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"For the uninitiated, Eminem is an American white boy rapper who has been groomed for stardom by none other than Doctor Dre and who by all accounts is set to become one of the biggest stars on the planet..... Eminem is here and he isn't going to go away in a hurry."
When I wrote those words in April 1999 I genuinely don't think anyone expected we would still be writing about him in terms of being one of the biggest stars on the planet almost 21 years later. And yet here we are. For the second time in the last three years, Eminem begins a calendar year by landing a surprise new album on us, a release which means he dominates all chart-related stories this week no matter which way you attempt to spin things.
First, let's deal with the album. Music To Be Murdered By is his eleventh studio offering. In keeping with the creative spirit of the age, it is a sprawling 17 track (plus three short interludes) behemoth and a recording which once more demonstrates that even at the age of 47 his creative juices flow as strong as ever. On the back of reviews which suggest the work is a step up from its predecessor Kamikaze the album slams straight to the very top of the Official UK Albums chart with what is nothing more than a sense of inevitability. In the process, it further extends his extraordinary chart record: his tenth Number One album in a row, a run extending back to the release in June 2000 of The Marshall Mathers LP. No other artist in history can boast that kind of consistency over this length of time. Mind you, here's the fascinating bit. The album's chart sale of 36,302 is the smallest first week total of any of those other nine Number One albums. His only release to have sold fewer copies in its first week was his debut The Slim Shady LP which apparently only moved 564 copies upon its first release in 1999. Although he got rather more famous quite soon after.
Music To Be Murdered By dominates streaming this week, with the direct result that his three permitted hits make significant chart impacts of their own. Rather fascinatingly the British public have taken matters into their own hands and chosen their own favourites - ignoring, for the most part, the attempts of the artist and his label to push their chosen hits in waiting.
The biggest one of all is Godzilla, a track which has almost certainly attracted attention thanks to the poignant appearance of the late Juice WRLD on co-vocals, the secrecy of the Eminem project meaning that he passed away at the start of December without anyone knowing that this was set to be his swansong. Fighting the good fight from some way behind for most of the week, Godzilla emerged as the race leader on Wednesday and never relinquished the crown, ending the week at the very top of the Official UK Singles Chart. It is, therefore, Eminem's tenth Number One single, again a run of hits that now stretches back almost 20 years. In joining the double figures club he joins an elite group of artists, level now with Calvin Harris and now behind only Take That (12), Madonna (13), Cliff Richard (14), Westlife (14), The Beatles (17) and Elvis Presley (21) on the all-time table.
For the second time this calendar year, we have an act pulling off the chart double - topping both singles and albums chart at the same time. Perhaps surprisingly it is the first time Eminem has turned the trick, having missed out by a whisker two years ago with the release of Kamikaze. Juice WLRD claims a credit on a Number One single for the very first time, this track soaring past the Number 10 peak of the only notable hit of his short lifetime Lucid Dreams. He is the 14th artist to top the charts posthumously and the first to do so since Eva Cassidy spent a week at the top alongside the very much alive Katie Melua on her version of What A Wonderful World way back in 2007.
Eminem's arrival at the top of the singles chart was by no means a foregone conclusion. He was harried all the way by a rapper of a very different kind, his countryman Roddy Ricch. American chart-topper The Box was a mere 359 copies adrift by close of play Wednesday and indeed finishes the final reckoning just 93 copies off the pace. That's enough to make this one of the closest chart races in recorded history, indeed the smallest margin between 1 and 2 since August 2007 when Timbaland's The Way I Are topped the charts by the small matter of 16 paid copies. Indeed the inability of any single at the moment to truly take a commanding chart lead means that the overall spread of sales between positions 1 and 5 is just over 8,000 copies. With Stormzy's former Number One Own It at Number 3 we have the unusual sight of three hip-hop tracks sitting side by side on the charts to dominate the Top 3.
Oh yes, and this is still a slightly artificial picture. Despite dipping to a new low of Number 14 this week, former Number One single Dance Monkey by Tones & I still notches up a chart sale of almost 32,000 copies. Were it not still on ACR (a position it failed by the narrowest of margins to reverse a fortnight ago) its chart sale would be well over 59,000. Seven thousand more than the Eminem track achieved. But for a brief interruption at Christmas the song has been on top of the Australian charts for almost six months. Somehow I think it is better this way for all concerned.
