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Do You Hear What I Hear? Christmas Is One of the Few Times We All Listen to the Same Songs 

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Over the past three years, the music business has become less dependent on the biggest hits, which account for a smaller share of total streams than they once did. Not in December, though. Holiday music is dominated by a relatively small number of big recordings — Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock,” Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” — and that hasn’t changed since 2019. 

So far this season, through Dec. 8, the top 50 holiday songs accounted for 34.3% of all streams from the top 10,000 holiday tracks — the exact same percentage as when Billboard looked at holiday music in Dec. 2019. The share of the top 100, at 46.1%, is just slightly lower than the 46.6% share from 2019 while the shares of the top 250, 500 and 1,000 are all less than one percentage point lower than three years ago.  

That’s not surprising. Holiday listening is dominated by a small number of recordings that have become enduring favorites. Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” has reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 every year since 2019. The order of the next few songs hasn’t changed either: Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock,” Burl Ives’ “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas,” and Andy Williams’ “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Other than “All I Want for Christmas,” all of them were recorded before 1964. 

New holiday tracks have a hard time breaking through. At 28 years old, Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” is an outlier among tracks that are usually 50 years or older. “Last Christmas” by Wham!, currently fifth in on-demand audio streams, is a relatively youthful 36. At Nos. 8 and 12, Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” are the babies of the top 10.  

Pop music has no use for such tradition, or centrality – especially now that personalization has reduced the number of plays track get from prominent placement on streaming-service playlists. From 2019 to 2022, the share of the top 10,000 on-demand streaming songs devoted to the top 50 went from 10.3% to 5.8%. The share of the top 250 went from 25.5% to 17.5% during that same period, while the share of the top 1000 went from 49.2% to 41.6%. 

Christmas is one of the few times – perhaps because most people spend it with friends or family – when we all listen to the same songs. 

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