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Three ladies. All of them American. All of them under 30. And for the second week running they have the Top 3 singles locked down between them. In practical terms, this inevitably means a sixth straight week at Number One for Ariana Grande with thank u, next. Whilst her paid-for sales haven't entirely vanished they continue to lag behind others in the market, but it is her near-total domination of streaming tallies which means she once more is unassailable at Number One - and most crucially is more or less unbackable as Christmas Number One next week.
thank u, next is the first single from a solo female star to spend six weeks at the top of the Official UK Singles chart since Leona Lewis chalked up seven in a row with Bleeding Love back in 2007. To find an American solo female with that kind of longevity you have to go back even further - to 1998 and Cher's seven-week spell at the top with Believe. Once more we have to emphasise the "solo" part of her chart credit, Dua Lipa with a solo lead vocal but a co-credit for Calvin Harris enjoyed an eight week run at the top earlier this year and it would be very wrong to overlook this.
With fellow American females Ava Max and Halsey refusing to budge at 2 and 3 respectively, it means Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus are forced to settle for fourth place with Nothing Breaks Like A Heart, the single enjoying a six place rise from its Number 10 entry point last week. If any of the current crop of hit singles are destined to finally end Ariana's chart reign in the next few weeks, the Dolly tribute seems to be more likely than anything else right now.
Please God Not Her, Next
In an incredibly quiet chart, almost the only other Top 10 movements of note are those of Christmas songs - and in particular what are now the "golden trio" of All I Want For Christmas Is You, Last Christmas and Fairytale Of New York, the first and third of which have led the sales race year after year since the dawn of the digital age. Mariah Carey advances to Number 4, Wham! to Number 6 and The Pogues to Number 10, chart positions more than a little depressed from where they had landed this time last year.
This is clearly where the permanent ACR status of these oldies starts to bite. Mariah has spent the week enjoying streams almost the equal of the Ariana Grande single, but as they are worth less on the charts overall she can do nothing more than reach Number 5. Believe it or not, if the old rules were still in place things would be very different indeed and by all accounts All I Want For Christmas Is You would indeed have exceeded its original 1994 peak and topped the charts for the first time ever. So for now, the rule changes have served their purpose. The "nightmare scenario" of an ancient Christmas record making a mockery of some expensively made and promoted contemporary hits and reaching Number One for the holiday has been averted, at least for the moment. But then again strange things tend to happen at the weekend and who can say where we will end up in seven, or even fourteen, days' time.
There's one more curiosity - the sudden 16-9 surge of Post Malone and Swae Lee's soundtrack hit Sunflower, essentially reversing the slump it endured last week. The continuing presence of the single in the upper reaches of the chart will please those who were amused to see it chart at Number 7 in the first week of November. In both 2016 and 2017, the single at Number 7 on that date subsequently became Christmas Number One, although it seems fairly certain that this particular bellwether trend will fail this time around.
Show Hasn't Ended Yet
With all but one of the big name album releases due before the holiday now out of the way, the Official UK Albums chart has also now started to resemble the form it will take for the next couple of weeks as people buy albums to give to each other as gifts. This does mean there is room for something to happen that we've missed out on since the summer. The Greatest Showman soundtrack climbs to the top of the charts again. This week celebrating a full year on release, the hit album tops the chart for the 22nd time and the first since it ended a six week run at the top back in June. Extraordinarily it does so with its highest weekly chart sale so far, shifting 57,000 during the week. According to the Official Charts Company, its previous best sale was 51,000 which it managed back in February during its sixth week at Number One. Meanwhile over on the compilations chart The Greatest Showman: Reimagined continues to go great guns, although the superior sale of Now! That's What I Call Music Volume 101 means we are denied what would be a rather unique chart double.
22 weeks at the top of the albums chart is enough to put The Greatest Showman level with another movie soundtrack collection, Elvis' GI Blues as the joint-8th longest running Number One album of all time. Just seven albums have spent longer at the top of the charts, and if …Showman manages one more week next week to become the biggest album of Christmas week then it will draw level with Adele's celebrated 21 as the most successful album of the 21st century. I printed the table back in the summer when The Greatest Showman had "only" 20 weeks at the top, so it seems only right to update it now.
South Pacific (OST) - 115 weeks
The Sound Of Music (OST) - 70 weeks
The King And I (OST) - 48 weeks
Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon and Garfunkel) - 33 weeks
Please Please Me (The Beatles) - 30 weeks
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles) - 27 weeks
21 (Adele) - 23 weeks
G.I. Blues (Elvis Presley) - 22 weeks
The Greatest Showman (OST) - 22 weeks (and counting)
Ah, but what of last week's Number One album I hear a lone voice ask? Well, continuing a rather miserable theme of fanbase-led trips to the top of the charts followed by a sudden fall, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships makes a record-bending 1-33 fall this week. It is only saved from the ignominy of being a record-breaker by the existence of Night And Day from The Vamps which tumbled 1-35 in the summer of 2017.
