IN THIS PHOTO: Dua Lipa/PHOTO CREDIT: OfficialCharts.com/REXShutterstock
The Singles Chart in 2017
THE first part of the feature’s title refers to the song…
by Dua Lipa that sits at number one in the charts. It is notable because it is the first British female number-one since Adele’s Hello claimed the spot back in 2015. The charts are announced weekly and have only seen two female artists in two years reach number-one. Metro assessed the news like this:
“Not only has she shot to the top of the charts and received a well earned number one, she’s the first UK solo female to hit the top spot since Adele’s Hello in 2015. That, quite frankly, is mind-boggling.
Little Mix were the only women to score a number one in that time – other than that, the charts have been dominated by male artists.
Hopefully Dua’s achievement marks a change in the tide.
The likes of Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Zayn’s breakout solo single Pillow Talk and James Arthur’s comeback all dominated the charts last year.
Dua Lipa, 21, has broken that trend, having also garnered 108 million views for the video for her chart-topping track”
There are cynics that could view that as a reflection on the quality of Lipa as an artist. That sounds like an odd sentence but is it the case that her album has hit minds and hearts at a very precise moment – rather than an indication regarding a change in the air. I have written many pieces about equality in music and the need to effect change and evolutions. Dua Lipa is an artist that has a very fresh and urgent sound but, in many ways, seems perfect for the charts and mainstream – in the sense she knows what has come before and how to add her own personality to it. She is a very vivacious and warm artist; someone who engages with her fans and has a very grounded personality. She is undeniably beautiful and attractive and, in an age where there is a lot of talk about sexual exploitation and sexuality.
She is not someone who wants to bare flesh to get streaming figures and video views high – she is an artist who shows pride and defiance; using her beauty as a form of expression and empowerment. The fact she has hit number one has been received with a mixture of congratulations and condemnation. The former, because the young artist has achieved something wonderful and wholly expected. Her eponymous album has been one of the surprises of 2017. Where Pop albums by Katy Perry and Kesha have been met with mixed reviews: Dua Lipa has managed to seduce critics and win hearts with her blend of fiery summer-ready jams and sweaty-inducing anthems. Her songs assess relationships and gender roles; the need to win a sense of independence and go out into the world on her own terms.
IN THIS PHOTO: Adele/PHOTO CREDIT: Vogue
New Rules seems ironic and wholly appropriate given the rare honour Dua Lipa has been afforded – the chance to, not only inspire more female artists to claim the same prize, but raise questions about how the charts are regulated and run. Despite the fact there are co-writers and various producers on Dua Lipa’s debut: critics have noted how strong and memorable her voice is and how the songs get into the brain and demand repeated listening. One should not be shocked to see Lipa get to number one but, considering this is the seventh release from her debut album, why did it take so long?! It is not her fault but is New Rules a stronger song than, say, Hotter than Hell, Be the One or Blow Your Mind (Mwah)? Those songs are the equal of New Rules so it seems strange they did not get to number-one – and makes one wonder why her latest single managed to get to the top spot. The component of her lyrics – self-empowerment, sex and rising about the fray – have resonated with a generation seeking a genuine and promising artist.
There is no denying the potency and attractiveness of Dua Lipa’s music but one could argue she should have hit the number-one position a lot sooner – many British female peers deserved that same success since Adele in 2015. The fact the charts are so male-dominated makes me wonder whether more needs to be done. There are no more men in music than there are women – maybe a few more men here and there – but, in two years, why would we only have one British woman claiming a spot at the top of our charts?! I know there have been American successes but, if one looks at a month-by-month rundown of the charts, it is male-dominated and genre-specific. There are a lot of Pop and Dance number-ones and it makes one wonder why genres like Folk, Hip-Hop and Soul are not quite as well-represented as more mainstream tastes. There have been stories we have all reacted to. Ed Sheeran, very recently, saw many of his songs in the charts because of the relevance of streaming – counting towards the totals which meant, because his music was streamed more than other artists, he saw his tracks get comfy in the charts.
