Understanding every in-and-out of popular culture can be a challenge. There’s always a culturally relevant TV show, Kickstarter from some desperately unaware infantile lothario, or faux-social trend that you’re supposed to care about and trying to keep track is like climbing Ben Nevis while wearing Heelys. Take, for example: the charts. Have you seen the state of them?
The UK chart, since its inception, has at times represented the vogue of music culture - you could look at the listings and get a real sense of the pop landscape. In the late 90s, when Britpop wasn’t a dead deer dragged up a hill, bands like Elastica, Blur and Oasis flooded the number one spot; in the early 00s, when premature pant-wetters started to propagate MTV, Justin, Britney, and Christina Aguilera all sat their arses down on the top-end of the listings; and after the great polyphonic haul of 2005, Crazy Frog made it to Number One. These days though, it’s difficult to look at the charts and garner anything but a sense of ennui, listlessness, and feeling out of the loop.
There’s a couple of recognisable names – Olly Murs, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, the usual innocuous merchants of shower-grout prosaicism. But what about the rest? There’s a lot of names here and no faces. What is a Hozier? What odds can I get on a Milky Chance? Why does Magic! have an exclamation mark?
WHAT THE FUCK IS A HOZIER?
What is it: Fortunately/unfortunately (depends how you feel, what’s the lesser of two evils, etc) Hozier is not the reincarnate of the ephemerally popular rock’n’roll group The Hoosiers. Why? Because The Hoosiers have inexplicably managed to pump out a third album paid for by the fans and Hozier is a man from Ireland. Apparently he gave up on university after a few months to record demos for Universal, so just think on that when your excessively liberal parenting results in your own child dropping out in first year to "focus on their music". What’s the song: “Take Me to Church”
Where is it in the chart: Number three.
What does it sound like: Hozier is the sensitive guy starter pack: he’s got face furniture that’ll give you chin rash, unkempt hair, and the ragged clothes of the Arcadia Group. Universal Music have basically crafted a guy you would swipe right on, but immediately regret once realising he has the personality of a spade.
FFO: Religion; euthanasia; inconsequential pop songs; Gotye
WHAT THE FUCK IS AN ALESSO?
What is it: Somewhere on the internet there’s a bio on Alesso - eleven paragraphs long - which can be summarised in three succinct words: electronic dance music. He’s been making music in his bedroom for years and his YouTube views are in the millions, earning him fans in the vanguards of avant-garde culture: Avicii, Calvin Harris, and Swedish House Mafia.
What’s the song: “Heroes (We Could Be) (Feat Tove Lo)”
Where is it in the chart: Number seven.
What’s it about: This song goes: “everyday people do everyday things, but I can’t be one of them,” which leaves a fair bit of room for misinterpretation. What everyday things does Alesso avoid? I mean, you’d assume he still snoozes his alarm a regrettable amount of times or has to take a caffeine-fuelled dump after lunch. You’d at least want to hope he brushes his teeth.
What does it look like: Forgettable and faceless. But that’s the point right?
FFO: Electronic Dance Music; Ministry of Sound; revolutionaries.
WHAT THE FUCK IS A BEN HAENOW?
What is it: An ice-gem drone who beat the odds and won X-Factor 2014.
What’s the song: “Something I Need”
Where is it in the chart: Number eight.
FFO: Saturday night television; chardonnay; Heat magazine.
WHAT THE FUCK IS A TCHAMI?
What is it: contrary to visual evidence, Tchami is a producer signed to Ministry of Sound not a messenger for “the appointed one”.
What’s the song: “Promesses (Feat Kaleem Taylor)”
Where is it in the chart: Number nine.
What’s it about: A declaration or assurance that one will do something or that a particular thing will happen at some point. But misspelt because kids hate spelling.
FFO: Future house; songs you find yourself enjoying while out; branded content.
WHAT THE FUCK IS A MILKY CHANCE?
What is it: Milky Chance could be a milkshake brand, but it’s actually a German folk duo with reggae and electronic music influences. Milky Chance isn’t on the UK chart right now, but their placement above Toro Y Moi, Jungle, Perfume Genius, Royal Blood, and Cashmere Cat on the Coachella line-up caused a stir as many people struggled to name one of their songs.
What’s the song: “Stolen Dance” - it’s been listened to over one hundred million times on YouTube, making this one of the most popular songs on the list.
Where is it in the chart: It peaked at 24 last year and there's a new single on the way.
What’s it about: It’s about getting stoned and dancing but, TBH, could be about anything. These songs - upbeat tracks that surface out of a wormhole with immeasurable play-counts - can always be about anything. I think the word for it is “universal”.
FFO: Matt Costa; Jason Mraz; Colbie Calait; Mason Jennings; sentimental moments during Reading Week
WHAT THE FUCK IS A MAGIC!?
What is it: A band who claim to be the “the modern-day Police” (in the Sting cod-reggae, rather than shooting unarmed young black men, sense).
What’s the song: “Rude”
Where is it in the chart: Number 45, but considering it’s the band’s only single to chart, and it was released in 2013, that's quite impressive.
What’s it about: This song is about a man who wants to marry a girl, whether she likes it or not. He’s in a rush - citation: “raced like a jet” - and as a true gentleman does, he goes to her father’s house to ask for his blessing. It’s safe to assume the girl’s father declines the offer, as the chorus to the song repeats the words “Why do you have to be so rude? I’m going to marry her anyway”. You’ve probably heard this song a lot: in Tescos, in the backseat of a car, on the radio, inexplicably rotating around your head despite having no recollection of the band who sing it. NGL, it’s the only listenable one on this list.
FFO: cursing; choruses; forced marriage.
WHAT THE FUCK IS THE POINT?
In a piece written for The Atlantic last year, Derek Thomson found that “The top 1 percent of bands and solo artists now earn 77 percent of all revenue from recorded music” - i.e., the Pharrells, the Bruno Mars, the Ed Sheerans of the world, who’ve lucked out and become the fatcats of the music industry.
As a result, the remaining artists in the chart don't go a big shot at longevity. Their best shot is a one-off, antagonistically-catchy hit so they can eek out enough festival bookings and Argos adverts to keep them from getting real jobs. Tchami and Alesso are concreting between the cracks. Expect the charts to get more anonymous as releasing a single becomes less like a stepping stone towards a long career in music and more like going to Vegas with three-months wages and hoping for the best.
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