Wing Away Your Pantyhose
19 years. That's how long it has been since Eminem made his UK chart debut (My Name Is hitting Number 2 in April 1999). Back then it was almost inconceivable that a hip-hop performer could end up with a career at the top stretching into two decades. Until then the big rap superstars had been one-off novelty performers such as Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer or Tone Loc, men who were simply unable to recreate the magic of their early work which had propelled them into the minds of the public. Others, like 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G., had found their lives snuffed out prematurely by gangland violence. The only other stars from that mid-90s era who had managed to sustain a career beyond an initial run of hits are people like Jay-Z, Puff Daddy and Snoop Dogg who ended up as much businessmen as they did performers.
So even aside from the way he looks and the way he talks, Eminem by dint of sheer longevity as a performer is pretty much unique in his genre. This week he further cements that reputation, enjoying the Number One single on the Official UK Singles charts to give him the ninth such single of his career, and one which comes almost 18 years after he topped the charts for the very first time
The track in question is River, the single which tried and failed to gatecrash the party in Christmas week. Its patience has now been rewarded as in its fifth straight week as a Top 3 hit single it eases its way to the Number One position. This is a chart-topping single that has been a long time coming, Eminem's first Number One hit since The Monster grabbed a week of glory in November 2013, although this four-year wait is still only just over half the seven-year gap he endured between his seventh and eighth Number One hit singles. But that too is very much a measure of the staying power of the man. He goes away, reinvents himself and returns just as relevant as before - and as this week proves more than capable of topping the charts any time he needs to.
Yet we do have to note that Eminem isn’t the only performer on River. Front and centre on the single (and indeed performing the opening verse) is the other man of the moment Ed Sheeran. A year ago we were all holding our breath wondering if the blizzard of chart singles prompted by the release of his Divide album would mean he would become one of the elite few acts to replace himself at the top of the charts. This week almost under the radar Ed Sheeran has finally done it. Sheeran is the first person not called Justin Bieber to pull off the trick in a generation, the Canadian star having extraordinarily done so twice in recent years, first with Sorry and Love Yourself in 2015 and then thanks to guest appearances on I'm The One and Despacito last summer. Ed Sheeran is the first Englishman to replace himself at the top of the charts since John Lennon did so posthumously back in 1981.
Ed Sheeran has also extended his series of remarkable chart feats over the past year. Not content with performing on the first and last brand new Number One singles of 2017 he now features on the first brand new chart-topping hit of 2018 as well. River also continues the rather extraordinary run of Christmas Number 2 hits subsequently going on to top the charts when the dust settles in the new year. Since the start of the 2010s, this has happened almost every year with Joe McElderry (2010), Rihanna (2011), James Arthur (2013), Pharrell Williams (2014), Mark Ronson (2015) and Justin Bieber (2016) all turning Christmas runner-up hits into Number One records in early January.
You'll notice there are two years missing in that run. In 2011/2012 Coldplay were Number 2 with Paradise the week before Christmas, slipping down the charts briefly before going on to land the first new Number One of the new year. The actual 2011 Christmas Number 2 was Little Mix's Cannonball which had already topped the charts and clearly had no need to do so again. The 2016 Christmas Number 2, Human by Rag N' Bone Man, therefore, stands unique as the only one in recent times not to have been a Number One hit - either before or after the Christmas period. Poor chap.
Oh yes, and just in case you hadn't had enough Sheeran he also pops up as one of two co-singers (along with Future) on the Taylor Swift track End Game which appears to have been activated as a single and surges to Number 49.
Press The Reset Button
There's a sense of renewal and refresh across much of the singles market this week as 2018 finally gets into gear and the detritus of the end of last year is finally swept away. Indeed the only single in the Top 5 not to achieve a new peak this week is Ed Sheeran's former Number One Perfect which takes a two place dip to Number 3. Three weeks of sales decline means it has been bumped down to ACR this week, its streams now counting 300:1 rather than 150:1. Before anyone gets too excited, it is worth noting that the single would have been replaced at Number One this week regardless, the streams demotion merely moving it to 3 rather than the Number 2 it would have occupied.
Taking advantage and moving up to take second place this week is Barking from Ramz which finally becomes a Top 3 single after a seven-week climb. Proving once and for all that grime has well and truly gone mainstream, Ramz himself is fascinating in that he is very much an old school industry creation, signed by Polydor records out of nowhere and promoted to stardom without the need for home-brewed mixtapes or an enthusiastic social media following.