Before I go on; a look at the new guidelines introduced and why they have come into effect.
“The changes are designed to ensure the chart continues to be a showcase for the new hits and talent which are the lifeblood of UK music.
The key change will be to allow artists to have only their 3 most popular tracks (based on sales and streams) to feature in the Official Singles Chart Top 100.
The move will make it easier for new hits and artists to feature in the chart by preventing multiple tracks from popular artists dominating the singles chart. The move will minimise double-counting of album tracks between the Official Singles and Albums Charts and make the two charts more distinct. The new changes are expected to boost the number of chart hits by around 10%.
IN THIS PHOTO: Ed Sheeran
In the past 12 months, artists including Drake, Stormzy, Kendrick Lamar, Chainsmokers, Little Mix, The Weeknd and Ed Sheeran have had multiple tracks in the Top 40. The changes will limit the domination of such artists, with streaming of tracks (as music fans listen to their favourite albums) spilling over into the singles chart.
The most high profile example of this came in February when all 16 tracks from Ed Sheeran’s Divide album featured in the Top 20.
An additional adjustment will see the introduction of a new streaming ratio for older tracks which are well past their peak and in steep, prolonged decline.
The aim of both changes will be to support new talent, giving new hits the freedom to progress up the chart, without being inhibited by older tracks which have passed their peak, or album tracks by big name artists.
In recent years, streaming has grown dramatically as the consumer’s favoured way of accessing music – from around 600m audio streams a week in January 2016 to 1.2bn a week today. As a result, streaming’s share of the singles market has grown to more than 80%
While this represents a revolution in choice for music fans – with 40m tracks available to stream across a wide range of services at different price points, alongside traditional music purchase – it has also changed the music landscape and the consumption reflected by the Official Singles Chart”.
Calvin Harris, before Dua Lipa, held the number one spot and marks a depressingly familiar pattern. He, with guest vocals from the likes of Rihanna, penned a rather generic and predictable Dance track that needlessly stuffed guest spots – to make it more popular and stream-able – but, once heard, falls out your back-end within minutes. There was no shock to see him go to number-one but, a few days later, when Dua Lipa hit the top of the charts with a superior offering, it was groundbreaking and shocking.
IN THIS PHOTO: Calvin Harris
Her song got there by its quality and popularity but it showed the charts is more keyed towards a certain style and gender – not as open and quality-driven as once it was. I am old enough to remember the days when people actually bought singles – think the last one I purchased was, tragically, Madison Avenue’s 1990s banger, Don’t Call Me Baby. I used to love scuttling down to HMV – Our Price existed back in the 1990s, too – and snapping up something that cost a few quid. As unwieldy as it is to have a pile of singles festooning a C.D. rack; there was something noble and worthwhile knowing you had contributed to a process. Because of you, and several thousand others, you were the reason an artist went to the summit of the charts. Not only that but, because you had a pile of C.D. lying around, you would play them again and enjoy them long after they were released. I am baffled why they stopped releasing physical singles – they have albums on C.D. so why not singles?! – and go entirely digital.
That is where the downfall has come in! I appreciate the fact it is a more open and equitable chart than once was. Back, years ago, you were in the charts because you had a record deal. Now, an unsigned act can make it in. The fact charts reflect digital downloads means, in theory, The Beatles and Kate Bush could still get into the charts. That might seem rather pointless but it means older music is more visible to younger generations – who might have otherwise forgotten about it. Given the fact Ed Sheeran – the man who helped spark the change in chart guidelines – has been derided because of his Mercury Prize nomination has given many critics pause for thought. We can questions whether award shows are reflecting the true quality of music: is the charts culpable of celebrating the most commercial and least impressive?
