All Newspapers Fold
I write this 24 hours after it was announced that the New Musical Express (NME) is to cease operations as a print publication.
You will have read the laments from a great many people, from former staff and contributors to former readers, lamenting the loss of what was a core part of their life. I can't really join in that kind of hot take, the old 'inky' music papers never appealing to me even when younger. I was always unashamedly a pop enthusiast and the idea of wading through someone else's idea of what I should be listening to never appealed. So I'm one of the ones who jumped directly from Smash Hits to Q with only the odd browse of a friend's copy of Record Mirror in between.
However the NME is essentially the reason we are all here now, given that it was the British pioneer of the idea of a "hit parade" of popular music, the printing of a Top 12 best selling singles list in the edition of November 14th, 1952 was the point from which all appreciation of the music charts flows. So it seems only fitting to mark the passing in those terms.
The NME was also the last of its kind, a weekly publication devoted to all matters music and that which flowed from it. All their rivals are long gone. So too are those entities which it was presumed would supplant them. The online pop music websites, the planned one stop shop for all fans of pop music old and young all fell by the wayside too. The reason you read this column here is simply that the kind of websites in which it used to find a home all closed down too. Pop music fans congregate in their own private enclaves online. The significance of which may well only become clear some years down the line.
Same As The Old Boss
So what was Number One the day the week the NME shut up shop and retreated online? The same as it has been for weeks, in truth. The singles market is going through one of its periods of clotting, the established hits so well established that it is going to take something extraordinary (or chart rules) to shift them out of the way.
This means a seventh straight week at Number One for God's Plan by Drake (because I forgive anyone who has lost count). That's now the longest continuous run at the top of the Official UK Singles chart since Ed Sheeran's 13-in-a-row with Shape Of You at the start of last year. Honourable mention goes to Luis Fonsi's Despacito which enjoyed 11 weeks at the top of the charts last summer, albeit in three separate runs of 6, 3 and 2 weeks respectively.
The reason for this unchanging domination is the same as before. God's Plan is unbeatable as far as streaming is concerned, notching up a further 6.6m streams. Its download sales continue to hold steady, albeit at a lower level, rending it the 8th biggest selling single of the week. The Number 2 streamed track of the moment is also the biggest seller - These Days - but its combined totals are just not enough to come close to eclipsing Drake's streaming domination.
This air of consistency extends further down the singles chart too. The entire Top 3 hold firm from last week, this meaning a fifth straight week at Number 2 for Macklemore's aforementioned These Days (now just two short of the all-time record) and a third at Number 3 for Dua Lipa's IDGAF. Given that this was preceded by four solid weeks at Number 4, I wonder if she is secretly giving a very large one about ever making the Top 2.
In fact, the contents of this week's Top 10 singles are identical to last week. Not one new single penetrates the very upper reaches of the chart, leaving everyone else to rearrange themselves a bit. The only real move of note is a return to Number 4 for Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man, the single reclaiming the peak it first scaled a fortnight ago.
So yeah, that's all a little boring. I cannot sugar coat that. But at least it cannot last forever.
Fine Line Between SCR and ACR
Commiserations then to Mabel and Not3s who hammer loudly on the door of the Top 10 but can only manage a 14-11 rise with Fine Line. With some small regret, I note that this week marks the end of what has been the enormously entertaining two-way battle between the aforementioned Mabel/Not3s collaboration and its mirror image My Lover by Not3s/Mabel. That single falls victim to old age, downgraded (it appears) to ACR after three straight weeks of sales decline and so takes a 16-43 tumble.
A portfolio of interesting new releases (chief of which is the latest UB40 album A Real Labour Of Love which charts at Number 2) cannot shift The Greatest Showman from the top of the Official UK Albums chart this week. There's no cute juggling of formats here, the long-running soundtrack hit collection tops every single metric used to compile the charts. Selling more CDs, more downloads and enjoying more streams than any other album in the market, it duly spends a ninth week at Number One. That matches the best run of Ed Sheeran's Divide last year to become the joint-second longest-running Number One album of the century. The only collection in the last 30 years to beat it in terms of consecutive weeks at the top is Adele's 21 which landed an 11-week stint at the top back in 2011.
It's Not All Bad News Though
The man's right, it is not all bad news. Because the new material is out there. The newer hits are on their way. Just taking their time over it.
