The Race for Christmas Number One

Originally featured in The Mancunion:

As the tinsel begins to come out and the first doors on advent calendars across the country are opened – not forgetting that list of forgotten family friends who you still write a card to, despite not seeing them for years – it can only mean one thing; Christmas is well and truly on its way. And with the festive season comes the annual race to see who can take the coveted Christmas Number 1 spot in the singles charts. But is it still the serious contest that it once was, or do we really care who tops the charts this Yuletide?

Plenty has changed in terms of the race for the number one spot, as compared to the past. Firstly, if you turn the clocks back thirty years or so, the build up, the waiting and the anticipation for which song would make it to the top put this announcement on a par with the Queen’s speech, in terms of importance on Christmas Day. Artists rallied hard on limited resources to promote their song and push it to number one purely for the prestige and honour of being the nation’s favourite song, not solely for the money and publicity it would provide them, as is the case with many artists in this day and age.

However, 2012 proves significant in the context of the battle to chart success at Christmas, marking the end of a decade which has seen a reality television revolution, led by the grinch himself, Mr. Simon Cowell. Since 2002, six out of the last ten Christmas number ones have been held by the winner of Cowell’s competitions (seven if you count Little Mix’s attempt in 2011 until they were replaced, later on Christmas Day, by The Military Wives). It was a period of musical ennui that continued unbroken until 2009 saw the successful Facebook campaign that placed the decidedly-unfestive Rage Against the Machine top of the heap. Yet even before the days of The X Factor and Pop Idol, there was an ongoing change in trend as to what the Great British public went out and bought during the eighties and nineties. We seemed to wave goodbye to any future possibility of a festive number one, and in the process we glorified the highly dubious likes of  Mr Blobby, Bob The Builder and Brian Harvey’s four piece East 17.

Early rumours have suggested that The X Factor are set to bow out of the traditional battle for the Christmas number one, after what has been a disappointing series for Cowell and co. The Hillsborough justice campaign’s charity effort and Girls Aloud’s comeback track are both contenders, but the odds-on favourite this year hints at a long-sought return to tradition – the twenty-fifth anniversary re-release of The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’. If the evergreen Irish rockers can pull it off, it’d make for a refreshing move away from charity songs and reality show releases, and back towards a bit of festive convention – it can only be a good thing.


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