Just Listen To The Man
…and so ends the latest era in the evolution of the Official UK Singles chart. This is all thanks to last week's big announcement that as of NEXT week streams of videos as well as audio streams will count towards singles chart positions. There's also a major shift in the way ratios are calculated and a distinction to be drawn for the first time between free and paid-for streams. All of that, however, is to come in the future.
For now, we have to contend with the somewhat extraordinary sight of yet another brand new Number One single, the third in as many weeks. In a strange twist, this mirrors the exact chain of events which took place earlier in the spring. Drake's nine-week run at Number One with God's Plan was followed by a series of one-week Number One hits (including his own follow-up Nice For What) before Calvin Harris settled in for another extended run at the top. Three weeks ago One Kiss suffered a downgrade, and the result has been a similar kind of popularity vacuum, multiple singles contending to become the market leader and each one taking their due turn.
This week's lucky beneficiary of the dice roll? Step forward George Ezra who after a wait of just short of five years finally lands the big one and tops the charts in the country of his birth for the very first time. Although his first big hit came in the spring of 2014, his chart career dates back to the original chart entry of his debut single Budapest in November 2013. This is a success which has been some time coming.
The track in question is Shotgun, which in marked contrast to most recent Number One singles has had to endure a long wait to top the charts. It first charted back in April as the most popular non-single track from the singer's second album Staying At Tamara's. After initially entering the charts at Number 35 it sank almost out of sight, spending the next two months hovering on the cusp of the Top 50 before re-emerging as a contender when promoted to full single status. This week is thus the track's 14th week on the charts, the slowest uninterrupted climb to Number One since Stitches by Shawn Mendes took 15 weeks to climb to the summit in late 2015 and early 2016. Honourable mention must go to Ed Sheeran's Perfect which topped the charts last December after having first made the listings in March, but its chart run was subject to a 13-week interruption during which time it was ineligible which meant its continuously charting climb to the top was officially just 11 weeks long.
Like trains exchanging the possession token on a single-track section of the line, so the only changing of the guard inside this week's Top 10 is thanks to two singles swapping places either side of a ratio change. Hence Ariana Grande's No Tears Left To Cry plummets 5-23 in its tenth week on sale thanks to being ensnared by the ACR rules. She is replaced in turn by SAD! from the late XXXtentacion which thanks to its colossal sales surge last week in the aftermath of his death moves back onto the Standard Chart Ratio and in an instant dramatically improves its chart position with a 31-5 jump. That's more than enough to take it past its original Number 19 peak from back in March to become far and away the rapper's highest charting single to date. Even if it is at the point where it no longer matters.
Indeed all three of XXXtentacion's permitted hits enjoy boosts from a move to SCR, with Moonlight gleaming 32-17 and Changes lifting 33-22. This appeared to be much to the consternation of bosses at Radio One who still appeared to be tying themselves in knots over the whole art/artist separation matter and took the somewhat extraordinary decision not to play any of the three XXXtentacion hits during the Friday afternoon chart show, instead airing a short news package on what a horrible person he was. I make no further comment other than to note that I'm glad I'm outside the target audience for a radio station which considers it more important to signal how woke they are rather than playing the highest climber of the week on the chart show.
The posthumous appeal of XXXtentacion has done well to stretch into a second sales week, in marked contrast to the ever-growing flood of dying musical legends whose passing is generally marked with a 48-hour surge in sales and streams. Better late than never (no pun intended), his label has finally deigned to issue the official video for SAD! which until now has sat forlornly on YouTube in audio-only form. It appears to be the most alarmingly prescient footage since 2Pac. Watch and you'll see why.
Bring On The Juice
The posthumous interest in the music of XXXtentacion had an even more dramatic effect on the American charts, with SAD! soaring to the top of the Hot 100 last week with a 51-place climb, just short of becoming one of the ten biggest jumps to the top in American chart history. One of the singles waiting patiently in the wings for its own chance to top the Hot 100 is Lucid Dreams by Juice Wrld which for now sits comfortably at Number 4 across the Atlantic. Back here the single is making solid progress of its own, climbing five places to reach Number 18 and enter the Top 20 for the first time. It is the first ever UK hit for the 19-year-old rapper from Chicago, who has also released his own tribute to both Lil Peep and XXXtentaction in the shape of a two-track EP Too Soon.
Mixing It Up
For a manufactured girl group of some years standing (it will be an extraordinary seven years this Christmas since their original X Factor win), Little Mix appear to be carving for themselves quite a niche as noteworthy collaborators. Following in the footsteps of their bolted-on participation in the CNCO hit Reggaeton Lento, which enjoyed an extended Top 5 run last September, they return to the chart this week as the invited guest of American producers Cheat Codes on the single Only You. The summery smash hit in waiting arrives as a result of a fascinating genesis, the tailor-made token hit single lifted from a three-disc compilation album set for release by Ministry Of Sound as a co-branded tie-in with the disturbingly popular Love Island reality show. Whether that association was needed to turn the single into a hit remains a matter for debate, because Only You has "global smash" written all over it from the very opening bars. For all the attention it received, the single opens slowly with a Number 32 entry. This one may have to be worked at.
We have genuinely reached the stage on the Official UK Albums chart where the main talking point is which new album is going to take its turn at Number 2, stranded by some distance behind The Greatest Showman. This week it was actually more of a race than it might first appear, Pray For The Wicked by Panic! At The Disco was the sales leader on all midweek flashes during the course of the week, its relegation to the runners-up spot at the hands of the all-conquering musical soundtrack only coming on the very last day of the survey. This will be a matter of some frustration for the group and their fans, the collection stood every chance of becoming their first ever Number One album after over a decade of trying. Instead, it has to content itself with a Number 2, matching the peak of their second album Pretty Odd from 2008. The obligatory maximum permitted three tracks from Pray For The Wicked litter the singles chart too, although the highest charting of these is High Hopes which reaches Number 56. The group haven't had a Top 40 single since those heady days of a decade ago, when Nine In The Afternoon reached Number 13 in March 2008.
So that is indeed that for this chart and indeed the present set of rules. Whilst it is the addition of video streaming which has caught the attention of most people, the new streaming ratios and in particular, the separation of free and paid services may well be the one to shake things up going forward. Don't expect too many shock changes next week, experience shows that changes to the compilation of the charts tend to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It may well be, however, that we start to see singles behaving differently and tracing different paths around the charts. One phenomenon I'm hoping will start to change is that of singles becoming stranded in mid-table for weeks on end. It isn't just at the top of the charts that hits will find their groove and then sit in it for an extended period. Take German by EO for instance, now 12 weeks old and having spent the last 7 of these at positions 13, 14 and 15. This week it sits at the lower one of these for the third week in a row. Bad Vibe by M.O. and Lotto Boyzz suffered a similar fate in recent months, with seven weeks of its own stranded between 20 and 23 before finally enjoying one final surge to peak at Number 18.
Then again, maybe less will change than we think. Here's to next week anyway, even if most of the headlines will wind up Drake related.