Today Was A Fairytale
When you are young, your life divides itself up neatly into chunks divided by the educational year. Just as time passes to the heartbeat of the gaps in between school holidays, so the ebb and flow of pop music, and in particular the way songs soundtrack your life, seem to almost reset themselves as each part of the year rolls around. Back when I was a child, we'd return from extended (and sometimes interminable) holiday breaks right at the end of August, ready for summer to end and a new life era to begin. And the charts would seem to echo that sense of renewal, the summer hits moved out of the way ready for the most exciting releases of the year to greet us at the top of the charts as the cross-channel ferry docked.
Now I'm an adult the seasons all seem to roll into one, so I envy those who get to greet the arrival of September as the dawning of the new. But it seems entirely appropriate that I should once more return from holiday at the end of August to find an enormously significant new release as far and away the biggest record of the moment. Because this was the week that Taylor Swift made her return.
Everything Has Changed
It is impossible to deny she is one of the elites. One of those select band of musical acts whose worldwide fame, profile and indeed reputation means that they can simply bypass the messy business of promoting themselves and growing an audience. Whatever they choose to release will be added to playlists - both radio and personal - in an instant, be devoured visually online and yes, OK, bought in large numbers by those still with the means and the will to do so. So last week when the lady in question unveiled her new single Look What You Made Me Do, soundtrack singles aside her first brand new studio material in exactly three years, it was immediately the only musical story in town.
Hence Britain becomes just one of a large number of territories where the single has flown straight to the top of the charts. Of course, it is the Official UK Singles chart Number One, how on earth could it be otherwise? 30,000 downloads and 5.3m streams add up to a large (if not exactly colossal) 65,000 chart sales - more than enough to sweep away the competition by some distance. What has helped enormously has been the ending of her one woman boycott of Spotify, her tracks having returned to the platform earlier this year. Under no circumstances would this single have made its way to the top of the charts without the platform - and everyone knows it.
It is a quite astonishing piece of work, it hardly requires me to point this out. Look What You Made Me Do is less a song and more of a rant, a mostly spoken diatribe which is ostensibly told from the point of view of a wronged woman but which inevitably had commentators studying the lyrics to work out just what part of her personal or professional life she is making direct reference to this time. Taylor Swift is not backward at wearing her heart on her sleeve and every other single of hers is the aural equivalent of a pointed sub tweet. This time around it doesn't seem to be crap boyfriends, just artists such as Kanye West with whom she is reported to have, if you will pardon the obvious pun, bad blood. The fact that the song's video when it arrived midweek only served to add fuel to the fire, making things entertainingly even less ambiguous.
Look What You Made Me Do is quite significantly the former country star's first ever Number One hit in this country. She's stalled at Number 2 on three previous occasions: her debut Love Story in 2009, with I Knew You Were Trouble in the first weeks of 2013 and most recently with the opening gambit from her previous album Shake It Off which climbed to its chart peak in October 2014. This then goes down as Taylor Swift's biggest hit ever. Not her greatest ever pop moment, but easily one of her most astonishing. Even if her constant need to throw musical shade at the people who have wronged her does get tiresome after a while. Based on the ever-growing list of bitchy and angry tracks she has to her name, I cannot be the only one left wondering just how nice a person she actually is.
So Much Style It Hurts
This column would not seek to be the journal of record and not take time to note the other aspect of Look What You Made Me Do which caused everyone online to get very excited when it dropped last week. The track's borrowing of elements of the infamous Right Said Fred novelty hit I'm Too Sexy for what passes for a chorus means that the three members of the group receive co-writing credits on the single. It seems an extraordinary length to go to, Taylor Swift stealing none of the lyrics or melody, but simply the beat and rhythm of the spoken chorus line. If they hadn't called attention to it, it might have been a passing curiosity for music nerds to notice. Given the keenly litigious nature of the business at present, I guess you can hardly blame the singer and her team for wanting to forestall any problems. Richard Fairbrass and collaborators are amused and flattered by the musical nod and are doubtless pleased with the royalties which will inevitably flow in their direction. In a masterpiece of timing, the single charts exactly 26 years since I'm Too Sexy was in the middle of what became a celebrated six week run at Number 2 - stranded fruitlessly behind the longest-running Number One single of all time.
