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Look What You Made Her Do
Hey, remember Ariana Grande's last album? You should, she literally released it a mere five minutes ago [August 17th to be precise - Ed]. Sweetener has so far spawned the smash hit singles No Tears Left To Cry, God Is A Woman and a third hit track, of which more very shortly.
This only makes it all the more surprising that last weekend out of the blue the American singer released a brand new track, previously unheard, and then made noises to the effect that it was the first single to be taken from a forthcoming new album. The ink isn't even dry on the reviews for her last record and she's already moving onto the next.
thank u, next (sic) is the track in question, which appeared online on Sunday morning following a brief tweet from the artist herself. Thematically it is arguably the analogue to Little Mix's Shout Out To My Ex, a complicated dis track to several of her ex-boyfriends where she sweetly thanks them for turning her into the woman she is now - someone intending to focus only on herself for a bit. Needless to say the fandom went into meltdown over it, not least for the directness of its lyric. Where Taylor Swift likes to write about ex-boyfriends but wraps their identities up in metaphors, Ariana Grande here just calls them all out by name. (Big) Sean, Ricky (Alvarez), Pete (Davidson) and Malcolm (Mac Miller) are all paid tribute to, and we can only imagine how Graham Phillips feels about having escaped being immortalised.
Did I mention she also swears like a Geordie docker on the track? The Angel Of Manchester casts aside her sweet and innocent image once and for all by cooing "I'm so f***ing grateful" repeatedly in the chorus in a manner which possibly grates the first few times for being so gratuitous but then grows on you so much that the radio edit (which deletes the naughty words) sounds out of place. The lightweight and simple production of the track is a world away from the sophisticated multi-layered sound of hits such as No Tears Left To Cry, but then again maybe that's the whole point of planning two album releases in rapid succession. Make them distinct from one another.
thank u, next could hardly fail to be a smash. But even better, it storms its way to the very top of the Official UK Singles chart this week, blasting away all competition by hardly breaking a sweat. That's all the more extraordinary when you note this was a late release. Ariana has topped the charts with a song that has only been available to buy or stream for five days, yet has eclipsed the chart sale of songs that were around for seven. Those sales are, as it so happens, phenomenal. thank u, next posted a total of more than 73,000 chart sales last week (a total which includes a massive 6.7m streams), more than any other single since Drake's In My Feelings clocked up 83,000 in its fourth and final week at the top back in August. The fact that it doesn't happen week in week out aids the perception that it is all but impossible to go straight to Number One on the charts any more, but thank u, next is actually the fourth track this year to do so and the second within the last month.
It's only Ariana Grande's third Number One single in the UK. The other two both came four years ago, first Problem in the summer of 2014 followed in short order by her contribution to Jessie J's Bang Bang in October. Both singles had just a single week of glory at the top of the charts, meaning if this song holds on for another week it will at a stroke become her biggest chart single to date. That fact alone has left many music fans scratching their heads. thank u, next is a good single, but you'd struggle to place it amongst her greatest ever compositions. Placed next to the epic that was No Tears Left To Cry it is a lightweight, throwaway piece of music and yet also one which has outperformed anything else she has put her name to this year. Perhaps more than any Number One single in 2018 it has made people pay attention because of its lyrical content, because of its personal nature, because perhaps more so than any act this side of Dua Lipa she's laying every single one of her emotions bare and allowing every Ari fan across the globe a brief moment to believe they know her personally.
Waiting To Exhale
Yet there's an odd twist in the tale too because something else happened this week which makes the outsider wonder just how many people were in on this plan to hit the world with a surprise single release. Ariana Grande's current hit single is supposed to be breathin'. The track has already been on the charts for several weeks, having charted initially here at Number 8 as an album cut in the week of the collection's release. A fortnight later the label officially serviced it to American radio, elevating it to full single status. On the UK charts the track only spent a week in the Top 10, meandering around the Top 20 for another seven weeks. A fortnight ago it hit Week 10 and was shunted to ACR, causing it to plummet 26-62.
So why mention it now? Because on Wednesday its official video was released. And when you think about it that is absolutely nuts. We finally have a video for a "single" which has been on the radio for two months, which thanks to the rules has already been and gone from the UK charts, released at the precise moment nobody cares for anything Ariana Grande does beyond singing thank u, next. I present it here for posterity and as a symbol of the precise moment I realised I don't understand a single thing the music industry does any more, although it has had a beneficial effect on its chart position, the track rising 65-48.
