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.

December 13th: Ready... Set?

It is late Thursday evening and there are just a few hours to go before stuff starts happening for real, and the sales and streams start counting for the Official Christmas Chart. Before the race itself actually commences then, here's the present lay of the land:

  • Ariana Grande is still comfortable at the top of the charts, her midweek lead sufficient to ensure she will spend a sixth week at Number One with thank u, next and thus remain in pole position ready for a seventh and a quite spectacular Christmas Number One. The only consolation appears to be that her sales figures, although well in excess of the nearest challengers at present, are by no means insurmountable for any surprise track coming up on the rails. A small amount of intrigue surrounds her teasing of yet another brand new track which may well make its debut in a few hours from now. Although nobody is sure if this is being seen as an actual "single" or just a promotional tease for a whole new album in the new year. Either way, unless it turns out to be phenomenal it is unlikely to challenge her existing hit. And in any event, all bets are on the artist and not the song. It matters not a jot which Ariana Grande song tops the charts.
  • The golden Christmas Oldies appear to have hit a wall. Despite being almost neck and neck with Ariana on Spotify for most of the week, Mariah Carey's Track We Shall Not Name seems destined to be marooned outside the Top 5 once more when the new charts are revealed tomorrow. That's the permanent ACR status of these older hits starting to bite. Whilst it isn't impossible that the streams of an older single will accelerate to levels high enough to wipe out this disadvantage, I'll note that the holiday hits tend to peak in the few days prior to and indeed on Christmas Day itself. Which will actually be too late for the Christmas chart, whose cut off is December 20th.
  • An intriguing development in the past few days has seen the Fire Tones charity single, which we'd previously written off as a lost cause, suddenly pick up a burst of interest from somewhere to lodge itself at the top of iTunes since the middle of the week. This is a slight red herring, given a) Apple has tweaked the compilation of the live iTunes tables recently meaning it isn't completely clear how many hours or days of data that is based on, b) numbers for iTunes sales are still a tiny drop in the overall chart ocean and c) they are several days early with this. Firing their hoses prematurely as it were. And the track is absolutely nowhere on live streaming charts.
  • There's an absorbing new arrival near the top end of the betting markets.

    Ladbaby is YouTuber Mark Hoyle whose regular pieces on his transition from lad about town to responsible father had led him to a subscriber base of close to half a million during the course of the year. He's made his own cheeky attempt to chart for Christmas, an as-yet unheard cover of We Built This City by all accounts. During the week he shot a film of him approaching high street bookmakers to attempt to place a bet on himself, only to be rebuffed as they had never heard of him. Since then most firms have played along and offered him odds, hence his appearance from nowhere in second place. There's no evidence of any actual demand for his single, demonstrating just how random this betting market actually is.

    Hoyle even appears to have attracted some money his way on the Betfair exchange, that market having otherwise settled down to something sensible and is (Ladbaby aside) generally reflective of the true market picture.


 There's still room for a surprise to be sprung. An unheralded release from a very big name, one in a position to sweep all before them. I'll remind you that last year the Eminem/Sheeran collaboration on River did not make its bow until the very start of the chart race, and even then this was merely an album track that got lucky. It was still Number 2 for Christmas and the first brand new chart-topper of the new year. Everything we know could be completely wrong. We'll find out in a few hours time.

December 9th: Nearly There

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:

PaddyPower0912If 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.

December 4th: Known Unknowns

Two more tracks have now entered the Christmas Number One market, if not necessarily the race as such. One we knew was coming but didn't know the precise identity of until the weekend, the other a charity offering which has rather come from nowhere but has forced its way into the conversation thanks to some terrific PR.

First the "known" unknown, the identity of the 2018 X Factor winner. The ability of the talent show to produce instantaneous Number One hits and in particular Christmas Number One hits has long since vanished into history. The last contestant to manage either was 2014 winner Ben Haenow. Since then we've seen Louisa Johnson, Matt Terry and Rak-Su post chart performances which are one week wonders and certainly have ended up a long way from the top of the charts at Christmas. What no longer helps, aside from the difficulty of generating mass streams for an act from a series which still plays to the older non-streaming demographic, is the move to a Friday-Thursday chart week which means that an act crowned on Sunday night has just four days to make a proper chart impact. To compound matters further this year, X Factor finished earlier than it ever has done before, meaning the winner's single is emerging a full three weeks before Christmas itself. Yes, it could climb in the intervening period, but recent history shows that X Factor winners singles now pop a first week high and then settle back afterwards. The same fate is almost certainly going to befall Dalton Harris, even if he is alongside James Arthur who was denied the 2012 Christmas Number One by circumstances beyond his control (a terrible charity single). The bookies have installed him as a contender anyway. Even if he's way adrift at 10.0 on Paddy Power right now.

The "unknown" unknown is Flakefleet Primary School whose promoters are spamming hashtags on Twitter trumpeting the fact that they have gone from 100-1 to 4-1 in an instant as if this is somehow proof of their commercial potential. This blog's standard point of reference, Paddy Power, have them at a rather more sensible 13.0 at the time of writing, and Oddschecker suggests their odds range from 17.0 to 9.0 across various bookies. In short, because nobody really knows what to do with them. This is all PR led, and fair play to them for managing to attract this amount of attention almost out of nowhere. The song is sung by children from the Fleetwood school with all proceeds going to the Alzheimers Society. Like the singing firemen before them (whose single is now out and set to vanish without a trace) it is all in a worthy cause and a fun talking point, but it is hard to picture any circumstances where this otherwise random song will be anywhere near the charts in three weeks time.