Quack Quack Ooops
Drake released a new album this week.
His fifth studio album, Scorpion arrives just over two years since its predecessor Views. Although only just over a year since the "mixtape" More Life. Let's not get bogged down with what the actual difference between the two is, because we'd be here all night. During this period the Canadian singer/rapper/mumbler has grown to become the first true superstar of the streaming age, a man whose every utterance is consumed with a fervour akin to cultdom and whose every release would be greeted with breathless anticipation if only he would actually announce them in enough time to anticipate them.
In keeping with the present vogue for "more is more" and with collections of tracks no longer required to be constrained by what can be produced on physical media, Scorpion is a behemoth. A sprawling "double album" (even though for now it does not exist in physical form) consisting of no less than 25 different tracks and with a total running time of over 90 minutes. It is almost too much for the mind to process all in one go, but then again maybe that is the point of it. We are supposed to peel back the layers, discover new things each time, grow to love the work in stages. Or maybe he just doesn't care and just wants to bore us all into submission, who knows.
Perhaps more so than any other artist of the moment, or indeed of my memory, he dramatically polarises opinion. It seems impossible to not be bothered by him, perhaps because of the way he is capable of placing a stranglehold on charts worldwide. If you don't rate him it is necessary to hate him. But if you love him then you get to fill your boots over and over. Which is precisely what people do.
Drake released a new album this week. But intriguingly he did so at the precise moment the chart rules changed, causing him to slam headlong into a means of compiling the singles chart designed to reward those who go about matters conventionally. Making our story this week just as much about what he didn’t do as what he eventually did.
An Album Jim, But Not As We Know It
What Drake does have is the Number One album. Not quite by the distance the hype would have led you to anticipate, but certainly by enough to ensure his early-week lead was never going to be approached. Not even by a certain musical soundtrack. Scorpion registered 64,000 chart sales over the course of the week, and yes indeed the vast majority of those came via online streams. Whilst it helps that the album has no physical release at present (that's due in a week we are told), this is very much a product of the digital age. In fact, an extraordinary 50,000 (78%) of Scorpion's sales were courtesy of digital streams - and these we should note are not subject to paid/free demarcation but are all given equal weight and equal merit. That's the second highest streaming total for any album in the short history of the format, second only to the 79,000 streaming sales posted by - you guessed it - Ed Sheeran in March 2017.
The album is Drake's second UK chart-topper. Scorpion follows hard on the heels of his last "official" album Views, which also topped the chart on digital sales alone. This makes Drake the first artist to top the charts twice with an album not available in physical form.
Did Not Go To God's Plan
What Drake does not have this week is the Number One single. Yes, tracks from the album were in pure numerical terms far and away the most streamed offerings of the week, helped in no small part by the way Spotify appeared to give over their entire interface to Drake promotion and inserted him into so many unlikely places in their curated world that it led some users in America to start demanding refunds. But it appears too many of these streams came via the free tier, the value of which has as of this week been downgraded for chart compilation purposes. In addition whilst individual tracks were purchased, they weren't done so in large numbers. Certainly not approaching the kinds of numbers the tracks at the top of the sales market were managing.
So in what may be set to be an emerging pattern, the Number One position on the Official UK Singles chart goes to a track which not only sold in comfortably large quantities but which it appears also enjoyed the "right" kind of streaming. Bolstered too by having a watchable video, George Ezra breaks the cycle of recent weeks and enjoys a second week at Number One with Shotgun.
His sales leap by what on the face of it is an extraordinary amount, Shotgun registering a chart sale of just shy of 76,000 units. That's a full 41% more than last week and the second-highest tally for a Number One single this year. But of course, we are not comparing like with like, as for the first time views of the single's official video are being tallied as well. The Official Charts Company reports he enjoyed 3 million views during the course of last week, although with paid-for video services still in their infancy most of these views will have been free ones and applied at the lower 1:600 ratio. I'm guessing here. We all are right now, this is brand new territory. His jump in sales is an important detail though, given Shotgun is already 15 weeks old and under threat of an ACR demotion the moment its sales start to slide away.
The Dead Can't Sue, Right?
Were it not for the antics of Ed Sheeran a year and a half ago, the rest of the Top 40 singles would be more or less swamped by Drake tracks. But it was thanks to Ed Sheeran pulling off the trick of peppering the upper end of the charts with every track from his album that the rule restricting acts to just three hits at a time was introduced. So Drake was physically unable to break the charts this week and instead has just three hit singles to his name. Crucially, however, every single one takes a place in the Top 5.
Leading the way as you might expect is the track which dominated attention from the moment the album was released, the poignant Don't Matter To Me which featured the unexpected surprise of a beyond the grave guest vocal from Michael Jackson. It's a previously unheard performance, dating from the same Paul Anka sessions which gave us Jackson's most recent posthumous hit Love Never Felt So Good. Drake has remained silent on the exact circumstances by which he came by the recording, even in the face of parts of the Jackson family asking pointed questions as to just where his authorisation for using the vocals came from.
Legitimacy aside, Don't Matter To Me enters at Number 2 and gives the star his third Top 3 single of the year. His other two hits this week are Nonstop at Number 4 and Emotionless at Number 5.
These three new hits have had the entertaining effect of bringing to an abrupt halt (for now) the extended chart runs of former Number One hits God's Plan and Nice For What which last week were at 61 and 25 respectively. The next highest 'selling' Scorpion track is the final teaser release I'm Upset which sat at Number 53 last week and would have been Number 10 were it not disqualified by those above. Every single track from Scorpion sits somewhere between 2 and 66 in the unfiltered "tracks" listing but all of them are "starred out" and otherwise hidden from view on the Top 100 itself. Drake incidentally holds what is, for now, an unassailable record, the release of "playlist" More Life in March 2017 seeing every one of its 22 songs reach the main singles chart at a time when they were free to do so.
Girls Like This
I warned last week that changes to chart rules tend to mean evolution rather than revolution as far as the makeup of the chart countdown is concerned. You'll be hard-pressed to find any giant chart leaps or reversals of fortune which can be easily attributed to both the inclusion of videos and the paid/free streaming split. That said, the three place climb enjoyed by Maroon 5 and Cardi B with Girls Like You (even in the face of the three Drake hits distorting the upper end of the market) is surely not unrelated to the fact that it is the most popular video online at the moment, the Official Charts Company revealed that the clever clip logged 2.7m video streams - 400,000 more than George Ezra. Whether free or paid, it doesn't really matter, all those eyes add up in the end and it has turned a mid-table hit single into a Top 10 smash. This is now the tenth Top 10 hit single for Maroon 5, even if it has taken them just over 14 years to reach the benchmark.
Jules Rimet Never Gleamed In Black And White
Isn't it funny how just three weeks ago I lamented the way World Cup fever had utterly failed to impact the singles chart this year, in marked contrast to the way football singles were very much in vogue 20 years ago. Whilst the build-up to the tournament may have been low-key, the increasingly assured performances of the England side have contrived to suddenly inspire the nation - and inevitably that now flows through to the music people are buying and listening to. Having enjoyed steady upward momentum for the past fortnight, this week interest in the veteran 3 Lions single by Baddiel, Skinner and The Lightning Seeds exploded into life - particularly in the aftermath of England's second round victory over Columbia on Tuesday evening.
The single is now so old that it merited a BBC News package to fully explain the context of the "football's coming home" chant resonating from every bar and terrace. That didn't stop it surging to the top of the live iTunes sales chart during the week and enjoying an uplift in streams. The result is an 18 place climb to Number 24, this now the highest chart position the single has enjoyed since it reached Number 10 to coincide with the 2010 Fifa World Cup in Brazil. It was incredibly the second most-purchased single of last week and at the time of writing remains lodged at the top of the live iTunes tables. Yet it all could go pear-shaped on Saturday afternoon. The fate of the continuing appeal of this golden oldie lies not with public taste, but with the potential result of a game of football.
The re-emergence of 3 Lions this time around has prompted much debate as to which of the two versions is the definitive one. As I've mentioned before, sales of both the original 1996 recording and the 1998 reworking are combined into one for chart purposes, the track inheriting the chart run of the original for chart database purposes. Certainly, it is the original which has driven sales and streams and which is easily the more popular of the two. Yet radio stations appear to be leaning towards airplay for the '98 re-sing, perhaps due to the way it opens with the voice of then-Capital Radio commentator Jonathan Pearce saying "Gareth Southgate, the whole of England is with you". Whilst the words were originally in the context of the future England manager's decisive penalty miss against Germany in the Euro '96 semi-final, they now carry extra resonance as he leads his young side deeper into the competition than anyone truly believed they would manage.
3 Lions '98 grates a little if you are familiar with the lyrics of the original. But there's no denying that the re-recording was done in the context of its creators knowing just what an anthem it had become and so the video comes over as far more inspirational than the apologetic timidity of the original version. It may not be the most popular of the two, but I'm starting to understand why TV and radio prefer it.
Not Drake, Not Football
So go on, I know what you are asking. Are there any contemporary hits worth speaking of? Well yes and no. A handful of existing Top 40 hits shift position in a manner which suggests they have benefitted from the rule changes. Dappy's Oh My reaches a new peak of Number 26, well on its way to becoming his first Top 20 hit in three years. Taste by Tyga and Offset moves 34-27, Apeshit from The Carters rises three to Number 33 and whilst it is still only a baby step, for now, the highly regarded Ring Ring by Jax Jones, Mabel and Rich The Kid makes good on its Top 40 debut last week and rises to Number 37.
Me, I'm more inclined to marvel at the supposed big hits in waiting by big-name combinations which just haven't taken off at all. Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande slip to 35 with Bed, the all-star Girls from Rita Ora, Cardi B, Bebe Rexha and Charli XCX has turned into a genuine and expensive disaster and is about to slip out of sight at 38, whilst perhaps the most shock reversal of the week is that of the Cheat Codes and Little Mix collaboration Only You which debuted last week at 32 and which now enjoys a reversal to Number 40. It must be repeated, this could be a brief adjustment as existing singles find their true level under the new rules. Irrespective of that, however, this is a single from the almighty Little Mix which nearly fell out of the Top 40 in its second week on sale. Those aren't good optics whichever way you spin it.