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.