While record labels and retailers of physical Christmas music wait to see if one of this year’s new holiday albums will catch fire and drive sales by mid-December, industry sources say that this year’s Christmas-music streaming activity is off to a slow start. According to MRC Data’s Holiday/Seasonal Streaming YTD Songs chart, the 200 tracks on it have generated a little over 2.5 billion plays for the year-to-date period that ended Dec. 2, 2021. That’s only a 1.3% increase over the same period in 2020, which totaled almost 1.8 billion plays. That means seasonal music is underperforming compared with the overall U.S. streaming marketplace, which is up 9.8% to 1.04 trillion streams as of Dec. 2.
The reason for these not-so-jolly seasonal-music streaming numbers may once again be due to the pandemic. Like the overall U.S. music industry, holiday-music streaming was undergoing a major growth spurt before 2020. Through the 48th week of 2017, holiday-genre streams were up 54.9% over 2016; in 2018 they were up 40.9% over the previous year; and in 2019 there was a 56.5% increase in streams over 2018. That trend hit a brick wall in 2020: Holiday streams were down 14.1% through the first 48 weeks of 2020 but recovered to finish the year down just 3.1% from the prior year.
Lingering fallout from the pandemic, including omicron variant concerns, still seems to be having an impact, although it’s too early to close the book on the 2021 streaming performance of holiday songs. By the end of 2020, the top 200 seasonal tracks had amassed 6.5 billion streams, or another 4.7 billion plays, in the last five weeks of the year. One sign that the Christmas spirit is rallying: Holiday songs dominate the most recent Billboard Hot 100 (dated Dec. 11), with four in the top 10, 13 in the top 25 and 19 in the top 50. Mariah Carey leads the way with “All I Want for Christmas Is You” at No. 3.
Although contemporary songs dominate streaming consumption overall, the reverse appears to be the case for the top 25 streamed holiday songs of 2020, and also for what is arguably the streaming era so far, 2013 through 2020. Of that ranking, only four songs were released in the last 10 years, let alone the 21st century: No. 10, Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me” (2014); No. 12, Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” (2013); No. 17, Michael Bublé’s cover of the 1951 chestnut “It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas” (2011); and No. 19, Pentatonix’s a cappella cover of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah” (2016). With physical retailers seeing a bump in sales of contemporary Christmas albums such as Carrie Underwood’s 2020 release, My Gift — a trend that, oddly enough, they attribute to the influence of streaming — the top streaming songs of Christmas future may eventually be populated by increasing numbers of 21st century hits.
Read more about the Booming Business of Christmas Music here.