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Christian Songs Are Less Popular Than Before – Billboard

Holiday music has exploded in popularity over the last decade as listeners hit play, again and again, on their favorite Christmastime songs on their favorite streaming services. The top 100 holiday tracks — track sales and on-demand audio streams in November and December — rose more than ten-fold from 2014 to 2022 compared to all-genre growth of 165% over those years.

But one group of songs has been left out of the holiday gold rush: religious songs.

Back in 2014, the top holiday song was Pentatonix’s version of “Mary, Did You Know?,” a song penned by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene in 1991 and originally recorded by Christian recording artist Michael English the same year. In the November to December holiday listening period, that recording of “Mary, Did You Know?” had 276,000 track equivalent units, according to Luminate — with 92% coming from download purchases.

In 2022, the top song was a secular one: Mariah Carey’s omnipresent “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” which amassed 1.6 million track equivalent units in November and December. In 2023, both Carey and Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” are on pace to do even better thanks to constantly growing streaming numbers and the artists’ heavy media presences. Universal Music Group Nashville’s campaign for Lee, which included making an official video and an appearance on NBC’s Christmas at the Opry television special, pushed “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” to No. 1 on the Hot 100 for the weeks ended Dec. 9 and 16.

In contrast, this year’s top religious holiday song, Pentatonix’s “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” ranks just No. 47. That lower ranking means fewer royalties from tracks and streams than the 46 secular songs in front of it. From Nov. 3 to Dec. 14, “God Rest” has only 19% of the track equivalent units of the No. 1 recording, “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

The shift to secular holiday music has been abrupt. Pentatonix took the No. 1 spot in 2014 and the No. 2 spot in 2015, but by 2017, the top 10 holiday tracks were filled entirely with secular songs. Since 2018, no religious track has pierced the top 40. One of the top religious songs in recent years, Nat King Cole’s “O Come All Ye Faithful,” was No. 50 in 2022 and No. 46 in 2021.

Secular music’s command of the top 100 holiday recordings has widened over the last decade. In 2014 and 2015, 14 and 13 religious songs were among the top 100 holiday tracks, respectively. In each of the last three years, however, religious songs have accounted for only seven or eight of the top 100.

This change means religious songs have missed out on the recent financial bonanza. As secular songs dominate holiday listening, religious songs have won a smaller share of royalties. In 2014, 14 religious songs accounted for 83% of the top 100 holiday tracks’ royalties, according to Billboard’s estimate based on Luminate data. By 2022, seven religious songs accounted for just 4% of the top 100’s royalties. This year will have a similar disparity as only eight religious songs are currently in the top 100 holiday tracks.

Demographic shifts and the nature of popular holiday music suggest religious music will have a tough time making a comeback. As Billboard has reported, once a track becomes a holiday favorite, it gains a competitive advantage over other holiday tracks. That’s not to say a religious song can’t climb up the ranks in the coming years. But it takes multiple years for a new holiday recording to stick with listeners, and the young recordings with the most success — such as “Merry Christmas” by Elton John & Ed Sheeran and “Like It’s Christmas” by Jonas Brothers — are all secular. And with a declining Christian population in the United States to boot, it seems consumer sentiment is likely to match that trend, favoring songs about a special feeling this time of year over biblical themes.

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