Personally speaking, I take the constant barrage of "faces to watch in the new year" articles that populate the music pages of most publications at this time of year with a large pinch of salt. Very few of these predictions are based on high level expert insight into the musical trends of the year but instead rely on a quick scan of the release schedules to check on which new bands have their albums due for release in the first few months of the year, plus a quick shuffle of the press release pile to note which acts are particular priorities for their respective labels. I've done it myself plenty of times.
Nonetheless, those in the know boldly predict that 2009 is to be the year of the electrogirl with a procession of serious-faced young ladies waiting in the wings to seduce us with their 80s-throwback soundtracked warblings. Shoehorning Lady Gaga into that category may be pushing it slightly but if you are looking for a totemistic herald of the sound of things to come then you need to look no further than the effortless ascent of her debut single Just Dance to Number One. Thus the UK and US charts begin the year in perfect sync, Lady Gaga also sitting proudly atop the Hot 100 this week. With the single having already topped the charts in Canada, Australia and New Zealand it makes the predictions that Miss Germanotta is set to establish herself as a superstar seem entirely appropriate.
Honourable mention must also be made of Colby O'Donis who gets a co-credit on the single and indeed gets a whole verse to himself in the middle. The protege of Akon has a solo record of his own waiting in the wings to be promoted internationally but for the moment his chart career to date has consisted of the Lady Gaga hit, plus a guest appearance on Akon's single Beautiful which struggled to catch fire when released back in December but which reappears this week at Number 66.
It may not quite have fulfilled predictions that it would become the first new chart-topper of the year but Broken Strings successfully negotiates the post-holiday fallout to give James Morrison and Nelly Furtado the Number 2 single of the week. The track duly gives Morrison his highest chart placing ever, easing past the Number 5 peak of his debut hit You Give Me Something in 2006. Co-star Nelly Furtado has been here before however, topping the chart under her own steam with Maneater in the summer of the same year and featuring on Timbaland's Give It To Me which similarly topped the chart in the spring of 2007.
Rounding off the Top 3 is the displaced Number One, Hallelujah by Alexandra Burke. Despite this fall from grace, the single does have the consolation of (as was widely reported in the week) becoming only the 79th single in chart history to sell a million copies, the first to reach seven figures since Tony Christie's Is This The Way To Amarillo did so in 2005. Only seven other solo women before her have had million-selling singles but perhaps most significantly of all none have been from the UK. Prior to this week, the honour of the biggest selling single by a British female went to Julie Covington whose 1977 rendition of Don't Cry For Me Argentina was certified at 993,000 copies.
For the record, the only other solo female stars to top seven figures are Kylie Minogue (Can't Get You Out Of My Head, 1.03m in 2001), Whigfield (Saturday Night, 1.09m in 1994), Celine Dion (Think Twice, 1.2m in 1995), Whitney Houston (I Will Always Love You, 1.3m in 1992/1993), Jennifer Rush (The Power Of Love, 1.3m in 1985), Britney Spears (Baby One More Time, 1.4m in 1999) and Cher (Believe, 1.7m in 1998).
With sales of Hallelujah almost certainly set to sink, her next sales target is probably beyond her but it is worth noting just for the sake of it. The biggest selling single of all time by a British female act is set to remain Wannabe by the Spice Girls which shifted 1,269,000 units in 1996 and is the 40th biggest seller in chart history.
Speaking of all-girl groups, I guess I wrote Issues from The Saturdays off prematurely last week. Far from languishing at the lower end of the chart, their third single rockets to Number 6 to become one of the fastest rising tracks of the week. Maybe letting the wintry ballad arrive just after the holiday was the right thing to do. The all-girl group now have a perfect three Top 10 hits out of three following If This Is Love and Up which were both hits last year.
