You might have heard the song Heat Waves, by Glass Animals, or maybe you haven’t. It was a UK hit, but not ubiquitous, not the kind of song you would necessarily expect to break international records. It was first released in June 2020. Last October, it peaked at number five. Glass Animals were on their way to becoming an indie-pop staple. In 2017, they were nominated for the Mercury prize, for their second album. But in the US, they have become a pop staple and there is no more indie about it.
It took 59 weeks for Heat Waves to make the journey from its arrival at number 100 in the Billboard charts to its spot at the very top and now, after more than a year, Glass Animals have a number one hit in America.
It is the slowest ascent to the top of all time and a sign of how unpredictable a hit can be right now. Star-making songs come from all sides and they come from all eras; it is increasingly difficult to work out where, when or why it will happen. Take Pavement and their album Terror Twilight, which came out in 1999. I bought it on CD at the time. The band’s biggest song on Spotify, with 68m plays, is a B-side from that era called Harness Your Hopes, which would have been one for the mega-fans, even then.
A report on Stereogum, in 2020, dug into the algorithms to suggest reasons why that particular song floated to the top, but more than 20 years later, it’s so popular that the band last week released a brand new video for it, starring one of the actors from the hit series Yellowjackets. It is thrilling, in a way, almost lawless. It’s as if a toddler has been left in charge of the music industry and is pressing the buttons at random: why not let TikTok turn Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams into one of the biggest hits of the 2020s, even though it was first released six decades ago?
At the same time, any world-conquering hit is usually a surprise. It’s unpredictable by nature. What labels think will work is rarely in line with what listeners decide has worked. That’s why artists are always asked if they saw a megahit coming and they always say they did not. Mark Ronson always says that, for a long time, he didn’t think Uptown Funk was working at all. Camila Cabello said she had to persuade her label to release the mega-hit Havana. It makes sense that few could have seen Heat Waves coming. That’s part of the story of a smash.
Pete Davidson: starring role in a story more crazy than any fiction
Sitting at the centre of a gaudy Venn diagram where celebrity gossip and sketch comedy meet is Pete Davidson, the Saturday Night Live regular who is also known for being a boyfriend to very famous women. Davidson, who was once engaged to Ariana Grande and who now goes out with the freshly divorced Kim Kardashian, has been a staple of the gossip circuit in recent weeks, after Kanye West, Kardashian’s ex-husband, depicted an avatar of Davidson being buried alive and then slapped by a skinned monkey, in two music videos for the same song.
So last week’s report in Deadline that Davidson is to star in a new comedy inspired by his own life, certainly sounds as if it has potential. The show, provisionally entitled Bupkis, is in development but has been compared to Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is a bit like me standing in front of the mirror in my pyjamas thinking about getting dressed and then comparing myself to a catwalk model in full couture.
The report says it is a “fictionalised” version of his life, but, considering the twists and turns of just the past fortnight, surely the issue isn’t what to make up, but what on earth he’s going to leave out.
Katy Hessel: flummoxed by female artists? Help is at hand
A new YouGov survey, published on International Women’s Day, has revealed that, when it comes to naming female artists, British people are not necessarily at their best. Turn them upside down and shake them like a piggy bank and 30% can name three, with Tracey Emin, Barbara Hepworth and Frida Kahlo the most common artists to know. More than half of respondents said they had never been taught about female artists at school. Usually, hope lies in young people when it comes to addressing historically sexist imbalances, but not according to this survey: 84% of 18- to 24-year-olds were not up to the task.
The survey was commissioned by the art historian Katy Hessel to promote her forthcoming book, The Story of Art Without Men. As an avid watcher of quiz shows on television, these results did not surprise me. From quizzes I have learned many things, namely that Tipping Point reliably gives the best wrong answers in the game (see the contestant who answered a question about which MP had written a weight-loss memoir with “Agatha Christie”).
But what is true across the board, from University Challenge to Pointless to The Chase, is that questions about female artists strike fear into the hearts of every contestant. Either they answer a question that doesn’t specify the gender of the artist with a man’s name or their faces drop as they realise they should have used that extra hour they spent revising the periodic table to read up on Sarah Lucas or Vanessa Bell. Hessel is custodian of the excellent Great Women Artists Instagram page, which is the perfect place to start, for anyone who would like to brush up.
• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist