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Are They She-Ber or Ed-Stin?
Ed Sheeran is back. Just like we always knew he would be.
When the last notes finally faded away from the hits which emerged from Ed Sheeran's 2017 album Divide it was everyone else's chance to come up for some air. Quite simply he reached a level of superstardom nobody else has managed since the turn of the century. Singles which were Number One forever. An album which was immovable at the top of its own charts. Heck, such was his all-encompassing domination that the rules which make up the singles chart were changed on his behalf, the "three hits maximum" restriction a direct result of that notorious week a little over two years ago. When he enjoyed nine of the Top 10 singles and every single track from his album graced the Top 20. The former busker from Halifax was in every sense of the word the biggest star on the planet. And really we were all just waiting to see what on earth he was going to do next.
The answer is I Don't Care, a collaboration with Canadian teen star turned achingly cool adult performer Justin Bieber and one whose ecstatically received availability inevitably made it pretty much the only new release worth speaking of last week. This meeting of minds hasn't come completely out of the blue, Bieber having had a smash hit with the Sheeran-penned Love Yourself (a Number One hit here either side of Christmas 2015) before topping the charts in mid-2016 on the Major Lazer hit Cold Water. Also written by the red-haired Englishman. Their appearance on record together not so much a bolt from the blue as a matter of some surprise that they didn't get around to it sooner.
I Don't Care is the Number One single this week on the Official UK Singles chart. From the moment it hit the top of the Spotify charts there was never any doubt about that. The sole intrigue this week rested on just how big a chart sale it was set to clock up - and in its sights was both the 126,000 total clocked up by Ariana Grande's 7 Rings back in January and indeed the all-time record of 16.9m weekly streams she set in that same week. Could I Don't Care exceed them both?
My bold prediction from Thursday evening turned out to be incorrect. The single debuts at the top of the charts with a chart sale of 123,825 -almost 2,500 fewer than the total achieved by Ariana Grande. The single achieved "just" 13m streams - slightly more than Vossi Bop achieved a fortnight ago but still some way short of the record. Even Shape Of You managed 14.2m plays in its biggest ever week. That said, I Don't Care does achieve the rare feat of a clean sweep of all sub-charts which combined to make up the Official Top 100. It is the most streamed, most purchased and most viewed track of the week.
Does the single live up to the weight of expectation? On the surface the track is already classic Sheeran, blessed with his usual elegant lyrical turn of phrase and managing to combine the nagging scratchy rhythm of Shape Of You with the message of self-belief mostly recently expressed on Jess Glynne's Thursday (another Sheeran creation). The only fly in the ointment appears to be the presence of the voices noting that the song owes more than a little melodically to the 2014 Cheryl hit of the same name. Given that Ed Sheeran's musical history also includes apologetic plagiarism settlements relating to his songs Photograph and the aforementioned Shape Of You, to release yet another smash hit single which has people pointing out its similarities to another famous recording appears to be the height of carelessness.
Enough sniping. I Don't Care is Sheeran's sixth career Number One as a performer (five as either solo or least artist, plus his appearance on Eminem's The River) whilst Bieber is celebrating here his seventh appearance at the top of the British charts (putting him level with such luminaries as Elton John, Kylie Minogue and U2) although this is his fourth Number One hit in a row which has seen him appear as a co-credit on someone else's single. Rather unusually in an age when the unwritten rule seems to be that you cannot have hit singles alone this is the first Number One single not credited to a solo artist since last November. And you might as well strap in, because it is going to be here for a while.
Second Is Nowhere
Please note: my predicting that singles are destined for long runs at the top of the charts is normally a precursor to them being replaced in startlingly short order. If I've cursed this one, don't say you weren't warned. In the meantime the single's two immediate predecessors remain locked in a titanic struggle of their own, both Vossi Bop and Old Town Road continuing to chalk up the kind of numbers which would see them comfortably at Number One under most normal circumstances, both singles hovering around the 80,000 chart sales mark. Rather surprisingly the two swap places this week, Lil Nas X holds firm at Number 2 leaving Stormzy to slip to Number 3.
The rest of the Top 10 seems to be in some kind of holding pattern, with the surprise exception of last week's hyped to the hills Lewis Capaldi single Hold Me While You Wait. The Scotsman's newest single actually slips four places to Number 8, leaving the seemingly ubiquitous Someone You Loved to cling on at Number 4. Last week it grew in sales once more and so reset the ACR clock, meaning that despite now being 20 weeks old the single is going nowhere any time soon. And it does mean that the Top 4 is entirely made up of singles that have enjoyed time at Number One since the start of the spring.
