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Back To Life, Back To Reality
Just like that Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore. As it didn't take a genius to work out, the mass influx of Christmas songs becomes a mass exodus within the space of a week. It makes for what has now become the oddest singles chart of the year, one where an effective reset button is pressed and everything pings back to where it arguably all should have been all along. Just as a year ago, this is a singles chart where just about everything climbs, and there are no fewer than 28 'new' songs in the Top 40 alone.
The absence of Christmas streams from the equation naturally has a sizable impact on the overall size of the singles market tracked by the chart survey. Last week the database crunched the numbers of almost 19 million chart sales - easily an all-time record. This week the market contracts to 'just' 16.2m, a slump of over 14%. That's perhaps not quite as large a drop as you might expect, confirming my theory that the surge of interest in seasonal songs is actually the long tail contracting. Whilst there will indeed be more songs than normal streamed and even purchased over the holiday period, the market correction is now down to people drifting back to their usual interests in less popular genres, allowing pop hits to sit in the driving seat once more.
In theory, that kind of market fall opened the door to the possibility of some singles reversing their ACR status given it would only take a sales leap of 36% week on week to achieve the "beat the market by 50 percentage points" required. In practice that was beyond most well-established hits. Chart surges we see this week are down to a lack of competition rather than massive leaps in popularity. Last week's Number 40 single Thursday from Jess Glynne clocked up a chart sale of just over 18,306 copies to get there. The closest to that total this week was achieved by George Ezra with Hold My Girl which sold 18,304 copies. And is Number 14 as a result. Exact numbers for Thursday are unavailable, but it is one place higher on the chart, suggesting that overall its chart sale remained more or less the same.
Still Screaming At Night
Enough number crunching, time to talk actual pop music. Number One on the Official UK Singles chart for a second week is Sweet But Psycho by Ava Max, a single which did increase its sales by no small degree. In its 11th week on the singles chart, the hit record clocks up its largest sale to date, posting over 71,000 chart sales to ensure 2019 begins with something of a bang. Number 2 just behind her is still Ariana Grande's thank u, next which is where in theory it has been for the past two weeks. Her own second hit imagine is still floundering somewhat, languishing at Number 20.
He may not be quite at the top of the charts, but it is Post Malone who becomes the most obvious star of the post-Christmas shakeout. He has no less than two singles in the Top 5 this week, the biggest of which is a track which first charted in the same week as Ava Max's hit. Sunflower is the track in question, clues that it was more than holding its own came by the way it was at Number 19 last week despite the festive songs onslaught. This week it is the Number 3 single, finally surpassing the Number 7 peak it scaled in its first week on release back in November.
Mr Post is also the Number 5 artist of the week, the bold decision to release his new single WOW. in Christmas week paying off. Whilst it debuted at Number 52 last week, that didn't tell the true story of its popularity and it now rockets up the chart to sit comfortably inside the Top 5 to become only the fifth such hit for the American star. My timeline is abuzz with people wondering just what the next Number One single from the current crop of chart hits might be. It is hard to see past Post Malone making a play with either one of his two hit singles, assuming anyone is getting past Ava Max any time soon.
Cover Your Ears
The other surprise Top 10 arrival isn't so much of a surprise when you consider where it was in the theoretical "non-Christmas" chart we constructed here last week. After spending almost three months hurtling around just outside the Top 30, Baby Shark by Pinkfong appears to have found its fins at last during the school holidays. The children's novelty hit rockets up the table at long last and this week sits at Number 6. Working out just why it is there is however the most fascinating part. Whilst it is selling copies, it isn't in particularly large numbers - languishing at Number 37 on the overall sales table, far lower than the Number 16 it climbed to during the first rush of interest in the track. It isn't doing huge numbers on Spotify either, well outside the daily Top 100 most played songs and registering no more than about 45,000 spins a day on that service. No, illustrating just how hit records can now be made from a diverse set of sources, Baby Shark is almost certainly picking up large numbers of chart sales from YouTube plays, logical really given that it is a viral video success and this is its natural home. However, I'm also willing to wager that there are more than a few of its chart sales arriving via Echo devices in family kitchens. "Alexa, play Baby Shark" is doubtless a common cry across the land - and whilst you can in theory plug Spotify and Deezer accounts into Echo setups, precious few people do. Baby Shark's chart numbers could well be coming via extensive plays from Amazon Prime, a source that we Chart Watchers cannot easily track on a daily or even weekly basis.
