The other night I was at a pop quiz in Fitzrovia when a question was asked that stumped everyone. Namely: what is the current No1 in the singles chart?
Nobody knew. Because of course nobody has cared about the UK singles chart for a long time now. The main reason being that, largely because of the opaque way it gets compiled in the streaming age, it is impossible for anyone independent or exciting or unexpected to infiltrate it. Unless it is Christmas and you are singing annoying songs about sausage rolls, for charity.
The populist, Trump-voting Right are storming the traditionally liberal palace of mainstream entertainment
In the US, by contrast, topping the Billboard 100 is still a big deal: and people can still arrive out of nowhere. The new No1, Oliver Anthony’s Rich Men Of North Richmond, is a just-me-and-my-guitar country stomp that rages against stuff including obese people on benefits (“If you’re 5ft 3ins and 300 pounds/My taxes ought not to pay for your bags of Fudge Rounds” goes one particularly charming couplet).
It follows hot on the heels of Jason Aldean’s Try That In A Small Town: a similarly irate country song — more polished and less of a stomp — that takes aim at whatever the American equivalent of the tofu-eating wokerati is turning up and trying to impose their principles on normal working folk. It, also, came out of nowhere to top the Billboard 100. Add to this Sound Of Freedom — the crowdfunded thriller that’s outperformed Mission Impossible and Indiana Jones while being embraced by the lovely folk at QAnon — and you start to have a picture of the populist, Trump-voting Right storming the traditionally liberal palace of mainstream entertainment. It is a somewhat alarming pattern. Not least because the major record labels and Hollywood studios will not think twice if this kind of thing will make their shareholders money.
Really though, so many grassroots successes in such a short space of time should be thrilling to artists of any political persuasion. It has shown that it is still possible to break through with scant regard for the traditional channels, so long as you can connect with an audience. So let everybody everywhere care about the race to the top of the charts again. Well, the US ones, anyway.
Hamish MacBain is deputy editor of ES Magazine