Well, this is odd. Shape Of You by Ed Sheeran is the Number One record this week on the Official UK Singles chart. That's not the odd thing, of course, he's been Number One since we were all small children, but it is just that the top of the charts simply isn't news. Number One record "same one as it has been for the last 13 weeks" is a fact rather devoid of sensation. Even the length of time he has been there isn't really news. 13 weeks was a long time, but then again so was 12 and indeed 11. We are in this strange hinterland between "doing something special" and "waiting to possibly break a record". Until he approaches the all-time record then there is nothing really to report.
So instead, let's take advantage of the fact that we have 13 weeks of data to play with and break it down week by week. Because this actually illustrates just how extraordinary a single Shape Of You actually is, with its two different markets actually bent at different times by very different events.
To walk you through the above, the single debuted back in January with a colossal sale, both in purchased and streamed terms. After that superlative start, its paid for sales collapsed down to a level which were still damn impressive in this day and age but altogether more believable. And over the next few weeks, they settled down into a gentle state of deflation. Streams, on the other hand, remained high, declining far more gradually from their standing start before hitting a near-static point six weeks later.
Week 8 came in the aftermath of Sheeran's BRIT Awards performance and the new availability of the Stormzy remix of the single. That spiked both sales and streams of the track - but you'll notice the effect on purchased sales was far more pronounced. The TV-watching audience clearly drawn from the demographic which buys music rather than streams it. In Week 9 the parent album came out. That had a near-catastrophic effect on paid-for sales of the single as the Sheeran money was switched to copies of the full work, but it once more kicked the streams of the track into life as people listened to the whole work online and, even if just in passing, the Number One single.
Since then the sales of the track have continued to plummet. Purchased copies of Shape Of You have surely reached saturation point by now and its purchases are about to enter what I call the slow-burn phase, where they settle into a lower level before the track vanishes for good into the long tail. It is at this point we are now into One Dance territory - mirroring the sales pattern of the Drake track from last summer where its high level of streams sustained its life at the top of the charts far longer than anyone could have anticipated and despite dropping out of the sales Top 10. That isn't quite the fate of Shape Of You just yet. Although no longer the most purchased track of the week, even at 15,000 copies that is still enough to make it the Number 3 single of the week in old school terms.
What may cause this particular story to come to a crashing halt, however, is the appearance in the market of a single which is even bigger, performed by an artist who can come close to eclipsing Sheeran's level of popularity. The pinprick that bursts the dam so to speak. We may well be about to see one of those arrive - but that's for next week. Why get ahead of ourselves?
The other main chart story of the week is also represented by a lack of something. A lack (by and large) of both Ed Sheeran and Drake album tracks as the two superstar releases fade away to something approaching regular levels. This, in turn, allows the pinging back process to continue, the singles chart utterly unrecognizable compared to the way it was 2, 3 or even 4 weeks ago. Normality has to a certain extent returned at long last.
This means a Top 10 arrival for Stay by Zedd and Alesia Cara which jumps 11-9 (Sales: 11, Streams: 8) to give Zedd only the third Top 10 hit of his career, his first as a lead artist since Stay The Night hit Number 2 (with Hayley Wiliams in tow) back in 2014. Similarly as expected Issues by Julia Michaels makes a leap into the upper reaches, lifting 13-10 (Sales: 8, Streams: 17).
This does also mean slight frustration for Katy Perry whose Chained To The Rhythm single was one of the more higher profile casualties of the Sheeran flood, the track dropping 12 places in a single week, not through a dip in support but just because it was shoved out of the way by the tracks from Divide. Since then it has been zig-zagging around the Top 20 and now climbs back to Number 11 for the second time, still not quite able to regain the Top 10 place you suspect it would have maintained had this been normal circumstances.
