A Deep Breath Now

Somebody call a doctor because I just evened. A chart week full of some quite amazing stories, battles that turned out not to be and almost perfect imperfect records finally shattered. Not to mention a new covers war in the making.

And this is where we get to pick them all apart. Are you ready?

Ready For It

For a start we have to talk about the twists and turns in a battle for the albums chart which ended in a way that was perhaps quite obvious, but which was never at all on the cards even at the midway point.

Let's start at the beginning. It was a tale of two brand new releases. Rock veterans Bon Jovi with their sixteenth studio album Forever in one corner, the much spoken-of but still somehow cult British star Charli XCX in the other with Brat which is her own sixth full-length offering.

On the first official update on Monday it was Bon Jovi who had a commanding lead. They had 18,500 sales, edging out Charli by a couple of thousand or so. But the bulk of the American band's numbers came from their almost 17,000 physical sales. Just 411 of them were through streaming. And Bon Jovi were unlikely to add many more purchases and certainly precious few from streaming.

Sure enough, by Wednesday things had got very exciting indeed. To the extent that even Official Charts were firing out press releases hyping up the race. Bon Jovi still lead, but they had indeed added just 1,500 sales over the previous few days. And their streaming numbers had gone from 411 to 598. This was a train that was rapidly running out of steam. Charli XCX meanwhile was surging forward, her 14,000 physicals boosted by 5,500 streams and climbing - as evidenced from the way she was set to plant tracks on the singles chart. The gap was tiny - just 133 chart sales. And momentum was with the British star, particularly with a new batch of CDs making their way into stock online. The boost she almost certainly needed.

Then Taylor Swift entered the chat. You may know her, American singer, quite popular right now. And finally gracing us with her presence on these shores, with Eras Tour gigs in Edinburgh and Liverpool dominating the cultural talk. As if by magic on Thursday morning the physical versions of The Tortured Poets Department suddenly came back in stock in her online shop, complete with a brand new exclusive signed photo card. Admittedly we are now into "Malibu Stacey has a new hat" territory with her collectability, bvut not for the first time the tactic worked. Because the No.1 album this week is not Forever by Bon Jovi, nor Brat by Charli XCX. But Taylor Swift once more. Nicking a win with another 35,000 chart sales - 7,000 ahead of Charli.

It means a third consecutive week at No.1 for Taylor Swift, the sixth time it has been there. That's enough to make The Tortured Poets Department her longest-running No.1 album. It is one of just 11 of her albums to occupy rungs on the Top 75 - meaning this week she as more simultaneous charting albums than any other female artist in history.

It hasn't however gone unnoticed that this isn't the first time in recent months a 'surprise' release of Taylor Swift product has torpedoed the chart chances of a fellow female star, Biullie Eilish having been similarly cock-blocked (vag-blocked?) on the Billboard 200 by the unstoppable juggernaut of the biggest and clearly most ruthless star on the planet. I'm unconvinced this is all part of a grand conspiracy to keep rivals down. But in the week she is packing them in and causing seismic events in some of Britain's biggest cities, the optics of being top of the charts are fairly obvious. And that is just what she seems to have arranged.

Here's The Chorus And It Goes...

All it takes is one slip to spoil a perfect record. And until today Eminem's odd claim to fame was to have had as many as 10 No.1 singles without ever spending more than a single week at the top. It wasn't his gimmick, just the way the cards always seemed to fall. But this time things are different. His chart sales may have slipped from last week (down to "only 85,000), but Houdini still had what it took to spend a second straight week at the top of the Official UK Singles chart. Meaning it now, bizarrely really, takes over as his biggest-ever UK chart hit. The only one of his many, many singles to spend more than a single week at the summit.

It means the record for this kind of thing now passes back to Oasis, who between 1995 and 2005 topped the charts eight times without ever spending more than seven days at the top. The only other act to have as many as 10 one-week chart-toppers are Westlife who reached the summit no fewer than 14 times, with only four of their singles having the legs to make it to week 2.

Eminem meanwhile continues to enjoy a fun halo hit. Without Me, the spiritual predecessor to Houdini, spends a second week as a revived Top 40 hit, edging upwards a place to No.37.

Barry Puts It Away For A Change

How did Sabrina Carpenter end up so huge so suddenly? Now effectively in her tenth year as a pop performer (her debut album Eyes Wide Open was released in 2015) she is suddenly the biggest female star of the moment not named Swift, Taylor. And this week she commands two of the Top 3 singles.

The biggest remains Espresso, no longer No.1 but actually doing the kind of numbers which would take her to the top of the charts in any given week. Now nine weeks old the track posts its highest chart sale so far, its 80,000 chart sales boosted by the release of new physical variants - although even these only accounted for a few thousand or so. But thanks to Eminem she is still only No.2.

