Saturday, October 17, 2009

Number 1s of 2009: 18 October 2009

This one's so predictable, I wrote most of it yesterday...

It's a two horse race this week, but not a very close one. The new number one single is Alexandra Burke featuring Flo Rida, "Bad Boys". The video is here, but it's not embeddable, so instead we'll go with her appearance on the X-Factor results show last week, which is.

Alexandra Burke was the X-Factor winner in 2008, and already picked up her first number one over Christmas with her coronation single "Hallelujah." In the early years of the show, X-Factor winners would bang out a rushed covers album in the spring, which didn't exactly do wonders for the show's mystique, but at least enabled Simon Cowell to get some money out of unpromising winners like Steve Brookstein. More recently, the winners have disappeared for nine months and made a proper debut album, released to coincide with the next year's series of X-Factor. And so "Bad Boys" sees Burke shoot comfortably to number one with her first "proper" single.

As with 2007 winner Leona Lewis, the record company are clearly trying to make her trans-Atlantic. The video is obviously intended to look American. And they've roped in Flo Rida, who evidently isn't very picky about his guest appearances. (Technically, by the way, this gives Flo Rida his second number one single, following "Right Round" in March.) At the same time, though, they want to hang on to the X-Factor audience, and that's a tricky balancing act. The paradox of shows like X-Factor is that they select a new pop star on the basis of the votes of people who generally don't buy records anyway. And so we end up with "Bad Boys", a record that can't quite seem to make up its mind whether it's a cheerful pop ditty or a bid for urban credibility.

Nonetheless, it's number one by a margin of over 2 to 1. Tailing in at number 2 is "Bodies", the comeback single by Robbie Williams.

Robbie Williams left Take That in 1995 for a hugely successful solo career, in which he made some records that were genuinely very good, and some that were hopelessly self-absorbed. Though he never managed to break North America, he's a big star around Europe. Meanwhile, the rest of Take That disbanded shortly after he left, and saw their solo careers fizzle out. So when the group reformed in 2006, Robbie Williams decided not to bother joining them.

And then a reversal of fortunes took place. The Take That reunion turned out to be a bigger success than anyone had anticipated. Meanwhile, Robbie released his most self-indulgent and uncommercial album to date, "Rudebox", which pretty much bombed. These things are relative. It still went double platinum in the UK. But that's less than half the sales of any of his previous albums. And in fairness, the reviews of "Rudebox" were mixed rather than negative. The NME liked it. But whoever thought the title track was in any way, shape or form a good choice of single needed their head examined.

With "Bodies", he's returning to epic pop anthem territory, which was always his strong suit. The verse isn't exactly instant, though, and his own performance on the X-Factor was widely panned. Understandably so. It's the sort of thing you can get away before an adoring stadium who want to sing along themselves, but not when you're promoting a new single to people who've never heard it before. They've already gone into damage control mode over it. But it's better on record, and a number 2 placing isn't bad.

Besides which, with 90,000 copies sold, "Bodies" would have been a number one single in most weeks. Unfortunately, somebody decided to release it head to head with the fastest selling single of 2009.

It'll be interesting to see how well Alexandra Burke's sales hold up in her second week. Next week's biggest release is the solo debut of Cheryl Cole from Girls Aloud, who is also a judge on X-Factor. Obviously, she's meant to go straight in at number one as well. But up against the fastest selling single of the year, that might be a tough one.