Famous Last Words
Last week I suggested that Little Mix's No More Sad Songs would need to perform the "mother of all post-Sheeran rebounds" if it were to stand any chance of becoming a respectable hit single for the girl group. Well, happy mother's rebound day everyone. Buoyed indeed by the new availability of a video and the resultant exposure that brings (plus perhaps a 59p promotion on iTunes), the single finally catches fire and rockets 51-17 to finally eclipse the Number 39 it reached back in March when first promoted as a single. This chart jump comes thanks to a 22-7 leap in sales - its streams are still lagging behind somewhat although the track does lift to Number 46 on that table. It is still being listened to far less than its immediate predecessor Touch which is the 26th most played track of the week and which rises itself back to Number 30 on the main chart.
Whilst on the subject of talent show discoveries, we can note with some surprise the way ZAYN and Partynextdoor remain locked in place at Number 24 with Still Got Time (Sales: 25, Streams: 25). I make no apologies for finding that fascinating, his status as a former One Directioner apparently not enough to prompt the kind of huge sales or even stream surges that would give him massive hits out of the gate. That means he will end up being on the wrong end of unfavorable comparisons with a certain former bandmate when he makes his own solo debut in seven days time - but hush, once more we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Your Humble Servant
In terms of brand new Top 40 entries, we do have a brace of them this week. The most popular new release turned out to be Humble which gives Kendrick Lamar a Number 21 (Sales: 28, Streams: 20) hit out of the gate. It is only the second Top 40 hit as lead artist for the hip-hop star, falling just a place short of matching the peak of I which charted in November 2014. To date, his biggest successes have been as a Plus One for a number of rather bigger name acts such as Taylor Swift, Robin Thicke, Sia, Maroon 5 and The Weeknd.
Calvin Harris' last single Slide may only be six weeks old but he's already following it up. New track Heatstroke featuring star turns from Young Thug, Pharrell Williams, and Ariana Grande. The man who has spent the last decade landing an impressive string of Top 3 hits does indeed appear to have found his star dimming somewhat, and despite this single having benefitted from a more positive reaction than its predecessor Slide it begins its chart life at a mere Number 25 (Sales: 13, Streams: 58). We'll have plenty of chances to judge properly just how much we need to review his superstar status, this being merely release #2 of what he plans to be 10 different single tracks during the course of 2017. Just be thankful he's not doing them all at once I guess.
There is a further curiosly lowly chart placing for the new Chainsmokers track The One which sits at Number 49 this week (Sales: 49, Streams: uncharted) although this is less of a surprise as the track appeared with little fanfare and is being treated as a promotional release, teasing the upcoming availability of their debut album which is available for purchase and play as we speak.
Please No MOre
The 19th most purchased track of the week this week is only the Number 78 single overall thanks to a grand total of almost bugger all streams, but it is worthy of note for marking the chart debut of the latest winner of The Voice UK, the first since the series jumped networks from BBC to ITV. Unsteady is the track in question, a cover version of a song first recorded by X Ambassadors but never previously a hit here. The singer in question is Mo Adeniran who styled himself using just his first name during the series - prompting more than a few people to wonder just how on earth he was going to sustain that branding.
Sure enough, he arrives with the Official Charts Company listing him as M O, which hardly goes any way at all in distinguishing him from Danish chanteuse MØ or even R&B girl group M.O. Unless you listen to his voice I guess. Meanwhile, the failure of The Voice franchise to produce anything resembling a major chart star continues, with only 2015 winner Stevie McCrorie coming close to a 'proper' hit single with his Number 6 hit Lost Stars - a track which you may remember collapsed to Number 68 the following week. He hasn't been seen on the chart since.
We Are Never Ever
So as I hinted at the start, this week is rather the calm before the storm. Ed Sheeran is the proverbial immovable object at the top of the singles chart, but in recent weeks he has started to wobble. Next week he comes up against the unstoppable force of a former (sorry, hiatusing) One Direction star. And not just any One Direction star, but the only one anyone older than 14 actually recognises. Get the popcorn in, this one could be quite spectacular.