Lessons from Adele, Justin Bieber and Zayn on having a hit

What are the rules for topping the charts? Let’s look at the past 10 UK No 1s ...

Remix a remix, then throw in some superstars

KDA ft Tinie Tempah and Katy B – Turn the Music Louder (Rumble) (one week at No 1)

Twelve months ago, New York’s Shadow Child remixed KDA’s instrumental track Rumble; by the autumn, KDA had bundled Katy B and Tinie Tempah on to a supercharged version of that remix, and ended up at No 1.

Break the fourth wall

Adele – Hello (three weeks at No 1)

“Hello. It’s me. I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to ...” Buy my new music? I’m going to set up my comeback by speaking to an ex-lover while simultaneously addressing you, my fanbase. I’ll acknowledge the fact that I’ve taken my sweet time coming up with 11 songs, confuse my own timeline by putting a flip phone in my video, and tacitly refer to my previous biggest hit by reporting from the other side of heartbreak.

Pair top-of-their-game pure pop writers with on-a-roll leftfield producers

Justin Bieber – Sorry (two weeks at No 1)

Skrillex and BloodPop found sonic strangeness in the straightforward songwriting of Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, a duo who, over the last 18 months, have zoomed to the top of every pop star’s collaboration wishlist. (Skrillex recently uploaded a video demonstrating how he created the song’s main hook by manipulating an apparently throwaway ad-lib from Julia Michaels’ songwriting demo.)

Calm things down a bit

Justin Bieber – Love Yourself (six weeks at No 1)

While Bieber’s Sorry was a state-of-the-art 2015 pop smash, for Love Yourself he went for the less-is-more approach, drafting in Ed Sheeran for a stripped-back acoustic tune. (This song was actually No 1 twice – there was a one-week gap in the Love Yourself reign after Bieber told fans to buy the next song.)

Look at the calendar

Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir – A Bridge Over You (one week at No 1)

Just as tropical house looks to be this summer’s biggest sound as music fans’ thoughts turn to pineapples and palm trees, so 2015’s Christmas No 1 succeeded because festive music-buyers will naturally gravitate towards choirs and charity. (Mashing up Coldplay and Simon and Garfunkel merely added to the pensiveness of this Yuletide chart-sleigher.)

Don’t fear the metaphor

Shawn Mendes – Stitches (two weeks at No 1)

During the course of this song, Shawn sees red, reaps what he sows, is a moth drawn to a flame, senses a bitter heart that’s also cold, and is left sore and in need of stitches after words cut him like a knife.

Sing about sex

Zayn – Pillowtalk (one week at No 1)

Everybody has sex and it’s something people want hear about,” Zayn reasoned when his debut solo single was released. His career-relaunching song opened with the line: “Climb on board.”

Invite the listener to consider their own mortality

Lukas Graham – 7 Years (five weeks at No 1)

This song about growing old was the first UK No 1 by a Danish act since the days Aqua roamed the Earth. Without suggesting Lukas Graham’s career may for ever be overshadowed by the one song, the band may still do well to take heed of the cautionary tale outlined in the song that unseated them at No 1 …

Turn that frown upside down; get a remix

Mike Posner – I Took a Pill in Ibiza (four weeks at No 1)

Five years after his first and apparently last hit single, Mike Posner sang of the despair experienced by one-hit wonders: “I’m just a singer who already blew his shot … My name’s a reminder of a pop song people forgot.” Ironically, this tribute to one-hit wonder status was emotive enough to put Posner’s career back on track. (The bang-on-trend remix, by Norwegian duo Seeb, didn’t hurt either.)

In the timeless words of Cha Cha Slide maestro DJ Casper: ‘Get funky’

Drake ft WizKid and Kyla – One Dance (seven weeks at No 1)

Who could have predicted the power of the mostly dormant UK funky scene? The web may be awash with fascinating “essays” (articles) about how meme culture pushed songs such as Hotline Bling into the charts, but One Dance samples the Crazy Cousinz mix of Kyla’s Do You Mind and is Drake’s first UK No 1 as a lead artist – and it has been at the top for nearly two months.


Peter Robinson

The GuardianTramp

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