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New Methods Needed
The end of a quarter means that as far as the Official Charts Company's marketing calendar is concerned, it is time to reveal the biggest singles of the year to date. The list has Sweet But Psycho at the top, 7 Rings in second place and Giant in third. Despite spending longer at the top of the charts than anything else so far this year, reigning chart champion Someone You Loved is still only in 4th place in the chart of the year so far.
This does actually highlight the flaw and the resultant lack of helpfulness of these kinds of cumulative tables. Because tracks have no shelf life and indeed in the streaming era can go on racking up numbers even after they have long dropped out of sight from the main singles chart, such "biggest hits of the year" tables are now inevitably skewed towards those records released at the start of the year. They have had longer to notch up the numbers after all. A year (or even three months of it) is no longer a sufficient timeframe to adequately judge the relative success of a particular track.
Mind you, the table of the biggest albums of the year so far made for more awkward reading. The Official Charts Company were busy trumpeting Tom Walker as having the "biggest debut album of 2019 to date", which was far more exciting than dealing with the awkward truth that the top album in terms of sales and streams so far this year is, in fact, The Greatest Showman, a record released over a year ago. Although at least Ariana Grande was in second place.
From Bedroom To Bedlam
A fascinating article in The Guardian last week pulled back the veil on what it called "underground bedroom pop", the world of the fanatically followed teenage music stars whose celebrity extends no further (and indeed has no need to) than their own YouTube channels. Artists and performers such as Clairo, Girl In Red, Oohyo and Conan Gray to name but a few. Familiar to a large swathe of teens but entirely absent from the commercial mainstream. This week does, however, see the first of these lo-fi stars take what may well be the first of many bold steps into the sunlight as Billie Eilish smashes her way to the top of the Official UK Albums charts.
Already familiar to many thanks to her handful of hit singles to date, most notably Top 10 smash Bury A Friend from earlier this year, the 17-year-old's debut album When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go was met with a string of positive views and granted the kind of coverage usually reserved for a much-loved veteran act. I've made no secret of my admiration for her and my fascination with her music, so the sight of her with an album which blew the rest the competition out of the water is nothing less than a joy to behold.
There's no escaping it either, she is incredibly young. Aged precisely 17 years, 3 months, and 18 days she breaks by a matter of weeks the record for the youngest ever female performer to top the charts. Since 2004 it has been held by Joss Stone who saw her album Mind Body & Soul charge to the top when she was 17 years, 5 months and 28 days old. Teenage stars Diana Vickers and Ella Henderson have also topped the chart in recent years, but none were as quite a tender age as Ms Eilish. She isn't the youngest person of any gender to have a Number One album, that accolade still reserved for child singer Neil Reid who in the wake of performances on Opportunity Knocks saw his self-titled album top the charts in 1972 when he was just 12 years and 9 months old. Born in December 2001, Billie Eilish is the first artist born this side of the millennium to top either singles or albums chart in this country.
With its tracks being streamed in quite large numbers during the week it comes as no surprise to see the Californian singer make a huge impact on the Official Singles Chart too. She doesn't quite make it to Number One, Lewis Capaldi clocking up a sixth week in a row with Someone You Loved instead. But Billie Eilish still powers her way to Number 2 with the album's most popular cut Bad Guy, one which not entirely coincidentally had its video released during the week. The track is easily her biggest chart single to date, charging past the Number 7 peak originally scaled by Bury A Friend back in February. Bad Guy is dark, disturbing, blessed with a pounding bassline and is utterly mesmerising. Hear it and understand why this woman is just as big as she is.
But wait, Bury A Friend made Number 7 did it? Well yes it did, but you can now chalk it up instead as a Number 6 hit as Billie Eilish's other notable single makes a rebound of its own, powering its way back into the Top 10 after five weeks away and enjoying a brand new peak. Her third permitted hit is Wish You Were Gay, originally a Number 26 chart hit three weeks ago but now her third Top 20 hit single as it too charges up the chart in the wake of the release of her album to sit this time around at Number 13.
After speculating whether it would be a one-week wonder it seems only right and proper to notice the continuing Top 10 success of the Steel Banglez track Fashion Week which far from vanishing from sight actually holds its own, declining one place to Number 8. That once more puts it just a step behind the Dave track Location which also declines a place to Number 7, more than holding its own after the other album cuts alongside which it arrived have indeed faded from view. Not every grime and drill hit escapes unscathed though, last week's other notable new entry Keisha & Becky from RUSS and Tion Wayne slumps 19-25.
Still without a video (although a teaser "visualiser" appeared online in the week), but powering its own way into the Top 10 is Piece Of Your Heart by Meduza featuring Goodboys. Number 32 when we first mentioned it last week it now rockets 22 places to sit comfortably at Number 10 and at a stroke become the smash hit you always knew it was going to be.
We Going Nowhere
Highlighting the climbers seems more important than usual this week, given that in marked contrast to seven days ago, this is one of those odd charts where nothing at all seems upwardly mobile. This may just be a blip of course, but it is hard to avoid noticing that our championed batch of thrilling new hits from the likes of Marshmello, Sigrid and Ava Max all go frustratingly into reverse.
Billie aside, the biggest new hit of the week has to be content with landing at a not too disrespectable Number 19. Rap hit of the week is Your Mrs from Jay1, a 22-year-old who originates from London but who unlike many of his contemporaries moved out and now hails from Coventry. He first came to online attention a year ago with his track That's My Bae which briefly prompted its own hashtag-led challenge as people rapped their own rhymes over its rhythm. Your Mrs drags him overground and into the commercial pop charts for the very first time, and as ever we are left contemplating its future prospects. One week wonder or long-term hit? For this one, I'm going for the former.
Back Back Baby
I may have mocked them at the time for being ever so slightly irrelevant to modern audiences, but you cannot deny that Westlife made for one of the more intriguing chart stories of the winter. 20 years on from their original success the Irish balladeers returned to the charts with an Ed Sheeran song and in the process confounded expectations that their attempt to recreate past glories would end in inglorious favour. Admittedly there were some clever promotional tactics at work, with brand new versions of their single emerging at regular intervals to pop another chart sale, but the history books will record that Hello My Love has been a startlingly enduring hit, hovering around the lower end of the Top 40 for over two months even if it never came close to eclipsing the Number 13 it charted at in its first week on sale. And needless to say its streams during this time were minimal.
Now we are blessed with the follow-up, Better Man yet another Ed Sheeran co-write and if we are being perfectly honest a song which is wasted on the veteran performers given the level of attention it is likely to receive in the long term. A release for fan service only in truth, it charts at Number 26 and unless a miracle comes to pass is going to suffer the same fate as Hello My Love, selling to loyal followers but being paid no attention beyond that. I take some small joy from the song's Wikipedia page which takes time out to note that "…this is their second single release that starts with letter "B" since "Bop Bop Baby" in 2002. This is their third second (sic) single release that consist (sic) with the word "man" since "What Makes a Man" in 2000 and "Mandy" in 2003". And you thought my stats were drenched in nerdism.
Leave It Alone Woman
That might have been all she wrote this week, but for the surprise appearance of yet ANOTHER brand new Ariana Grande track. Because despite two album releases in the space of a year she still has unheard material to churn out. Monopoly, a duet between the singer and next star in waiting Victoria Monet. Only made available to stream and purchase on Monday, the track suffers because of this and sneaks in at a lowly Number 40, but it is everything we've come to expect from a rush-released Ariana hit of late. She even says "fuck" a lot in it so all is right with the world. Top 5 next week perhaps?