I can safely say that none of my favourite singles from this or last year have made it anywhere near the top of the singles charts. My tastes, if I do so myself, are impeccable so it would not be far-fetched were one or two of those tracks to make it to number-one, no?! There are those that would argue the charts, for many years, have been redundant and unimportant. To an extent, I agree, but they are a portal and port-of-call for many who want to discover the ‘best’ of new music. Dua Lipa’s success reflects an anomaly, of sorts. How long do we have to wait until another British female artist gets a number-one?! Rather fittingly; the lack of female British number-ones are taking the piss. The only way we are going to ensure the finest music is preserved and promoted by new generations is to have a look at the way the charts are run. I do not follow them at all – irrelevant and anarchic as they have become – but worry that there are many who do stick with them and get all their new music from there. A couple of articles, written over the past couple of years, ask whether the charts are still relevant in a streaming age.
The BBC spoke with songwriter Billie Marten, who had this to say:
"And Spotify are really helping me out by putting my music onto playlists. They're really exploiting that in a great way. I'm really thankful for that because I think, otherwise, people wouldn't listen."
Indeed, curated "new music" playlists on services like Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer and Google Play could be the key to breaking the chart gridlock - although there is some concern that these playlists are programmed globally, potentially putting UK artists at a disadvantage.
Arctic Monkeys manager Ian McAndrew agrees: "In my experience, streaming serves as a platform through which music is being discovered. So while it may distort the charts, it serves as an access point for new music, and I think that's got to be a good thing."
Perhaps it means the charts are becoming irrelevant - at least as the gold standard of success. Bands now look at ticket sales, or engagement on social media as indicators of their reach and impact. And those are the things, rather than hit singles, which traditionally sustain careers.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
The Guardian’s Kitty Empire, back in 2015, explored it from a new angle:
“More pop change is afoot. From July, singles and albums will no longer come out on Monday in the UK, but on Friday – a move that will bring worldwide release dates into harmony. After more than 40 years on Sunday nights, BBC Radio 1’s chart show, to be hosted by Greg James, will move to Friday evening, from 4pm to 6pm. Not only that – as of 10 May, kids’ TV channel CBBC will play host to The Official Chart Show, a magazine programme studded with videos and gossip, and hosted by Cel Spellman, a successor, of sorts, to the much-missed Top of the Pops.
With charts as accurate as they have ever been, both the top 40 and what you might call chart-watching as a national pastime are now under scrutiny. The move to CBBC speaks volumes about the need to hook a younger audience into consuming pop in ways an older audience would recognise. (Quite how young that audience might be was slightly misunderstood by NME recently, who weighed in with jokes about Rastamouse, a show on CBeebies, the channel aimed at pre-schoolers).
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Thanks to the internet’s endlessly personalisable technologies – YouTube channels, streaming, you-name-it-on-demand – pop has been at the forefront of a seismic change in listening. The past couple of years has seen Radio 1 lose millions of listeners as it attempts to retune to a younger audience. Much has been written about this decline in broadcasting, where many once witnessed the same thing at the same time, and the rise of what we do now: stacking up podcasts, Sky+-ing content and streaming the latest obscure remixes on Soundcloud, as and when. “Narrowcasting” describes the endlessly niche way in which we watch and listen. With everyone off doing their own thing – especially the young – what is the role of the mainstream charts and, indeed, of mainstream chart shows, in this age of fragmented, bespoke consumption? Our young interviewees, stopped and quizzed in Camden last week – not a scientific sample but reflecting a range of ages and tastes – seem to point to the charts’ redundancy, certainly as a tastemaking exercise. But is it telling that more than one commented on the rise of a rock band, Royal Blood, to No 1 as being significant?”
