Out Of Style Already
They are the global elites. That small band of mainstream pop acts whose reputation and prior celebrity ensures that their every new release is guaranteed not only a high level of critical attention but whose work sells and is streamed in large quantities almost by default, with hit singles in their wake as well. It is by no means a glass ceiling, artists manage to enter that kind of stratosphere all the time. But once there you are guaranteed a place for two albums or more. Whilst Justin Bieber and Adele (to quote two obvious examples) have been quiet this year, 2017 has at the very least blessed us with superstar releases from Ed Sheeran and most recently the newly-superstar anointed Sam Smith. But they arguably were just the warm-up for the final big name of the year to grace us with her presence.
So yes, Taylor Swift released a new album this week. One which was heralded back in the summer with instantaneous Number One single Look What You Made Me Do and an autumn of further promotional releases. After the videos, the Right Said Fred samples, the surprisingly intense and adoring articles on her songwriting prowess finally comes the main event of the release.
Reputation is the Number One album this week on the Official UK Albums chart. That seemed almost a given. It means she lands a hat-trick of chart-topping albums hard on the heels of 2012's Red and 2014's 1989, her transformation from C&W princess to hard-nosed pop diva now so totally complete it is hard to picture her as the wide-eyed innocent of Love Story and the other small hits that everyone has wiped from their minds.
The most notable thing about the release of Reputation was the star's continuing ambivalence towards streaming services. Reputation whilst not, we are told, banned forever from the likes of Spotify and Deezer is under a moratorium, with the emphasis for now on the sell-through market. Luddism or tactical genius? You decide. In America the stunt appears to have paid off, early sales reports suggesting the album had sold close to a million copies in the first few days of the week, enough to make it in one instant the biggest release of 2017 so far - even Sheeran hasn't quite managed that many thus far. In Britain however, if the intention was to make a play for one of the best openings of the year then it didn't quite pay off. Reputation tops the charts with a still damn impressive sale of 84,000 copies (split almost half and half between physical and digital versions) but that is still fewer copies than Sam Smith did last week. And still only the sixth biggest single week sale of the year.
Yes, Taylor is one of those rare superstars of the modern age whose immediate chart success is all but assured. But she's still only playing to an increasingly well-defined core market. Not everyone feels the Tay-Tay love, it seems.
Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere
The Official UK Singles chart appears deceptively quiet at the top end, with Camila Cabello's Havana holding firm for a third week at the top, its prospects boosted ever so slightly this week by the release of a new mix which replaces guest star Young Thug with a new contribution from Daddy Yankee, thus continuing the strange phenomenon of 2017 where stars can be swapped in and out of "collaborative" singles to create seemingly never-ending permutations. Havana actually manages the rather extraordinary feat of topping the combined singles chart by some distance from its rivals whilst being a firm Number 2 in both sales and streams terms this week. All because the single which sold more cannot match her streams whilst the champion streamer simply doesn't have the sales to compete. It is rare that this happens, but it is more than possible.
Top streamer rockstar fades away to Number 3 on the main singles chart, leaving the runners-up slot to be occupied by the most-purchased track of the week. Rita Ora's Anywhere thus cements its position as the single most likely to replace Havana at the top (and in the process wind up in the box seat to be Christmas Number One). Number 2 makes this Rita Ora's highest charting single for over three years, her biggest hit since I Will Never Let You Down spent a week at the top of the charts in May 2014. As previously noted, due to a combination of circumstances her next album will only be the second of her career and, presuming we see it sometime in the new year, will arrive almost six years after her acclaimed debut ORA hit the streets. To return after such a gap requires careful planning, which makes the way she has featured on three straight Top 10 hits this year (two of her own, one with Avicii) a masterclass in rebuilding a brand. Rita Ora could so easily have been yesterday's woman. Instead, she will end the year as one of its most notable star acts.
Ed Sheeran watch: Perfect stalls at Number 6 for what is now the third week in succession. The single still short of its original peak from its first chart run when it made Number 4 as an album cut back in mid-March.
A New Kind Of Monster
I talked above of the pop superstars of the moment. All of whom are young, exciting talent still largely at the dawn of their musical careers. In theory, there is a second tier of names - the hardy veterans of the turn of the millennium who still retain the name value they had 20 years ago but who have by and large moved on from the need to have big chart singles. So when they do it becomes particularly notable. Especially when they do it in tandem.
Hence the biggest new hit of the week, one which demonstrates there is always a new combination to try out as Eminem and Beyonce combine for Walk On Water which crashes into the chart at Number 7. The single marks the rap star's return after what is essentially an extended hiatus, his last studio album The Marshall Mathers LP 2 having been released way back in the pre-streaming era in November 2013. Although technically his second Top 40 hit of the year (having popped up on the Pink album cut Revenge which crept to Number 33 in October) it is his first official single release since Guts Over Fear was a Number 10 hit in October 2014. Beyonce hasn't quite been away so long, her last project being 2016 album Lemonade, although its only notable chart single Hold Up was unable to progress beyond Number 11. Walk On Water thus returns her to the Top 10 for the first time since her guest role on Naughty Boy's Runnin' (Lose It All) which made Number 4 in October 2015 - at least in credited terms. Her late-notice contribution to J Balvin and Will William's Mi Gente sent that back into the Top 10 but she was never added to its chart listing. Beyonce hasn't featured on a Top 10 single as a lead act since Drunk In Love made Number 9 in early 2014 in collaboration with Mr Beyonce himself Jay-Z.
