Unless you have been living under a rock the last few months, you may have noticed that the delightfully friendly Ed Sheeran has released his third studio album 'Divide'. Now my opinion on this new record is neither here nor there, but what has become apparent since the album's release is just how screwed up the UK single chart system has become. As a result of the album's release, all 16 tracks from the record are now sitting somewhere in the Top 20 on the charts. But understand how this has happened, you need to understand exactly what makes a song eligible to be in the charts in the first place.
For the last 10 years, the UK Charts Company has been in varied stages of reform in order to accommodate the changes we have made that allow us to digest music. In 2005, downloaded singles were added to the then physical releases at the time, resulting in a number of surprising entries including unsigned bands cracking the Top 40. But as we began to buy music less and less, the charts began to adopt a more complicated system whereby streams of the singles would also count in someway. Originally it was noted that 150 plays of a songs via a streaming site would count equivalently to one actual purchase. However, as more and more began to stream their music via these sites, that figure was then brought down to 100 plays per purchase, with official video streaming sites like YouTube and Vevo also counting towards a single's position.
And until now, this system seemed to work perfectly fine. But seeing all of Ed Sheeran's new album, single or not, making its way into the Singles Chart clearly points out some massive holes in their system. As you've probably worked out by now, this anomaly is solely down to the rules adopted to streaming sites. 'Divide' has broken records for the most streamed album on Spotify for its first week of release, and therefore every track made its way into the Singles Chart. But surely an album being streamed over and over again should be counted towards the Album Chart, not Singles, correct?
Well as it turns out, no. Currently the position of the Official Chart Company when it comes to evaluating the popularity of a song is to include all songs currently available in the world. Meaning that even if an artist never realised the song as a single, if it was popular enough, it would still make its way into the charts. This way, if an artist chooses to release the song later as a single, the number of plays it racks up from its time as an album track will still count towards its overall performance in the charts. But of course, this needs to change in some way very soon.
But the real question that a lot of people have begun to ask since this whole ordeal began is whether we really still need a chart? Since its beginnings, the charts have really only meant one thing and that is success of an artist. Nothing to do with how good the song is and whether people like it, but just simply how many people bought it. And while there isn't really a problem with showing consumers what is popular right now, after all, we do it with most other mediums like book, films and video games, but why are supposed to care so much about the music charts? Does the general public really care how well Ed Sheeran is doing, or whether or not he'll be able to hold on to the top spot later this week? I may not be one of the people who repeat listened to 'Divide' earlier this month, but I'm pretty sure that most of those who did aren't really that bothered about how well it performed. It doesn't change anyone's opinion of the music and is only there for the sake of the record labels.
I guess what this article is really asking is not whether we should reform the charts, but should we think about getting rid of them altogether. The way in which we enjoy music now is so far removed and convoluted to how it was twenty years ago that the idea of trying to gauge that digestion in some form of list just seems unnecessary at this point. Mainly because the only reason most acts get into the Top 40 is not from their talent, but from how well their respective labels have managed to push their songs. How many ears heard it on the radio? How many Twitter followers retweeted it? How many people stared lustfully at the music video for it? At this point, the charts have become nothing more than a measure of PR and exposure, granting the top spot to the single with the most attention thrust upon it. And so really, what purpose does it serve anymore?