2021 produced a significant chart stat: there were more No.1 albums by UK acts than at any time in chart history.
Twenty-seven British artists reached the summit last year. As well as debut chart-toppers by Celeste, The Lathums and The Snuts, several returning artists hit No.1 for the first time, including Wolf Alice, Tom Grennan, Slowthai, Mogwai and KSI.
Before we get too excited, that record result of 27 No.1s is partly down to more movement at the top of the charts and fewer blockbuster albums holding sway compared to previous years. Overall, 40 new albums topped the chart in 2021 - one down on the all-time record of 41 set the previous year.
Nevertheless, it's still a landmark achievement for UK artists and an impressive performance by labels. For BPI & BRITs chief executive Geoff Taylor, the No.1 charts run should be a platform for global success.
“UK acts have done very well,” said Taylor. “We've had some huge releases from both Adele and Ed Sheeran. For the future health of the industry, we're also looking at who are the artists breaking through and starting to really catch fans’ attention in a mainstream way.”
Following the DCMS Committee inquiry into the streaming economy and the debate about artist remuneration, Taylor said that seizing global opportunities is vital for artists and labels.
“Everyone In the media, and many people in the industry, have not yet adapted their thinking sufficiently to the fact that it is a global market,” he said. “The job of UK labels is to generate global success for their artists, and that is as true in the independent sector as it is for the majors. Because that is where the great opportunities for British music lie. We are seeing strong growth in the domestic market, and that’s continuing. That growth will be even faster outside the UK.”
Taylor cited the influential Goldman Sachs Music In The Air report, which predicted that the combined ad-funded and subscription music streaming markets would reach $79bn by 2030 compared to $30.3bn in 2021.
“The job of the UK music industry is to ensure that our artists get as big a share of that new monetised consumption as possible,” he said. “That is one of the most important ways in which we can increase creator remuneration from streaming. There’s more work to do with the government to ensure that it is supporting British independent labels to claim as big a share as possible from that growth.”
The job of UK labels is to generate global success for their artists
Export initiatives are one way for UK talent to build overseas, particularly for the independent sector.
There are hopes for Dave establishing himself as a major global artist following his sophomore LP, We’re All Alone In This Together (Dave Neighbourhood/Universal). It was the year’s 10th biggest album (193,432 sales in 2021).
Dave already has more than seven million monthly Spotify listeners and is making a US impact, as well as seeing strong ticket sales in Europe.
“We hope that domestic success will translate into UK artists doing well overseas,” said Taylor. “I think everyone recognises that for grime and British hip-hop, it’s been a little bit more difficult for it to travel. Dave’s done brilliantly internationally, there are signs that artists are making that work, so we look forward with optimism.”
Although UK rapper Central Cee missed out on No.1 to Tom Grennan, he scored the biggest debut breakthrough of the year with mixtape, Wild West, self-released in partnership with ADA. With 98,109 sales, it finished at No.47 overall last year (it has since gone gold).
“One of the points we've been making over the past few months is how competitive the market is,” said Taylor. “You see sort of every model in the business, whether it's self-releasing artists or artists on distribution or services deals, lots of JVs as well as some traditional deals. I think the fact that artists can choose from all those options means they’re very much in control.”
There were also debut breakthroughs in the year’s overall Top 200 albums by Polydor-signed Celeste and Arlo Parks, who is signed to Transgressive.
“Transgressive have done an amazing job with Arlo,” said Taylor. “We were very pleased to have been a little part of her journey with the Mercury Prize and also BRITs. It just shows what an independent label can do, and how those platforms help to propel an artist to greater prominence. We're proudest when that happens in the independent sector.
“Transgressive have run a brilliant campaign, and she’s recorded a really memorable album, which is lyrically as well as musically very strong and cohesive. We’re just watching and hoping that she can build on the international success that she’s had.”
The BPI boss also welcomed signs of a UK rock revival.
“There have been some encouraging signs,” he said. “I think Sam [Fender] is clearly a top tier artist who is growing with every release, he put out a great album and has a great career ahead of him. Wolf Alice, another Mercury Prize-winning act, hit No.1 for the first time. So I think there are some signs of rock engaging younger fans, and hopefully getting a slightly stronger voice on streaming services.”
With labels’ continuing investment in A&R and the global impact of Adele and Ed Sheeran, Taylor is optimistic about UK artists’ international success.
“What we always hope is that engagement with British music overall is boosted by that,” said Taylor. “In the United States, these albums are so strong, off the back of the success of Dua Lipa, Harry Styles and Lewis Capaldi.
“Glass Animals had a brilliant year internationally. You just hope that the interest in British music, culturally, helps to open a door for these artists to become truly global stars.”