The charts are a funny old thing, eh? A stark reflection of the musical alignment of the nebulous ‘general public’, seemingly alien to those of us who might even be remotely arrogant enough to class ourselves as having good taste. But while you can argue that the list starts as it means to go on with the inclusion of the Crazy Frog at #150, The Top 150 Biggest Selling Singles Of The Millennium (see the full list here) provides an interesting look into how the consumption of music has changed over the past decade.
The most immediately obvious conclusion that can be drawn from the list is that, yes, reality TV has been a big deal for the past decade or so (“no shit, Sherlock,” I hear you cry). A full 20 of these records were the direct result of one reality TV show or another – yes, I am counting Military Wives (#74) here – including two of the top three. It’s interesting to note that no other reality TV star has yet managed to top the double-whammy of Will Young (‘Anything Is Possible/Evergreen’, #1) and Gareth Gates (‘Unchained Melody’, #3) from 2002’s Pop Idol – Alexandra Burke’s cover of ‘Hallelujah’ is the nearest rival at #8. Of course, ‘X-Factor’ effect extends even beyond the show’s contestants, with two songs that weren’t even released in the 2000s making an appearance due to the program – one as a result of being covered on the show (Goo Goo Dolls, #138) and one as a form of protest (Rage Against The Machine, #70). Funnily enough, Joe McElderry’s cover of ‘The Climb’ would eventually go on to sell more than RATM, clocking in at #47 on the chart.
While the Pop Idol boys may have been all the rage in 2002, it seems the tables have turned – the most consistently successful artists of the 21st Century are female solo artists. Lady Gaga and Rihanna lead the way with 6 songs each in the list – Rihanna wins out with 7 if you count her spot on Eminem’s ‘Love The Way You Lie’ (#19). In terms of the most successful individual song, however, there’s no prizes for guessing that it’s Adele who takes the cake – ‘Someone Like You’ (#2) is two thirds of the way to matching Will Young’s sales record, and it’s only been out a fraction of the time. Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Leona Lewis and Jessie J also have multiple tracks in the chart.
Perhaps the most interesting point is that the chart feels very ‘modern’ – indeed, the prevalence of download sales since 2006 or so makes anything released before then feel like a curious anachronism here, not least the likes of Sonique (#85) and Baha Men (#67), both of which charted back in the heady days of the year 2000. The lack of downloads early in the century also works against certain songs – you’ll find three Beyoncé songs in the top 150, but 2003’s ‘Crazy In Love’ sure isn’t one of them, and you’ll find ‘Human’ (#93) by The Killers in there rather than ‘Mr. Brightside’. Similarly, you might expect that the seemingly ubiquitous ‘Umbrella’ (#53) would be the biggest selling Rihanna track, but you may be surprised to hear it’s not even in her top three – ‘We Found Love’ (#13) and ‘Only Girl (In The World)’ (#20) both made the top 20, and even ‘What’s My Name?’ (#52) beat it out by one place. The fact that a number of songs that were only released last year have charted highly is evidence the digital download market is continuing to grow – most notably, Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know (#30) is doing pretty well for a record that was released less than six months ago.
Fans of ‘real music’ (or ‘music with guitars’, as the sort of people who say this usually mean) will find the pickings pretty slim in this list – unless Kings Of Leon (‘Sex On Fire’, #8/’Use Somebody’, #32) or Nickelback (‘Rockstar’, #89) is your idea of ‘real music’, then knock yourself out I guess. In terms of stuff that’s simply ‘good’, well, that’s entirely subjective – I’d argue that pickings are pretty slim overall, but there are some diamonds in the rough. Well, maybe not diamonds, but I’d rather listen to Coldplay, Gnarls Barkley or even Girls Aloud than the Black Eyed Peas…