The Glassiest Of Ceilings
All this becalming is for the moment to the detriment of All Day And Night by Jax Jones, Martin Solveig and Madison Beer. Now in its seventh week on the chart, the single climbs two places to reach a brand new peak of Number 11. It is not that the producer hasn't enjoyed several Top 10 hits in the past, but if this one fails to reach that kind of high it will mark the second time in the past year he's released a smash hit record which crashed into the glass ceiling - Ring Ring spending six weeks inside the Top 20 last summer without ever climbing higher than Number 12.
We Can Hear Him
Skepta's new album Ignorance Is Bliss is released at the end of this month, so to build up the anticipation the rapper released two new tracks this week. The biggest of them is Greaze Mode, featuring a guest appearance from Nafe Smallz, and which is the second highest new entry of the week at Number 22. Now into his second decade of chart singles (his debut Sunglasses At Night hit Number 64 in March 2009), the original grime star has chalked up an impressive tally of Top 40 hits, but most of his biggest ones have come as featured rather than the lead artist. So whilst he hit Number 18 last year on A$AP Rocky's Praise Da Lord (Shine) and climbed as high as Number 3 in 2012 as a participant on Wiley's Can You Hear Me (Ayayaya) this track is his highest charting single since That's Not Me reached Number 21 in June 2014. Skepta has never had a Top 10 single under his own steam, his best-ever performance being the Number 14 peak of Rescue Me in 2010.
Just as last week, the only upward move of note is that of Ellie Goulding's Sixteen which moved five places last time and six this time around, now sitting at Number 25. "Detective Pikachu" may be one of the most notable movies of the moment, but its soundtrack hit is still waiting to escape its own Pokeball, instead Carry On from Kygo & Rita Ora eases up three places to Number 27.
Whenever a new James Arthur track appears on the charts I feel like I've slipped through into a mirror universe. The 2012 X Factor winner was surely supposed to have withered on the vine, just like most of the other series victors - more so given that his initial label deal didn't survive that first year. But yet here he is six and a half years later, a well-loved and much-respected performer and a man who has this habit of flinging out singles which don't appear to be massive hits at first glance but before you know it have loitered on the charts for months on end. The singer almost ended the year with three simultaneous chart hits, although he surely must have puzzled as his own Empty Space belied its near-saturation airplay to crash out at Number 22, eclipsed instead by hit duets with new X Factor champion Dalton Harris and Anne-Marie.
That latter hit was, of course, their take on the Greatest Showman song Rewrite The Stars, so there's a curious sense of continuity as the celestial theme is continued with his new single Falling Like The Stars. If you are familiar with James Arthur's previous work then you know what to expect here, but given that deep and intense male balladry is such a big deal right now it is hard to see this one failing to catch fire. The only possible surprise is that the single has opened so slowly, entering at Number 34. But let's just this one on Week 8 shall we? The single is actually one of two up and coming hits to feature Arthur on vocals, his contribution to Martin Jensen's Nobody sits at Number 52 this week.
Written In The StarTac
Also brand new is Motorola from Da Beatfreakz, Dappy, Swarmz and Deno Driz. Despite the nearly identical name Da Beatfreakz are nothing to do with the Dutch house producers from the 2000s but instead are South London brothers Obi and Uche Ebele who served their apprenticeships not in their home country but instead in Miami, working under the wing of hip-hop producers Cool & Dre. Returning to the land of their birth last year meant they were in the unique position of being able to fuse American hip-hop ideas with British grime. A first single Pumpy crept to Number 70 at the tail end of last year and now they seem set for a major commercial breakthrough. Motorola appears also set to continue the remarkable career renaissance of Dappy, this his second Top 40 entry of 2019 following his turn on Yungen's Comfortable, although for complicated reasons he's the only one of the four contributing acts not to receive a direct chart credit.
You don't expect Mark Ronson tracks to start slowly and grow steadily, but this appears to have been the fate to date of the super producer's latest offering Late Night Feelings. After five weeks around it finally pokes its nose inside the Top 40 at Number 39, the follow-up to smash hit Number 2 single Nothing Breaks Like A Heart from the start of the year.
A quiet week for new albums sees Pink remain comfortably at the top of the Official UK Albums chart with Hurts 2 B Human. That slow release schedule has inevitably had a deleterious effect on the state of the market. A new record is set this week with streams accounting for over 70% of the total 1.6m registered sales. The paid market continues to plunge to new depths however, with just 480,000 units of artist albums purchased nationwide. That's the first time ever (at least since accurate records began in 1994) that fewer than half a million albums have been bought in a single sales week.