A View From The Top #13: Christmas Number 1

by Sam Norris

And so, after what was apparently the closest competition for the Christmas Number 1 since 2009, this year’s winner has been announced: A choir of NHS workers from Lewisham and Greenwich, with a mashup of Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel and Fix You by Coldplay. The song, intriguingly named Bridge Over You (I don’t think they really thought that through…), beat the all-powerful Justin Bieber to the top spot, as well as Louisa Johnson with this year’s X Factor winning single, Bob Dylan’s Forever Young.

The Christmas Number 1 has been an interesting point of discussion for some time now. For about a decade or so, the X Factor winning single has consistently clinched the top spot, effectively preventing any other music from being released over the broader Christmas period as artists try to dodge the competition. The one exception in 2009 came in the form of a protest movement to place Rage Against The Machine at Number 1 instead of (perhaps the complete antithesis of Rage) Joe McElderry.

This year however, the NHS Choir have done what many thought was impossible: they’ve toppled The X Factor, and quite convincingly too. The omnipotent product of Simon Cowell’s relentless commercial obsession with squeezing all money and respect from music looks to be a thing of the past in light of its present chart position, with Louisa Johnson placing 12th, behind Mariah Carey and Stormzy. It’s true that this is probably due to the show’s lowest ever number of views and thus dwindling popularity, down to around 5 million this year, but at least this might be a sign that The X Factor is finally on its way out.

So what is the song actually like? Well, do you remember Gareth Malone? You know, the guy with the square, thick-rimmed glasses and the floppy hair who made choirs out of military wives and sometimes just distinctly uninterested working people? It sounds a bit like that. Apologies if you were expecting a Death Grips-esque industrial subversive mega-banger. Indeed, it’s almost not worth commenting on musically because it’s not really about the music. I feel like a bit of a dick by snidely pointing out that they’re flat in the Fix You breakdown because the sentiment is actually quite encouraging: people can easily give much needed support to health workers by buying the single. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Many have attributed the song’s success to Bieber’s recent tweets urging fans to buy the NHS Choir’s single instead of his own. Amusingly, the Telegraph have described this as an “act of extraordinary kindness”. Thank you to Justice Bieber the Benevolent for so kindly forfeiting a potential Number 1 in but one country of many, despite having three singles in the Top 10. In all fairness, I’m only mocking the Telegraph - I’d rather he be charitable than not. However, you can’t help but wonder whether had he not been so benevolent, the choir may not have made Number 1 at all. JB has 72 million Twitter followers, and the NHS Choir won by only 30 000 sales, so it’s likely he had a significant impact. If anything, Bridge Over You’s success is an example of the oligarchical power of elite pop stars such as Bieber to influence public opinion and mainstream sales indirectly, rather than the Christmas spirit of the populace placing it’s health service on a pedestal in gratification. Perhaps that’s a bit cynical though, and on balance, the single is a welcome change from the annual norm, and for a genuinely good cause.

As an aside, there’s also been a bit of funny banter between the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and junior NHS doctors in relation to the single. Apparently the song was a protest against health cuts, which is unclear from the premises of the song and the video, and there was outrage in response to Jezza’s congratulations to the choir on Twitter, with medical professionals calling him a hypocrite. Maybe, if the NHS wanted to do a protest song to really hit the government hard, they should have covered Killing In The Name by Rage Against The Machine instead.