The death of the holiday single (hurrah!)December 23, 2009
Much has been made of the fragmentation of music into niches, so the annual UK Christmas single race stands out as one of the last bastions of mass music consumption. As you probably know, Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name” took the top spot against the putative winner, the doubly-manufactured mediocrity backed by X-Factor Svengali Simon Cowell.
Over at dysonsound, writer ledyard expresses reservations about this win, commenting that, although it might be considered a ‘heroic move’ this year, it might ‘signal the obliteration of that holiday tradition [the Christmas single] as anything but a complete and utter waste of peoples’ time and money.’ Ledyard also decries the absence of a defining Christmas song from this decade, and raises the concern that the RATM win is symptomatic: we are now tearing down traditions, but not replacing them with anything.
I come at this from a different perspective. While I appreciate the idea of the Christmas, my family has never celebrated it. Like an increasing proportion of Brits, Canadians, and Americans, I don’t have an ancestral memory of Burl Ives and chestnuts and carolers (I do have an ancestral memory of fireworks in the streets, though).
So I really see the overthrow of this monolithic model of music (everyone listening to the same Top 40 stuff on the radio, say, and running out to buy the latest hit single) as paralleling the decline in a single monolithic culture (everyone celebrating Christmas). It’s not like Christmas music is dead; any number of individual artists continue to record Christmas songs every year. But the absence of a dominant Christmas-themed holiday single in the last ten years in the UK (and elsewhere) is probably more reflective of an increasingly diverse culture than of Cowell’s machinations.
Just as I’m happier living in a world where I can listen to lots of different music, not just what ClearChannel wants to serve me, I’m a lot happier living in a world where Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody” isn’t the soundtrack to my entire December.