Maybe music has become more of an album’s game but it seems, given the fact so many artists lust over big Spotify streams and YouTube figures – is it simply the case we are refusing to follow the charts and buying the music we want – rather than be guided by something many consider arbitrary and homogenised? It is not the case music has modernised to the extent the charts are archaic and out-of-touch. The fact they are not all-encompassing and fundamentally flawed have made them seem far less relevant over the past few years. I am not willing to accept we abandon the charts and simply make our own minds up. The charts are not a way for people to be annoyed: it is for artists to see their songs acknowledged and given proper dues. In an age of streaming where we do not provide feedback or thanks: the singles charts is a way of getting that recognition and approval.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I argue passionately again the assumption, as some see fit, the charts have not been popular or purposeful since the 1960s. I think, in an age where we want something quick and unquestioning: it is worth addressing the charts and restructuring it in a way that means it regains its importance. I listened to the charts through the 1990s and early part of the last decade. I always looked forward to seeing whether a song I purchased has made it into the top-ten. Now, we go to Spotify or wherever and get a song we want and that is the end of that. The fact physical sales are being replaced is another tragedy – one that will have to wait for another day – but we are taking far less care with music. The album charts are still relevant so why should music be quantified by mass rather than quality? The fact an album is made is down to the fact an artist has a collection of songs – do we simply release an album and ignore the individual songs that go onto it?! You can’t bring an album out without releasing singles and seeing how well the songs do.
The more we ignore old ways and embrace technology and the digital: the more music starts to lose humanity and relevance. We are buying fewer albums than we do digitally; buying more albums than singles and choosing to stream for free – rather than pay for our music. Artists are not being compensated fairly and there is a great divide between the artists of Spotify and the mainstream-heavy charts. Given these inalienable facts; can we argue, with any judiciousness, claim we should scrap the charts and see music slip further into the tar-pit?! I propose we retain the singles and album charts and make the ins-and-outs less pugnacious, controversial and complicated. Keep the new rules as they are – to ensure no artist can have more than a set number of tracks on the charts. Keep the streaming element but ensure guidelines are introduced to ensure the charts reflect gender and genre.
IMAGE CREDIT: Freepik
We cannot have so few females getting to number-one and genres like Dance and Pop stealing focus from other avenues. Albums sales should be part of the equation and, maybe, compartmentalising the charts into various genres, perhaps? There are so many great artists who do not have a record deal and do not have the advantage of Spotify promotion and success. I review so many acts that have their music on SoundCloud, BandCamp and Spotify and, while not getting as many streams as the bigger acts, create better music. There need to be other considerations aside from streaming figures as it does not reflect quality and diversity. Many people stream a song because it is trending or fashionable. There are great acts gigging around the country and those who release great songs to the world – to see them get modest success and viewing figures. It is a complex brew and one that will not be settled soon.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I think the charts need to survive and grow as they are responsible for music lasting and inspiring this long. If we scrapped the singles charts back in the 1960s, it would have enticed fewer musicians to the world and led to a much more ignorant and poor scene. The fact we have evolved too far and abandoned the physicality and heritage of music means we are weakening its structure and compromising its rich history and legacy. There are so many different and great acts out there: all of whom deserve a chance to battle it out on the singles charts. Artists should not be making the news because of their gender: they should be doing so because of the quality of their music. Dua Lipa is a woman and an exceptional artist but, one wonders, why it took the buying public so long to get her to number-one. She is not the only British female artist who has warranted a number-one. The fact artists like Billie Marten see Spotify alone as more relevant than the charts might stem from a lack of confidence – the fact she would not get a high chart position and many of her fans would not follow the charts. That is sad to hear but, sadly, a sign of our times.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
The more we allow digital streaming services to rule our purchasing and listening habits; the less relevant and unified music will be as a whole. I dread the day we abandon albums as a physical form and get all of our music via Spotify. The singles charts is an institution that has remained for decades and can regain the importance it had decades ago. We need to take a pragmatic and progressive approach to a side of music that is fading away and being broken apart. As I said; the new generations need to be taught where music came from and the industry is eclectic, equal and fascinating. If we create a singles chart that reflects a gender and racial quality; recognises the importance of all genres and artists. Dua Lipa’s news-making number-one single has opened a lot of eyes but sparked debates. Many will see this achievement as an argument the charts are outdated and irrelevant – rather than the fact she takes heart from that number-one and many artists like her value it hugely. With some thought and activation, the charts can get back on an even footing. Let’s ensure the singles chart makes history for…
THE right reasons!