Monday, March 02, 2009

Number 1s of 2009: March 1

It's been a while. Lily Allen lasted four weeks with "The Fear" - pretty good considering she was giving it away on MySpace almost a year ago. Stuck at number two throughout her reign was the previous number one, "Just Dance" by Lady Gaga. It finally started dropping down the chart this week - just in time for the follow-up "Poker Face" to reach number 3.

Her replacement is Kelly Clarkson, "My Life Would Suck Without You." (Who says romance is dead?) The video isn't embeddable, but you can watch it here. I've only heard it a couple of times, but my initial reaction is that it's an above average production in search of a chorus. Still, it's doing well enough.

Clarkson was the first winner of American Idol back in 2002. This is more notable than it sounds, because for the most part, American Idol winners have not been exported to the British market. We have been untroubled by the careers of Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks or David Cook, none of whom I have heard of, and all of whom I had to look up on Wikipedia. Actually, Cook's coronation single scraped the bottom end of the top 75, presumably thanks to people who saw the show on ITV2 - but that's hardly a big deal.

The exceptions are Clarkson herself, and 2007 winner Jordin Sparks, who has been tentatively pushed as an R&B act. And it's worth noting that the others didn't fail in Britain - they were simply never released here, evidently a deliberate choice by their label. One wonders why. Perhaps it's a tacit recognition that most of them wouldn't have got anywhere without the show - or a fear that the aura of the show would be damaged if too many winners went on to second or third rate careers. Certainly the UK producers, when faced with embarrassing and unwanted winners, have always been very quick to boot them into limbo. Just ask Michelle McManus and Steve Brookstein. I suppose the middle ground is to remain a reasonable success in your home country, and get politely ignored by your label's international division.

In theory, Kelly Clarkson's British counterpart would be Will Young, the unlikely winner of Pop Idol's first season. But he's a rather different proposition. He's still selling albums in Britain, but he's not the sort of act that Pop Idol was intended to discover. He's a likeably nerdy chap who makes average-to-decent MOR ballads with surprisingly good videos. That might be because he's gay and they don't want to do videos with a male love interest (his songs have a tendency to be addressed to the helpfully non-specific "you"), but whatever the reason, at least it's resulted in some genuinely inventive stuff. See, for example, the single-shot slow burn of "Leave Right Now", the swimming lessons in "Friday's Child", or the fabulously arbitrary and incongruous John Noakes tribute "Who Am I?" - none of them particularly great songs, but excellent videos.

Clarkson, in contrast, is a much more conventionally marketable singer. This is her eighth UK single, the biggest until now being "Since U Been Gone" (number 5 in 2004), and quite right too, because it's rather good.

Another notable thing: this is the fifth consecutive number one by a female soloist, following Lily Allen, Lady GaGa, Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke. (If you want to nitpick, "Just Dance" was credited to "Lady GaGa featuring Colby Adonis", but that's close enough in my book.) And there's a fair chance it won't be the last, because the obvious challengers are Lady GaGa again with "Poker Face" at number 3, and Taylor Swift's "Love Story" at number 2. Which is an interesting one, actually, because the record company has decided not to bother with the original mix over here - country music not being a big seller on this side of the Atlantic, to put it mildly. Here's the version being used in the UK.

And here's the original...