How streaming killed the Christmas charts

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THE BATTLES To top the charts on Christmas Day has been won in recent years by Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande. But in recent times, these singers have faced competition from an unexpected source: the 20th century. Despite the best efforts of today’s young stars, the December charts have become dominated by musicians who are well into their middle age, or dead.

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On Christmas Day, five years ago, each of the top ten Billboard Hot 100, a ranking of America’s most popular songs, was a new release. In 2017, Mariah Carey rose to ninth place with her massive 23-year-old hit, “All I Want for Christmas is You”. Since then, the elders have continued to progress (see graph). As of last Christmas, half of the top ten American songs were over half a century old. Indeed, Ms. Carey, then 51, was one of the youngest performers: two of her chart-topping colleagues were receiving pensions; three had joined the celestial choir.

The old tubes have been revived by new technologies. billboards rankings were based primarily on record sales, as well as the number of radio plays. But since 2015, its evolutionary formula has tended to favor the number of listenings on streaming services like Spotify. The result is that records like “Jingle Bell Rock” (1957) by American country singer Bobby Helms, which no longer generate much sales in physical format but still air on repeat in December, were catapulted up the charts.

The Christmas card phenomenon illustrates why investors are reassessing musician catalogs. Streamers pay rights holders a small fee for each song played, so old favorites whose physical sales had long since declined have returned to steady income. Attractive artists all year round have benefited from their newly sought after works. Last year, Bob Dylan sold his collection to Universal Music Group, the world’s largest record company, for a sum that reportedly exceeded $ 300 million. November 30 BMG, another music company, said it bought Mötley Crüe’s heavy metal collection.

Streaming may mean a new paycheck for ever-popular artists, but it saps some of the excitement of the Christmas charts. Ms Carey, who claimed second place in billboards Ranking last year and first place the year before, has already started its festive assault on this year’s charts: at the time of writing, it had reached number 12, and rising. Christmas may be “The most wonderful time of the year” (the seventh hit of the last year), but it is also becoming the most predictable musically.

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This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Ghosts of Christmas Past”


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