Cue The Drama
Before this week just eight different singles had topped the Official UK Singles chart in 2016. A dramatic shift in the chart landscape from the kind of activity we were witnessing just two summers ago, this has however had the social effect of restoring much of the damage to the very prestige of having a Number One single that the frantic top down culture of the 21st century had, in the eyes of some, caused. Far from "anyone" being able to top the British charts, it is now a status afforded to the privileged few and we are genuinely at the point where we can note that anyone with a chart-topping single to their name has achieved something quite significant.
And this week that person is James Andrew Arthur from Middlesbrough.
If this was radio I'd be pausing now to let that sink in for a moment. It isn't that he hasn't been here before, hitting the very top of the charts in December 2012 with his X Factor coronation single Impossible. It is merely that two years ago his musical career was all but dead and buried, the victim of some horrendous newspaper headlines - practically all of which were by his own hand. He was the man in a permanent state of apology. The man who offended every offendotron going, from sensitive gay people to the X Factor winner who never was Lucy Spraggan. He had been kicked to the kerb by the mainstream and urged to go away and have a word with himself. Which is exactly what he did.
Should this be such a shock? Well yes and no. On the one hand once you look beyond the online spats of 2014 you are left with the young man who has worked tirelessly on his art since he was of a young age, passing through many different groups and working to establish an online presence, even before the X Factor audition and contest process which ultimately shot him to the fame he had for so long desired. He was really really good in 2012. It surely follows that he is still good in 2016. And yet on the other hand this is a comeback nobody could have dreamed of. Over the decade long history of the show countless others have been shot to brief levels of stardom and almost all have found that to be unsustainable. An X Factor winner is by and large, despite the best efforts of all involved, a passing fad. A novelty act. And the moment the new series airs, yesterday's news. Original winner Steve Brookstein was routinely mocked for his constant belief that because 6 million people voted for him to win in the final of the 2004 series, there are 6 million people just waiting to buy his music.
So James Arthur this week has genuinely broken the mould. Say You Won't Let Go gives him his second Number One hit single, only the ninth one of the year and in the process makes him the first British male to perform on a Number One single since Zayn Malik way back in February. More to the point he's narrowly edged ahead of the achievement of his immediate predecessors on the show Little Mix by being on top of the charts further removed from his X Factor win - three months shy of four years - than any of his fellow victors to date. Not even the likes of Alexandra Burke and Leona Lewis could manage Number One hit singles beyond the 24 month mark of their careers. One Direction were last at Number One in 2015, five and a half years since they appeared on the show, but they of course didn't actually win and were in a sense free of that sigma. James Arthur has now raised the bar for everyone else. The single charges to the summit with a combined sale of 85,000, with an unusual almost 50/50 split between sales and streams. That's fairly significant, especially as the Chainsmokers single is still victorious on the streaming charts.
Gotta Get Down On Friday
The introduction of Global Release Day last summer was seen by all in the music industry as a Very Good Thing. Putting an end to confusion about the availability of music, co-ordinating things globally in an ever connected world and allowing the concept of New Music Friday to be hyped up as an EVENT to kick start the weekend. Although how successful that has actually been can be open to question.
Yet this week on the singles chart is a single whose creator and backer deliberately bucked that trend and stuck it out 'whenever'.
Now in truth this does actually make sense. Releasing music on a Friday, at the very start (in Britain anyway) of the chart survey period makes logical sense. Your song has a full week of chart action behind it and can land on the listings in what is hopefully a high profile place. But that is only valid if you are still in the Week 1 mindset, the old fashioned idea that your first chart position is the most important one. And that just isn't true any more. What we are actually drifting back towards is a music market which works how it did up until the 1970s. Music would just drift out when it was ready and only then did the hard promotional work begin. Who cares if you only sold 2 copies in your first few days, what mattered was selling 200,000 three months down the line.