Walk On Water heralds the release of what will be Eminem's ninth studio album proper Revival, its title suggesting it will take the form of a direct follow-on to the pair of Relapse and Recovery which he released in 2009 and 2010 respectively. I was half inclined to be cynical about the prospects of this single. Both stars are hardy veterans, coming up on the 20th anniversary of each of their respective careers in one form or another and hardly at the cutting edge of popular music. Yet there has yet to be an Eminem lyric which doesn't grab you by the balls, and Beyonce's talent for finding just the right material for her instantly recognisable tones to cut through remains as intact as ever. Quite how much of a one week wonder this is, remains open to question. But as the most significant new superstar pairing for some time, Number 7 is nothing less than it deserves.
We'll escape the confines of the Top 10 shortly but it seems only appropriate once more to note the continuing presence in the upper reaches of Dusk Till Dawn by ZAYN and Sia which now celebrates its tenth straight week as a Top 10 hit single. Granted it seems to be slowly sinking down both sales and streaming tables and its tenth week around means it now inches towards the red zone and the prospect of ACR. But on the other hand it should be noted that ten weeks in the Top 10 is more than any other single from a One Direction star has managed and indeed now equals the chart run of the longest-lived One Direction single of Zayn Malik's tenure with the boy band, Story Of My Life also ten weeks in the 10 from November 2013 onwards. The single still remains one of the most-streamed tracks of the moment worldwide and seems set to figure on the lists of the biggest hits of 2017 in a global context. It is only the Bradford-born star's continuing cloistering of himself in New York and the lack of anything resembling promotional work in his home country that means he continues to operate largely under the mainstream radar. Until his own new album comes out I guess.
Push The Feeling On
There are no brand new singles inside the rest of the Top 20 although a handful make impressive progress up it. The way is led by Stormzy's Blinded By Your Grace (Part 2) which appears to be well on its way to fulfilling its destiny as the most mainstream hit to date by the freestyling grime star, leaping 22-12 as it works its way onto more and more playlists. Similarly Clean Bandit and Julia Michaels' I Miss You which is now three weeks old and after stuttering last week finally reaps the benefits of the group's mini UK tour and other promotional appearances with a 23-14 jump. As I noted a fortnight ago, this single was the first Clean Bandit track in some time to fall way short of the Top 10 on first release. All credit to the group, they are taking the time to work it and push it properly up the charts.
There is upward momentum too for 17 by Marc "MK" Kinchen which rises 25-20, a small climb but one which is enough to give the veteran DJ and producer what is only his second Top 20 hit following the 2014 revival of his early 90s classic Always which rose to Number 12 thanks to a Route 94 remix. Keep an eye out as well for Selena Gomez' Marshmello collaboration Wolves which eases back two places to Number 17 but which should be bolstered shortly by the belated arrival of its video (yet to make it properly to YouTube at the time of writing).
Seldom Seen Kids
Few indeed are the TV commercials whose unveiling has now become a significant calendar event, but such is the status afforded to the now annual Christmas advertising campaigns from high street department store John Lewis. Nearly ten years old now, the commercials are characterised not only by their heart-tugging plotlines but also the carefully selected soundtracks, almost without fail slowed down and semi-acoustic covers of known pop standards. Almost without fail those selected musical turns find their way into the charts, although the onset of the streaming era has seen those chart prospects take a knock in recent years, the singles market unforgiving of those tracks which command attention from the rump of downloaders but precious few others. Last year's release of One Day I'll Fly Away as performed by Vaults stalled at Number 53, a far cry from when Gabrielle Aplin and Lily Allen enjoyed Number One hits with their contributions in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
So there are actually two reasons to cheer the arrival of Elbow's cover of The Beatles' Golden Slumbers at Number 29. The first John Lewis Christmas advert track to become a hit in two years, but also the first Elbow single to make the Top 40 in over five. One of the most acclaimed and dare I say it beloved British acts of their era, Elbow notably struggled to land anything approaching a major chart hit until the summer of 2012 when their performance of 2008 single One Day Like This at the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics finally propelled the already-acknowledged classic into the Top 10.
The soundtrack to the story of Moz The Monster, Golden Slumbers is itself a refreshingly original Beatles cover. The Lennon and McCartney composition forms just a small part of the extended medley of songs which closes out Abbey Road, its poignancy aided by being one of the last set of songs the group recorded together in their mutual lifetimes. The song has only ever been a chart hit once before, a cover version by Trash reaching Number 35 in 1969 as the first half of a medley with Carry That Weight, the song with which it was originally twinned on the Beatles' album. It is the second time in four years that a Beatles song has soundtracked the John Lewis commercial, following Tom Odell's take on their 1996 hit Real Love which made Number 7 in 2014. For Elbow it is only their eighth Top 40 hit single in a career which dates back to the turn of the century.
Love Breaks The Wings
Finally for this week a nod to a single which was flagged up a number of weeks ago. Butterfly Effect by Travis Scott climbs this week to Number 57, a brand new peak for a largely unpurchased but consistently well streamed single which until today had spent a full 17 weeks meandering between positions 65 and 74 on the main singles chart. Streams as a whole accounted for 92.51% of the full singles market according to Music Week. Like Sergei Bubka pole vaults, the record moves up an inch with every passing week.