On the second eve of the waning winterval moon, somewhere in a dusty tomb buried deep beneath Scott Mills’ studio, the low-humming druids of the Official Chart Company begin their annual Slademass incantations.
They wipe the dust from a stone inscription reading ‘UK Singles Chart’ with the ceremonial John Lewis hand towel and slap the button that turns off the algorithm autopilot processing Drake plays at a trillion streams a second and return the singles chart to human control. And so begins the feral seven-day orgy of blood, mistletoe, wine and sausage rolls.
Yes, it’s that one week of the year again when anybody at all cares about the UK singles chart. Like manufacturers of cracker-sized packs of playing cards and Michael Bublé, the chart lies dormant and forgotten for 50-odd weeks of the year, waiting for its brief annual window of relevance.
After many years of shrinking importance and dwindling mainstream coverage, the singles chart finally jumped the Baby Shark in 2014, when the decision to include streaming figures basically dumped the whole sorry mess in the lap of YouTube’s Up Next autoplay function and told it to bloody well add itself up. Hence ‘hit’ after ‘hit’ of innocuous identikit rap/pop/rave playlist fodder, smothering the chances of anything more left-field or interesting making an impact.
Except Christmas when – as with our relatives – we begrudgingly acknowledge that the UK Singles Chart still exists and make half-hearted efforts to try to do something relatively worthy with it. But even the traditional race for Christmas Number One has lost its last lustre. It’s been 11 years since we banded together to smash The X Factor hegemony by getting Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ to Number One; since then the annual charity-led ‘decency vs Cowell’ chart battle has given way to a profound disinterest. For the last two years amateur blogger LadBaby has been Christmas Number One with novelty sausage roll themed covers of ‘70s soft-rock hits and, considering that the singles chart has become a joke stuffed with reconstituted slurry made mostly of buttock, he’s welcome to it.
At time of writing, the chart is stuffed full of the usual festive suspects – Chris Rea, Wham!, Shakin’ Stevens, Elton John, Geldof. It might finally be time for Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ to ‘get the recognition it deserves’, as if Mariah would notice the minor uptick in her seasonal bullion truck delivery. You can’t even see Celeste’s John Lewis ad song for dust, as if they know that being too closely associated with Xmas 2020 will send them the way of Debenhams.
In terms of new contenders, it’s not even worth a wild festive punt. All the bookies have LadBaby as a dead cert shoo in for his third Christmas Number One in a row with his rewrite of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ (‘Don’t Stop Me Eatin’’). Justin Bieber making up with the Lewisham And Greenwich NHS Choir on a charity version of ‘Holy’, finally burying the hatchet after their brutal, below-the-belt battle for the 2015 top spot, doesn’t even stand a chance against the Christmas chart pastriarchy.
The whole pitiful farrago is perhaps an undeniable sign that we should simply hold up our hands and give up on the singles chart for good. But one man isn’t letting it slide into irrelevance without a fight. Step forward Liam Gallagher, touting his Lennon-esque shot for Xmas glory ‘All You’re Dreaming Of’. Number Two in the midweeks, yet still a 100/1 long shot according to William Hill, the track – a proper cracker, as it happens – feels more like a wintry hug in our darkest hour (“What are you dreaming of? Is it the kind of love that’ll be there when the world is at its worst?”) than any sort of grasp at the Noddy dollar.
And while it might have a pint in Tier Four’s chance of making Xmas Number One, it does carry a deeper significance. It stands a real chance of proving that, under the right conditions, a track by an ostensibly left-field act can still break the UK Top 10 and at least give Jess Glynne’s cover of ‘This Christmas’ a run for its Amazon-backed money.
It seems the real Christmas race in 2020 is for the soul and purpose of the chart itself, and it’ll play out some places below LadBaby’s Greggsmas feast.