The last big week one chart battle of the year has kicked off – Stormzy vs Harry Styles.
The UK rapper and former One Direction member are going head to head with sophomore albums late in the Q4 schedule.
Stormzy’s Heavy Is The Head features Aitch, Headie One, Ed Sheeran and Burna Boy. Styles, a Music Week cover star who opened up about the creative freedom he had on new album Fine Line, scored opening sales of 57,000 for his Columbia-released debut in May 2017. He trailed Stormzy, whose Gang Signs & Prayer opened with 69,000 sales in March 2017.
“There could be a bit of competition there [this week],” said Nicola Miller, buyer for music at Sainsbury’s.
While Stormzy’s debut broke a week one streaming record with 20,748 equivalent sales (swiftly surpassed by Ed Sheeran), new label Atlantic is still heavily focused on Q4 physical sales for this campaign.
The support of Sainsbury’s for Heavy Is The Head (#Merky/Atlantic) could be crucial for a strong performance on physical formats.
“When Stormzy played Glastonbury we took his first album just to test the waters a little bit and see how it sold,” said Miller. “From a lower store base, it did pretty well. So I think he's the type of artist that's actually crossed over quite well."
Miller acknowledged that the supermarket’s music consumers are more likely to buy titles such as Decca’s Q4 albums by Bing Crosby and Michael Ball & Alfie Boe.
“Stormzy won’t necessarily be our biggest album of the week,” she said. “But given what we saw over the summer with his Glastonbury appearance, it could be quite a big one for us.”
It just shows that the last few weeks before Christmas really are pivotal
Stormzy could even be a rare 100,000-plus week one seller in 2019. Collaborator Ed Sheeran is the only artist to achieve that feat so far this year.
But music retail would clearly have welcomed an earlier Q4 release for Heavy Is The Head.
“It feels like Stormzy is in the perfect position to really go over the top as a triple-A iconic artist,” said John Hirst, HMV head of music. “But 2020 is the big year for the Stormzy album, not 2019.”
With other late releases from Coldplay, Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams, the physical retail sector has had to hold out for albums from iconic artists.
“It's been a challenge,” said Miller. “We can only hold so many titles in our top store base. So when you've got three, four or five big releases in one week, it does become quite hard to prioritise which are the ones you really want to back. If it's a Christmas title, it gives you a very short window in which to sell it.
“But at the same time, it just shows that the last few weeks before Christmas really are pivotal – it’s when we're going to do the main bulk of the volume.”