From December 25th-January 31st each year, I am always heavily preoccupied. Not because I am up to my ears in crazy holiday plans, but because I must obsess over my favourite Dutch Christmas tradition: the Top 2000.
The Top 2000
The Top 2000 is a chart of – I’m sure you guessed it – 2000 songs. It has been hosted by NPO Radio 2, one of the Dutch national radio stations, since 1999. Their first broadcast was so popular that the Top 2000 programme has made a yearly return ever since, becoming a huge part of many Dutch people’s Christmas experience all around the world.
I say Christmas experience, when in fact, it surpasses the Christmas holidays. On Christmas Day, the radio station starts off with #2000 on the list, and continues playing the elected songs non-stop until January 31st at midnight. So really, it’s both a Christmas and New Year’s tradition. The programme takes the form of a radio marathon and is only interrupted by news and weather reports.
The entire chart is made up of songs elected by the listeners. There’s been a few changes over the years in how to vote, but it roughly comes down to this: each voter gets to pick 5-35 of their favourite songs, and sends them off to the radio station through their website. The top 10 is usually announced at the end of the last voting day, and then the full list is published about a week later. So far, our overall winner is Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, leading us into the new year as #1 a total of seventeen times (including this year).
The Top 2000 is the one time I listen to the radio all year.
What it means to me
As you can imagine, my whole reason for writing about this radio programme has to do with how much it means to me. I’m not sure when I started listening exactly, but it must’ve been somewhere around my early teens – though I think I didn’t start voting until I was a little older.
I always found this list extremely enjoyable and a great addition to the holiday season: with so many different genres and generations represented, it just makes the end of the year all the more cosier. I’m especially fond of how it showcases such a wide variety of sounds from different eras. One year, the younger generation even voted the Pokémon theme song in!
It is also great fun to check out other people’s lists and learn that you have similar tastes. I find it can be a joyful manner of starting a conversation and bond a little. Music makes the people come together, right?
Additionally, I think the Top 2000 has had a huge impact on my interest in music. Besides listening to the chart itself, I love watching the accompanying TV show they screen during the marathon, with lots of fascinating mini-docs about songs from the chart.
Most of all, I think what’s become the essence of the Top 2000 for many people my age and younger, is that it now carries a sense of nostalgia because we all grew up with it as a tradition. I honestly can’t imagine the end-of-the-year holiday season without it now!
How I vote: my selection process
There are different ways to voting. Some people choose to do it strategically, for example, where they vote for the track they feel deserve a higher position in the chart. There is some cleverness in this, as there will always be songs that are absolutely fantastic, but that will never make the list because they’re simply not popular enough (like Dust Bowl Dance by Mumford & Sons!). So, you might as well vote for that one song by your favourite artist that does have a chance of entering the charts (like Babel by Mumford & Sons!).
However, I’m trying to let go of strategic voting, and focus more on songs that mean something to me personally. Here’s how I do it:
First, I go through my list from last year (carefully saved as a Spotify playlist), and pick out my favourite songs that I cannot miss out on. Usually there’s a bunch of classics that make it to my list every year. I also keep a general playlist with Top 2000 contenders that I’ve heard either in last year’s edition, or I’ve just stumbled across during the year.
Then, I go through all my monthly playlists of that voting year. I want my list to be a reflection of what the year’s been like, and represent the music that I listened to accordingly.
In the end, if I’ve still got some slots left, I will think of more songs I think cannot be missed out on, or occasionally I will check other people’s lists for inspiration. I do always opt for 35 songs in total, just because I want to make the most of it. And that’s how I vote!
The Top 2000 playlists I keep to help me out each year.
My list this year
Often my final list is a product of many different influences from outside. I mentioned before that I love the Top 2000 mini-documentaries, which have had an effect on my voting choices the year following numerous times. I also like to include soundtracks from films I’ve seen, and of course I try to pick songs that fit my personal experiences. Here are a few of the songs from my list this year that have stories behind them.
Punch Up The Jam
Earlier this year I started listening to a podcast called Punch Up The Jam, in which two American comedians take a notorious song, dissect and analyse it, and finally, “punch it up” with their own parody version of it. It’s been a highly entertaining and hi-la-rious podcast, but I’ve got to admit that one of my favourite bits is actually the very ending, where the hosts and guests pick songs they think are “unpunchable”. It’s these Unpunchable Jams that led to some great new discoveries for me:
Big Star – Thirteen
The cutest song about teen love I can imagine. So sweet, so delicate. Almost makes you want go back to being thirteen.
Annie Lennox – Walking On Broken Glass
A total jam! Gets me in a good mood every time.
Belle & Sebastian – Lazy Line Painter Jane
I can’t even describe how much I love the dynamics of this song. I have distinct memories of listening to it on my way to my new employer for the first time this year.
Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over
I actually did already know this song, but was just pleased to be reminded of it! I know for sure that it’s not going to make my list next year, but was happy to put it in for now.
Also new on my list this year is Billy Joel’s Vienna, which to my great surprise was not on the Top 2000 chart last year, even though I’m sure this is actually a well-known song? I already knew it before I came across it again on new Netflix show The Politician, in which brilliant mind Ben Platt performed covers of both this song and Joni Mitchell’s River (also on my list, but not for that reason).
I’m still afraid to be alone
Wish that the moon would follow me home
I leave the light on
Another influence I wanted to address was one of the Top 2000 documentaries on Leave The Light On by Beth Hart. As someone who’s coped with mental health issues for a long time, the anxieties in this song always resonated with me. The documentary focuses on how Hart came to write this song in relation to her personal experiences with bipolar disorder.
Here’s the thing: I don’t like to take Eurovision seriously. I enjoy it for its silliness and would prefer for it to be all fun and games and weird memes that only Europe (and Australia, I guess) will understand. I also wouldn’t call myself a nationalist or “proud to be Dutch”, especially since living abroad for 3 years has somewhat changed my national identity. However, I can’t help but become emotional and feel great pride whenever I hear Duncan Laurence’s Arcade nowadays. Not just because it is the song that gave us a win, but also because it is truly an astonishing song that I feel represents the Dutch music scene quite well. It gives me chills every single time.
Last but not least, I voted for Simon & Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound this year. As I was finishing up my list I had one vote left and I knew I wanted to give it away to the successful folk rock duo. I wasn’t sure straight away what song to pick, though. During my autumn break I had gone through the Concert in Central Park record with much joy, and I just love all those songs so dearly. Eventually I settled on Homeward Bound, because it reminded me of feeling split between two countries and how often I wished I was homeward bound towards the one I wasn’t residing in. I also think this song suited my moving into a new place and creating a new home for myself there.
The full list
Music and the holidays
As this blog post hopefully has illustrated, the Top 2000 carries a lot of meaning for me during the holiday season. I am very curious what kind of emotional connections others have to this Dutch tradition, and would love to hear all about them. Share you stories, share your lists!
As for those of you with no connection to it at all: what are your favourite tunes for the festive season? Are there any musical memories that stand out to you?
Thank you for reading and please leave a comment!