To commemorate last week's all-too-rare occasion of a brand new Number One single I recorded a brand new podcast dealing specifically with the topic of Harry Styles. Whilst talking with my invited expert guest, she let slip one fascinating insight. Expectations that solo records from One Direction stars will automatically tap into the existing rabid fanbase of the group are actually wide of the mark. Each fan it seems has their own favourite, their own member of the group they have always associated with and attached themselves to. It means by and large the 1D fanbase has fractured, and so every member of the group who sets out on their own can only truly rely on a smaller subset of the wider fanbase.
In short, Harry Styles faces more of an uphill struggle than you might expect to become the true mainstream superstar that it is clearly hoped is his destiny. Long ago, back in the sales era of music, I noted that the true test of a single which opens its account strongly is not so much where it is in Week 1, but where it is in Weeks 4 or 5. After the hype has died down and it has effectively found its true level. It appears that still rings true in the new streaming-first era for whilst Sign Of The Times by Harry Styles may well have been top of the charts last week, this time around it has faded badly and sags to Number 4. The track actually maintained its status as the most-purchased of the week, but maybe bizarrely its streams fell away badly, down to Number 12 on that particular table. And that's what hurt it and that's why Sign Of The Times, for now, becomes the first one week Number One single in over a year - the first, strangely enough, since former bandmate ZAYN topped the charts with Pillowtalk in February 2016.
All this before the label has got around to making a video available. Because even a front-loaded single from a former(?) boy band member isn't promoted with a totally Week 1 mindset these days.
Still In Love
The rapid demise of the Harry Styles single thus meant an unexpected vacuum at the top of the market leading to what throughout the week was a rather enjoyable three-way tussle in the battle to be top of the charts. For the first time in a long time, there was some intrigue as to what might end up at Number One come Friday.
Well shit. Because the Number One single on the Official UK Singles chart is once more Shape Of You by Ed Sheeran. The all-conquering track thus spends its 14th non-consecutive week at the top of the charts. That equals the pair of chart runs of Queen's classic Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975 and 1991. No longer in a position to break the record for the longest consecutive stay at the top of the charts, the only remaining record in its sights is the 18 week total of I Believe by Frankie Laine which for now remains supreme as the single with the most non-consecutive weeks at Number One.
Shape Of You is the first single to yo-yo back to the top of the charts since Love Yourself by Justin Bieber performed the trick immediately after Christmas 2015. It is, however, at this point we can start asking questions as to just how legitimate the single's claim to be top of the market actually is. It's paid for sales are now holed below the waterline, despite still being propped up a little by the number of remixes available, cumulatively they are only enough to make the song the fifth most purchased track of the week. In actual fact Sheeran sets a brand new sales benchmark this week, selling just 16,686 copies which you may read elsewhere is lower than any Number One single in the whole of chart history. Except with that sale, it isn't actually the Number One seller of the week, so comparisons with other low-selling chart-toppers are slightly irrelevant. Thus the lowest sale for a track which was indeed the biggest "seller" of the week remains the 17,694 sold by Orson to top the charts with No Tomorrow in March 2006.
Shape Of You is, perhaps frustratingly to everyone in need of a break from its relentless domination, still the streaming champion, immovable from the top of that table. And at least for the moment that is enough to give it an edge over the competition.
That competition, incidentally, is led by Clean Bandit with Symphony which this week after five weeks on sale ascends to a brand new chart peak of Number 2 (Sales: 2, Streams: 3). You get the feeling that at some point a spell at the top of the charts is part of its destiny, but then again a year ago we were saying exactly the same thing about Can't Stop The Feeling and look where that got us. Just 5,000 chart sales separated the Top 3 singles this week. It really could have swung either way give or take another day of sales.
King Kunta Reigns
Nobody can move Ed Sheeran from the top of the album chart either, to the detriment this time around of man of the week Kendrick Lamar. His fourth studio album DAMN. was released this week and flies straight into an inevitable Number 2 placing. But as you might expect from a hot urban act, he absolutely killed it with his streams, and the result is another peppering of the singles chart with many of its tracks. He is less of a name that the likes of Sheeran or Drake, so the effect isn't quite as pronounced as we have seen before, but he can still boast five tracks inside the Top 40 chart this week.
