been some slight movement on the market as presented by Paddy Power:

PaddyPower1811

Following the debut of the John Lewis advert which features Elton John's Your Song as its soundtrack, money has clearly come in for Elton to top the charts for Christmas, making him now the 2/1 favourite. That's still an absurd prospect. Five days after the advert appeared, a brief flurry of interest in the golden oldie has evaporated to nothing. This song is showing no signs of getting anywhere near the Top 100 charts, let alone be near the top for Christmas. And in any event, as an old hit its streams are downgraded for chart purposes. He just isn't a factor at all.

X Factor contestant Dalton Harris is 9/1 (10.0 in new money) before he has even won the competition. But again, X Factor winners just don't top the charts any more. It's a long shot to assume he will be any different. Meanwhile, your guess is as good as mine as to what the mysterious "Street Lights" single is that has been installed at 6.5 since we last checked in. But then Paddy Power have a long history of laying odds for really weird things, irrespective of their true value.

 

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