Bizarro World Placings
The December chart invasion of Christmas songs (there are no less than 12 in the Top 40 this week) inevitably puts downward pressure on the more up to date hit singles, depressing the chart positions of many. It seems only right, therefore, to note those which climb the charts anyway, proving that they are indeed the singles with momentum behind them. Leading the way is Ellie Goulding, Diplo and Swae Lee with Close to Me which achieves a new peak of Number 17 in its seventh week on release. As with many non-festive hits, it seems almost obligatory to mentally delete the Christmas singles to discern the track's "real" placing - and in this case that promotes Close To Me to a theoretical Number 12. I note this for a reason. The Christmas singles have two more weeks of charting in them before they will vanish almost overnight. Noting where the remaining hits will ping back to will help in gauging the shape of the market as we go into the new year.
Also rising - just - is Baby from Clean Bandit. Their second album What Is Love hasn't quite lived up to its hit-crammed expectations so far, dipping 19-24 this week. It's current hit single does at least continue to creep up the charts, a single place to Number 24, although again that translates into a more respectable Number 17 on the notional ex-Christmas chart. Similarly, George Ezra is back up, Hold My Girl rattling around the chart like a pinball having bounded 33-25-33-25 over the last four weeks. He too would benefit from a seven place boost on a chart free of Christmas hits.
The Power(less) Factor
There's no such salvation though for X Factor winner Dalton Harris who as expected plunges 4-19 with The Power Of Love. This is the kind of drop you'd expect from a 10-week old ACR-shifted single, not one which entered inside the Top 5 last week. But that's the way the X Factor audience rolls these days. Most people who cared bought the single last week, it still has no streaming numbers to think of and so will go down as yet another limp offering from the once-mighty TV franchise. Not that this will stop the people championing their own particular choice for Christmas Number One from urgently tweeting about the need to "stop X Factor having it all their own way". People will still insist on fighting battles from a decade ago. It is almost a Christmas tradition.
A Less Mature Vintage
Whilst the vast majority of the Christmas songs invading the charts are elderly tracks, some more than 3 or 4 decades old, there are two rather newer recordings making waves of their own lower down the Top 40. At Number 28 is One More Sleep by Leona Lewis. First released in 2013 it peaked at Number 3, and I mused at the time if it didn't have the kind of lasting appeal to go on and become a festive perennial. It took a few years but that finally seems to be happening. One More Sleep found its way onto enough playlists to reach Number 19 the week after Christmas last year and seems set to better that, despite its newfound ACR status, this year.
Also back in the Top 40 for the second year running is Santa Tell Me as performed by Ariana Grande. Originally released by the singer as a one-off in 2014, it failed to become a hit first time around, limping to Number 68 that year. It has however found a new home near the top of many of Spotify's festive playlists, and enough people have avoided skipping past it to push it into the singles chart for what is now the second year running. Reaching Number 28 last year, Santa Tell Me is now at Number 30 despite also enduring ACR status and also seems destined to climb higher. True, it is hard to sugar-coat it, this single above all others is only a chart hit because of Spotify rather than any demonstrable appeal, the Ariana Grande factor notwithstanding. Then again, there are any number of "classics" which also owe their eternal popularity to random outside factors. Elton John has noted in the past that his Step Into Christmas was a half-forgotten flop until it was selected as filler for the first ever Now! That's What I Call Christmas compilation in 1984. That was enough to help it be rediscovered, become an airplay staple and now another singles chart perennial. It is the Number 22 single this week, this after having reached an all-time high of Number 11 a year ago.
The one contemporary album release of note this week was Skins, a posthumous collection of odds and sods from XXXtentacion. Reviews of the collection were muted, some observing that his presence on many of the manually constructed tracks was minimal to say the least. The album limps into being at Number 29 but is at least responsible for the only truly new entries of the week: Whoa (Mind In Awe) reaches Number 37, Bad hits Number 41 and Guardian Angel shines at Number 44.
XXXtentacion does, however, manage to become what I think is the most high-profile beneficiary of a little-known loophole in the chart rules which restrict a performer to three singles as the lead artist. More observant chart watchers will note that he actually has a fourth hit this week, the already-charting Arms Around You which dips to Number 47 in its seventh week on the chart. Chart rules state that where co-credited acts on a single have equal weight, the "lead artist" for these purposes is the performer on whose label the single is released. Arms Around You is issued on Lil Pump's label Warner Brothers and not the Bad Vibes Forever imprint on which XXXtentacion's own singles appear. Thus the track is Pump's single as far as the chart is concerned, and is still permitted to chart despite XXXtentacion being the first-credited performer. Isn't red tape a marvellous thing?
Happy Birthday Bev
Never mind all that though, what you really want to know is clues to the identity of the 2018 Christmas Number One? It seems almost inevitable that Ariana will take the crown and if pressed I'd give it an 80% certainty right now. But this is the Christmas chart, and strange things have been known to happen. All I can do is suggest you keep a regular watch on the Christmas Number One liveblog elsewhere on Chart Watch UK. I've been tracking the possibilities since mid-November and will give you daily updates this week on the state of the market.
Failing that, see you on these pages in seven days time. It is the biggest chart of the year in terms of casual interest. Let's just hope there's still an interesting story to tell.