Before We Begin

My good friend Lee Thompson has written a "state of the charts" essay on the Record Of The Day website, noting the grumbles that exist amongst both punters and the industry. It covers the usual grounds of debate: is ACR fit for purpose, should labels be forced to nominate a "focus single" rather than letting the market decide which are the three biggest, and should physicals even be counted any more. The site welcomes feedback on it all.

I as ever try to be as neutral as possible on the matter. The singles chart is compiled in the way the industry decides that it should be, although now that the streaming market can be regarded as a mature one the opportunity surely exists to examine if the way it was bolted on to old school means of marking popularity is still the correct one. But remember, the charts as a whole and the rules they follow are governed not by Official Charts in isolation, but the supervising committee of which labels, retailers and DSPs are members. The industry has the power to change anything it wants if the motivation is there.

Yee-Haw (redux)

Onto what is actually happening rather than what some think should, and with a quite startling surge forward in consumption Beyonce's Texas Hold 'Em remains comfortably No.1 for a second week, posting a quite extraordinary chart sale of just over 73,000. And all, you will note, without the song benefitting from an official video of any kind. We have a "visualiser" and a "lyric video" but that's all for now.

The track is notably only the third No.1 single of her solo years to spend more than seven days at the summit, for the moment drawing level with the two week run of Telephone and so now aiming to match the three weeks that Crazy In Love spent at the top of the charts way back in 2003. Neither of her two No.1 singles with Destiny's Child - Independent Women and Survivor - lasted more than a week at the top, although as both of them came in 2000 and 2001 at a time when virtually nobody did anyway, this is no shade on either record.

Having escaped the clutches of ACR last week Lose Control by Teddy Swims advances to a brand new peak of No.2, swapping places with Benson Boone who thus slides to No.3 with Beautiful Things. Meanwhile Noah Kahan's former No.1 Stick Season, now two weeks into its ACR relegation actually goes back up a place within the Top 5 to sit a No.4. But as I know you are going to ask anyway, this time around it would only have been No.2 without the handicap. Beyonce is No.1 in every sense.

Yew Ess Ay

A notably all-American Top 5 is rounded off by DJO, with End Of Beginning making good on last week's momentum and surging to No.5. Indeed with the Californian-born YG Marley one place behind and Taylor Swift following him, the highest charting British-born act (and indeed only one in the Top 10) is Dua Lipa whose Training Season hit dips to No.8. Here is where I defer to the elegant research skills of my predecessor and successor in Music Week, Alan Jones noting that although we've had all-foreign Top 7 charts more recently this is the first all-American one since September 1970 and perhaps astonishingly the first all-American solo Top 7 since the very dawn of the era of the charts - January 1953 to be precise.

I'm more taken by the way 9 of the Top 10 singles this week are by entirely solo acts without a single credit for a feature or a guest star, even if part (a small part) of Ariana Grande's sales come via the Mariah Carey remix.

Clothe Your Wife

In Part 1 of "things James is wrong about" this week, the other new arrival in the Top 10 is the Kanye West/Ty Dolla Sign collaboration Carnival which advances to a brand new peak of No.9, two weeks after it first entered the charts and after I boldly announced would gently fade from view. If you ignore the bollocks he spouts in public and embrace the bollocks he spouts on record it is still possible to see Yeezy as the genius he always was back in the day. Which is a very peculiar feeling.

Those determined to bemoan the "state of the charts" may actually care to note that the Top 10 at present is actually one of the more pleasingly diverse we have seen for some time. The fear that streaming causes everything to descend into a homogenous mush has so far not played out in 2024. Genre definitions scare me at times, but in general terms we have a Top 10 filled with:

1) Texas Hold Em (Country)
2) Lose Control (Soul)
3) Beautiful Things (Folk Rock)
4) Stick Season (Folk)
5) End Of Beginning (Synthpop)
6) Praise Jah In The Moonlight (Reggae)
7) Cruel Summer (Electropop)
8) Training Season (Dance Pop)
9) Carnival (Hip Hop)
10) Yes, and? (House Revival)

So don't knock it. There's something for (almost) everyone in there.

Before the new stuff, a word too about Natasha Bedingfield's revived Unwritten which appears destined to never quite break back into the Top 10 for the first time in almost 20 years but at the same time refuses to stop teetering on the edge. After three straight weeks at No.14 it advances to a new peak (this time around) of No.12. The hit peaked at No.6 first time around.

