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(Credit: Far Out/Imagine Dragons)

Music

The Week in Number Ones: Cat Burns, Imagine Dragons, and The Prodigy eye the top spot

@TylerGolsen

Welcome back to The Week in Number Ones, where all the biggest movers from the US and UK charts get condensed into one article. Last week, we looked at the difference between clever samples and straight-up laziness through the lens of Aitch’s ‘Baby’, examined some important milestones reached by The Kid Leroi and his smash single ‘Stay’, and waved a bittersweet goodbye to Janis Joplin through her one and only number one hit, ‘Me and Bobby McGee’.

If Will Smith’s open palm hasn’t already given you award show fatigue, then stick around because The Grammys are this Sunday. Why they thought it was a good idea to stick music’s biggest night exactly seven days after cinema’s biggest night is anyone’s guess, but in any case, we’ve got some fascinating races between Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Cat, Lil Nas X, and Kanye West to look forward to.

Who knows what The Grammys are going to have to do to get people’s focus off of The Oscars and the smack heard ‘round the world. Maybe Kanye is putting together the perfect plan to punch Drake in the nuts as we speak. 

Over on the album charts, Charli XCX has managed to fend off new releases from the likes of ArrDee and Sea Girls to land her first number one album with Crash. However, the major story on the album charts just might belong to the Foo Fighters, who landed their Greatest Hits LP at number four due to the wave of grief that followed drummer Taylor Hawkins’ death last Friday. Dave Grohl might not have been happy with the album on its initial release, but the LP has now become a way for fans to remember Hawkins’ legacy behind the kit.

This week, we dive into the modern hitmaking machine of TikTok through the success of Cat Burns’ ‘Go’, explore cross-promotional shenanigans with Imagine Dragons and JID’s ‘Emeny’, and shine a light on the emergence of Big Beat among a diverse pop music landscape with The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’. All that and more as we round up all the best chart news of the modern-day and recent past.

Current UK Number One: ‘Starlight’ – Dave

All it takes is one great line. That’s all you need for a hit song right now. Five seconds is the preferred length of time for you to get in, get out what you have to say, and get going. That’s because the predominant force that propels songs to the top of the charts now is TikTok, and if you don’t have a message as succinct and impactful as “pack up your shit and go”, then you’re just not playing the game right.

Take your pick with whatever example you like. ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’, ‘Heat Waves’, ‘House on Fire’, ‘ABCDEFU’, and ‘Crossed Fingers’ are just some of the most recent songs that have reached the top ten (and even number one) thanks to TikTok propelling them to the top. I’m not exactly sure what kind of presence Dave’s ‘Starlight’ has on the social media platform, but I can tell you that it is nearly impossible to land a number one song today without a little bit of additional help.

And by “additional help”, I mean over 550 million views for content revolving around your song. That’s what Cat Burns currently has going for her and her song ‘Go’, which is making quite the stand on TikTok at the moment. Burns, a young native Englander who specialises in the kind of heartbreak and fucked up feelings that any person in their early 20s can relate to, originally put out ‘Go’ two years ago. But since social media and Covid have rendered linear time nonexistent, ‘Go’ is now seeing its biggest surge in sales and streams.

A relatively straightforward acoustic-pop number, ‘Go’ isn’t really much of a song. It knows what it needs to do: push that “pack up your shit and go” for all its worth. The rest of the composition feels like an afterthought, as can be seen by the numerous different remixes currently available to the song. As the arrangement transforms into all different kinds of sounds and styles, the song still translates the same way as long as the central hook of the song remains the same. 

Sure, a more cynical person would point out that having six different remixes of one song is mainly just a ploy to boost the original version’s chart success. And that’s true, as Lil Nas X made that clear to everyone back in 2019. But ‘Go’ is a ploy in its very DNA: a finely-tuned lab experiment that is custom-made to translate well on a platform like TikTok. Cat Burns should be applauded for figuring out the formula, not chastised for it. You can complain about what that means for the state of popular music as a whole, but it’s still popular music for a reason. If you’re not looking to get ahead, you’re going to be left behind.

UK Singles Top Ten (Week of March 30th, 2022):

  1. ‘Starlight’ – Dave
  2. ‘Baby’ – Aitch/Ashanti
  3. ‘Peru’ – Fireboy DML & Ed Sheeran
  4. ‘Where Are You Now’ – Lost Frequencies/Calum Scott
  5. ‘Make Me Feel Good’ – Belters Only ft. Jazzy
  6. ‘Down Under’ – Luude ft. Colin Hay
  7. ‘Where Did You Go’ – Jax Jones ft. MNEK
  8. ‘Go’ – Cat Burns
  9. ‘BMW’ – Bad Boy Chiller Crew
  10. ‘House on Fire’ – Mimi Webb

Current US Number One: ‘Heat Waves’ – Glass Animals

Let me get something out of the way from the very start: Imagine Dragons is probably one of my least favourite bands of all time. It’s not because of the watering down that they’ve done to rock music as a whole over the past decade and a half, and it’s not because of their Coldplay levels of desperation to stay relevant through collaborations with younger, cooler artists. No, I hate Imagine Dragons because of how consistently and mind-bogglingly inane their songs are.

It’s almost impressive that they’ve been able to keep it up for this long. Somehow songs like ‘Believer’, ‘Thunder’ and ‘Demons’ are perfectly calibrated to annoy the living hell out of me. Every song has the same bombastic backing track, the same lack of meaning or even vague interest put into the lyrics, and the same ridiculous studio sheen on every production. But even if I really want to, I’m not here to talk shit about Imagine Dragons. Instead, let’s talk about League of Legends.