So let's focus on them. After six weeks around, The Middle from Zedd and collaborators Maren Morris and Grey enjoys the biggest climb of the week. The track jumps 31-18 to give the Russian producer his biggest hit single since Stay (with Alessia Cara in tow) climbed to Number 8 in May last year. It is his sixth Top 20 hit to date, and curiously the second on which he features alongside electropop Grey - the two acts having collided on their debut single Starving which for dubious marketing reasons handed the lead artist credit to Hailee Steinfeld when it reached Number 5 towards the end of 2016. Maren Morris is a new name to the UK charts, although she has enjoyed considerable prior success as a country artist, in a way mirroring the career path of Chris Stapleton who is enjoying his own mainstream breakthrough thanks to his part on Justin Timberlake's current hit.
As if to herald the arrival of spring and the point in most years at which pop music always starts to get really good, The Middle is a fun and breezy pop record and a genuine breath of fresh air. Delighted to see it powering its way up the charts.
Tube Of Cream Please. Large.
"This still seems unlikely to be [a large hit] (and may those words come back to bite me on the arse)" were my exact comments a week ago, in relation to George Ezra's Paradise. Consider the Masterton buttocks to be on red alert as the single this week defies expectations and takes a flying leap up to Number 19 to give Ezra his biggest chart hit since Blame It On Me reached Number 6 in autumn 2014. As I also noted last week, if George Ezra had sunk without trace with his second album thanks to a rapidly shifted set of musical tastes, it would have been no shock. The fact that he hasn't done so and instead is enjoying a chart renaissance with a single which is unashamedly radio-friendly is also something to find great comfort in. A great reminder of just how good he happens to be.
Only Love Can Hurt
I mentioned it in passing last week, so let's give proper attention to the collaboration between Sigala and Paloma Faith, Lullaby, which makes good on its early promise and eases up 11 places with a climb to Number 21. After what appeared to be a slight changing up of his trademark tropical house formula on his last hit Came Here For Love, Bruce Fielder appears to have reverted back to type with this new single. Despite the risk it takes sounding like a hit from 2014 Lullaby is blessed with the same kind of uplifting energy that typifies all the best Sigala singles. Indeed the biggest switching up is that of Paloma Faith who is here participating on what you can regard as the most mainstream sounding pop single of her career, this track a world away from the quirky, retro and jazz-fuelled hit singles she's performed on over the course of the last decade. The one exception is perhaps her last Top 10 single, the Sigma track Changing which vaulted straight to Number One upon release back in 2014. The fact that she's now featured on both drum n' bass and tropical house hits and sounds perfectly at home on both is perhaps a testament to her versatility and brilliance. Meanwhile, her own label is, I suspect, slightly disgusted, Lullaby having for the moment stolen focus from the gorgeous cover of Mama Cass' Make Your Own Kind Of Music which is technically her own current single release.
The XXXtasy Of New Entries
Three of this week's brand new releases manage to penetrate the Top 40. Leading the way is Sad, the second UK chart entry for American singer and rapper XXXTentacion. A leading light of what has become known as the Florida-based SoundCloud rap scene, which emphasises the minimalist lo-fi nature of its production, he made his commercial breakthrough last year with signature track Jocelyn Flores. That single crept briefly into the British Top 40 in September last year, peaking at Number 39. For his sophomore effort, he lands at Number 26 first week out, a chart position based almost entirely on the streams it picked up during the past seven days, on pure sales terms it is only the 70th most-purchased track of the week.
Teenage rapper Dave is the owner of new entry number 2. The 19-year-old from Streatham charted five different tracks during 2017, the biggest of which ended up being No Words which peaked at Number 17 in the first weeks of the new year as one of three tracks taken from his EP Game Over. Newly garlanded with a MOBO award for Best Newcomer, the prospect of his first album proper is heralded with brand new track Hangman which begins its own chart life decisively at Number 30.
By a strange coincidence, Dave's co-star on No Words was fellow Londoner MoStack and this week he lands his first ever hit single as a primary artist with What I Wanna arriving as a new entry at Number 37. Also worthy of note is the single just behind. A fortnight ago we noted the arrival of Love Lies by Khalid and Normani as the highest new entry of the week, albeit some way down the chart listings. In its third week on sale, the single has finally started to grow wings and climbs eight places to Number 39. A soundtrack hit, taken from the forthcoming movie "Love, Simon", you suspect the imminent arrival of the movie in theatres will help it grow still further from here. Carry on keeping an eye out.