Look At Her Ring

So to the highest new entry of the week. Saturn from SZA crashes straight in at No.15 to become her highest charting single as a lead artist since Kill Bill's epic Top 3 run from just over a year ago. The dream-like track is officially the lead single of her upcoming album Lana, although in a strange marketing twist this is being promoted as a "reissue" of her 2022 album SOS, with an entire album's worth of new material set to be bundled with the original. I won't pretend I have got my head around that properly, but I'm sure it will all make sense eventually. Lana incidentally is a sideways reference to SZA's real name - Solana Rowe.

There's another new entry to come, but first we should note the curious surge of interest in Last Dinner Party's Nothing Matters. A No.19 hit three weeks ago to coincide with the release of its parent album, the single settled back down to spend the last fortnight at No.27. But now it has come alive again, surging to a brand new peak of No.16. You can attribute this spike in sales to the release of a 7-inch version of the track, but it is also rather amusing that this comes on the back of a small PR nightmare when out of context comments by one of the women about the impact of the cost of living only threw into sharp relief the privileged background many of them share. Of course that detail shouldn't really matter (Genesis were all public schoolboys originally), but we live in the age of social media hysteria. So regrettably it does er, matter.

We Cee Him

Central Cee is the king of the surprise drop, never one to announce his music in advance. The British rapper's latest hit is I Will which lands at No.18, his second chart hit of the year but one which easily outperforms the No.36 of Entrapreneur at the start of January. This is the closest he might get to an old fashioned love song. No matter how ungentlemanly his thoughts are in the opening lyrics.

After four weeks scuttling around the bottom end of the Top 40 Michael Marcargi's Scared To Start suddenly leaps to a brand new peak of No.22. Is that destined for even more or is that it? Time will tell.

A Flood Of Other New Songs, Brace Yourself

Pozer sounds like the kind of insult we used to throw around to each other in 1986, but as far as the charts are concerned this week it is the name of the Croydon drill rapper who lands at No.29 with his debut chart hit single Kitchen Stove. He has been teasing its release to his army of online followers for the past few weeks, duly rewarded for this guerilla marketing with a Top 30 hit single. However impenetrable it may be to many.

Time for some American rap now, a track that could not be more in contrast to the hit above. No.53 last week and now a Top 40 hit at No.31, Whatever She Wants is the first chart hit in almost two years for Bryson Tiller, last hear on the Corry/Guetta collaboration What Would You Do which reached No.21 in April 2022. The new cut is taken from what will be his fourth studio album Serenity, slated for release sometime this year. But they aren't telling us when just yet.

It isn't a "new" entry as such, but there's a fascinating long-running story developing around the Becky Hill and Sonny Fodera track Never Be Alone. You may remember it, the track was a No.34 new entry five weeks ago only to then dip just outside the Top 40. For the past month it has hurtled 41-42-45-45 and is now back in view as it jumps to No.35. Somebody somewhere really really wants this to be a larger hit. But it will take more work to get it there.

Also reaching inside after a debut just outside is Made For Me by Muni Long who enjoys her biggest chart hit to date as it climbs to No.37. The 35 year old American singer-songwriter has had something of an epic journey to celebrity, having been first signed as a teenager under her real name of Priscilla Hamilton. Until now she's been better known as a songwriter, having penned tracks such as Promise This (for Cheryl NotCole) and California King Bed (for Rihanna). As Muni Long she reached No.41 with Hrs And Hrs in January 2022, but with this gorgeous soul track we get to appreciate her properly for the first time.

We round matters off with the No.40 hit Birds In The Sky by Newera, a blissed-out club track with a very LF System kind of feel that somehow doesn't sound like anything else around at the moment. Although that may hamper its future chart chances, so who knows.

No.1 on the album chart is Swing Fever, a collaboration between Rod Stewart and Jools Holland, a concept so horrific I barely want to spend time contemplating it. Its success over the rest of the market is all the more startling given my bold prediction last week that Jason Derulo and Michael Buble's Spicy Marguerita was destined to be a huge smash. On the the Top 100 singles chart this week it is precisely nowhere. I'm getting out of the prediction game, far too risky.

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