Eight Mile was the title of Eminem's movie debut back in 2003 and in one of those weird coincidences, it is almost the title of the biggest new non-Mathers hit single of the week. Ei8ht Mile is the title track of the new EP from drill rapper Digdat and with the full collection making its albums chart bow at Number 12 the single itself makes a strong new entry at Number 9. Darren "Digdat" Diggs was already notable as one of the few drill artists to have managed a chart single (his track Airplane hitting Number 20 in December 2018) but he now can boast a Top 10 single of his own. Accompanying him on Ei8ht Mile is your favourite and mine, Aitch, who is no stranger himself to the Top 10, This is now his fourth such single all of which have come in the space of the last six months. Even if he still sounds like the little brother who has gatecrashed the party and is vying for attention. The title of the track is no coincidence, its video paying due homage to the rap battles staged for the famous Eminem film.
Normal Service Resumes
You suspect it is the lure of the guest star which prompted the streams of the second most popular Eminem hit of the week. Because apparently it is now international law that Ed Sheeran has to guest on your album the British polymath duly pops on Those Kinda Nights, extending the relationship between the pair which saw them top the charts together on River in January 2018. This new collaboration (at least for now) doesn't quite have the same impact as that hit and indeed can only nestle into the charts at Number 12, thus ruining Ed Sheeran's chances of duplicating Justin Bieber's trick of succeeding himself at Number One as the contributing guest of two different acts.
Eminem's third and final hit of the week is the one which was, according to the marketing, supposed to be the biggest. Darkness is the album's tour de force, a brooding poem of Stan-level intensity in which the rapper pictures himself as the notorious Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock. The five-minute epic swiftly mutates into musings by Eminem himself on gun control and the unprecedented frequency of mass shootings that American society has been forced to endure over the past few years. Darkness is officially the album's lead single and the only track for now which has a video to accompany it. I suspect this is but the start of an extended chart journey, but for now it rolls the dice and just manages to be Eminem's third permitted chart hit with a chart position of Number 17.
Other Acts Are Available
Originally touted as one of the biggest new albums of the week, Halsey's Manic instead makes its bow at Number 6, behind new entries from The Courteneers (2) and Bombay Bicycle Club (4). But the album does at least have a positive effect on its latest single with You Should Be Sad enjoying the best chart climb of the week with a 37-26 lift.
The Jonas Brothers enjoyed their biggest ever UK hit back in 2019 when Sucker reached Number 4 during a pleasantly lengthy chart run, even if the single was a more or less direct copy of Feel It Still. They struggled with the follow-ups, however, with only album cut Cool making any kind of impact with a brief Top 40 visit at Number 39. Even their festive offering Like It's Christmas failed to impress, peaking at Number 53. They return this week with What A Man Gotta Do (sic), a brand new track which if nothing else is the breeziest slice of American rock you will have heard so far in 2020. Just a shame that the charts are utterly dominated by urban music right now. Stuff like this just doesn't get a look-in, and the single lands at a rather flat Number 33.
The Sound Of Chocolate
That's a similar position to that which The 1975 find themselves. In any other age they would be consistent chart superstars, purveyors of the kind of catchy jangly rock music which went out of fashion years ago. It is hard not to hear any of their music and not admire the sheer cleverness which pervades their sound. Yet seven years on from their debut they have yet to reach the Top 10 with any release. You & Me Together Song is the third teaser single from their upcoming fourth album, but at the very least it performs better than most of their recent singles. Its Number 35 chart entry gives them their ninth Top 40 single and their highest-charting hit since TooTimeTooTimeTooTime reached Number 26 in September 2018.
Names Redacted To Protect The Innocent
Finally for this week, there was one veteran single which caught my eye re-entering the charts. Originally a Number 4 hit in 1984 as the only chart single of any kind for Matthew Wilder, Break My Stride reappears this week for the first time in 36 years, creeping in at the very bottom rung of Number 100. Its resurrection all comes thanks to the latest online craze for texting the lyrics of the songs to friends and fooling them into thinking they are part of a real conversation - which apparently works a treat if the multiple TikTok videos of the gag are anything to go by. Oh, what the hell, I tried it myself. And it worked a treat.