Jan 19

Popular Crystal Ball: 2018 – Gotta Get Down On Friday

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By annual tradition, my rankings – best to worst – of the year’s UK number one hits, with initial thoughts – very initial, I’d heard only one of these before last week and it wasn’t Ariana. Again, I didn’t adore any of these tracks, and perhaps quite liking is the best I can hope for. Pop has been good to me, after all,

I feel like this year acts have learned the ins and outs of the streaming game – none more than Drake – and turnover has settled down. The dominance of Spotify – and its editorial clout – still seems like a problem, and more fundamentally there’s no sense that the charts have any kind of niche in cultural life any more. But in terms of accurately reflecting what a lot of people are listening to… yes, here they are.

DAVE ft FREDO – “Funky Friday”: “I’m still shopping in HMV for all my n___s in HMP”, alas no more. Why this particular bit of surly London attitude got to number one ahead of all the other grime names is a mystery I’m not qualified to parse, though I’m happy it did. Spartan and grouchy, but this is just a style of music I really enjoy hearing even in fairly standardised form.

CALVIN HARRIS ft SAM SMITH – “Promises”: People sometimes look back on a golden age when record labels let talent develop at its own pace and kept the faith. Those times are gone, but we have all collectively spent a decade watching Calvin Harris gradually evolve from a massive irritant to a reliable delivery mechanism for pleasant pop-garage.

ARIANA GRANDE – “thank u, next”: I don’t know if this improves if/when you know who the exes are; it’s fine anyway, it does something a little different but emotionally apt with the offhand, undemonstrative sound of the moment.

LADY GAGA and BRADLEY COOPER – “Shallow”: Gaga turns out to be a terrific power balladeer, which makes it more frustrating that this wastes time on her growly co-lead and cuts off before it can really melt down.

DRAKE – “Nice For What”: Drake’s best hit this year, entirely because the backing gives his one-note performance the illusion of depth.

CALVIN HARRIS ft DUA LIPA – “One Kiss”: Disappointingly anonymous stuff from Dua Lipa, but it’s anonymity the newly efficient Mr Harris can work with for this box-ticking house workout.

AVA MAX – “Sweet But Psycho”: Like most big hits now, this is entirely front-loaded – a song that’s its own extended remix, with everything after the first 30 seconds mere elaboration. That elaboration has its pleasures, though, and you just have to tolerate the sledgehammer chorus to reach it.

CLEAN BANDIT ft DEMI LOVATO – “Solo”: More fussy jollity from ver Bandit, elevated a bit by Lovato.

BADDIEL, SKINNER AND THE LIGHTNING SEEDS – “Three Lions”: Thirty years of hurt never stopped me streaming.

JESS GLYNNE – “I’ll Be There”: Muscular lean=on-me stomper which never quite does enough to convince me of its feelings or claims.

BENNY BLANCO ft HALSEY AND KHALID – “Eastside”: There’s a really enjoyable rhythm under this melancholy, wanly performed story of something-or-other.

DRAKE – “In My Feelings”: It’s hard to know what to say about this guy – his flow is so monotonous and tiresome; the productions he gets often sound great; people stream him even when they don’t sound much of anything, as here.

LADBABY – “We Built This City”: Like a dog saying ‘sausages’, the wonder of a novelty hit getting to Number 1 these days is its own reward. Or so I’m told. Typically for a YouTuber, the guy has mediocre comic timing and a bit where he explains one of its own jokes just after making it. Otherwise endurable.

EMINEM ft ED SHEERAN – “River”: Latter-day Eminem (by which I mean everything after 2004, pretty much) always sounds stiff and phlegmy to me despite the impressive technique. This is one of his serious tracks, to telegraph which he’s roped in Sheero. It works, in that I want to switch off and do something fun instead.

RUDIMENTAL ft JESS GLYNNE and MACKLEMORE – “These Days”: Not the trajectory I’d hoped for for these fellas – hanging around with Macklemore and making exhausting fun. soundalikes. Keeps teasing the possibility of turning into an old Rudimental track, which only makes things worse.

GEORGE EZRA – “Shotgun”: British pop has always been full of posh lads but in general they try to hide it. Not so our George, who has a voice exactly like all the wannabe singers at my old school, and has written a song about summer travel which sounds, like all his songs, exactly like it was first written on a borrowed acoustic in a rented villa on the Adriatic. You play the role of a fellow guest trying to sleep.

DRAKE – “God’s Plan”: And when Drake has a tedious backing track he really does sound like the most boring rapper there’s ever been. You could spend years – collectively, the world did – looking for a hook in this.

CHRIS BROWN AND LIL DICKY – “Freaky Friday”: Maintaining a kneejerk dislike of Chris Brown has been pretty easy given that he hardly ever puts his name on good records. This is more of a test – it’s a genuinely goofy, entertaining premise with a few solid jokes (if also a lot of lazy, or worse, ones), so there’s at least the potential for some guilty enjoyment. But no, my first reaction to “waking up in Chris Browns body” is hoping Dicky takes one for the team and dips his balls in hot fat.


  1. 1
    flahr on 3 Jan 2019 #

    The fact “Freaky Friday” has a good premise just makes it WORSE! Because it might have been entertaining if not performed by the worst possible people in the worst possible way!

