Jan 18

Popular Crystal Ball: 2017 – Islands In The Stream

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Tom, enjoying Havana

Tom, enjoying Havana

Its Sheeranmania bookends might fool you into thinking that 2017 was just as bad a year for Number Ones as 2016. It wasn’t. For a start, very little could be. But while last year saw the charts reeling under the impact of streaming, this year they adjusted. New rules: get people in the first 30 seconds or GTFO (aka fail to count as a play, fall off the Spotify playlists, etc.) The emerging formula – with some variations – is to put the chorus first and then, if we’re lucky, fool around with variations and guest spots later. Those stars big enough to ignore this imperative often used their power badly.

Anyway, the Number Ones of 2017, in order. I’m pleasantly surprised at how far down this list I have to go before I get to singles I would turn off rather than hear. I’m also pleasantly surprised that – assuming I ever get my groove back – the future of Popular holds the opportunity to write about Young Thug, Quavo, Daddy Yankee, Chance The Rapper, and more. But I’m disappointed that I don’t really love any of these songs, even my favourite.

1. CAMILA CABELO ft YOUNG THUG – “Havana”: British pop’s occasional bouts of Latin fever almost always reward at least one properly good single and “Havana” is it, the (too) repetitive hook the foundation for limber rhythms, sinuous trumpet lines and a delightful best-behaviour guest spot from Young Thug.

2. SAM SMITH – “Too Good At Goodbyes”: Supple and strong ballad which suggests that, curses, there’s more to Sam Smith than I’d previously admitted. Still can’t bear his earlier material but maybe he just got famous an album too soon.

3. CALVIN HARRIS ft PHARRELL WILLIAMS, KATY PERRY and BIG SEAN – “Feels”: Speaking of unexpected rehabilitations, how did this gang of superannuated chancers (and Pharrell) come up with the most breezy and likeable Calvin Harris single ever? Maybe pop in general has slowed down enough that Cal sounds sprightly?

4. DUA LIPA – “New Rules”: The one.. two.. bit is great, Dua Lipa is a Good Thing but oof, who signed off on that “Me No Speak Americano” sax break?

5. HARRY STYLES – “Sign Of The Times”: Kind of fascinating, in that it’s the first ‘rock’ number one by someone young enough to have zero necessary relationship to rock, so it feels partly an anthropological exercise, a version of 70s rock as a curation of variably effective hot gestures, whose connection to one another is obscure. It’s also not quite as good as that might suggest.

6. DJ KHALED ft RIHANNA and BRYSON TILLER – “Wild Thoughts”: Rihanna’s hook, and the mix of Spanish and electric guitars, are trashy and enjoyable – the rest of the rapping is junk. Still not sure which reaction wins out.

7. DJ KHALED ft JUSTIN BIEBER, QUAVO, CHANCE THE RAPPER and LIL WAYNE – “I’m The One”: Enticingly springy production. Bieber’s the reason this figures here at all, his guest spots are still VIP passes to the top – but he’s hopelessly outclassed by his collaborators. It sounds like a pop song, though, which hasn’t always been the case recently with these hydra-headed efforts.

8. LUIS FONSI ft DADDY YANKEE and JUSTIN BIEBER – “Despacito (Remix)”: This has a lot of fine qualities and it’s nice to see Daddy Yankee get his due but I’m also heartily sick of hearing it.

9. ARTISTS FOR GRENFELL – “Bridge Over Troubled Water”: Didn’t expect to see a charity singalong top the charts in 2017. Didn’t expect to be so floored by the opening rap either, though you can stop the song there. It’s the ultimate application of the thirty-second rule, in fact: Simon Cowell may be a bad man, but he’s not a stupid one.

10. TAYLOR SWIFT – “Look What You Made Me Do”: My feeling about this is pretty much unshifted from the first boggled time I heard it on the radio in a Sydney 7-11: this is a fucking mess and I’m opting out of the labour of parsing it. The flash of 1989 Swift on the “I got smarter” bridge just makes it worse.