For the second time inside a month, Beyonce has the honour of two simultaneous Top 10 hits on the singles chart. As If I Were A Boy continues its graceful progression down the chart at Number 7, it is joined at Number 8 by the ever-advancing Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It). Whilst the Christmastime reappearance of Listen was due to outside factors, the dual appearance of the two tracks this week is the most obvious UK impact to date of the increasingly common practice in the USA of promoting two singles at once from an album, each aimed at different sectors of the market and thus promoted to different sets of radio stations. The high chart placing of Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) throws into sharp focus the debate over just what constitutes a "single release" in this day and age. If I Were A Boy has a physical version available, has its own catalogue number and despite not being bundled with any extra tracks is listed as a standalone purchase on sites like iTunes. Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) on the other hand is officially just an album cut, listed by the chart computer under its universal CATCO reference number and only available for purchase as Track 8 from the I Am.. Sasha Fierce album. Then again it has a video which is in high rotation on TV and is being played on the radio and is the 8th biggest selling "single" of the week. So is it a single or not? Or maybe we should just regard it as what it truly is - a hit.
The third new arrival in the Top 40 is Let It Rock from the festively named Kevin Rudolph (with Lil Wayne in tow). The UK chart is just the latest of many scaled worldwide by the new American star who writes and self-produces all of his insanely catchy material. Let It Rock has found a natural home as an exciting promotional soundtrack both for television programmes and sporting events with the song having been adopted as an anthem by organisations as diverse as the Philadelphia Phillies and the WWE.
As the new year lull gives way to the January rush, the list of new hits creeping up the chart is almost too large to contemplate. Let's try to deal with a few anyway. Moving 38-14 is Heartless from Kanye West, the follow up to Love Lockdown and a track which like its predecessor features his much-derided autotuned to the max singing voice. Listen carefully and there is at least a little bit of rapping in the song, a reassuring reminder that he hasn't totally forgotten where his true talents lie.
Perhaps the most surprising chart stride of the week is that of Kids by MGMT. The NME's favourite single of 2008, the third single from the American synth-poppers flattered to deceive when released back in October, peaking at Number 25 after a four-week climb. Following its end of year acclaim and some well-placed exposure elsewhere, the single has reawakened since Christmas and after shouldering its way back into the Top 40 last week (having at one point fallen as far as Number 74), the single now out peaks itself and motors to Number 16 to give the group far and away their biggest hit single to date.
The creative use of the new year downtime to give a renewed push to worthwhile but hitherto underperforming acts is a tactic that has not seen much use in recent years but which has reaped huge dividends in the past. Even superstars have been known to benefit from the tactic with Bruce Springsteen owing most of his British profile to an opportunistic re-release of Dancing In The Dark in January 1985. Having made a rather lowly Number 28 when first released the previous May, the now classic single accelerated to Number 4 and sparked a wholesale recharting of his entire back catalogue thanks to the mainstream British audience who had effectively discovered him for the very first time.
Also on the move and set for higher placings next week are Ne-Yo (36-22 with Mad), Britney Spears (43-24 with the reappearing Circus) and Jason Mraz whose pre-Christmas release I'm Yours may finally be breaking through with a 61-34 climb. Big question marks still linger over the prospects of Girls Aloud's The Loving Kind which moves sluggishly from 39-29. Their one hope is their dedicated fan following who may just be enthusiastic enough to order the CD single which hits what is left of the shops this week. Watch out also for Alesha Dixon's Breathe Slow which appears for the first time on the Top 40 at Number 39, two places below Pink with her new hit Sober.
Finally for this week the one genuine "what is that doing there" oddity, the Number 31 reappearance of Gangsta's Paradise from Coolio. The 1995 Number One single makes its first chart appearance in 14 years thanks entirely to the presence of the rap star in the latest series of Celebrity Big Brother. It is his first Top 40 hit since the Number 14 appearance of Ooh La La in 1997 although he did attempt a half-hearted comeback just over two years ago, hitting Number 67 alongside Snoop Dogg on Gangsta Walk. The arrival of Gangsta's Paradise does mean that there are two million-selling singles in the Top 40 this week. Having sold 1.25 million copies first time around, the single is (for the moment) the 43rd biggest seller of all time and was at one point the biggest selling rap single of all time on these shores. It is something of an honour to see it back once again.