Just Totally Celestial
It is 2023. And we are now well into the second decade of Ed Sheeran's mainstream pop career. Although those words continue to understate it. It still remains something to note and celebrate, the fact that one of the most certifiable megastars on the planet is this singer-songwriter from Britain. Red haired, a little awkward-looking, affably self-effacing. But also a man whose every release somehow dominates the musical conversation for months on end.
This surely cannot last forever. Nobody, no performer has ever remained permanently on top of their game. Sooner or later Ed Sheeran is inevitably going to put out a dud, a record that isn't quite as great as his previous ones, that doesn't contain quite as many guaranteed hits. One that doesn't necessarily enhance his reputation. And his problem now is that this is what we are waiting for. "Ed Sheeran releases enormously successful album" is no longer an interesting story to tell.
The day Ed Sheeran releases a bad record, or even one that simply isn't quite as good as before. That will be a noteworthy story.
Has that day now arrived? Well for the moment it doesn't seem so. Heralding the forthcoming release of his latest mathematically-themed solo album - (Subtract) comes his first brand new single (not counting soundtrack one-offs) since Christmas 2001. With an almost grim inevitability Eyes Closed flies instantly to No.1, taking his tally of chart-topping singles to 14. That's the same number achieved by both Cliff Richard and Westlife. The Beatles and Elvis Presley are the only other artists higher up that table. That's just how big Ed Sheeran is.
Eyes Closed itself is actually one of his more understated offerings of late. A far cry from the guaranteed airplay smashes such Bad Habits or Shape Of You which have previously defined the first offerings from new albums. As the title suggests Subtract is intended to be a back-to-basics release, and so the new single is perhaps more reminiscent of songs such as Lego House or The A Team with which he debuted, meandering and wistful throwbacks to his days as a busker. But let's not kid ourselves. He may not have hit chart-topping form at the time, but the aforementioned two early Sheeran hits were huge songs which hung around the charts forever. Just like his present day material always tends to do.
So let's see how this one plays out. Eyes Closed debuts at No.1 with a suitably huge sale - 60,265 to be precise. But a sizable chunk of that total (24,000) was thanks to sales of a CD single - a one-off number which won't carry forward to next week. Streams of the track were only enough to account for 32,000 sales. Without all those autographed CD singles he would actually only have debuted at No.4. That aside, a curious trend of the very biggest hits of all is the way they take a little time to rev up to full speed. Flowers didn't achieve its biggest sale until Week 2 after all. And just because a new Ed Sheeran song has started its streaming life in fourth gear rather than fifth doesn't mean it isn't about to hit overdrive next time out. For now though we should note that Eyes Closed was actually only the seventh most-streamed track of the week. Which for a new Ed Sheeran song is pretty unusual.
Sucks to be Miley though. One more week and she would have officially had the longest-running No.1 single by a solo female artist of all time. Instead Flowers tops out at 10 weeks, matching the chart runs of Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You and Rihanna's Umbrella. But imagine if the track returns to the Top next week. That's entirely possible.
BTS' Jimin made No.30 last week with Set Me Free - Part 2 but it turns out he was just toying with us. His second hit in as many weeks is instantaneously his biggest of all,new track Like Crazy smashing its way to No.8. Multiple released versions have helped of course, the ARMY snapping up every single one the moment it appears but as K-Pop singles go this one isn't as empty as some of them and probably more than deserves its spot inside the Top 10. Precisely where it ends up next week will be the interesting part. K-Pop superstars are huge in their own bubble, but the hits that break out of this and cross over for real are still few and far between. And of the 23,000 sales that Like Crazy posted this week, 14,000 of them were downloaded copies. So just like Sheeran above him, this is a one-off number the track will struggle to sustain. Rumour has it though it is in line to debut at No.1 on the Hot 100 when that is announced on Monday.
Happy anniversary to Harry Styles' As It Was which celebrates 52 weeks on the Official UK Singles chart this week, although not all of them have been as a Top 75 single, the track having dipped as low as No.96 over Christmas. But that's kind of understandable. The former No.1 hit remains a Top 10 single for the seventh week running following its random and frankly rather unnecessary ACR reset. But as you can see, your actual pop kids are by no means bored of it yet.
Down the listings we go for the next movement of any note, as 11-30 is largely taken up with older hits still floating around and newer stuff struggling to make its mark. The most notable surge is enjoyed by React from Switch Disco and Ella Henderson which breaches the Top 30 barrier with a 32-26 climb.
Angry Woman Is Angry
Her name makes her sound like a dessert, but Paris Paloma is the latest online name to break into the charts thanks to some exciting virality. The British singer's debut hit Labour is, let's not beat about the bush, a pretty strident angry feminist anthem which has taken on a life of its own as the soundtrack to numerous online videos from ladies railing against the patriarchy. Set the politics aside though and the track is a worthy neofolk track in its own right, defining Paris Paloma as less a dessert, but more an exciting new musical voice. She's No.29 for now, but let's watch what happens to this one.
Another new British name is Bakar, although the British singer signed to Black Butter records is one to pull out of the "all good things come to those who wait pile", his debut hit Hell N' Back having first appeared online in August 2019 but only now emerges blinking into the sunlight. It breaks into the Top 40 this week for the first time at No.35.
Finding Their Flow
Sometimes the hype works. Pay even the scantest attention to the online music world at the start of the year and you would have been left with the impression that the all-female trio FLO were the next big superstars in waiting. They duly picked up the two accolades that mattered, winning both the BBC Sound of 2013 poll and the BRITs Rising Star Award (even if at the latter event they didn't get actually to perform and were instead briefly interviewed in a manner that assumed everyone in the audience knew who they were). The only fly in the ointment was their lack of anything resembling a hit record, their admittedly rather fine single Cardboard Box spent eight weeks floating around the bottom end of the singles chart without ever climbing higher than No.76.
Hence, you suspect, the enlistment of a big name. Their new track Fly Girl is based heavily around an interpolation of Missy Elliott's celebrated 2002 smash Work It, so it was a logical enough step to ask her to contribute directly. And contribute she does, adding in a new rap and making a cameo appearance in the video (although never actually sharing a shot with the girls). The resultant star power turns the track into something rather special. FLO are an unabashed throwback, Mis-Teeq mashed up with the Sugababes if you wish, but there is no understating the significance of this debut hit single. It is this week's No.38, and there will be some very frustrated people (cheerleading fans and management) online if it fails to push on from here.
There's A Complicated Album Title She Hasn't Thought Of Yet
Speaking of people heavily worshipped online, Lana Del Rey hasn't had a hit single under her own steam in literally forever but her every album release is treated like the second coming of Madonna. She still shifts them, that is for sure. Her ninth studio album Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd blasts its way to the top to give the American singer her sixth No.1 album, doing so with an epic sale of almost 42,000 (half of them on vinyl curiously) to make it the fastest selling album of the year. But she's still largely hitless. The album spawns three chart singles, A&W at No.45, Paris Texas at No.48 and Candy Necklace at No.68.