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No Sign Of Dipping
It is an Official UK Singles Chart record which used to be broken at regular intervals. But for almost two years now the all-time benchmark for weekly streams has belonged to one man. Shape Of You by Ed Sheeran was played in such phenomenal numbers in January 2017 that not only did its 14.2m plays double the previous record, no song ever since has even come close to that total. Until this week.
During the course of the last seven days, thank u, next by Ariana Grande was streamed a grand total of 14.9m times to set a brand new all-time high. A superlative as this number is, we should note that its dramatic leap in plays this week is almost entirely down to the release of the track's video, a factor which means a full 7.9m of those 14.9m streams came from views of the track on YouTube. Ed Sheeran's total was achieved without the benefit of video plays, which at the time were not tabulated for singles chart purposes. It is entirely possible in a like for like comparison he would still be the record holder.
Ariana Grande retains her crown by a huge margin, the chart sales of thank u, next increasing by just over 50% week on week and meaning she tops the chart with numbers almost double her nearest rivals to spend a fifth week at Number One. The last truly solo female (ie with no other artist credited alongside them) to spend this long at the top of the charts was Katy Perry who also spent five weeks at Number One with I Kissed A Girl way back in 2008. Pedants will note that Dua Lipa's solo vocal on One Kiss helped her spend eight weeks at Number One earlier this year, but she was credited alongside the track's producer Calvin Harris, discounting this as a true "solo" hit.
Five weeks means five out of the seven that we noted at the start that thank, u next needs to spend at the top of the charts to be crowned Christmas Number One. It seemed a tough ask back then, but not so much now. Barring an absolute revolution or a seasonal miracle, nothing is able to compete with this single in the market right now. To pretend there is anything resembling a 'race' for the seasonal chart two weeks hence is nothing more than an unwillingness to face reality.
Girl, Girl, Girl
What is her "nearest" rival I hear you ask? Well, it is very much a changing of the guard inside the Top 3 this week. Ava Max's Sweet But Psycho accelerates to Number 2 whilst one place behind is Halsey with Without Me, the singer's solo debut now becoming her third Top 3 hit following Number One collaborations Closer and Eastside. Alan Jones notes in Music Week this week that this is the first all-solo female Top 3 since September 2017 when Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and Pink all lined up in the 1-2-3.
Hooded Claw Repellents Installed
Last weekend the long-running X Factor franchise crowned its 15th series winner, the show limping to an end after yet another series of declining ratings and overall influence. The days when the winner's debut single would fly with grace to the top of the charts in a heartbeat are long since gone, Ben Haenow the last series victor to storm to the top back in 2014. Since then we have seen Louisa Johnson (9), Matt Terry (3) and Rak-Su (2) all fall short of the top in the immediate aftermath of their final wins. The pattern repeats itself this week with the arrival on the charts of Dalton Harris at "only" Number 4. What possibly doesn't help is the choice of material, his song committing the sin of being neither original nor a refreshing choice of cover. Instead, he plods through his take on the perhaps over-familiar The Power Of Love, a song first taken to Number One by Frankie Goes To Hollywood in 1984 and more recently by Gabrielle Aplin in 2012. Harris is poorly served by the song, the performance was a world away from some of the more inspiring moments which propelled him to victory on the talent show over the past few months. Arriving on the charts earlier than any previous X Factor winning single, The Power Of Love charts at Number 4, its chart sale of just over 35,000 copies almost entirely based on paid-for downloads. It's streaming interest was minimal, a situation which seems unlikely to change any time soon and which will almost certainly make Dalton Harris a one week wonder.
Dalton is joined on his hit single by a celebrity partner, the man who was himself powering to X Factor victory the last time The Power Of Love was in the charts. James Arthur this week surely completes his hero > zero > hero journey as he can now boast three simultaneous Top 40 hit singles and indeed two of which are now in the Top 10. The second of his hits is Rewrite The Stars, his duet with Anne-Marie which accelerates to Number 8, now exceeding the Number 16 peak of the original Greatest Showman version by Zac Efron and Zendaya. His own solo single Empty Space goes into reverse this week, dipping to Number 34, although for this there are certain extenuating circumstances.
Deck The Bleeding Halls
We are now well into December and it is time for the Christmas songs to assert themselves once more. Last weekend Spotify opened the doors on its festive playlists, a move which inevitably causes streams of the selected holiday songs to take off into the stratosphere. Leading the charge, more or less inevitably is Mariah Carey's evergreen All I Want For Christmas Is You which shoots 34-6. The single has now been a Top 10 hit on five separate occasions - 1994, 2007, 2016, 2017 and now 2018, equalling the record set last year by Fairytale Of New York - although that single will almost certainly end up with a sixth trip to the top end of the charts before the holiday is through.