Time To Say Goodbye
Thank goodness for Ari though, because without her we might have been looking at another logjammed singles chart. The current hit trifecta of Gaga/Little Mix/CalvinSam shuffle down one to make way for her: last week's 1-2-3 are this week's 2-3-4. The long-awaited change is a-coming next week though, after escaping the axe three weeks ago Promises finally experiences three straight chart sales declines and will move to ACR and most probably out of the Top 10 altogether next week.
That's also the fate which befell Marshmello and Bastille's Happier this week, the long-running single enjoying a 5-23 tumble as a consequence. Although that's nothing compared to the even more extraordinary 8-40 tumble taken by Dynoro and Gigi D'Agostino's In My Mind as it too has its streams halved in value. Stepping into the breach are two other new arrivals to the Top 10. Jess Glynne's Thursday is the first to make the jump, rising 18-7 following her appearance on Strictly Come Dancing at the weekend. That's enough to make the single her 12th Top 10 hit single since her 2014 debut and indeed her fourth such hit single this year hard on the heels of These Days, I'll Be There and All I Am. After we made a big deal of the track being only the third hit in chart history to reference the word Thursday in its title, it is now the biggest of them all, eclipsing the Number 16 peak of David Bowie's Thursdays Child in 1999. In a neat bit of symmetry, it is one place behind Dave and Fredo's former Number One Funky Friday, meaning that the Radio One chart show got to play Thursday and Friday tracks in succession.
Also new inside the Top 10, pleasingly so, is Without Me from Halsey which enjoys a 22-9 leap. That's her third Top 10 hit single. The previous two were both Number One hits.
Take Your Brain To Another Dimension
There's a sight to marvel at the very top of the Official UK Albums chart this week. The Number One album belongs not to a movie soundtrack, nor a veteran from the 1960s but instead an act from the height of the 90s rave era. The apparently evergreen Prodigy are back once again. No Tourists is their seventh studio album and their first since 2015's The Day Is My Enemy. Just like its predecessor, and indeed all but one of their studio releases it flies straight to the top of the charts. With 2005 singles collection Their Law added to the equation, The Prodigy can boast a grand total of seven Number One albums. That's as many as legends such as Elton, McCartney, Coldplay and George Michael.
Anything Ariana can do. Whilst she busies herself promoting two singles at once, Jonas Blue is following what appears to be a common trend this year and appears on two different singles at once. Already on the charts thanks to his co-credit on MK's Back and Forth, the British producer finally has another hit to call his own as the absorbing Polaroid jumps 44-16. This track has taken its time catching fire. It was first made available a month ago and has spent the past four weeks edging its way up the charts, moving 55-57-48-44. Whilst we've been rightly cynical about the ability of X Factor to create and generate hits, it was almost certainly the performance of the track on the live show last Sunday which has finally propelled Polaroid into the Top 40. Collaborations aside, it is Jonas Blue's second hit single of the year as a lead artist, this officially the follow-up to the anthemic and incredibly appealing Rise which was perhaps unlucky to be stranded at Number 3 during the height of summer. His debut studio album Blue is finally complete and is in the shops as we speak, even if dedicated collectors will already own 8 of the 15 tracks on the digital edition as singles.
A Jonas Blue single it may well be, but it is the performers on the song which give it the most notability. Polaroid is largely a vehicle for Liam Payne, this now the sixth Top 40 hit single in just over a year on which the former 1Der has featured. That's more than enough to make him the second most successful solo One Direction star so far, Harry (1), Louis (3), Niall (3) all trailing him by some distance. Only erstwhile member ZAYN who had a one year head start on the rest can boast more solo Top 40 hits, with seven to his name to date.
There were widespread rumours that Polaroid was set to be a duet between Payne and his better half Cheryl only for, you know, shit to happen. The female part on the song is instead taken by a name who will be new to most British audiences. Second generation star Lennon Stella has been better known until now as one half of Lennon & Maisy, the sisterly duo who featured in the American TV series "Nashville". Whilst Maisy Lennon is the one with the acting ambitions, Lennon had designs on a musical career similar to that of their parents (C&W duo The Stellas). Hence her turn on Polaroid, the single neatly serving as a springboard to her own solo deal.
The Space Between
Twenty years ago, for singles to climb steadily into the Top 40 after debuting outside was all but unheard of. This week we have no less than three such "chart entries". The second of those is James Arthur's Empty Space which vaults 66-27 in a manner which suggests that it is indeed heading for the kind of chart run which the surprise comeback kid has treated us to in the past. His last Top 40 hit came almost exactly a year ago when Naked reached Number 11. Empty Space becomes the latest single to achieve huge levels (in relative terms) of paid-for sales. It is the 8th most-purchased track this week, held back on the charts only by its streams lagging slightly behind. I'm amused by the fact that it now means we have both the 2011 and 2012 X Factor winners riding high in the charts, at the same time that reigning champions Rak-Su are finding hit singles rather harder to come by - their much-hyped I Want You To Freak dips to Number 58 having never progressed past the 39 it scaled a fortnight ago.
