If you really want to know why the charts still matter, ask the artists. As the presenter of the Chart Show, I see the way the artists react to the news that they’ve got the Number One. Dappy brought in his mum, who cried, while Tinie Tempah was running on the spot because he couldn’t stay still, champagne going off everywhere. Cover Drive were crying and sobbing so much they couldn’t speak when they got the news. That’s awesome to see. That’s when you go, ‘OK, cool, this means a lot to you’.
It was Top Of The Pops that really got me into the charts. For as long as I can remember, I got really excited about the prospect of somebody coming out on top, and that excitement has never gone away.
Long before The X Factor voting and all the rest of it, the charts put the power in the hands of the public. We, the people, decide what gets in the charts every week. We have the power to make something happen, and we can feel that our money is being spent for an impact, whether that’s two quid for a CD or 50p on iTunes. In that way, my show on Radio 1 is the most democratic programme on air, because we’re literally playing what people want – it’s the songs we’ve all been buying that week.
A lot of people ask me if iTunes and downloading have ruined the charts. In fact, I think these new developments have made it all more exciting. In most ways nothing has changed since the days of going down to Woolworths on a Saturday morning; it’s just that people tend to spend their fiver online now. The big difference is people don’t have to wait for labels to line up singles any more. It puts the power back into the hands of the people, and the record labels can’t stand it.
You find a track is used on TV or an advert one week and it’s in the charts on Sunday. It takes me by surprise all the time – you’ll get a Swedish House Mafia song that’s been banging around outside the chart for months. Suddenly, they play it on The X Factor and it’s back in the charts again. Sometimes it’s a record that you love, sometimes it’s a record that you hate, but I think it’s wicked that it’s not what a record label just decides each week what is in the charts, and it’s cool that the public can determine that now. You could say it means the charts are messy these days, but on the other hand, you could say it is reflecting what people are listening to, because our listening habits are messy too.
You see lots of stories about falling sales these days too, but at the moment, singles are selling as well as they did in the ’90s. I mean, massively! This weekend, Labrinth went to Number One with just under 100,000 singles sales in a week.
I’m not sure where I see the charts going in the future. I think the big game-changer already happened the minute that downloads came into play. ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley went to Number One back in 2006 as a download-only single and it was one of those moments when people go, ‘Holy crap!’. There’s always talk about incorporating things like YouTube and Spotify plays into the charts, but I worry that they can be easily influenced – let’s be honest, you can get a monkey to press a button for a record label. When people spend their own money on a track, that’s something really special. A new generation of kids may be getting their music for free, but at the same time they are getting into more music than ever. For all these reasons, I think the charts are healthier now than they’ve ever been.