Saturday, January 12, 2008

Number 1s of 2007: July and August

"The Way I Are" by Timbaland featuring Keri Hilson, D.O.E. and Sebastian. (29 July to 12 August, two weeks.) We've already had Timbaland back in April, so I can take this one quickly. On paper, it ought to be hideously irritating. It's got a silly title, and it's got a superfluous verse about shoehorning a fat woman into a camper van. And rich people singing songs about poverty are usually desperately embarrassing. But Timbaland knows what he's doing, and this is somehow pretty good despite it all.

Robyn, "With Every Heartbeat." (12 to 19 August, one week.) This is surely the most unexpected number one hit of the year. It's certainly not a case of fans rushing out to buy it. Robyn is apparently quite successful in her native Sweden, but she hadn't had a UK hit since 1998. Her previous single, "Konichiwa Bitches", was essentially three minutes of gibberish recited over a Game Boy, with a technicolour video. It missed the Top 75 entirely.

Mind you, it did get a bit of airplay, which might explain why people were paying some attention when "With Every Heartbeat" came out. It's got a great hook, and Radio 1 pushed it in a big way, but I'm still a little surprised that somebody with such a moribund UK career suddenly had a number one out of nowhere. (And then quickly returned to obscurity - the follow-up peaked at 17.) If nothing else, the download chart format is very friendly to word-of-mouth hits, since it's mitigated the problems of getting copies onto the shelves.

Kanye West, "Stronger" (August 19 to September 2, two weeks). I'd hoped the "talking over somebody else's record" school of rap had gone out of fashion, but apparently not. The original record, if you don't know, is the latter parts of "Harder Better Faster Stronger" by the French duo Daft Punk, which was a number 21 hit back in 2001.

This is actually an extract from Interstella 5555, a full-length video for the entire album, but the clips for individual songs were used out of context as videos for the singles. They've generally had good taste in quirky videos - Da Funk and Around The World are two of the best known, although for their last album they produced some strange over-saturated mock-80s films such as the repetitive "Robot Rock" and the downright disturbing "Prime Time Of Your Life." (And seriously, don't say I didn't warn you about that one. I'm honestly surprised YouTube didn't come up with an age/content warning for it. Not that I'm recommending it, mind you... personally, I think it's a bit over the top and ends up being more about the shock value than the point it was trying to make. But I digress...)

To be fair, although West has used whacking great chunks of Daft Punk's record, at least he's gone to the trouble of giving it a remix to beef it up a bit. They're a bit samey, Daft Punk, and there's something to be said for the view that they're often at their best when somebody else uses them as a springboard - such as the video directors for Da Funk and Around The World. I saw them live at T In The Park a few years ago. God, they were boring. Never has a band been more in need of a radio edit.

Kanye West's UK sales are a bit inconsistent. I suspect he's in the odd position of being taken seriously because he's a big name in America, while having a relatively modest core audience over here. His back catalogue is a weird mix of big hits and singles that stalled in the mid-table (such as the follow-up, "Good Life", which only got to number 23). "Stronger" is his first UK number one, althoguh it's his sixth top ten hit. I suspect what we've got here is a combination of a better-than-average Kanye West single and people remembering the Daft Punk record.

Meanwhile, in America: "Umbrella" by Rihanna, which we covered in the previous post; "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T's (number 2 in the UK); and "Beautiful Girls" by Sean Kingston" (we're coming to it).