The new UK singles chart: good news and bad news

The spanking new UK chart is out, and it’s a bit of a non-starter really: there’s good news (two Girls Aloud tracks in the chart! Yay!) and bad news (Snow Patrol! Boo!) but the inclusion of downloads is hardly earth-shattering – for now, at least.

The changes to the chart rules are important, though. As of now, downloads can be included at any time – there doesn’t need to be a corresponding physical release – and that means when the digital hold-outs (The Beatles, Radiohead… any others that spring to mind?) finally succumb to the shiny digital future, their catalogues will dominate the charts. A top 40 consisting entirely of Beatles tracks isn’t impossible, and that could make it harder for new artists to get exposure.

Quick tangent: the demographics of downloading are interesting, because where singles are generally bought by The Kids, downloads are generally bought by The Dads. So the changes to the chart rules could turn the top 40 into an aural equivalent of Mojo magazine. Eek!

More worryingly, unlike physical singles downloads aren’t deleted. Those of us old enough to recall the horrors of tracks such as Wet Wet Wet’s Love Is All Around will remember the sheer awfulness of a number one that won’t go away, and the sheer joy when the artist or record company deletes the track and prevents any more fuckwits from buying it. With the new-style chart, it’s entirely possible that the next Everything I Do I Do It For You or Love Is All Around will hang around forever.

14 thoughts on “The new UK singles chart: good news and bad news

  1. McGazz says:

    At last, pop music is dead.

    Now that a song doesn’t even have to be *released* to be a “hit”. Expect wall-to-wall Beatles, then charts by category leading to diminishing returns of hollow(gram) genre simulacra. Niche-marketed customer relationship management and “buyers who liked…” replaces the shock of the new, and funny haircuts on “Top Of The Pops”.

    Yet again, the digital revolution narrows outlooks, rather than broadens them.

  2. Gary says:

    the digital revolution narrows outlooks, rather than broadens them.

    I think the real shame about tech is that it’s pretty much got rid of the water-cooler moment (horrible expression, but you know what I mean) – the Pistols scandalising the nation, Boy George’s first TOTP appearance causing nationwide confusion, etc.

  3. Squander Two says:

    The reason we’re no longer going to see funny haircuts on Top of the Pops is that we’re no longer going to see Top of the Pops, and the reason for that is that the BBC, who are funded through taxation precisely so that they can ignore market forces, axed it due to low ratings. I don’t see what’s so digital about that.

  4. Gary says:

    I don’t see what’s so digital about that.

    Digital multichannel TV catering for specific niches killed the radio star – why tune in to ToTP in the hope of seeing Beyonce when there seems to be 20 channels playing her videos all day every day? The piss-poor version of “I Touch Myself” by FHM’s High Street Honeys is the future…

  5. McGazz says:

    Yep, agree on the water cooler moment thing (both the idea of loss of nationwide shared cultural experience and the rubbishness of the phrase).

  6. Squander Two says:

    Aye, I know why Top of the Pops‘s ratings were low. What I was pointing out was that the show was made by a TV station whose entire raison d’etre is that they can and should ignore ratings. It was therefore axed because the BBC failed to live up to the terms of their charter. They do this regularly, and did it before the invention of the MP3, and will continue to do so until a government raises the issue come charter-renewal time. It’s a regulatory issue, not a digital one.

    If you had been making a point about some long-running flagship music show on ITV or Channel 4, you’d’ve had a point.

  7. McGazz says:

    With respect Joe, I think you’re trying to shoehorn your issues with tax-funded TV into an thread where they’re irrelevant.

    I’m not complaining about the axeing of ToTP. Dunno about Gary, but I’d long since stopped watching it. Regardless of whether the BBC continued to make it or not, the pseudo-diversification of pop culture enabled by the digital age meant that it had become a parade of diminishing returns genre formalism, and the days of silly haircuts and “did you see that last night?” are over for good. The low ratings were a result, not of it becoming a music programme for a niche audience (of which BBC radio makes many), but of it trying not to be one, when that’s what the punters want, making it a programme for no one.

    Anyway, it’s probably a good thing they did kill it off before the chart rules changed – who wants half an hour of grainy Elvis and Beatles footage in a prime-time slot every week?