11. ED SHEERAN – “Shape Of You”: This is not entirely horrible in the way some of his earlier tracks were but it’s just so TEPID, it’s trying to be this low key sex jam and it sounds more like a campfire singalong. And this bumfluff Timberlake imitation was number one for fourteen weeks!

12. CLEAN BANDIT ft ZARA LARSSON – “Symphony”: I’m not quite sure when Clean Bandit’s twinkly, athletic house stopped being intriguingly fresh and instead became the most annoying thing in pop but we’re long past that particular event horizon I seem to hate every record of theirs more. The final little repetition of the riff, like a parting air-kiss, grinds my gears to a very unreasonable extent.

13. ED SHEERAN ft BEYONCE – “Perfect Duet”: At last the hegemony of the X Factor winner at Christmas is shattered! No more grateful everyblokes plucked from obscurity to sing suet-hipped ballads! Finally what the British public REALLY want to hear can break through and – oh. Beyoncé puts the X even more into Xmas with a tribute to Duets Week. To quote John Major, “Oh dear.”

14. POST MALONE ft 21 SAVAGE – “Rockstar”: So once again the UK sifts through this year’s crop of American hip-hop #1s and chooses the one by the shit white rapper. The first time I heard this the ooze of the production sounded pleasantly weird and I blanked on the lyrics. With every subsequent encounter the music sounded less distinctive and the vocals more odious. Even rock deserves better.


  1. 1
    Mark M on 9 Jan 2018 #

    Some thoughts:
    – Katy Perry has, over the years, been a better thing as a hook singer than the main act.

    – My friend, after seeing the video for Wild Thoughts: ‘Who are those terrible men on that Rihanna song?’
    (Meanwhile, I suggested to her that her enjoyment of Wild Thoughts was partly about being able to enjoy Carlos Santana guitar wailing on the sly).

    -Post Malone makes me feel fleetingly like wanting to forgive Drake, because it turns out there always is something worse.

  2. 2
    cryptopian on 10 Jan 2018 #

    This year definitely felt like a recovery from drowsy 2016. I’m predicting more high charting singles in the FT poll than last year. I’m so happy Calvin Harris decided to be interesting this year.

  3. 3
    M Banyard on 10 Jan 2018 #

    Apologies for nit-picking Tom but I don’t think ‘Perfect Duet’ is the song that actually got to (and is presently at) number one. According to the Official Charts website it’s the unadorned, Sheeran-only version that topped the UK charts. The duet topped the Billboard charts but doesn’t appear to have charted here at all.

  4. 4
    Tom on 10 Jan 2018 #

    How strange! My source was the BBC Top 40 site which has the Bey version listed http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/chart/singles

  5. 5
    M Banyard on 10 Jan 2018 #

    It looks like they might both be right. Digging around on the internet, it seems that Sheeran released five or six different versions of the song all of which count towards the total. Is this a new chart rule? If so it seems ripe for gaming (which Sheeran seems to have done to good effect already). At least that explains something which had been a complete mystery to me: how he managed to get back to number one with a song that had already peaked at number four back in March and which everybody who wanted it had surely already bought.

  6. 6
    flahr on 12 Jan 2018 #

    I disagree with most of the ordering because I’m wrong about most things, but gratifying to see someone else hates “Rockstar” as much as I do. “Pillies”. “Pillies” for fuck’s sake.

  7. 7
    koganbot on 13 Jan 2018 #

    Do you think Weird Al Yankovic will record a song called “Look What You Made Me Chew”? (I like how “Look What You Made Me Do” sounds, by the way.)

  8. 8
    CriticSez on 4 Jan 2019 #

    Bad. I can’t believe I turned 18 in this lifeless, dystopian year.

    My order:

    Sign of the Times (6.4)
    Perfect (5.9)
    Too Good at Goodbyes (5.7)
    Symphony (5.2)
    Despacito (5.1)
    Havana (4.6)
    Feels and Bridge over Troubled Water (both 4.1)
    Shape of You and Look What You Made Me Do (both 4)
    Wild Thoughts (3.9)
    I’m the One (2.8)
    New Rules (2)
    Rockstar (1) – easily the second-worst number one of all time.

    Something needs to change.

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