After The Goldrush
Funny how one little thing like a single act occupying 9 of the 10 places in the Top 10 can get everyone so agitated isn't it?
Here's the thing about the pop charts. With the honourable exception of obsessives like myself most people's engagement with the charts lasts for a brief period in their youth. Their interest in what happens to be top of the charts on a weekly basis coincides with their discovery of popular music, a phase which for most lasts only until more adult cultural tastes come along. But in many senses this is what makes them so special, the one part of popular culture virtually everyone has enjoyed a relationship with at some stage in their lives. We all have our own personal views on how the charts "should" look and behave and imagine it should always be the way we remember it.
What Ed Sheeran did last week is utterly without precedent. No artist has ever achieved the kind of chart domination he has at present. As such it violates the historical perceptions of everyone who has cared to weigh in over the last week. Something that we cannot relate to means that something must be "broken", so the thinking goes. I guess you have to take time out to acknowledge and understand that. In here, however, you will always find what I hope is a rather more measured perspective.
The good news is that things have calmed down just a touch on the Official UK Singles chart this week. Instead of occupying 16 places out of the Top 20 Ed Sheeran merely occupies 16 out of the Top 30. That we have seen even this change is actually testament to the sales market reasserting itself (as expected) this week. On the streaming chart things are just as gummed up as before, although there are trickles of progress even here as Sheeran can only command the 12 most streamed tracks of the week rather than all 16.
Inside the Top 10 things remain pretty much as they were and so for the second week running Ed Sheeran accounts for 9 of the 10 biggest hits of the week. This also means, despite whisperings of a change in the air, that the lead single Shape Of You remains all but inviolable at the top of the charts, spending a tenth straight week at Number One. This fact alone would ordinarily be worthy of breathless headlines in its own right but go figure. Shape Of You is officially only the eighth single in chart history to make it into double figures at the top of the charts - the tenth if we are also counting non-consecutive terms. As if to prove once more that what was once notable is presently commonplace, this is the second time in the space of a year that we have had two ten-week Number One hits. Ed's success comes hard on the heels of Drake's One Dance which ascended to the top for the first of what would eventually be 15 weeks at the top more or less exactly 11 months ago this week. That's enough to beat what in all truth was the hitherto unacknowledged record for such chart events, the 11 weeks run of Slim Whitman's take on the country standard Rose Marie at the top of the charts having commenced in July 1955, 55 weeks after David Whitfield's Cara Mia spent the first of its eventual 10 weeks at the top.
What Do I Know
The tail end of Drake's extended run at Number One last summer was by a funny coincidence marked by much comment about how the singles chart was "broken" given it was being sustained at the top by a huge streaming lead, long after its sales had apparently peaked. The one thing you can say about Shape Of You is that this does not apply. It has indeed been the Number One streamed single throughout but has crucially retained its sales crown for all but one of the weeks it has been on release. The 10th week of One Dance's reign was marked by the single selling a mere 13,152 copies but streamed over 4.7m times to equate to a streaming sale of 47,714 under the 100:1 methodology in use at the time. Compare this with Shape Of You which was this week purchased 30,842 times and streamed 11.4m times (equating to a streaming sale of 76,444 under the present 150:1 ratio). Drake's continuing presence at Number One in his tenth week could legitimately be called into question. Ed Sheeran's chart crown is beyond question.
The track was, however, run a reasonably close second by its nearest challenger - Sheeran's own Galway Girl which actually outpaced the Chainsmokers single to become both the second most purchased and streamed track this week and was eventually just 14,000 copies behind. It present a slightly awkward issue for the "album tracks should not count for the singles chart as it makes a joke of things" crowd who weighed in at length with their complaints about the present chart situation given I can imagine no greater joke than for the second most popular song of the week to be excluded from the chart on the basis that it is an "album track".
Adventure Of A Lifetime
Full credit then should go to the Chainsmokers and Coldplay as Something Just Like This continues to plough a lonely furrow for those hit singles not performed by Ed Sheeran. The track (appropriately enough issued by Disruptor Records) continues to disrupt things and indeed reasserts itself somewhat with a climb back up to Number 4 (Sales: 3, Streams: 13) as it continues to be far and away the most popular non-Sheeran track of the moment.
Give it time and others will arrive. The next most likely Top 10 arrival appears to be Solo Dance from Danish DJ Martin Jensen which charges up the listings to sit at Number 12 (Sales: 4, Streams: 28). The producer first made his name as the creator of viral video sensations, mashing up soundtracks from a variety of unusual and comedic sources and turning them into tropical house hits. His move towards 'proper' records last year helped propel him into the charts for real in his home country, the result being a full international release for Solo Dance and this pleasing British hit single. Yes, it is a formula-safe tropical house track of the kind which seems to have been inescapable for the best part of two years now. But it is not performed by Ed Sheeran and quite frankly we'll take all the variety we can get right now.