Coming in just 2,000 sales behind and ensuring this is the strongest Top 3 for some considerable time is a brand new track, another teaser for her Short N' Sweet album which is still not due until August. Please Please Please is another fascinating piece of pop music, bubbling Giorgio Morodor synths giving way to a throwback country song with a bite. It is a shot of emotion next to the acid disco of Espresso, and even hearing the two songs back to back it is hard to picture them being by the same artist. Boy is she making a statement this year. The video is another fun piece of storytelling as well, another example of the growing trend for cinematic clips. A 4:22 mini movie to accompany a song that runs an obligatory Spotify-friendly 3:06.

Christmas weeks aside, 78,151 is the highest weekly chart sale for a No.3 single since Stormzy planted in third place with 78,409 sales of Vossi Bop in May 2019.

Boots Start Working

You will be glad to know there's an air of calmness around the rest of the Top 10, although this does play nicely into the hands of Dasha's Austin which remains consistently popular, so consistent in fact that it is just stuck at the lower end of the Top 10. A non-mover this week once more but this does mean she sets a record as Austin is now the first single in chart history to spent five consecutive weeks at No.10.

Believe it or not until last week there were no fewer than six other singles which shared the old record of four straight weeks which was first set right at the dawn of chart history. For posterity we should note that they were:

Sugarbush by Doris Day & Frankie Laine (1952)
Crying In The Chapel by Lee Lawrence (1953)
The Green Manalishi by Fleetwood Mac (1970)
Country Roads by The Hermes House Band (2001)
I'm Not The Only One by Sam Smith (2014)
Hey Mama by David Guetta, Nicki Minaj and Afrojack (2015)

Of these, only the Fleetwood Mac single actually peaked at No.10. And Austin has so far managed to reach No.7, a peak it climbed to as many as 8 weeks ago. This week is its 10th straight week as a Top 10 hit single.

Just Can't Prove It

Speaking of Taylor Swift, as we so frequently do these days, she also makes a fun wave on the singles chart. The Tortured Poets Department may be the biggest album of the moment, but its tracks are still fighting for attention with a far older work. Messily ejected from the chart eight weeks ago when streams of her new work forced it to become starred-out, the apparently evergreen Cruel Summer winks back into being at No.17, this at the expense of Down Bad whose streams it has now eclipsed. It is the middle of her permitted three, with the more up to date Fortnight (No.11) and I Can Do It With A Broken Heart (No.19) all still jostling for position.

Bizmillah!

Which brings us now to RAYE, and was there ever a No.22 with more to be said about it? We first heard a glimpse of her new single Genesis during her triumphant performance at February's BRIT awards ceremony when as part of a hits medley she stirred in elements of a song we had never heard before. Four months later and the origins of those mystery lyrics can now be revealed. Yet this was surely the last thing we were expecting.

Depending on your point of view Genesis is either a masterwork or a bloated mess. A track apparently three years in the making, it is a sprawling seven minute epic that hurtles back and forth between soul, hip-hop and jazz. The three movement work stands out in extraordinary fashion in an era where the average pop record struggles to break three minutes. As a possible sop to our limited attention spans, RAYE does break the track up into its three component parts online, although it isn't clear whether that then logs as three separately counted streams for the same track or three different ones.

Essentially though Genesis is the sound of an artist playing her free pass. With a shelf groaning with awards and the success story of the past year RAYE was in that rare position of being able to do whatever she wanted and be indulged for it. Never mind the fact she plots her own course free from label scrutiny, this astonishing track was her one and only chance to get this work out the door and perhaps most importantly have us pay attention. Perhaps not enough of us did though, as noted Genesis debuts at what might be seen as a startlingly lowly No.22. Yes, it is a RAYE hit, but it is such a musical outlier that you wonder just how it can grow the audience even from this point. But then again people said the same about Bohemian Rhapsody back in the day.

Bratty

Denied a No.1 album she may have been, but Charli XCX enjoyed enough streams to impact the singles chart. The previously charting 360 zooms back up to No.27, to be joined by Talk Talk at No.47 and Sympathy Is A Knife at No.56. Now, stop being so angry.

Eminem aside, have you noticed this has been a chart full of what women are doing? There's one more to talk about as American singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams makes her Top 40 debut with Close To You, a new entry at No.35. She first made a credited chart debut a month ago with minor hit Risk, although she technically appeared on a hit single a few months before, her vocals being those on the alternate version of Noah Kahan's Everywhere Everything which briefly appeared at No.72 a week before everything went nuts at Christmas. Close To You is perhaps older than most casual listeners realise, the singer having posted a 30 second snippet of it to her Instagram as far back as 2017. Now, are we allowed to mention how closely this track resembles Taylor Swift in every possible way?

Doggy Twice

Finally we do have the makings of a fun sample war on our hands. As highlighted last week Flex (UK)'s 6 In The Morning becomes a Top 40 hit with a ten place rise to No.40. But lower down is Pick Up The Phone by Pawsa which takes a bow at No.54. I mention both tracks together because both are based on the same Nate Dogg acapella Gangsta Walk and indeed share many of their lyrics. It isn't quite the same as the competing versions of Miss You that raced up the charts in late 2022, but the closest we have come since to a chart battle of identical songs.

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