Popping The Question

My lovely new layout has inspired me to start some new Dirrrty Pop features and here is the first. In Popping The Question I will discuss some of the big questions concerning pop music at the moment. First up:

How has the addition of downloads affected the singles chart?

There has not been a drastic change in the singles chart since the addition of downloads, but there have been a few trends emerging which have in my opinion affected the charts negatively. The main trend that has emerged in the past few months is that popular singles (especially those big on radio or music channels) are staying in the charts longer – as of last Sunday, Crazy Frog, MVP, James Blunt and 2-Pac had been in the top 10 for between 6 and and 10 weeks each, and most unusually 2 of those will remain in the top 5 this weekend which suggests they are far from on their way out of the charts.

Meanwhile, singles which are only a hit through high first week sales due to the fame of the artist are falling out of the charts just as quickly as they usually do, but are not charting quite as highly as they once would – there are far less one-week-wonders than there used to be with most songs either sticking around the top for a long time or not reaching the top 10 at all, although all those pointless Elvis re-releases counteracted this theory.

These new patterns may be due to the addition of downloads or they may have arrived more naturally as the UK chart increasingly reflects the main American chart, the Billboard Top 100. There songs start at the low end of the chart and move upwards until they peak. The same is often true in other countries’ charts, such as Australia and Canada, but is rare in the UK until recently when a few acts have managed it, most notably James Blunt whose current single, despite having been at no.1 for several weeks now, entered the charts outside the top 10.

Songs in the Billboard chart also stay around for a long time, for example this week’s “Greatest Gainer” in sales was the “new” Lifehouse single, You And Me, which has been in the charts 26 weeks (about 6 months!). Of course this is a top 100, so you would expect there to be songs at the lower end which had been in the chart a long time but for the average song in the top 10 to have been in the chart for 16 weeks is quite different to the UK where the average of the current top 10 is 4.5, and still I think that is quite high for the UK. Until recently, there were more entries at no.1 in the UK charts every year, as for the first few years of this century we had a new no.1 most weeks, but this year’s amount of no.1s is certain to be considerably lower. This is another sign that our chart is becoming more like America’s, because to enter their charts at no.1 is extremely rare. This week’s highest new entry in the UK was Daniel Powter at no.2, yet there was not one new entry in the top 50 American singles.

The negative effect this is having is that it is harder for singles to get into the top 10 because it’s full of singles which have been there for ages, refusing to move. I think the main reason for this is that as CD single-buying becomes less popular it is mainly big fans of an artist who want to buy a single on it’s first week (or to own the CD of it at all), so the people downloading singles are a different type of music fan. The emphasis is more on the song than the singer, which can be a good thing, but the trends of downloading, for the moment at least, reflect what is being played most on the radio (it is interesting to note that the American chart is based on radio airplay as well as sales, like our rubbish Hit 40 UK chart). This is quite worrying as radio playlists are, as I’m sure you all know, controlled by a small number of people who can be (and often are) prejudiced against or in favour of certain acts or types of music.

The integration of downloads into the chart may also lead to some interesting events in future. It is possible that a single which was released a while ago and is still available for download, though not in the shops, could make a resurgence towards the top of the charts if, for example, it is used in a TV show, film or advert. I wonder if there is a rule against singles of a certain age being counted towards the charts? I guess there must be a rule that album tracks downloaded do not count, but maybe this rule will one day be removed so that any song available to download could be no.1. There are all sorts of possibilities for the future of the chart and it’s impossible to know how it will change and whether it will manage to stay relevant, but I do think we will always have a chart and as long as people have favourite artists and songs, there will always be interest in it.

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