The Top 5 is completed with a 5-4 move for Clean Bandit with I Miss You and a 7-5 jump for Bruno Mars and Cardi B with Finesse.
Out Of Bad Things Come The Good
The Number One album of the week remains the Greatest Showman soundtrack, to the frustration perhaps of Camila Cabello whose debut solo release Camila was far and away the most notable new drop of the week but which has to content itself with an entry at Number 2. Its release is, however, all to the benefit of her new single Never Be The Same. This first crept into the charts at the end of December but which finally takes off and soars 29-7 to give her a second straight Top 10 single to follow the Number One smash Havana. No video for this one at the time of writing, but now it has become a hit you get the feeling this is a situation which will be corrected in short order.
Speaking of Havana, this naturally enough accounts for the second of the three chart hits she is permitted, leaving album cut She Loves Control to be the third and which creeps into the singles chart at Number 40.
Camila is joined in the Top 10 by Jason Derulo and French Montana's Tip Toe, a track which I confess to not having developed an appreciation of yet. No matter, with a 12-8 jump it becomes Derulo's second Top 10 hit of the last 12 months (following Number 6 hit Swalla) and becomes the fourth Top 10 single for rapper French Montana, even if he has only been lead artist on one of them.
Another female star on the rise and also following up a Number One hit is Dua Lipa, subject of the number of admiring profiles at the tail end of the year for the way she grew from struggling nobody at the start of 2017 to become one of the most notable talents of the moment. By the looks of things, her latest single IDGAF seems set to consolidate that position. Entering the Top 40 at Number 38 last week it explodes to Number 14. A brand new Dua Lipa single has at long last had the effect of killing off her old one, as we observed last week New Rules having notably lingered as one of the most streamed tracks of the tail end of the year, long after it had been downgraded on the singles chart. There's no room really for two Dua Lipa hits on the big Spotify playlists, and the newest and most exciting one is naturally the one which takes priority. IDGAF is effectively the seventh single to be lifted from her self-titled debut and yes, is more than any other the one which radio is going to tie itself in knots about playing. You censor the profanity in the lyrics with a radio edit - but how do you skirt around the fact that everyone knows what the title stands for?
There's one more move of particular note inside the Top 20. After two weeks locked steady at Number 22, Decline by Raye and Mr Eazi advances seven places to Number 15 to become a Top 20 hit for the first time - this three weeks after it was knocked out of the Top 40 altogether after Christmas songs swamped the upper end of the chart. In its sights is surely the Number 6 peak of the track on which it is based - Always On Time by Ja Rule featuring Ashanti - a chart run which began two weeks shy of 16 years ago.
Shut Up And Feel It
Also worthy of a shout this week once again is Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man. The astonishingly catchy funk-rock fusion has thus far defied any attempt to predict or anticipate its chart performance. Having returned to the Top 40 a fortnight ago, for the second week running the single reaches a brand new peak, this time one far in excess of anything it has achieved before with a climb to Number 25. Chart rules be damned, as long as it keeps rising in sales it is destined to keep climbing and it is nothing less than a joy to see. Not bad for a record which first charted in mid-August and spent all but one of its initial 20-week chart run bouncing around outside the Top 40. All good things come to he who waits.
They Stopped Asking Me Years Ago
If it is January it must be time for the big reveal of the BBC's Sound Of... winner, the annual survey of tastemakers and experts which has proven to be a reliable barometer of just who might be the next big name in music over the next 12 months. Recipient of the honour this year was Norwegian singer Sigrid, a gentle tap-in you might say given the continent-wide impact of her debut single Don't Kill My Vibe last summer - although that is the main flaw of the survey, with those asked to participate generally going for those they know to be a major priority for the new year. It doesn't uncover unknown talent, just gives a boost to those already on the way up. Sigrid's eligibility for the Sound Of 2018 survey was entirely down to the fact that Britain was one of the few countries to remain immune to the charms of Don't Kill My Vibe, the single limping to Number 62 in June. With immaculate timing, her brand new single Strangers takes full advantage of the exposure afforded to her by the award and makes a flying leap to Number 26 this week. Mind you, the Sound Of… poll was due a hit after a rare misfire last year when it selected Ray BLK as the hottest prospect of 2017 only for the performer to vanish without trace commercially.