Marry Me Grace
They've been promising it for some time, and it looks like it is finally set to be delivered. The second Clean Bandit album What Is Love? finally has a release date, set to hit the streets on November 30th, exactly four years and six months since their debut collection New Eyes. Although given its announced tracklisting features every single they have released since 2016, we have actually heard the bulk of it already. Those singles are now six in number, thanks to the arrival this week of the British group's latest musical masterpiece. Baby sees the group go Latino, the track opening just for a change not with the sound of Grace's Cello but with a flamenco guitar flourish. The tale of the woman lamenting an old love coming back into her life at the precise moment she has moved on is told by the traditional invited vocal turn - this time Marina and the Diamonds along with an all-too-brief contribution from Luis Fonsi.
The appearance of Marina Diamandis on a Clean Bandit single is one that provokes a wry smile. She first collaborated with the group on a 2015 recording Disconnect which they debuted together during a performance at the Coachella festival that summer. The track then mysteriously failed to surface, Jack Patterson suggesting that they couldn't decide on a final mix for the finished track. It led to Mariana herself tweeting the group in mid-2016 to ask if they were ever going to get around to releasing it given she herself was tired of being asked about it. Disconnect was eventually flung out to little fanfare in June 2017, was given no promotion, failed to chart and is fascinatingly not featured on either the standard or deluxe tracklistings of the new album. It's the Clean Bandit song that time forgot, so the fact that Mariana is back in the fold on Baby is both telling and amusing all at once.
I described it as a masterpiece because let's face it every Clean Bandit track is these days. Over the past two years, we've witnessed at first hand the creative genius of the cleverest, most inventive and most crucially consistent British group of the moment. Everything Clean Bandit touches turns to gold, and at first glance, there appears no reason not to believe that Baby won't add to their tally of Top 10 hits or even Number Ones. Yet it has some ground to catch up to do so. Its entry point this week at Number 33 is quite alarmingly meek, the lowest chart entry any previously unreleased Clean Bandit track has posted. But they've been here before. Exactly one year ago I Miss You entered at a lowly Number 28, took a fortnight to reach the Top 20 but would eventually enjoy an extended Top 10 run and peak at Number 4 in the first weeks of this year. Write this one off at your peril, but in the meantime permit yourself a small moment of annoyance. How dare they be this effortlessly, artfully and consistently good? All whilst lacking anything resembling a permanent lead singer.
The Show Goes On
When was the last time two acts who followed each other at the top of the charts teamed up for their very next single? Well, because we are in 2018 that has now happened. Benny Blanco's Eastside surrendered its chart crown to Calvin Harris' Promises back in September. Now the two men appear alongside each other on the subtle grower I Found You which makes its chart bow at Number 35. This seems set to climb further, so a proper analysis can wait until next week. For now, I'll note the bold prediction being made by the Official Charts Company twitter account, although based on the recent form of both men are you really going to disagree with them too vociferously?
Completing the trio of significant chart climbers, Pink's take on the Greatest Showman song A Million Dreams also reaches the Top 40 after falling just short last week. It is joined on the chart by Panic! At The Disco's version of The Greatest Show which enters at Number 51. As I mentioned last week, both are taken from the Greatest Showman : Reimagined album which is due out next week and seems set to be a massive seller over the holiday period. We've still to hear it, but I'm intrigued by the presence on the album of what is billed as the "reimagined remix" of This Is Me, which adds new vocal from Kesha and Missy Elliott to those of Keala Settle. As long as it isn't rubbish, that could well propel the already long-running and sure to be classic single all the way back up the charts.
Token Nerdy Bit
Now, remember last week I noted that the sudden surge of interest in Tom Walker's Leave A Light On following the Stand Up To Cancer charity performance was not properly reflected on the chart thanks to the six-month-old single being stuck on ACR? Well this week the inevitable happens. Last week's surge has promoted it back to normal - but too late to have any impact on its chart position. But that does mean its movements on the official Top 100 look almost perverse. The single crashes 7-93 on the sales chart, but more or less holds its own on the streaming table, dipping 63-69. With those streams double the value of last week, the dramatic drop in purchases is irrelevant. So Leave A Light On actually climbs the Top 100, moving 52-50. Fun, isn't it?