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Christmas Number One

It was the Brits that gave us American Idol. See, for all of their smug sophistication and stodgy "cultural history," England posses nearly as much of an embarrassing, artistically vapid consumer culture as the good ol' U.S. of A. --they just have a better sense of humor about it. Take, for example, the bizarre annual phenomenon known as the Christmas Number One.

For 51 Christmases past, the U.K. has, for some reason or another, invested a great deal of their collective commercial conscious in the top spot of the weeks-end singles sales chart following the Christmas holiday. Never heard of the Christmas Number One, you say? That's probably because, outside of those miserable little British Isles, nobody seems to really give a shit about the singles charts anymore--but in a backwards-ass nation where singles still drive the music industry, such a commercially manipulative phenomenon still has a good deal of footing. And every year at about this time, dozens of teen popstresses and novelty acts cut records and cash in, baiting the buying public with manufactured rivalries and soppy nostalgia.

The last 15 years have seen such random crowns for two children's television characters (Mr. Blobby in 1993 and Bob the Builder in 2000), three bubblegum pop groups that you've never heard of (1994's East 17, 1999's Westlife, and 2002's Girls Aloud), and three consecutive Spice Girls wins (1996-1998). Last year a Tears For Fears cover miraculously beat out the Darkness' "Christmas Time" and a Pop Idol cover of "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"--proving that, if nothing else, the English appreciate middling adult contemporary as much as the next countryman.

At press time, U.K. bookies are predicting Band Aid 20's cover of "Do They Know It's Christmas?"--a song that has won out in both its original and its five year anniversary editions--the favorite by as much as 1/16, with closest competition coming from international terrorist Cat Stevens and Boyzone's Ronan Keating, who've recorded a duet of Stevens' "Father and Son." Some additional heat radiates from Paul Holt, England's answer to William Hung and a contestant on Simon Cowell's Pop Idols spinoff X Factor. Cowell offered £50,000 if Holt could procure a number one single, and Holt obliged last week by releasing a single, appropriately titled "50 Grand For Christmas."

Regardless of who claims the coveted Top of the Pops bid come December 26, an asinine phenomenon like Christmas Number One somehow offers me a the faintest glint of solace as a red-blooded American--that in spite of our country's endless displays of ugly Americanism, we're not the only nation that basks in the glow of distasteful, schlocky consumerism. Feel a little better?

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