FEATURE: Limitations: The Mainstream’s Dominance in the Singles Market – and Why We Need to Open Up the Music Landscape




IN THIS PHOTO: Camila Cabello (her single, Havana, is the best-selling single of 2018 according to the IFPI)/PHOTO CREDIT: David Needleman

The Mainstream’s Dominance in the Singles Market – and Why We Need to Open Up the Music Landscape


MANY feel the singles charts and market...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Drake (whose single, God’s Plan was the second-best-selling single of 2018)/PHOTO CREDIT: Trace TV/Getty Images

are not true indicators of quality and success and in many ways, they’d be right. I am one of those people who feels albums are much more important and it is a bit of a shame there is still this reliance on artists from the mainstream. That is not to say the great new rise of artists – such as Sigrid and Billie Eilish – is to be ignored and discredited. I think there are some terrifc artists who are taking Pop in new direction but this report caught my eye:

More than a year and a half since Camila Cabello released her standout hit "Havana" featuring Young Thug, the Latin-flavored track just keeps raking in wins. Today (March 6), recorded music industry organization IFPI is naming the song the globally best-selling digital single of 2018 -- just days after the singer's 22nd birthday, no less.

Released in August 2017 as the lead single off Cabello's self-titled debut solo album, the song, which references her Cuban heritage, has since reached No. 1 on charts in 95 countries and catapulted the former Fifth Harmony member to global pop star status. "Havana" becameCabello's first Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper when it climbed to the summit last January, shortly after it logged the longest run atop Pop Songs for a lead female artist since 2013. Last summer, "Havana" became Spotify's most-streamed song ever by a solo female artist (with more than 888 million streams at the time), and its telenovela-inspired music video has drawn close to 750 million views to date...

Along with "Havana," this year's singles list includes several hits from 2017, including Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi's smash "Despacito" (notably, the version without Justin Bieber's remix assist), and The Chainsmokers' collab with Coldplay, "Something Just Like This." Chinese singer Tia Ray also makes the list.


1. Camila Cabello (feat. Young Thug), "Havana"
2. Drake, "God's Plan"
3. Ed Sheeran, "Shape Of You"
4. Ed Sheeran, "Perfect"
5. Maroon 5 (feat. Cardi B), "Girls Like You"
6. Luis Fonsi (feat. Daddy Yankee), "Despacito"
7. Tia Ray, "Be Apart"
8. The Chainsmokers and Coldplay, "Something Just Like This"
9. Marshmello and Anne-Marie, "FRIENDS"
10. Post Malone (feat. Ty Dolla $ign), "Psycho"

The fact that some of the top-selling/streamed singles are from 2017 – and were dominating 2018 – shows people are not merely moving on from certain tracks and lack focus. I guess it is positive that there is this ability to capture people and certain longevity of sound. What worries me is the makeup of that top-ten and how rigid the sound is. Maybe people are less bothered with singles and look at albums as a whole but I think the list above is more to do with how streaming sites promote certain artists above others. Apart from Camila Cabello, there is a lot of obvious Pop and stuff one might find being boosted by Spotify and their peers - YouTube, for example.

There is a definite market for artists like Ed Sheeran and The Chainsmokers but I do not feel it equates with real quality and depth. Look at critical reviews and how they perceive artists like The Chainsmokers and Maroon 5 – it is not that positive! I am a big fan of spreading my wings and diving right into music. I listen to most genres and, yes, I will take in some modern Pop that some might perceive as naff. I think the top-ten best-sellers shows that, maybe, people are going after singles rather than album tracks and the demographic is quite young. One suspects a lot of slightly older people are not streaming and buying stuff from Post Malone! Maybe this year will be different but I do worry there is this hegemony where Pop and the mainstream is taking too much focus. Perhaps it is young listeners who genuinely love this music and are keen to snap it up. I think, more likely, there are other problems and considerations. I do feel the best-selling list of 2018 raises some questions. Are radio stations too defined regarding what they play and are they lacking in broadness?! A lot of the artists above might be played on BBC Radio 1 and it makes me wonder whether we need to do more to open up tastes and minds – maybe other stations mixing-up their playlists or the likes of BBC Radio 1 being a bit more varied.

I do think the singles game is strong and it is good we are seeing people buy them at all! Anything that keeps singles in the fore is great but there is a world of music out there! I am not bias in saying this but listen to some brilliant Alternative and Indie music; turn your dial to BBC Radio 6 Music and some of the lesser-heard stations. I feel a lot of radio stations do have their own sound and it can be hard breaking away from that. I look at the list of most-bought singles of 2018 and you can place all those songs on a very specific station. Are streaming sites aiming music too wholly at those who love Pop and the more commercial side? Are they lacking foresight and being far too narrow-minded? There are those who feel the charts is a bygone thing and, when it comes to singles, who really cares what people buy. I can see that point and, actually, I think buying albums is more important – I would be interested seeing what makes the top-ten most-bought/streamed albums of 2018. I do feel like streaming platforms are hugely important and they hold an enormous amount of power. I am not seeing, every day, many songs that break the usual mould of Pop and commercial music and that worries me. It is clear we need to change the conversation and maybe look at the way the charts is composed.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash/@igormiske

I do feel like there is a world of young listeners who are gravitating towards certain stations and that is all they hear. I grew up around a tonne of great music and the eclectic exposure has followed me through life. I love all sorts of music and, if you had to compose my top-ten singles from 2018, you’d see a broad and stunning mix. What we see from that list above is a mix of rather boring and processed songs. Aside from Camila Cabello, I think the rest of the top-ten lacks real flair, energy and nuance. You can listen to those songs and they will drop from the brain instantly. Is that what people are after? Do we want songs that are accessible at first but do not really stay with us? I do not think that is the case and I do struggle to get my head around the figures. I understand the singles chart and market is not everything and it is not a huge deal but it points at what is being listened to and what a lot of young listeners hold dear. I worry there are so many wonderful songs and artists being overlooked because we are not doing enough to promote them. The singles chart is still flawed and I wonder whether there is a way it can be overhauled so that it is more eclectic and less commercial.

I do worry that, in years to come, many people growing up will not have had that rich education and they will only listen to a certain sound. I have nothing against the artists who have been marked and commended (last year) but it shows a very small part of the music landscape. What of the great Hip-Hop acts and the brilliant new bands?! I think radio stations and streaming sites need to do a lot more to balance their mainstream tastes and preferences with the more interesting and original sounds. I would like to see the top-ten list for this year contain more diversity in terms of genres. Music is this wonderfully fascinating and multifarious view that is bounteous and always-surprising. This is what we should be putting out into the world and promoting. I understand we need to keep Pop and chart hits right near the centre but one struggles to go beyond the obvious when it comes to streaming sites and the most powerful radio stations. I love singles and they still hold a very important place in modern music. If we keep pushing and popularising the same artists; do very little to open up eyes and help shift the imbalance then it could be very problematic for future generations. One reason why I am a music journalist is because of the huge array of artists I was raised on – I would not be so interested in music if it were all Pop or one genre. I think we might get to a stage where young listeners are not expanding their collection and trying music from other corners of the dial. This is a very real prospect and is...

NOT something I want to see.