Back in the day, if a single stayed at number one for more than five weeks, let alone ten, it was a big deal. Bryan Adams and Wet Wet Wet’s record-smashing number ones in the ’90s made the actual news.
Flash-forward to 2016, and we had Drake’s ‘One Dance’. A song that made it to FIFTEEN WEEKS at number one in July – narrowly missing out on Bryan’s chart record of 16 weeks. And did it make the news? Sort of. If it had overtaken Bryan’s record, it might have made an “and finally” segment on the News at Ten, but not much more than that.
That’s because no-one cares about the chart anymore. The only people who do are sad acts like your reporter, who remembers the good old days. Who is upset that a frankly boring and forgettable song is now one of the longest-running number ones of all time, making a mockery of the chart’s venerable 64-year history.
It’s not even Drake’s best song. It might not even make his top five best songs. Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ hung on at number one for eight weeks in 2008 because it was a bloody brilliant pop song. This is just… meh.
Even the Christmas chart was somewhat ruined – arguably more so than when The X Factor always dominated it. At least people still cared back then. Last year’s Christmas number one was Clean Bandit’s ‘Rockabye’, which had already been number one for over a month, purely because that was the song people were streaming most at the time. Beyond boring.
But that wasn’t the worst moment in chart history! In March 2017, something happened which made a total and utter mockery of the charts as a whole. When Ed Sheeran released his third album Divide this week, the entire album plus bonus tracks entered not just the top 40, but the top 20. All but four of the top 20 are new Ed Sheeran songs. What a mess.
So how the hell did this happen? Was there really nothing else out at the time that could’ve stopped him?
Nope. It’s not the competition, it’s the technology.
Basically, it’s all streaming’s fault. Since online streams on services like Spotify and Deezer were included in summer 2014, they’ve brought the chart to a standstill.
[At least Sigala made things relatively interesting that week]
You’ll find the same familiar faces in the Top 10 each week. Honestly, pick a random Top 10 from the last two years and we can pretty much guarantee that one of Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Adele, Ed Sheeran or Drake were in there. Or all five. Or all 20. It’s not uncommon these days for the Top 5 to stay exactly the same for weeks on end. No movement, no new entries, nothing. Bloody boring.
Many Spotify users simply play Spotify’s curated playlists or the ‘UK Top 50’ playlist of the most popular songs around right now. Over and over. This means it takes yonks for songs to finally go away or to allow others to have a bloody turn. And it depends on Spotify’s algorithm.
How are streams calculated anyway? 150 streams equal 1 sale. It seems like a really arbitrary number, and hard to compare to a simple sale of a download.
At least streaming is capped at 10 plays per person per day, so only 70 of your plays can be counted each week, meaning the most you can contribute per week is 0.47 of a sale. But think how many people use Spotify nowadays. It adds up quickly.
In the case of Ed Sheeran, he’s a very popular artist. This is arguably the biggest new album since streaming was included in the charts (Adele’s 25 had a similar chart dominance but not in the same league as Ed – mainly because it was in the Christmas period where sales are normally higher). Many people are likely to stream his new album in full on a loop all week. And so it stands to reason that such a huge album will clog up the chart with these kinds of rules.
[And it just keeps on going and going the more you scroll down…]
You could say that streaming is similar to when downloads were included alongside physical sales for the first time. But at least a download equals one sale in the exact same way that a physical copy equals one sale.
If anyone downloaded a song more than once to manipulate the chart, it was their problem – they spent their money on it. With streaming, it’s far too up in the air for chart nerds to accept.
The difference between a sale of a download (or CD, remember them?) and a stream is that that listener may not have actually chosen to stream that song. They didn’t necessarily go out of their way to track that song down because they loved it. They didn’t necessarily part with their cash for it. ‘One Dance’ could be on many playlists created by Spotify and other users. It’s just not the same thing. It wasn’t as if we then counted how many times a CD was played once it was bought – they can’t be compared.
It would be fine if somehow the rules only allowed a stream to count if:
That way, all the streams would at least be down to the listeners’ choice rather than just songs they happened to listen to. A lot of these songs may have been playing when they were on the bog and left Spotify running.
For whatever reason, Drake did not put out an official music video, lyric video or audio on YouTube, unlike pretty much every other artist.
This means that ‘One Dance’ is particularly massive on streaming, as there’s no proper audio of the song on YouTube at all. So, if you want to listen to it, you have to stream it or buy it.
[Pretend this is where you can listen to ‘One Dance’ – we’re not putting the Spotify link in for obvious reasons]
If this was a deliberate move by Drake or his record company, then it’s an admittedly a genius way to game the charts. But it’ll get to the point where artists just won’t bother making a video anymore. Just stick it on Spotify and see the magic happen.
Going back to Drake in the summer of 2016, apparently there was nothing out in those three and a half months that could rival him for the No.1 spot. We had Sia’s ‘Cheap Thrills’, Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s (and Taylor Swift’s) ‘This Is What You Came For’, and Justin Timberlake’s ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’, among others.
Usually you’d expect most of them to reach number one, but not any more. Plus, they’re on YouTube. There wasn’t a true “song of the summer” like ‘Get Lucky’ or ‘Blurred Lines’ to rival it.
Most of the big artists saved their releases for the autumn/winter to capitalise on the Christmas market and X Factor performances. But even then, a coveted slot on the ITV show doesn’t guarantee success. Well, unless you’re Little Mix with an absolute corker of a song. (And on the positive side, at least streaming could potentially make it difficult for novelty acts like Honey G to ever reach number one again.)
You might not realise it, but the Official Charts Company does actually provide a weekly chart of pure sales without streams – it’s just not the “official” official chart that Radio 1 plays each Friday.
In that chart – you know, the chart before streams ruined it – Drake was only number 14 on Friday, July 15. And he hadn’t been number one since April. He was No.1 on that “no streaming” chart for four weeks, and the likes of Justin, Calvin and even Kungs vs Cookin’ on 3 Burners topped the rundown in that time. That makes a whole lot more sense. Instead, we all have to pretend that boring old Drake was number one for 15 boring weeks.
The Best-Sellers of All Time list now includes songs like ‘One Dance’, which have an unfair advantage. ‘Stitches’ by Shawn Mendes has sold over a million. Really? Fifth Harmony’s ‘Work From Home’ also passed the milestone, but with only 311,00 actual sales. They may as well include radio airplay like the Billboard chart in America – why not?
It’s now almost impossible for new artists to break through into the mainstream without some kind of luck, severe promotion or being featured with someone else. Unless you’re a generic dance artist – then it seems to be fine.
And you have artists of certain genres and ages who just can’t get near the top end of the charts anymore. The reason? Because their core fanbase – while still pretty big – just don’t stream anywhere as much as younger folk. That’s why you’ll see the likes of Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, Olly Murs or Lady Gaga near the top of the downloads/sales chart, but hardly making a dent in the full chart with streaming. Maybe that’ll change in time, but who knows?
In conclusion, if Drake had equalled or even overtaken Bryan Adams, it would have been a sad day indeed. Not because we don’t want old records to be broken, but because he just hasn’t earned it.
And now that the Ed Sheeran moment has happened (and it will happen again if things don’t change), the chart is looking increasingly pointless. The days of nerdily following the chart are dead. Unless the OCC make the brave decision of removing streaming from the main chart following this experiment, they might as well just can the whole thing entirely.
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