Plus of course if you release a song out of band, on the wrong day and at a time when nobody else does then you actually get all the attention to yourself. Because you are the only newsworthy thing in town at that moment. This was surely part of the logic behind The Weeknd making his brand new track Starboy available to all on Thursday 21st September. Effectively a day early. I mean it is a noteworthy record in its own right, the Canadian performer getting the star power rub from no less a pairing than Daft Punk whose production work on the gentle funk/r&b groove gives them a co-credit of their own on the charts. Naturally with less than one day of sales/streams behind it the single made absolutely no impact whatsoever on last week's chart. This week it is a different kettle of fish altogether. Starboy duly becomes the highest 'new' entry of the week as it charges in at Number 3 to hand him a trio of such singles, 3 also being the peak of both The Hills and Can't Feel My Face back in 2015. Believe it or not this is only the 10th single to enter the Top 100 chart inside the Top 10 so far in 2016. That at least beats the total of 9 notched up in 1986, but barring a miracle will still be the smallest number since 1987.
Lest you think I am overstating the issue somewhat, Starboy appears to be the start of a trend. Not appearing in this chart but almost certainly high up in next week's countdown is This Town, the debut single from One Directioner Niall Horan. When will history note that it was released? Thursday September 29th, that's when.
Still Falling Short
Starboy is frustratingly the only act to penetrate the Top 10 this week, the prospect of a further shake-up in the established order dashed by the failing of Ellie Goulding to progress beyond Number 11 as Still Falling For You edges to a brand new peak. She is actually one of just two singles in the 11-20 range showing upward mobility, the other being Alarm from Anne-Marie which after two weeks locked firm at Number 19 edges up one place, sitting this week two places below the Number 16 peak the single scaled four weeks ago.
Not climbing the charts, but at the very least not falling either is Emeli Sande with the breathtakingly epic Hurts, her comeback single holding firm at Number 22. Those on her side will perhaps reassured she has not "done a Gaga" and plummeted after the intial surge of interest in the single eased off. Sande is a big enough name to justify further work pushing the single over the coming weeks. If she doesn't appear on X Factor at some point between now and November somebody somewhere is not doing their job properly.
No False Dawn
In an age where singles can and indeed mostly do climb the charts steadily it is maybe worth flagging up the old fashioned concept of the highest climber of the week. That honour this time around goes to False Alarm from Matoma and Becky Hill which in its 11th week on release and seventh overall on the Top 100 moves five places to a brand new high peak of Number 28. Matoma is the alias of Norwegian house producer Tom Lagergren and he first made his name last year with a remix of the Notorious B.I.G. track Old Thing Back which became a huge hit across Scandinavia. With False Alarm he becomes the latest person to benefit from the vocal talents of former The Voice UK contestant Becky Hill, this now the fourth single on which she has supplied guest vocals with the biggest and most famous being Oliver Heldens' Gecko (Overdrive) which topped the charts in the summer of 2014. False Alarm is now her biggest chart hit since, her own solo career having yet to take off in the way she had hoped and her debut album still waiting for release.
The Edge Of The Dumper
It is not kind to point and laugh, so we'll just note for the record that the decline of the much-hyped Gaga single continues, Perfect Illusion dipping 44-51 on its third week on the chart. Still not necessarily the end of the story, but it is hard to see just where the label go from here with this single. I mean it is not that it is actually all that poor and indeed is more of an earworm than anything else that has reached the singles chart in months. Perhaps there's another waiting in the wings. Or if there isn't, you can bet your life they are going to create one.
Does Anyone Buy Albums Any More
It has been three years since his smash hit single Let Her Go and he has shown no sign of making the singles chart again, but that hasn't stopped Mike 'Passenger' Rosenberg from flying to the top of the Official UK Albums chart with his fourth release Young As The Morning, Old As The Sea. In the process he fends off no less a legend than Bruce Springsteen who settles at Number 2 with new compilation album Chapter & Verse. The companion to his new autobiography "Born To Run" the album is not so much a hits collection as a personal journey through his lifetime of music recordings, although there are enough hits on there to satisfy the casual fan as well.
Springsteen can feel slightly aggrieved at not notching up an 11th Number One album. Ahead for most of the week he only fell behind at the death - thanks in part to some heavy discounting of the Passenger album on iTunes which it appears finally gave it the edge. In the end just 700 combined chart sales separated the two albums.
Shawn Mendes also makes the album chart with his second album Illuminate at Number 3 whilst another set of old-timers land at Number 4. Marillion's F E A R becomes their ninth Top 10 album and their first such release since Brave reached Number 10 in February 1994. Mind you it was somewhat harder to achieve that back then than it is today, or is it mean spirited to point that out?