This is the time of year when the long tail of streams contracts, interest in catalogue product stops being spread across well, every track ever made, and becomes concentrated in a tiny handful of classic Christmas songs. It remains an ever-growing problem for the singles chart at present. The record labels themselves hate the way this happens, as the batch of golden oldies swamps the chart and barges some expensively promoted contemporary product out of the way. This week there are no less than eight different Christmas songs on the Top 40, all of which are taking the place of a newer hit single by slightly fresher talent. The move to put all catalogue product on permanent ACR was supposed to reduce the annual impact of the holiday favourites somewhat, but this has been largely neutralised at a stroke by the introduction of video streams into the mix. YouTube plays of All I Want For Christmas Is You have almost certainly cancelled out the effect of halving the value of its scarily large numbers of Spotify plays, hence the veteran single nestling at Number 6 this week. And we've still got another three weeks to go before everything returns to normal.
Look Away Grandma
Mariah's hit is not the biggest climber on the chart this week. That honour goes to the incarcerated 6ix9ine whose album cuts now have a full week of sales and streams to their name. The result is a 38-9 leap for Kika to give the controversial rapper his biggest ever chart single. Once again the Radio One chart show shouted "oh look, a squirrel" when it reached this moment on the countdown, playing little more than a five-second clip of the track before hurriedly moving on. Either there's no proper radio edit available (which to be fair, is a plausible explanation) or they really, really don't want to give any exposure to a violent sex offender. Fans of his music really don't care and are listening to him anyway.
Hands Up, We're Playing Her Song
New in at Number 10 is what is far and away the most interesting new release of the week. Even before we'd actually heard the track the announcement that Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus had teamed up on a collaborative single prompted thoughts of "that can't help but be good". And happily, we were proven correct. Nothing Breaks Like A Heart drags Miley back to her Country & Western roots, the song to all intents and purposes a musical retread of the famous Dolly Parton classic Jolene. Indeed Miley's warbling vocal delivery is so reminiscent of Dolly herself that you can't help but wonder if the Nashville legend wasn't Ronson's first choice of singer for the song. No matter, this is yet another Ronson-helmed classic and one which although stands little chance of being Christmas Number One is surely an outside bet to become the first chart-topper of the new year. For now, it becomes the super-producer's second straight Top 10 hit following on from the Silk City hit Electricity which reached Number 4 back in October. It is only Miley's fourth ever Top 10 hit single, her first in almost five years. She was last this high on the charts in February 2014 when she participated on will.i.am's Number 2 hit Feelin' Myself.
For those keeping count, this all means we have a rather refreshingly active Top 10 with five new singles entering or climbing there, even if one of them is a 24-year-old release. Surprisingly only one of the resultant exits is due to a move to ACR, that fate befalling former Number One hit Shallow which makes the biggest dive of the week from 5 to 32.
The Official UK Albums chart continues to move at breathtaking speed as Christmas approaches. Last week's graph-bending Number One from Take That was inevitably unable to sustain the kind of sales momentum it showed in its first week and duly crashes to Number 5. Its place at the top of the charts is taken by The 1975 with their third Number One album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. It means they maintain their 100% record of instantaneous chart-topping albums, the first British group to open their career with three new entries at the top since the Arctic Monkeys. The rest of the Top 10 has a distinctly middle of the road feel to it, with The Greatest Showman (inevitably), Andrea Bocelli, two orchestral remixes of hits from Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly and two Michael Buble albums taking up many of the other chart spots. Buble's second disc is - inevitably - 2011 release Christmas which proves that recurrent oldies aren't just a problem confined to the singles chart, this now the seventh time the album has reached the Top 10 since its release. Buble inevitably has a Christmas song on the singles chart as well, his take on It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas this week at Number 30 and so reaching the Top 40 for the third year running.
At Least He Doesn't Swear As Much
The only other contemporary release to make any kind of chart impact this week is Number 17 entry Going Bad which hands American rapper Meek Mill his first ever major hit, three years after his chart debut. The track is one of three to chart this week from his album Championships which makes a debut of its own at Number 33. Why is this track, in particular, the most popular cut? I'd wager it has something to do with the presence on guest vocals of Drake because it has been some weeks since he's registered a presence on a chart hit and we were all starting to become a little worried for him.
So that was Christmas -2, and whilst I hate to be too much of a pessimist, it is hard not to worry just how bogged down things are about to get. What used to be one of the more exciting times of the year for a chart watcher is about to become a parade of same old, same old. The same old Christmas favourites swamping everything as your mum listens to Mariah and Wham! on repeat, plus a Number One single showing no signs of burning out any time soon. As I noted in this site's Christmas Number One liveblog, Ariana was 7/1 to be the festive champion in the week her single was released. At the time of writing, she is for the first time the odds-on 1/2 favourite and all but unbackable.