Every 'new' hit I've mentioned so far you will note has been a chart climber. The highest charting new entry of the week lands all the way down at Number 34, Let Me Down handing a debut solo chart single to Jorja Smith. Not entirely coincidentally the 20-year-old from Walsall is also on the radar of the industry kingmakers and has already been selected as the recipient of this year's BRITs Critics Choice Award. For those paying close enough attention, she is by no means a total unknown, having featured on a pair of tracks on Drake's More Life album last year, the most popular of which Get It Together charted at Number 24. She was also one of the voices on the Artists For Grenfell charity single released in the summer, although again you could possibly be forgiven for not having noticed.
Enough climbers, what about some surprise fallers. They include both of last week's most notable new releases. Liam and Rita's For You goes into a shock reverse with an 11-21 fall, although the arrival of the movie shortly may well reverse this. There is worse in store however for Justin Timberlake. I may totally get Filthy but precious few others do and the single dives 15-28 to make you wonder if this isn't a rather awkward misfire on the part of artist and label. Salvation is at hand with the release of album teaser Supplies which was given its world premiere this week and is making a sales impact as I speak.
So Why Did She Have To?
Now for the sad bit of the week. It has been almost twenty years since Dolores O'Riordan was famous, the last hit singles she had as frontwoman of The Cranberries dating back to 1999. Nonetheless, her untimely passing this week at the tragically young age of 46 prompted an outpouring of grief and goodwill, the lady and her distinctive voice having made an impression on everyone who encountered her during her brush with stardom in the 1990s. Inevitably this also led to a midweek rediscovery of many classic Cranberries hits, all of which began to make sales (and to a lesser extent streaming) waves as news of her death sunk in.
As is so often the case at present, this kind of surge in support is far too easy to overstate. Yes, it was very poignant to see so many Cranberries classics fly up to high positions on the iTunes chart - but as this column is fond of noting, it doesn't actually take that much to do so these days. A few thousand copies with the space of a day, and you too can be Top 10 on iTunes. So despite breathless announcements from the Official Charts Company of 1000% sales increases for the back catalogue of the Cranberries during the week, the parade of posthumous Dolores O'Riordan hits this week doesn't quite make the anticipated impact, although it seems only appropriate that of the three that are allowed to make the singles chart, they are the three most famous ones of all.
Leading the way is what is arguably the group's signature hit. The first single to be taken from their second album, Zombie was a world away from the gentle balladry they had been synonymous with before. Instead, the track was an angry polemic inspired by the IRA bombing of Warrington town centre in 1993. Dolores yelped and howled the lyrics in a manner which prompted comparisons with Sinead O'Connor and the single duly continued the Cranberries' run of chart hits when it reached Number 14 in October 1994. The song was even strong enough to withstand a slightly less respectful club reworking, with the take by A.D.A.M featuring Amy reaching Number 16 a year later. This posthumous comeback sees the track chart at Number 45.
Just below is the group's breakthrough hit single Linger which eases its way to Number 47. In its day this was one of those notable singles which became an American chart hit before finally escaping to the British Isles themselves. Linger had first been released in 1993 and had gone virtually unnoticed, limping to Number 74 in February that year. It was only when The Cranberries secured themselves a support slot alongside Suede on an American tour that they finally began to catch people's attention. Growing steadily upon the first release, the track climbed the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of 1993 and would eventually peak inside the Top 10 in the first weeks of the new year. That was all the hook that was needed to re-promote the single in Britain and the reactivated track embarked on an extended chart run from mid-February onwards, spending a full seven weeks inside the Top 20 without ever climbing higher than Number 14.
Linger was followed in short order by the single which had been the group's first ever release, initially pushed on an independent label in October 1992. The more upbeat and jangling Dreams became an airplay staple when it too was re-released in May 1994, yet its chart history kind of belies its classic status, the track making a rather disappointing Number 27 in its second week on release. It took dance producers Dario G to realise its full potential, turning Dreams into the core of their single Dream To Me which peaked at Number 9 in February 2001. This time around it chimes with rather fewer people and creeps to Number 66.
The highest charting Cranberries singles actually came later in their career, Salvation and Promises giving them a brace of Number 13 hits in 1996 and 1999 respectively. The group's farewell Greatest Hits collection Stars - The Best Of 1992-2002 is their biggest selling album of the week, crashing back in at Number 16 to eclipse the Number 20 it scaled when first released in September 2002. It may well have charted higher, but for the fact that for now, physical copies of it are understandably in short supply. Other chart albums from the group include No Need To Argue at Number 61 and perhaps surprisingly their 2012 comeback release Roses which sits at Number 73.