Christmas No.1: does the festive chart-topper matter any more?

This year’s seasonal sizzler will be revealed this afternoon

Taylor Swift has been slogging it out with LadBaby this year

The battle for the Christmas No.1 is reaching its decisive hour and this year’s festive chart-topper will be announced on BBC Radio 1’s Official Chart Show from 4pm.

YouTubers LadBaby are the favourites but they face competition from more traditional artists, like Lewis Capaldi and Taylor Swift. Meanwhile, The Kunts are the “unlikeliest contender” for a Christmas No.1, said Rolling Stone, with their colourful track F**k the Tories.

But does it even matter any more who tops the charts on the big day?

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A ‘key cultural role’

“The Christmas Number One is not the most popular song of the year,” said the BBC, “it’s just the biggest song in the week leading up to Christmas.” However, added the broadcaster, it is “still important” because although “families might not gather round to listen to the result like we used to”, a “big Christmas song is still a big deal for an artist”.

Dr Stephen Graham, senior lecturer in music at Goldsmiths, University of London, agreed. Because Christmas No.1s “played such a key role in the cultural conversation around Christmas” and “because music is so important to how Christmas is brought to life and experienced in the UK – I can see them maintaining some importance years into the future”, he told Metro.

Composer, producer and mixer Sefi Carmel also sees relevance for the festive chart-topper. He told Metro that, despite our digital era, “both fans and artists still have a special way of celebrating Christmas, and I think that the Christmas number one does still factor culturally into this”.

‘Musical begging’

Not everyone is convinced that the Christmas No.1 – or even the Christmas song itself – is what it used to be. “The problem is that today’s songwriters shoot too classy,” wrote Emma Garland in The Guardian, whereas the “secret ingredient to a good Christmas song is chaos. Always has been.”

The pop industry has transformed from a “jolly display of British creativity to musical begging”, said Caitlin Moran in The Times. In the 1970s and 1980s, when British pop was “punching way above its weight globally, we racked up a series of absolute, stone-dead sleigh-bell classics”, she said, such as Merry Xmas Everybody and Last Christmas.

However, in the Noughties, Christmas pop was “owned by Simon Cowell” as seven successive X Factor winners took the Christmas No.1 spot between 2005 and 2014. Now, Moran added, we have LadBaby, who are helping British food banks with their cover of Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Today, getting a Christmas No.1 is “more like winning an industry award”, Tim Exile, musician, technologist and founder of music-making app Endless, told Metro. “It’s an important part of an artist’s story for those that follow those kinds of things but less important for many more who don’t.”

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Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.