The long & short of it: Why the singles & albums charts have less crossover than ever

Harry Styles

Which music biz are you in?

This point has been made before, but the sense that there are now two separate recorded music industries is becoming overwhelming.

Of last week’s 15 artists with a Top 10 single, only two (Pop Smoke and Harry Styles) have a current Top 10 album. This week, it's down to one as Styles (pictured) exits the album top tier. A huge swathe of the Top 40 seemingly has little interest in the longer format, except as a compilation of hits to keep up the streaming numbers. Meanwhile on the albums chart, some of the biggest records are by artists (The Killers! Erasure! Biffy Clyro!) who have next-to-no chance of scoring a hit single, no matter how good their songs are.

There are exceptions, of course. Dua Lipa has shown you can both excel at monster pop bangers and make one of the albums of the year, while Taylor Swift's Folklore has proven that sounds officially classified as ‘alternative’ can still chart high (although it helps when those sounds are made by Taylor Swift).

TikTok is already changing the pop formula, as everyone searches for the perfect 15-second snippet to go viral

Music Week

The likes of Swift, Lipa and Styles are happy to combine albums artistry with single smashes. But the mechanics of hitmaking and album-crafting are changing. Songs were already getting shorter, while I spent the week writing about the modern day hit factory that is TikTok (see the cover story of this week's edition of Music Week, available now), and the platform is already changing the pop formula, as everyone searches for the perfect 15-second snippet to go viral as a sound on the app.

Meanwhile, albums are getting longer and more immersive, demanding more attention in an age when no one seems to have any. You might have thought lockdown would have had an impact on the attention economy as well as the real one but, with the odd exception, few long players seem to have made a long-term connection.

Does it matter? After all, the charts in the 1970s were similarly divided between throwaway pop singles and deeply serious rock album fodder, and no one complained. But, with the industry largely at a loss as to how to break new artists (as opposed to new songs) in the current climate, it seems like the current diversion might end up being more permanent.

In which case, get ready to pick a side.

* To read our exclusive TikTok cover story, see the new edition of Music Week magazine, available now, or click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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