    “people stream [Drake] even when [his productions] don’t sound much of anything” – my theory is that they stream him BECAUSE his songs often don’t sound much of anything, because if a song is entirely unnoticeable, why would you ever switch it off? He’s the pop equivalent of The Silence.

  2. 2
    Andrew Farrell on 3 Jan 2019 #

    ‘Ezra finished touring his debut album Wanted on Voyage (2014) in December 2016. Following this, Ezra realised that he “needed to write another record”. He went to Barcelona for a month, but instead of booking a hotel or apartment, he found a stranger on the internet whose name was Tamara. “[She] was renting her spare room,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald. “I thought, if she’s a bit crazy, if she’s a bit unhinged, I can just leave. [H]er friends were all musicians, artists and designers and her apartment really felt like their HQ. It helped slow me down. There was a point about halfway through the trip where I was like, this trip has proved to be really important … and the album’s name came to me like that. I love it.”‘

  3. 3
    Phil on 3 Jan 2019 #

    I think I’ve heard no fewer than seven of these, but five of those were on the Christmas and/or New Year TOTP. The major league of pop music does seem dull these days – very little that’s at all spiky seems to find favour. It’s as if the constituent parts of the pool of the Record Buying Public have drained away in strict proportion to their original size, so that by now the Normals are the only group large enough for their listening tastes to register.

    Maybe. Sigrid’s good, though, and I’ve got time for Christine and the Queens, and…

  4. 4
    Mark M on 3 Jan 2019 #

    I’m familiar with some of these, not all. My grasp on current pop was somewhat eroded partway through the year when all but one music channel vanished from Freesat (the only survivor is the ‘hey, remember 2002’ channel The Vault, so that’s not much help).

    Despite normally having little time for either of the people responsible, I quite like One Kiss – its key microhook for me is the word ‘possibilities’ in the chorus.

    The only other one that wouldn’t have me switching channels is Thank You, Next.

    Ezra is a very bad thing indeed. These Days is one of those songs that annoys me because it shares a name with a far, far, far better tune (the Jackson Browne/Nico/more recently Glen Campbell one). Glad I’ve never experienced Ladbaby.

  5. 5
    CriticSez on 4 Jan 2019 #

    Another bad year, mercifully consigned to the history books.

    The charts aren’t particularly good now. That should go without saying.

    My order:

    Three Lions (7.3)
    Shallow (6.5)
    Promises (6.2)
    Sweet But Psycho (5.8)
    These Days (5.6)
    Funky Friday (5.3)
    Shotgun (5.1)
    River (5)
    One Kiss (4.8)
    Eastside (4.1)
    I’ll Be There (4)
    Thank U, Next (3.8)
    Nice for What (3.2)
    Solo (2.2)
    We Built This City (2.1)
    Freaky Friday (2)
    In My Feelings (1.5)
    God’s Plan (1.4)

    3/18. At least it was (marginally) better than 2017.

  6. 6
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Jan 2019 #

    The video for Nice for What is great, and makes clear at the end that humanity owes its existence to Michelle Rodriguez – whether she is holding back the apocalypse or has not yet unleashed it is less clear.

  7. 7
    Shiny Dave on 16 Jan 2019 #

    Chart turnover has improved to the point that the official “Every UK Number One: 2018” playlist that for whatever reason is actually “the last 30 UK #1s” now only goes as far back as mid-2017. For a while, it covered the thick end of three years.

    Sweet But Psycho sounds like it could have been written for Eurovision and cast off for being *just* too long (3:07 including the silence at the end of the Spotify stream, actual song is perhaps two seconds over the three-minute cutoff) and/or being a bit edgy/”adult content” for ESC.

    We Built This City mostly reminds me how much fun the original was. Beyond that, there’s probably a great far-future Popular entry to be had about this version. (And it being far-future is part of why it’d be great! We’d be slotting this late-2018 quasi-frontier moment – Joe Webb on Strictly, LadBaby the Christmas number 1 – into a historical context we currently can’t.)

    Not sure how I’ve not heard Shallow before. I like how it uses the mixed-gender pop duet dynamic, especially in the context of the bloke being the more limited of the two – bloke singing the first verse, woman doing the second in the same key and octave before unleashing a monster belted chorus the bloke just pops up around the edge of. It reminds me of the duet from the musical Wicked, “As Long As You’re Mine,” which works around the same broad quirk – in pop-like singing of all kinds, including and especially musical theatre, men sing just slightly lower than women – in much weaker fashion, the woman singing the first verse and then the most absurd modulation I’ve ever heard yoinks the backing up a sixth (!) for the bloke to come in a third lower than his duet partner.

    Speaking of uses of pop singers, the idea of post-Mariah showboat soprano Ariana doing “the offhand, undemonstrative sound of the moment” might honestly be the most interesting thing about her big 2018 hit.

    God’s Plan is most notable for being chosen by not one but two different players as their walk-out song after being selected in the NFL Draft last year. Three other players went with different Drake songs. I get why he’s a streaming monster, I even get why “God’s Plan” is a really fitting pick for that specific moment even if I think it’s pish, but that much other Drake? Really? Still, two other players went with Bon Jovi and Avenged Sevenfold, which might be worse.

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