Stick It To The Man

It was never trailed or hyped as such, but it turned out this week we had a head-to-head chart battle for the ages. A race to be No.1 which saw the lead change hands multiple times during the week. And one which proves once more that the lazy assumption (which even these pages are guilty of) that a superstar name releasing new music is going to blow the rest of the market away is a quite dangerous one to make.

Topping the Official UK Singles chart then, by a margin of a mere 599 chart sales, is Stick Season by Noah Kahan which duly spends its third week at No.1. You might argue that there is some justice to this, the track far and away the most streamed song of the moment, the vast bulk of its colossal 72,200 chart sales coming via plays on DSP services.

She came close, but when the stakes are this high a miss is as good as a mile. Easily the most talked-of, reviewed, scrutinised track of the week, Ariana Grande's comeback single yes, and? (sic) was still a long way from being the most played. Physical versions and 5,000 plus downloads all helped the single to its own 71,600 chart sales, its streams lagging way behind those of Stick Season. But let's not pretend this wasn't still the biggest deal of the week. The first new music from the American superstar since her Positions album in 2020, yes, and? was the perfect way for her to make her return to the studio after a few years reminding the world of the other prong of her triple-threat skills. Indeed by all accounts a new album at this exact moment was never the original plan, but the Hollywood actors strike which suspended production on the Wicked movies in which she has a starring role meant there was a window in her schedule.

Yes, and sounds fresh and interesting despite its nod to sounds of the past, its use of the Shep Pettibone-esque beats most synonymous with Madonna's 1990 classic Vogue make it a track that is unafraid to pay homage to the past. And that's before you get onto the video which many have noted is a callback to Paula Abdul's Cold Hearted clip from the late 80s, with scantily clad dancers draping themselves over scaffolding for an invited audience.

The song itself has a core message of brushing off criticism and being true to yourself no matter what others think, widely interpreted as her own riposte to the negative press she has received in the past. Much of focus has been on the spoken monologue at the end of the track in which Ari swipes at press speculation over her private life and in particular the notorious "why do you care so much whose d**k I ride?" line.

That censoring isn't me be prurient either. Following on from last week's observations on how the 2001 Sophie Ellis-Bextor could say "goddam" on the radio while Olivia Rodrigo could not in 2023, I've spent the week being amused by the way the apparently uncensored mix of Grande's single features her unexpurgated use of "shit" and "fucking" unexpurgated in the chorus but the word "dick" is muted at the climax. Americans are weird like that.

But there it is, a track that was designed from the outset to fly to the top of the charts worldwide has singularly failed to do so in Britain. It is still no failure, her 12th Top 3 single in a chart career which now stretches back well over ten years. But her first No.1 single since Positions in late 2020 will have to wait a little while longer.

UK v USA fight!

It wasn't just the singles chart that played host to a duel for the top, even if the margin in this one was a little larger. But it was for all that a fascinating battle between two rap acts from opposing sides of the Atlantic. 21 Savage batting for his adopted home of America, D-Block Europe flying the flag for Britain. If streams were all that decided things it was Savage's american dream collection which would have emerged victorious, all but 400 of his 12,500 chart sales coming via online plays. But D-Block Europe benefitted from a strong slew of physical sales across a variety of different formats. They were streamed less because they needed less, making it to No.1 with over 18,000 chart sales. The collective's album Rolling Stone is their first No.1 record, but with it they become the British rap act with the most Top 10 albums.

Both acts naturally pepper the singles chart with streamed cuts. 21 Savage as you might expect is the winner here, landing the second-highest new entry with Redrum at No.11, his biggest ever chart hit as a lead or solo artist. The British-born American has enjoyed six Top 10 hits to date, but always as the co-billed or featured performer. 21 Savage also enters with Nee-Nah at No.23 and N.H.I.E. at No.27.

As for D-Block Europe, their only Top 75 entry is Eagle at No.19, the album's two other charting cuts I Need It Now and the previously released Skims are a few rungs below the printed listings. That one cut is still enough to land them one other notable chart record - more Top 75 hits (49) without reaching No.1 than any other act in chart history. They surpass previous record holders Depeche Mode who have been stuck on 48 since 2013. Keep an eye on Travis Scott though, his co-credit on a 21 Savage hit this week means he is now up to 44. The elephant in the room here is that everything on D-Block Europe's new album is presently out-sold and out-streamed by Prada, the bowlderised dance remix of their previous single Ferrari Horses. But let's not speak of it again for now.

Nice Flow

It narrowly missed the Top 40 last week but pleasingly the rather lovely Never Lose Me from rap newcomer Flo Milli becomes a proper hit single at last, flying to No.24 in its third week on the British charts. Another sweet-voiced female star in the mould of Doja Cat and Latto, Flo Milli is 24-year-old Tamia Carter from Alabama, her mainstream breakthrough coming after five years of mixtapes and independently released cuts.

Tom Odell's Black Friday first peaked at No.21 back in October but now appears to be on the verge of a new lease of life as it jumps back to No.31, that bump largely attributable to him having performed it on the Graham Norton show a week ago.

He's just outside the Top 40 so we'll leave him alone for now, but who had a Nathan Evans comeback on their 2024 bingo card?