  8. Gary says:

    I have to agree with McGazz here, Jo: I think whether the BBC should worry about ratings is a different argument to whether digital killed ToTP. I agree that the BBC shouldn’t worry about ratings, but it clearly does and has done for a long time, and the move to niche broadcasting – particularly in music – put ToTP’s ratings through the floor.

    Tangent: it wasn’t *just* digital, mind you. The marketing tactics behind singles – get it to radio and TV six, seven weeks before release, cut-price deals on the first week of release only, online street team activity and email marketing – pretty much killed the chart IMO, so by the time ToTP was actually axed it was as culturally important as a weekly round-up of tractor news. Songs no longer entered the chart and climbed; instead, they’re in at number one and then out again the following week. Even fairly recently you needed around 150,000 sales to hit the top ten in a quiet week, but last year you could reach number one with just 17,000 sales. When it were all fields round here number one was important because huge chunks of the country were buying it (or in my case, taping it off the radio), but of late number one really only represents what a small number of people were buying.

    You can see a similar thing happening with music magazines (which I’ve blogged about before): the arrival of websites, fan forums and in particular artists’ own sites have reduced the cultural importance of music mags – why wait every week in the hope that you’ll get words of wisdom from your favourite popster in print when you can subscribe to their blog, podcast, vlog or whatever? Hence the massive decline in music mag circulations since the early 90s.

    I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just a thing. But the main difference, I reckon, is that pre-digital you had to sit through other stuff before getting to the tunes you actually wanted to hear, and that would expose you to other things – whether it was ToTP or NME or Smash Hits or whatever. Whereas now if you want to watch, I dunno, My Chemical Sodding Romance or whatever you can simply tune to a niche music channel or pop online, visit their site, go to YouTube, file share, whatever. It’s quite possible to create a virtual bubble where you only hear what you already want to hear.

    From a nostalgic point of view I think that’s a shame, and the world’s poorer without every dad in the country going “my god, call that music? You can’t hear the words! Is that a man or a woman?” But I’m sure The Kids couldn’t care less :)

    who wants half an hour of grainy Elvis and Beatles footage in a prime-time slot every week?

    U2, judging by the Window In The Skies video. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a music video that makes me want to kick the telly in, but that one does. Look! It’s every important musical artist from the last 50 years, lip-synching to U2! It’s not even their best song (in fact, if U2’s only other song consisted of Bono shouting “begorrah! There’s a pig down me trousers!” to a soundtrack of fiddle-dee-dee music, Window In The Skies *still* wouldn’t be their best song) and the video makes me furious.

    There’s a second video, where the makers have cleverly taken old U2 pics and made them 3d. It’s pretty magical, but the famous faces one takes smuggery to a whole new level.

  9. Gary says:

    According to Music Week (via popjustice) HMV’s binning the singles chart from its stores because it’s “no longer relevant to its in-store offer”.

  10. Squander Two says:

    > it wasn’t *just* digital, mind you. The marketing tactics behind singles …

    I’d say that had a hell of a lot more to do with it than digital. And one of the great things about digital is that those marketing tactics are being punished.

    > With respect Joe

    Yeah, that’ll be the day.

    To what extent would the latest chart sensation have been a sensation, rather than just a success, if it weren’t for Top of the Pops? Whatever the reasons for its original creation, fact is the BBC had created not only a music program but a tradition, and, arguably, only the BBC have ever had the clout to turn a program into a bona fide British tradition. Without TotP — if we’d just had a number of different music shows which came and went every couple of years — would we have had the dedicated nationwide cross-generational audience and would bands therefore have had the ability to shock the nation with their haircuts or disgustingness or double-entendres? I suspect not, since Americans have always been quite surprised by the cultural importance of this one program — they just have a number of shows, and no one of them is particularly more important than the others. Look at The Beastie Boys: they generated far more controversy over here than at home. Is there any other country in which just one appearance on just one show could generate the levels of sensation and controversy possible in the UK through TotP? I really don’t think so.

    It was the BBC’s unique position that created the entire situation in the first place.

  11. Gary says:

    > Look at The Beastie Boys: they generated far more controversy over here than at home.

    Oh, indeed. That’s partly because of the UK’s fairly unique music press and tabloid culture, though. And of course, having just four channels tends to encourage shared cultural experiences.

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