Today marks the start of the last weekend before Christmas. It brings shops filled with exhausted workers and frantic last-minute shoppers. It brings TV specials, Advent services, holiday parties and, somewhere, in a little country elsewhere in a world filled with countdowns, festivities and frenzy, it brings a race to the annual Christmas Number One.
Growing up in England, every weekend was an exciting time for music. Friday nights were spent glued to the television for half an hour watching Top of the Pops, and Sunday afternoons to the radio, listening eagerly to the weekly Top 40. I remember walking home from school, through the town centre, cutting through Woolworths just so I could check out the new singles chart, and often pick up a few on cassette tape with my £2 pocket money. The music charts were a definitive part of Britain’s weekend, taking over the television, radio shows and shop displays, and in the leadup to Christmas, the chart battle for the number one spot took over the nation.
Bookies released the odds, bets were placed, and the nation held its breath during the week leading up to the Saturday before Christmas to see who’d hold the coveted number one position on Christmas Day. Today, the UK finds out who their nation’s 2009 Christmas Number One will be. But this year, it’s a little bit different.
This year, it’s become a full-out war. Christmas charts of the last few years have undoubtedly been dominated by the winning single released from that year’s X Factor winner. I have nothing against this – I love the X Factor, and this year have followed the journey of an absolutely lovely young lad who’s worked hard, won the heart of the nation, come from a humble background, and I’m excited to see him get the opportunity of a lifetime. Previous years’ winners have gone on to break all-time records, or shoot to international superstardom, selling out faster than anyone in UK chart history, selling multi-platinum level albums and becoming three-time Grammy award nominees. I love the show, and am thoroughly behind backing these kids who come from all walks of life, and giving them a shot at making it. This year’s winner was incredible, brought tears to my eyes, a skip to my heart, and what’s happening to him this weekend makes me very upset.
The nation’s been split by a husband and wife team, who decided they were sick of X Factor taking the fun out of the race to the Christmas Number One, and set up a Facebook campaign to get an old Rage Against the Machine song to the top for 2009. The band’s Killing In The Name track was chosen by the anti-X Factor campaigners because of its message of taking a stand against authority. And the success has been staggering. The group’s membership has hit half a million, and alternative radio DJs across the country have spread the people’s discontent at the state of the music industry today. “Fed up with Simon Cowell’s latest karaoke act being Christmas No.1?” the group asks Facebookers. “Me too… So who’s up for a mass-purchase of the track ‘KILLING IN THE NAME’ from December 13th as a protest to the X-Factor monotony?”
Unfortunately, the rebellion has divided the nation, with odds fluctuating drastically all week long, and what initially appeared to be a small internet campaign has taken over the country, with the story being broadcast across the planet. This kid’s worked hard for months, spending time living in a house of strangers, having to learn musical arrangements and dance routines within barely a week, and living away from friends and family throughout the holidays. And his shot at a number one single is being taken away by people backing a foul-mouthed, rap-metal US band with a single from years ago that has no place in contemporary British music charts!
With less than 24 hours to go, I’m reading all sorts of articles. The odds are too close to call. Public opinion is divided. But the X Factor winner has spent his first week of fame meeting soldiers home from Afghanistan, and sick children in a London hospital. He says these visits have helped him put his chart battle into perspective.
“This week I have been faced with soldiers who have had their limbs blown off and children who are dying or seriously ill in hospital. That to me is so much more important than getting to No 1. You just don’t know how lucky you are.”
At the end of the day, I guess it doesn’t really matter who’s at the top when the charts are announced this time tomorrow. But I can’t help but root for this guy, who’s worked hard, and ultimately, with a journey of hard work behind him, his compassion and sincerity will go on, and I wish him every success in the world – but I’ll still be sitting here, halfway around the world, with my fingers crossed very tightly indeed.