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Music | Opinion

The Big Topic: Why do greatest hits albums continue to dominate the charts?

@josephtaysom

Last week, the UK Album Chart was awash with greatest hits albums that collect material from artists of the past. Remarkably, eight out of the top 20 spots are currently occupied by the genre of release, which is 400% higher than the volume of new albums which broke through into these positions.

Admittedly, there are a number of different reasons to cause such a high number of old releases to make their way back into the chart. The Killers are currently on a stadium tour of the UK, and fans have been streaming their 2012 compilation album, Direct Hits, to get in the mood for their concerts, making it shoot up to 18.

Furthermore, Queen have also been on tour, and they also performed at the televised Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Despite being released in 1981, their greatest hits sit in eighth place. Astonishingly, this marks the album’s 1001st week on the chart since its release.

After Kate Bush’s recent revival following Stranger Things, the fact that ‘Running Up That Hill’ is the focal point of the most recent series, her compilation album, The Whole Story, has also crept into the top 20, which shows the programme has been a gateway for Gen-Z to explore her full repertoire.

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Meanwhile, there’s a strong argument to be made that Liam Gallagher’s recent Knebworth shows offer the explanation as to why Oasis’ Time Flies has shot back up the chart. However, there is no clear answer as to why Fleetwood Mac’s 50 Years: Non Stop is currently placed in 11, similarly, why Abba’s Gold is sat in seventh.

Of course, the most logical reason to explain just why Britain has become so obsessed with greatest hits records is the emergence – and subsequent domination – of streaming platforms. Although we were fed a lie that this technology would benefit newer artists, on the whole, it’s proven not to be the case.

From the moment streaming arrived, it seemed as though the new technology could be beneficial for new artists, as listeners would use the platform for discovery purposes. However, emerging musicians tend to get drowned out when up against the sheer volume of musicians competing for the same space.

Seemingly, now the choice is at the tip of our fingertips, the majority would prefer to re-listen to an album full of songs they’ve heard a million times rather than dip their toe into something new. Instead, most seek a sense of familiarity and want comfort from music.

A decade ago, the way we consumed music was considerably different before streaming took over. For example, in an average week in 2012, BBC Radio 1 had more than 11 million unique listeners, whereas that total is now around 7.7 million. Additionally, in 2012, when people were listening to more radio and subsequently absorbing a higher quantity of new music, fewer greatest hits albums occupied positions in the chart.

In the same week in 2012, there were three greatest hits compilations in the top 20, two of which were new releases courtesy of Kylie Minogue and Kaiser Chiefs. Meanwhile, Bee Gees were only in the chart because Robin Gibb had recently sadly died, which led to Number Ones re-climbing the charts.

Our collective obsession with artists we can rely on is also potentially why there’s a lack of new headline acts breaking through. While there’s still the occasional musician like Billie Eilish, who are exceptions to the rule, it’s undoubtedly a nail-biting time to be an emerging artist.

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