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It barely seems like yesterday since Ariana Grande released a new album. Only that's probably because in music industry terms it pretty much was. The arrival in shops and online of her Sweetener album should as per the usual schedule for these things, have been the last we heard from her for at least 18 months. But since when did industry convention mean anything in 2019?
The product of a period of self-analysis and a rapid burst of creative spirit last autumn, Ariana's fifth album thank u, next is, as many reviewers have commented, a very different beast to it predecessor. Gone is the Pharrell Williams sheen of Sweetener, in its place a series of minimalistic, stark and intensely personal songs - as befits an album written entirely in the aftermath of her ex-boyfriend's death.
Housing two Number One singles already, it was not so much a question of whether thank u, next would top the Official UK Albums chart (along with most others worldwide) but simply by what margin. According to the Official Charts Company, the tracks on thank u, next were streamed a combined total of 59m times. That's the highest ever total achieved by a female act in the short history of the format, and enough to make it the third most-streamed album of all time. Only Ed Sheeran's Divide and Drake's Scorpion were played more times in a single week. In an era when we are used to acts following up albums with ones which trace ever-declining sales paths, it seems all the more important to note that Ariana's album opens this week with a chart sale of 65,000 copies. Compare this to the 48,000 copies first-week sale of Sweetener last year and the mere 20,000 achieved by Dangerous Woman back in 2016. She's huge, deal with it.
The release of an extraordinary album means the opportunity for its tracks to do extraordinary things to the singles chart and it is here that Ariana delivers in spades. She has the Number One single on the Official UK Singles chart as she has done for the past three weeks, except this time around said single is not 7 Rings. In its place comes the albums' climactic track break up with your girlfriend, I'm bored which rockets to the very top with a similarly massive chart sale of 85,000 copies. Ariana Grande thus becomes the first woman in chart history to replace herself at the top of the Official UK Singles chart. Changing circumstances mean what was once extraordinary is rapidly become commonplace, Justin Bieber has done it twice in the last four years, but his fellow back-to-back artists in the past have all been male: The Beatles, The Shadows (technically), John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Ed Sheeran (also on a technicality) and Bieber. Ariana is now Queen of the record books to add to her many other chart achievements.
break up with your girlfriend, I'm bored is thus the fifth Number One hit single of her career, and indeed her third in the space of just over three months. This after thank u, next's title track ascended to the top to begin its own extended run at Number One in November last year. Three Number One hits in the space of 100 days has only ever been achieved by three other acts. Their identities you can probably guess - John Lennon, Elvis Presley and Justin Bieber. We are now seven weeks into the new year and every single one of the singles charts published in 2019 has featured a solo female artist at the top. break up… is the third Number One in a row to be performed by a female soloist, the first time we've had such a run since August 2013 when Miley Cyrus, Ellie Goulding and Katy Perry all took turns at the top. Female singers have now been Number One for 14 of the last 15 weeks. Oh yes, and Ariana is the first female singer to do the singles and albums chart double since Adele, almost exactly eight years ago.
The Science Bit
Guess what, there's still more. Tracks from the Ariana Grande album dominated streaming tables during the week in a manner no other artist has managed since Ed Sheeran two years ago. A glance at the Official Streaming Charts confirms this. Tracks from thank u, next are occupying positions 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16, 20 and 21 on the countdown of the most-played tracks of the week. It was however largely thanks to Sheeran that different rules apply on the main singles chart and so just like everyone else Ariana Grande is restricted to just three chart appearances. Her second permitted hit is last week's Number One single 7 Rings which moves down into second place. All of which means we can tick another "record breaker" box, Ariana the first woman to occupy positions 1 and 2 on the singles chart since Madonna was #1 with Into The Groove and #2 with Holiday in summer 1985.
Her remaining chart hit is needy at number 8 to give Ariana Grande three simultaneous Top 10 singles. She's only the fourth woman ever to do this too, the first since Rihanna in early 2011. Only two of Rihanna's trio were as lead artist though, her third coming thanks to her guest role on David Guetta's Who's That Chick. Ariana is thus the first woman to enjoy 3/10 of the Top 10 singles as a solo or lead artist since Ruby Murray way back in 1955.
The album's other tracks are all "starred out", most notably the title track which was Number 28 last week and duly vanishes from sight. Every single track from the album sold and streamed enough to justify a place in the Top 22 this week if no deletions were enforced. Inevitably this prompts protests from chart watching puritans who moan such forced exclusions somehow make a "mockery" of the charts, although their voices somehow never as loud as those in March 2017 who complained that Ed Sheeran occupying 9 of the Top 10 places also made a "mockery" of the charts and for whose benefit the rule was enacted in the first place.
Now, The Also-Rans
Huge sympathies for anyone else with the misfortune to have new music to promote this week, because the truth of the matter is you struggled for any attention at all. Not that this doesn't leave room for some quite fascinating stories to tell. The other big winner of the week, not that you might notice, is Lewis Capaldi who continues his transformation since the new year from "some Scottish guy" to "major chart star". His biggest hit to date Someone You Loved is the most popular track of the week not by someone called Ariana and soars to a brand new peak of Number 3 - aided you suspect by the long-overdue debut of its official video. The single's immediate predecessor in his release history, Grace, is also on the move and having returned to the Top 40 last week now jumps to a brand new peak of Number 26, eclipsing the Number 33 it scaled just after Christmas. The singer also enjoys a third concurrent chart hit, his debut release Bruises climbing to Number 72 after been on sale since April 2017.
