As soon as December hits, you can’t move for Mariah Carey (Picture: WireImage)
Last Christmas, by Wham.
All I Want for Christmas is You, by Mariah Carey.
We’re only two weeks into December and they’re back already, dominating the airwaves and occupying the top two spots in the charts.
This isn’t the first time in recent years that this has happened, either.
Wham’s 1984 hit, which is currently number one, has been top of the Official Singles Chart in the festive period three times in as many years, while Mariah’s 1994 single, sitting pretty in second place in the official charts, has reached the summit twice since 2020.
While neither of them has ever secured the coveted official Christmas number one – thanks to a combination of Band Aid, East 17, and then five consecutive years of LadBaby – we’re likely to be seeing them in or around the top spot for decades to come.
Both have a deserved place in the Christmas hit pantheon, with their cultural importance well-acknowledged and totally preserved.
But I’m forced to ask – where are the new hits?
Last week, a list was published of the biggest Christmas songs released so far in the 21st century. It was alarming to note just how many of the highest entries were covers or uninspired reimaginings of traditional Christmas classics.
Michael Buble’s nauseating Rat Pack renditions, two retreads of Band Aid, Lily Allen providing her take on a Keane song for a John Lewis advert, Kylie Minogue wrapping herself around Santa Baby – there’s hardly anything new.
And of the original songs on the list, contributed by some of the biggest pop names since the 2000s, precious few have stuck around.
The Darkness’ Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) was welcomed instantly into the festive canon upon release, Leona Lewis’ One More Sleep still gets regular rotation, and Ariana Grande and Kelly Clarkson’s efforts are beginning to find their home on festive playlists.
But is that it? 23 years of the new millennium and this is all we have to show for it?
Katy Perry, Gwen Stefani, and John Legend have all released original Christmas songs in the last six years. When was the last time you heard any of them?
Fairytale of New York, by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, is shooting up the charts in the wake of Shane MacGowan’s death
Before LadBaby came along to secure five straight Christmas number ones with their sausage roll tributes – all of which vanished from the charts within weeks – the 15 years prior to their arrival had been defined by non-festive songs topping the charts on the big day.
For almost a decade it was inevitable that each year’s X Factor winner would take the top spot, outside of Rage Against the Machine’s 2009 protest victory or a Gareth Malone’s choir.
In the 1990s, the Spice Girls, arguably the biggest act in the world at the time, locked down the Christmas number one for three years, with the first of those singles, 2 Become 1, decorating itself in enough tinsel to be associated with the holiday season.
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But where are the 2023 equivalents? Does Harry Styles fancy a go? Miley Cyrus? Dave? Lewis Capaldi? Dua Lipa? Anybody?
Pop music is supposed to be about new things – it should be a reflection of the changing landscape of popular culture, and that’s why it’s such a shame that at Christmas, we tend to hear the same songs.
This year’s chart battle for the actual Christmas number one slot looks to be a straight fight between The Pogues’ 1987 hit Fairytale of New York, after the death of its writer and singer Shane MacGowan, and Creator Universe, a group of TikTok stars raising money for charity… by covering Wizzard – yet another Christmas song from half a century ago.
Last Christmas, by Wham, is number one again (Picture: Redferns)
This means the only original festive song by a current pop artist – the UK’s Eurovision hero Sam Ryder and his song You’re Christmas to Me – is languishing at number 12, having been squeezed out of the public consciousness before it’s had a chance to present itself.
I know I must sound like such a fogie right now, but I loved new Christmas music growing up. The race for number one in 2003, between The Darkness, Gary Jules, and Bo Selecta, was gripping entertainment for teenagers everywhere. I want the same for the current generation.
Why is it that only songs from mine or my parents’ generations get to dominate charts and party playlists year on year? What’s there for the kids of today?
Don’t get me wrong – I love The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. I love Wizzard. I love Greg Lake. I love The Darkness. I love Slade and Jose Feliciano and The Ronettes and Nat King Cole. I even love Wham and Mariah Carey. But their time should have been over years ago.
The established canon of Christmas favourites has barely expanded since I was in primary school, and denying the likes of Sam Ryder, or even Nala the Stevenage Train Station Cat’s novelty dance track, the chance to make a small piece of Christmas history is indicative of what lies ahead: no new songs and no new memories.
Maybe the Official Charts Company needs to revamp the Christmas Number One race, or reconsider the way it counts sales in the age of streaming.
Maybe the pop stars of today need to be bolder in choosing to release a festive hit.
Maybe we just need to ban anyone singing about sausage rolls.
But something has to change, otherwise it will always be Last Christmas roast on the 25th with copious amounts of Mariah for pudding, then plain Wham sandwiches until New Year’s Day.