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Why UK Christmas number ones are the current charity of choice

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Photo: Joel Muniz

Photo of Ashleigh Millar
by Ashleigh Millar

It is the most wonderful time of year… we get to watch (and influence) the fight for the Official Charts’ UK Christmas number one. And in the lead for, arguably, the most coveted spot in UK music is none other than internet star LadBaby, featuring his wife and pop icons Ed Sheeran and Elton John. The ‘from lad to dad’ YouTuber is racing for his fourth (sausage roll themed) Christmas number one in a row, which would make him the only UK act in history to do so – not even The Beatles or the Spice Girls achieved such a feat.

Not known for their vocal ability or sell-out tours, LadBaby and his wife have been appearing on talk shows and interviews, in addition to using social media to promote the reworked tune (it parodies Elton and Ed’s recent Christmas song, ‘Merry Christmas’) and plead with the nation to buy / download the track in order to push it to that number one spot – sounds eerily familiar to the plotline of Love Actually, does it not? Very festive indeed.

But, why would the British nation succumb to this noise and risk making a mockery of the music industry, pushing aside acts who might be more credible and deserving? To feed those who are struggling this Christmas, that is why. So, the real question is, when did the UK Christmas number one become more of a charity campaign than a reflection of UK music trends?

The Geldof effect

This is obviously not the first time a charity single has reached the Christmas top spot, with Band Aid’s Holiday anthem, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, famously topping the charts in 1984 to raise money for famine relief in Africa. However, the difference between that charity single and LadBaby’s sausage roll parodies is that the British public was more inclined to enjoy the music. This can be reflected in the tune’s clutch on the number one spot for five weeks, in addition to one of the most successful benefit concerts in history the following year – Live Aid.

LadBaby himself even acknowledges that he finds humour in watching his Christmas banger (pun intended) hit number one, then plummet down the charts into non-existence almost immediately afterwards. But in a world of streaming, where Christmas number ones are not a natural progression of current music trends (as a result of physical sales and downloads being the only way to consume recorded music), and, instead, unlimited, readily available music being paid for via subscription, it seems that the British public are using this power to orchestrate the singles chart and play their part in helping their own people.

Christmas controversy is no stranger to Britain

Now, in 2021, the UK public are well versed in controlling the Christmas charts after first seeing signs of unnatural music trends in the shape of Simon Cowell. In the noughties, it was almost a dead certainty that an X Factor winner would claim the coveted spot, killing any excitement of industry heavyweights battling it out for the title. In 2009, though, Joe Public decided it was high time for change, and a campaign to have Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing in The Name’ knock the X Factor off the chart-topping position was put in motion – and it succeeded.

This is, of course, slightly different – at least the proceeds of LadBaby’s track are going to The Trussell Trust, raising money for food banks. By contrast, the X Factor chart toppers were pouring more money back into the pockets of Cowell – sorry – the music industry. But when will the straw break the camel’s back for the music business? After investing millions into the likes of Adele, Swift and Sheeran, just to be knocked off the top spot by a song about pastries, it will only be a matter of time before the UK ends up adopting a more American approach to the Holiday charts.

We have done it once, we will do it again

In the same way that the industry created a separate ‘Official Compilation Chart’ after they had had enough of compilation albums dominating the album charts, especially at Christmas time, it will not be long before a similar move is made with the singles chart. According to Michael Mulligan, author of ‘The Official Christmas No.1 Singles Book’, when referring to the American system of a separate Holiday singles chart, he claimed that he “wouldn’t be at all surprised if the chart gets reconfigured more along the lines of the American model at some point in the future”.

And with LadBaby being the bookies favourite for Christmas number one for a fourth year running, not to mention the anti-Conservative track (featuring samples of Boris Johnson speeches in time to an upbeat punk beat) that has just made it to number five in the charts, we are inclined to believe so too.    

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