The charge is led by HUMBLE. which was released a fortnight ago ahead of the album and this week rockets 31-6 (Sales: 27, Streams: 5). That's enough to make it far and away his biggest chart hit as a lead artist, trailing only the brace of Number 5 singles he's scored as a guest star, first with Sia on The Greatest and then Maroon 5 on Don't Wanna Know.
The albums other hot cuts are DNA. at Number 18 (Sales: 68, Streams: 9), LOYALTY. at Number 27 (Sales: 79, Streams: 16), ELEMENT. at Number 33 (Sales: uncharted, Streams: 21) and finally LOVE. at Number 39 (Sales: uncharted, Streams: 30). It hardly requires me to point out the startling disparity here between his sales and streaming appeal. This is an artist of the new era, playing directly to the hearts and minds of the generation which will never truly get into the habit of spending money on music. His singles and his album were streamed out the door and all over the Top 40. All 14 tracks from DAMN. make the Top 100 chart this week, the lowest charting at Number 81 and with Music Week reporting that cumulatively they were all streamed 26.2m times (equating to just over 174,000 charts sales) but garnered just 11,062 purchases.
It is either the end of days or the beginning of a bright new future of music, depending on your point of view. Choosing which one of these you prefer is like choosing your favourite solo member of One Direction. Choose wisely.
Neatly avoiding the Lamar logjam is Jason Derulo's Swalla which continues to make strong progress up the table, lifting to Number 15 (Sales: 14, Streams: 20) this week. That makes it Derluo's first Top 20 hit since Get Ugly made Number 12 in February 2016 and it is also a return to previous chart form for its two rapping guest stars. Nicki Minaj can now boast her highest chart placing since her role on Arana Grande's Side To Side took her into the Top 10 almost a year ago whilst Ty Dolla $ign is now chasing his first Top 10 hit single since he appeared on Fifth Harmony's Work From Home which peaked at Number 2 last year.
The single also scores points for being one of the few "up and coming" hits of the moment to actually have a proper video available. Praise be.
The Edge Of Glory?
So much for a superstar of the new school, what about one of the old school? Lady Gaga's last album Joanne only came out last October, but it has more or less faded from the memory already. It's only chart single of note Perfect Illusion was a true one week wonder, charting at Number 12 largely on the strength of front-loaded sales and then exiting the chart in short order. The second cut which accompanied the long player Million Reasons just never caught fire in the manner hoped and stalled at Number 39 as the calendar turned, not even her Super Bowl performance could help it emulate the kind of chart run it enjoyed back home in America. But the lady didn't get where she is today without attempting a few stunts, hence the surprise debut at her Coachella Festival headline performance of an entirely new track The Cure, one which was released on Saturday last week the moment she came off stage. Mixing things up a little with a tropical house vibe, the single was inevitable a strong seller all week amongst the remaining rump of music downloaders. Number 4 on the sales chart sadly only translates to a Number 23 entry overall as - you guessed it - the track's streams failed to ignite quickly enough (it was the 84th most played single of the week and indeed only managed just over 800,000 total plays). You'd like to think this has some life in it as Gaga going tropical is actually a quite intriguing prospect. But the problem is, it is Lady Gaga. And she just doesn't quite have the profile these days to get through to a crowd who are more interested in Kendrick Lamar.
The Last Bit Copied From Music Week
There's no fun to be had in this, but it is still worthwhile noting the continuing decline of the paid for sales market if only to hammer home the point to those who still haven't grasped it, that the digital download as we know it will soon be all but finished. Last week the sales market amounted to the grand total of 1.336m units, the smallest number sold in any seven-day period since September 2007. Place your bets now on how long it will be before we see a week when less than a million tracks are sold or downloaded. I'd wager we hit that before the end of the year for sure.