Like A Rubber Ball
Over the next few weeks as the Sheeran wave washes over (we hope) there will be much fun to be derived from watching which of the unceremoniously dumped Top 10 hit singles reassert themselves. Katy Perry's Chained To The Rhythm should be one, rising 17-11 (Sales: 5, Streams: 22) along with Jax Jones' You Don't Know Me which lifts 22-17 (Sales: 13, Streams: 18).
There is less good news to relate about the two singles we noted as new entries during last week's Sheeran love-in. Little Mix's No More Sad Songs turns out to be a bomb, crashing to Number 64 (Sales: 57, Streams: uncharted) whilst there is slightly better news for Lorde whose otherwise underappreciated single Green Light 'only' dives to Number 34 (Sales: 23, Streams: 33).
The Last Thing On My Mind
Once upon a time, shall we say about 17 years ago, Steps were legitimately one of the biggest pop groups in Europe. Arguably the last successful pop project steered to stardom by Pete Waterman, the three girls and two boys somehow transcended their initial roots as Abba soundalikes to become a welcome chart fixture in what in retrospect was a golden age of British pop music. Their split in 2002 was, however, timed to perfection and allowed them to bow out on a high, their farewell single Words Are Not Enough allowing them to end their chart career with an unbroken run of 14 Top 10 hits (15 if one counts a charity collaboration for which they received a co-artist credit).
This week there was therefore much excitement when the group released a brand new single, heralding a new reunion to mark the 20th anniversary of their formation. This is by no means the first time the five have reunited, as loyal fans will be quick to tell you. Back in 2012 they reformed for a tour and released a new single Light Up The World from a new album of Christmas-themed songs. Its failure to climb anywhere near the charts meant that their perfect run of hits at the turn of the century remained intact. It is a run which this week they finally spoil. The new Steps single Scared Of The Dark is actually a far better prospect than their offering five years ago, a fun and effervescent (and most importantly of all Abba-aping) pop track which is enough from the opening bars to conjure up memories of a generation ago. Sales demand for the single was indeed impressive, the track toppling even Ed Sheeran from the top of the iTunes table for a period and ending the week as the seventh most purchased track - although it should be noted that still only amounts to 14,000 copies which isn't that much of a fanbase to build on in fairness. This here is the problem. Steps are a veteran act in every sense of the word and come under the heading of what I term a legacy act, still able to command attention in what is left of the sell-through market but all but invisible to the streaming generation. Minimal streams mean that Scared Of The Dark limps to mere Number 37 on the official chart. As greater minds than I have noted, sales-heavy acts like Steps hark back to way the market was shaped when they were at the height of their powers. They only get one shot at this - and exciting though this new single may be it will now go down as their smallest chart single ever.
They Will All Be At It Now
Those hoping that Ed Sheeran's market-knackering domination of the streaming tables doesn't become a trend will note that he seems to have started another. His hugely successful double-drop of two new hits at once will almost certainly inspire other acts to follow suit over the coming months. How else to explain the presence lower down the listings of not one but two brand new Nicki Minaj singles. No Frauds featuring guest contributions from Drake and Lil' Wayne leads the charge at Number 49 (Sales: 28, Streams: 53) whilst the properly solo Regret In Your Tears sits at Number 69 (Sales: 37, Streams: uncharted). In theory, it could have been more, the two hits actually part of a game-upping triple drop of new singles. The missing one is Changed It which stumbles in at Number 140. This all helps add to her phenomenally prolific output, the three-year wait for a new album notwithstanding. She can now boast 38 Top 75 hits in one form or another - and all without the benefit of invading the charts with a raft of album tracks to boot.
Also debuting outside the Top 40 to what might be a small degree of concern is X Factor winner-but-one Louisa Johnson whose contractually obligated debut album remains curiously unreleased. We could be waiting some time unless some serious needle-moving is done on her second solo single proper Best Behaviour which limps in at Number 48 (Sales: 17, Streams: 93). Yes, hits these days are a marathon and not a sprint and there is admittedly the "yeah but Sheeran" factor which serves to depress the real-world chart positions of many other hits. Nonetheless the lady whose romp to victory in the 2015 edition of the TV talent show meant she carried a weight of expectation, one which her last single So Good failed to live up to when it progressed no further than Number 13 in November last year. There's no video yet, which means the label are playing a long game with its promotion. Keep your fingers crossed, I'm sure there are many at Syco which are.