More specifically, let’s talk about Arcane, the Netflix series that has helped propel Imagine Dragon’s collaboration with American rapper JID, ‘Enemy’, all the way up to number seven this week. As both a critical and commercial smash, Arcane is helping its parent company Riot Games take the spotlight off some very disturbing allegations of sexual harassment in their workplace. It’s also helping Imagine Dragons return to the top of the charts.

This isn’t even Imagine Dragon’s first time collaborating with the League of Legends. Their 2014 track ‘Warriors’ was used to promote the 2014 League of Legends Championship, showing that Imagine Dragons will return to any well as long as there’s a built-in audience. And holy hell does League of Legends have a built-in audience: as one of the most popular Esports in the world, the online battle game consistently brings in millions, if not hundreds of millions of viewers to streaming platforms like Twitch. League of Legends is massive – where there are that many people, there’s bound to be a ton of money, and wherever there’s a ton of money, that’s where you’ll find Imagine Dragons.

Whereas most musicians are now using TikTok to propel themselves up the charts, Imagine Dragons are savvy enough to plug into a massive stronghold of fans by allying themselves with one of the world’s most popular games. It’s admittedly smart, even if ‘Enemy’ sucks as a piece of music just like every other Imagine Dragons song sucks.

US Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten Singles (Week of April 2nd, 2022):

  1. ‘Heat Waves’ – Glass Animals
  2. ‘Stay’ – The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber
  3. ‘Super Gremlin’ – Kodak Black
  4. ‘ABCDEFU’ – Gayle
  5. ‘Ghost’ – Justin Bieber
  6. ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ – Disney’s Encanto Cast
  7. ‘Enemy’ – Imagine Dragons X JID
  8. ‘That’s What I Want’ – Lil Nas X
  9. ‘Woman’ – Doja Cat
  10. ‘Easy On Me’ – Adele

This Week in Number Ones: ‘Firestarter’ – The Prodigy (#1 on the UK Singles Chart, March 31st, 1996)

1996 is one of the most fascinating years in the history of the UK Singles Chart. In terms of sheer diversity, few other years can compete with the ludicrous mix of rock, hip hop, house, R&B, and power ballads that emerged from 1996. This was the year the Spice Girls took over, but it was also the time when Oasis officially became Britain’s biggest band. The Bee Gees landed two number ones, but both were from boy band covers. England was hosting the Euros, and ‘Three Lions’ rose to the top of the charts for two non-consecutive weeks, battling it out with The Fugees’ ‘Killing Me Softly’. 

But 1996 also saw the emergence of Big Beat into the mainstream, with the charge being led by English electronic wizard Liam Howlett. While DJing at raves across the UK, Howlett encountered dancer Keith Flint, who encouraged Howlett to begin making his own music. The duo brought in an MC by the name of Maxim and soon started performing across the country under the name The Prodigy.

For the band’s first half-decade, Flint didn’t contribute to the band musically. He’s not featured on either of their first two albums, and he simply danced on stage during their live performances. But in 1996, Flint picked up a microphone and sang on a Prodigy record for the first time. Howlett had created an aggressive backing beat with elements from The Breeders’ ‘S.O.S.’ and Ten City’s ‘Devotion’, which Flint in turn morphed into a screed of filth, fury, and fire starting.

‘Firestarter’ didn’t feature any traditional hooks: the song barely has a chorus, none of its lyrics are sung, and there’s no melody other than the wah-wah guitar borrowed from The Breeders. But ‘Firestarter’ was primed for immediate impact, showing the world a darker, more primal version of dance music that incorporated elements of punk, metal, and industrial music. Flint’s abrasive persona and gonzo image helped sell the band to legions of kids looking to kick back at the more sanitised songs that were infiltrating the pop charts.

Just running down the first few number ones of 1996 shows a clear line of demarcation. Tell me when you sense a shift: George Michael’s ‘Jesus to a Child’, Babylon Zoo’s ‘Spaceman’, Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, Take That’s ‘How Deep is Your Love’, The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’. Even better, Mark Morrison’s ‘Return of the Mack’ brought some smooth R&B to the top of the charts right after The Prodigy pissed all over it with ‘Firestarter’, making 1996 a true melting pot of musical genres and styles.

The Prodigy weren’t done with the charts just yet. Later that same year, another Keith Flint-led song, ‘Breathe’, gave the band their second and final number one single. Although they never ascended to the top of the Singles Chart again, The Prodigy laid the groundwork that allowed other big beat artists like Fatboy Slim and The Chemical Brothers to land their own number ones shortly thereafter. Even with 25 years of familiarity, ‘Firestarter’ still feels raw and uncompromising, bringing some much-needed energy to the overly-sentimental pop hits that had taken over.

UK Singles Chart Top Ten (Week of March 31st, 1996)

  1. ‘Firestarter’ – The Prodigy
  2. ‘The X Files’ – Mark Snow
  3. ‘Children’ – Robert Miles
  4. ‘How Deep is Your Love’ – Take That
  5. ‘Give Me A Little More Time’ – Gabrielle
  6. ‘Return of the Mack’ – Mark Morrison
  7. ‘Nakasaki EP (I Need A Lover Tonight)’ – Ken Doh
  8. ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ – Oasis
  9. ‘Walkaway’ – Cast
  10. ‘Stupid Girl’ – Garbage