Much Better Now, Thanks
One of the more prolific acts of the present era, Khalid Robinson charted no fewer than 11 Top 75 singles during the course of 2018. He opens his 2019 account at Number 16 with the arrival of brand new single Talk which serves as the first single from his forthcoming second studio album. The track is produced by British electronic producers Disclosure who are also afforded a co-credit on the single and so register a presence on the Top 40 for the first time since August 2016 when Omen (with a certain Sam Smith on vocals) reached Number 13. Disclosure's biggest chart hit to date is 2013 single White Noise which reached Number 2, whilst Khalid himself has yet to climb beyond Number 12 as a lead artist - although he has topped the charts thanks to his cameo role on Benny Blanco's Eastside last summer.
He Doesn't Own An Island
The biggest new album not by Ariana Grande? That would be the self-titled debut album from British grime MC AJ Tracey which makes a strong debut at Number 3. The resultant streaming attention has helped to reactivate the chart prospects of its second single Psych Out! which charted at Number 27 three weeks ago but now rebounds in some style to reach a brand new peak of Number 18. That's enough to make it his biggest chart hit to date, eclipsing by one place the eventual peak of Butterflies which was a hit in June last year. The album also charts two other cuts, Wifey Riddim 3 at Number 46 and Ladbroke Grove two places lower.
Westlife's Hello My Love is the comeback single which simply refuses to go away, thanks largely to the group's tactic of releasing endless new versions of the track. To date the hit has reached Number 13 (on first release), Number 20 (when released acoustically) and now it reverses its decline once again to sit at Number 19, this time thanks to a release of a remixed version by Irish producer John Gibbons. Following this through to its natural conclusion, expect a grime reworking (possibly with Not3s or someone similar on guest vocals) to be with us sometime around Easter.
New to the Top 30 is Swervin' from American rapper A Boogie wit da Hoodie, a single which has been charting since the start of the year but which only now appears to be catching fire. Depending on your point of view the single is either aided or ruined by the presence on co-vocals of 6ix9ine whose present incarceration means he's not in a position to reap the benefits. Speaking of prison, 21 Savage was sprung this week to begin the next stage of his battle to self-identify as American. His continuing newsworthiness propels A Lot to another brand new peak of Number 29.
Bulb Still Burning
It has been an uphill struggle, but it seems Tom Walker is finally winning the battle to move on from his now one-year-old single Leave A Light On. He does so with - finally - a second Top 40 hit as new single Just You And I climbs to Number 30. Dedicated fans of the Scotsman will already be familiar with the song, an acoustic rendition of it appeared on his mini-album Blessings which came out last May. This full studio version is set to appear on his debut album proper What A Time To Be Alive which is slated for a March 1st release. Meanwhile, Leave A Light On seems to be the single that just will not die. In the same week that it has the misfortune to crash back onto ACR for the second time and thus suffer a 46-76 chart reverse it appeared this week in a brand new version by quirky Scottish musicians The Red Hot Chili Pipers - with Walker on lead vocals. Released late in the week it makes a mere Number 65 on the paid-for chart and does not register on the full Top 100, but it is Top 5 on iTunes as I speak. So who knows where it will appear in seven days time.
5 Seconds Vaping
Another new entry, and given the pedigree of the names involved surely another smash hit in waiting arrives at Number 34. Who Do You Love mashes up the talents of The Chainsmokers and 5 Seconds Of Summer. It's a brand new track, not one of the ten tracks compiled onto the Chainsmokers' Sick Boy album which gathered together all of their 2018 releases, nor indeed does it feature on the Australian group's Youngblood album. So this is, therefore, something of a treat, not just for fans of both acts but for the rest of us as well. Because it is one of the best pop singles of 2019 so far.
We should also take time out to note the rather poignant sight of Advice from Cadet & Deno Driz making a brief return to the Top 40 at Number 36. This is in the aftermath of the sad death this week of the former, 28-year-old Blaine Johnson perishing in a car accident whilst travelling to a gig last Friday night. The track was a hit either side of Christmas and originally peaked Number 27 in the first week of the new year.
The disconnect between the ever-sagging paid-for singles market (limping along at 800,000 units this week) and the burgeoning streaming tables has never been more pronounced. For all her success, Ariana Grande is nowhere near the top of the sales table with any of her single tracks this week (break up… is at Number 6 old school) leaving Giant standing proud at the top of the sales table despite in turn slipping to Number 6 overall. That's surely a blow for perennial underachiever Jack Savoretti who has been trying since 2006 to turn critical acclaim and love from certain Radio 2 presenters into chart success. This week his single Candlelight is the 9th most-purchased track of the week, but almost entirely lacking streams of any great number he languishes down at Number 70. That is at least his biggest ever singles chart success in this country, easing past the Number 89 peak of his previous best result, 2015 single Catapult.