The success of Taylor Swift dumps last week's Number One from Dua Lipa down to Number 2 and she is joined at the upper end of the charts by Pink's What About Us which climbs to a brand new peak of Number 3. All three women go to make up the first all-female Top 3 chart since October 2014 which saw Meghan Trainor, Jessie J/Ariana Grande/Nicki Minaj and (who else?) Taylor Swift all occupy the business end of the singles chart. The middle one of those three, Jessie J's Bang Bang was a collaborative effort. To find a Top 3 made up entirely of solo female stars you have to go back even further - November 2010 to be precise.
This Is Awesome
It would have been foolhardy in the extreme to even attempt to oppose the Taylor Swift single this week, so precious few acts even tried. That does naturally make for a rather becalmed singles chart this week, with no other entries to the Top 10 and the only single penetrating the Top 20 is Chris Brown's Questions which enjoys a mere 2 place rise to Number 19.
So it is lower down we go in the hunt for reportable chart activity of any kind. Making pleasing upwards progress in the first instance is a returning Macklemore, devoid this time around of usual production partner Ryan Lewis (their collaboration is we are told "on hiatus") and instead teamed up with Skylar Grey on Glorious which makes a 36-23 leap this week. It is his first chart hit of any kind since September 2015 when the all-star epic Downtown crept to what was still a frustratingly understated Number 11. The single is taken from what is being touted as Macklemore's second solo album - the de facto follow-up to a collection entitled The Language Of My World which he released at the start of his performing career way back in 2005.
I've Done Bad Things With You
If the constant drip-drip-drip of Taylor Swift feuds gets too wearing there is always the battle of Fifth Harmony to distract you. The X Factor USA-created girl group are doing their best to hold their tongues over what was clearly the rather acrimonious departure of estwhile member Camila Cabello for a solo career earlier this year, but as their performance at the VMA's last week indicated they are not above throwing a little shade themselves when the occasion merits. For now, however, it is Ms Cabello herself who is pressing onwards, the release of her debut album The Hurting, The Healing, The Loving believed to be just a few weeks away. Having reached Number 12 earlier in the summer with its first single Crying In The Club the album has spawned a second Top 30 hit as her homeland-referencing Havana continues to climb the charts with a 37-24 jump this week. Now officially confirmed as the album's second single proper, it began its chart life three weeks ago as part of a two-pronged promotional release, hitting the charts in tandem with OMG which turned out to be the lesser-starred of the two when it vanished from the listings after just one week at Number 67. Havana, on the other hand, appears to have plenty of sales legs and rises up the chart for the second week running. Another four place rise and it will become her fourth Top 20 hit of 2017 to date. Plus we have the entertaining prospect of a new Fifth Harmony single to join it shortly too. This feud might play out before our very eyes if we are lucky.
Don't Be Afraid To Have A Bitch Fight
Look, I'll level with you all. I've got better things to do with my time than follow celebrity gossip columns so the precise reason why there is also the proverbial bad blood between Taylor Swift and Katy Perry is lost on me. Even trying to google it gives me a headache, but it seems to have something to do with tour dancers. And mutual ex-boyfriends. Regardless, it seems hard to escape the link between the two of them. Those with a keen interest almost certainly loved the irony of Katy Perry having one of her biggest hits for some time with another of Tay-Tay's ex-boyfriends Calvin Harris and they will have noted too the way the appearance of Look What You Made Me Do with immaculate timing blew away the online debut of the video for Perry's latest single Swish Swish - the song widely interpreted as a direct riposte to Swift's own Bad Blood. After the relative failure of her last single Bon Appetit (which failed to rise any higher than Number 37 in late spring, there are clearly big things expected of this new release from her Witness album. The single duly makes its Top 40 reappearance this week, jumping 58-29 as the fastest mover on the overall singles chart after having initially reached Number 40 as an album cut back in June.
Crunching The Numbers
Let me end this week with some numerical matters for the statistically minded. We still await the first week when purchased singles dip below a million in total, they remain hovering around the 1.2m mark for the moment. The singles market overall amounted to some 13 million units overall - this assuming all streams count for the same 150:1 ratio and ignoring those older hits which have been moved to the accelerated ratio (it makes measuring the size of the market easier, that's all). That's a full 90% of the singles market accounted for by streams. Rather more fascinatingly the market for paid albums continues to shrink too, they have long since dipped below a million a week and sit pretty at just under 817,000 this week. Slowly but surely streams of albums are starting to take over, with album streams accounting for 47% of the total calculated market of 1.5m. By contrast, this time last year album streams were 33% of a market more or less exactly the same size.
One week until ZAYN returns and two until he charts. Someone hold me before I explode with the thrill of it.