Wham’s Last Christmas will always be a festive classic.
Wham’s Last Christmas will always be a festive classic.

How streaming has hijacked our charts

AS A slew of songs from the '50s, '60s and '70s dominate the top 50, it's time we asked if streaming services are turning the ARIA charts into a disjointed mess.

The ARIA top 50 for the week ending December 31 tells an unusual story. The playlist is stacked with 14 Christmas songs - and none of them are new releases.

The most recent song is Ariana Grande's Santa Tell Me which came out in 2014. The next most recent is the Justin Bieber Christmas hit Mistletoe, which came out in 2011.

From there, the charts get a lot more historical.

There are two songs from 1958, two songs from the '60s, three songs from the '70s. At number five is Wham's Last Christmas, the monumentally popular heartbreaker from 1986. And representing the '90s is Australia's own Paul Kelly with his sad Christmas prisoner's anthem How To Make Gravy. Of course, at number one is the undisputed seasonal anthem All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mrs Claus herself Mariah Carey, first released in 1994.

Fair enough, it's Christmas, and you might think this happens every year in the ARIA charts, but in reality having 30 per cent Christmas songs in the top 50 is a big jump for yuletide hits in Australia. Last Christmas, Mariah Carey only peaked at number 16. Wham came in the top 50 last year too, but at a more modest 37.

You can take a look at the full chart here.

Being featured on a popular playlist can lift a song from relative obscurity back into the charts.
Being featured on a popular playlist can lift a song from relative obscurity back into the charts.

Debuting in the Australian ARIA charts this week was the retro festive hit from Burl Ives, A Holly Jolly Christmas, which was released in 1965.

It's a jaunty Christmas hit with a decidedly country vibe, and while I have to admit that my repertoire for describing this kind of music is kind of limited, I can say it reminds me a lot of the soundtrack from Toy Story and I like it. But personal opinions aside, it is objectively quite different to the regular sounds that populate the ARIA charts - songs by Travis Scott, Maroon 5, Post Malone, Ariana Grande, Drake and Nikki Minaj.


So why are all these retro songs suddenly stacking out the top 50 decades after their release?

In 2014 the ARIA charts began including streamed plays along with paid-for downloads and hard copy purchases to make up their weekly singles and album charts. Streamed plays are plays from services like Spotify and Apple Music, where a user plays a song but no hard copy purchase is made.

But music sales have not gone anywhere, with trends suggesting Australian consumers have simply changed their consumption behaviours. Paid streaming services are reportedly benefiting artists, who in Australia received 127 per cent more in royalties payments in the year to date from 2016 to 2017.

In Australian charts, the ratio is 175 streams counts as one sale. So if you buy Mariah Carey's song on iTunes, it counts a fair bit more than if you play it once on Spotify in your car.

One of Spotify’s Christmas-themed playlists.
One of Spotify’s Christmas-themed playlists.

The thing is, fewer and fewer Australians seem to be making those purchases, but are happily switching over to streaming services and enjoying the platforms in droves. And as the apps and services provide seasonal and trending playlists, the songs that are likely to reach the top spots are able to be hijacked by a hugely popular playlist, trend or movie. Spotify has this year been criticised for favouring artists in multiple playlists to cook the charts, including Drake, who is often at the top of the charts.

A look at a number of the most popular streaming services' Christmas-themed playlists shows a number of the recent Christmas-y ARIA additions were heavily featured in seasonal playlists, so it's likely these didn't translate into actual sales.

In the years following the introduction of streaming in the charts, the number of Australians using streaming services has drastically risen, and the amount of songs streamed has also hugely increased. Streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music are on the rise and are set to replace older forms of music sales, including the sale of CDs.

It is estimated that around one in eight Australians regularly use a music streaming service. Worldwide, the popularity of music streaming services has been exponential, with the number of paying Spotify users from June 2017 to June 2018 growing from 57 million to 83 million.

The sale of CD singles was retired by major Australian retailers in 2009 as a commercial decision, after reports surfaced that number one singles would sell as few as 300 copies.

In the UK, this week's singles chart had even more Christmas spirit this year, with 32 of the top 50 being made up of Christmas songs.


Singles chart December 31, 2018

1. All I Want For Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey (1994)

5. Last Christmas - Wham (1986)

8. Do They Know It's Christmas? - Band Aid 30 (2014)

14. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon (1971)

18. Santa Tell Me - Ariana Grande (2014)

25. Mistletoe - Justin Bieber (2011)

30. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Jackson 5 (1970)

35. Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee (1958)

37. How To Make Gravy - Paul Kelly (1996)

40. Winter Wonderland - Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga (2014)

42. A Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives (1965)

44. Step Into Christmas - Elton John (1973)

45. What Christmas Means to Me - Stevie Wonder (1967)

47. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Sam Smith (2014)

49. Run Rudolph Run - Chuck Berry (1958)

Curated playlists prove popular with many users of streaming services and can mean big numbers for artists.
Curated playlists prove popular with many users of streaming services and can mean big numbers for artists.