The next few weeks will prove interesting. Has Baby Shark peaked thanks to the school holidays? Or are we now stuck with it for the duration until the nation's children finally get bored of it?
New Year Paradise
The other surprise Top 10 arrival that isn't really such a surprise is George Ezra's summertime smash hit Shotgun which is back with a bullet so to speak at Number 7. Now 41 weeks old, this is the single's first visit to the Top 10 since early October. It just goes to show what exposure on the Christmas editions of Top Of The Pops can do for a chap. This is all at the annoying expense of what is supposed to be his "current" hit single Hold My Girl which is some distance behind, although it does at least reach the Top 20 for the first time in its chart career so far, as I mentioned earlier rising to Number 14 after previously reaching Number 25 just before Christmas.
She Still Hasn't Shaved
There's another thing about the charts which is exactly the same as a year ago - the Number One album. Eight years ago now during its extended run of worldwide success, I joked that a part of each column had to be devoted to "Adele chart record of the week" as the list of superlative sales by 21 extended ever further. We are facing a similar situation now with The Greatest Showman soundtrack recording as the damn record just refuses to die. Now in its fourth week in a row at Number One, the most successful album of 2018 tops the chart for what is now the 25th time in total. Last week it surpassed 21 as the 21st century album with the most weeks at Number One and it continues to edge up the all-time table of long running table-topping albums. It is now eighth on the all-time list and needs just two more weeks at the top of the charts to equal the 27 week total of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles.
Meanwhile, songs from The Greatest Showman continue to be popular as single tracks as well. Its signature hit This Is Me is also enjoying a post-holiday surge of popularity. Keala Settle and friends are up to Number 16 this week, the highest the single has climbed the chart since it was last in the Top 20 at the start of May last year - some 36 weeks ago. As regular readers will know, This Is Me is unique amongst all the Showman hits in that it is enjoying combined chart sales from both the original soundtrack version and the remix from the Reimagined compilation album, due to the presence of Keala Settle on both. Not quite as lucky, but still hanging in there on their own merits are the movie versions of The Greatest Show (Number 25) and A Million Dreams (Number 30). I stress "movie versions" there as of course, both songs are also on the chart in their Reimagined forms. Pink's version of A Million Dreams is at Number 17 this week whilst Panic! At The Disco's take on The Greatest Show creeps back on the chart at Number 95. The biggest Showman-related hit of all however remains James Arthur and Anne-Marie's duet on Rewrite The Stars which is at Number 8, matching the peak it first scaled four weeks ago.
I'm Already Playing
It is easy to lose track of just what tracks were where just before Christmas and how they are doing now, so we should in fairness note for the record too brand new highs for Baby by Clean Bandit (Number 15) and Play from Jax Jones/Years & Years which was almost lost in the mix just before the holiday and only now makes the Top 40 for the very first time with a leap to Number 19.
Girls Like Her
This week used to be a manic one for new music, not so much these days as the music industry has long learned there is no urgent rush to push new product online. Better to let some pre-Christmas releases find their feet properly instead. That's all to the benefit of acts such as Cardi B, who sees her end of year single Money also find a second wind, climbing to a new peak of Number 35 to also reach the Top 40 for the very first time.
There's also a Top 40 debut for Gun Lean from Russ, boldly released last week it crept to Number 91 on the festive-dominated chart and now springs to its real world position of Number 36. With so many re-entries it is hard to keep track of what is actually brand new, so for the record let us note the chart debut of Leave Me Alone by Flipp Dinero which charts at Number 56 - even if this is by no means a new release having first appeared online some 40 weeks ago.
Bring In The New (Rules)
So there you go, this week we've rebooted and are waiting for all background services to load up. The only final point of note this week is a small new year change to the chart rules which comes into effect this week. The calculations as to whether a 10+ week old single should be moved onto ACR have been changed and will now only take into account streaming numbers. This is to counteract sneaky moves by labels to heavily discount older tracks on iTunes in order to give sales of a sagging track a tiny boost and delay the onset of its mandated chart decline. Gaming stream numbers is harder to achieve and this is intended to prevent such manipulation taking place - even if this may well result in the odd sight going forward of singles increasing chart sales but collapsing onto ACR anyway. The further collapse of the download market precipitated by the still-rumoured closure of iTunes will go a long way to rendering this all moot anyway. 2019 could well be the year streaming finally becomes the only way to travel.