Saturday, November 07, 2015

Two number ones: Adele, "Hello"; A-WA, "Habib Galbi"

It was only after getting caught up in the sandstorm of publicity surrounding the release of "Hello" that I learned that "21" has sold thirty one million copies worldwide.  

That's a preposterous number.  Those albums that were fifteen million sellers twenty years ago, which were ubiquitous on the radio and became influential benchmarks that dozens of charting artists would attempt to copy, now sell in the range of five to six million copies.  "Frozen" was the top selling album of 2014 worldwide and a genuine phenomenon if there ever was one.  It sold ten million copies in 2014.  That's an incredible number -- more than the year's top selling album has sold in about a decade.  It was the top selling album in the US in 2014 until the very last week of the year, when it was passed by Taylor Swift's "1989" -- another phenomenon that practically transcended music.  Both sold a little less than four million copies in the US in 2014.  But neither album has sold, or will sell, anything close to THIRTY ONE MILLION COPIES WORLDWIDE.  

So it really isn't hyperbole when Chris Molanphy states that "21" is the "Thriller" of the 2010's.  And likewise, when referring to Adele's carefully orchestrated comeback, Molanphy nails it on the head again when referring to the opening moments and lines in her new video: "Has a first single from a superstar album ever arrived more freighted with persona? Michael? Madonna? Whitney? Amateurs. None of them previewed a predestined blockbuster with a song quite as carefully branded, and instantly successful, as “Hello.”"

Indeed, I can't think of a more successful "comeback" song than this.  A gargantuan breakup ballad with an epic video that is exactly what her fanbase (which is pretty much everyone) would expect her to deliver.  A video that screams "I'm back" in its opening minute -- despite not saying a word.  After a single listen to "Hello" on the day it was released, the chorus was stuck in my head for the next two days.  It dropped and was instantly, and I mean instantly, EVERYWHERE.  People linked to streams on social media.  I heard it in supermarkets and in malls.  It was all over the radio.  There was no steady climb on the charts, no drawn out hype cycle.  The song dropped, and it went mega in the blink of an eye. 

Next week it will assume its spot at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for the first of approximately ten billion weeks.  But you should seriously not be surprised if it breaks "One Sweet Day"'s record.  


Meanwhile, in Israel, an Arabic language song has topped the charts for the first time in the country's history.  Should we be surprised by this?  There have been six non-English language #1 hits in the sixty year history of the Hot 100 despite the presence of a very large non-English speaking minority. However, there has been only one such hit in the past twenty five years -- "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)" by Los Del Rio".  No, "Gangnam Style" never made it, it peaked at #2 despite hitting #1 in dozens of other countries, including Israel.  You could probably make an impressive list of other non-English songs that were huge hits but never reached #1, such as Nena's "99 Luftballons".  You could also point to a number of artists who had #1 hits in English but couldn't translate that success into a Spanish language #1 (or even a steady string of Spanish language hits), despite being well known for singing both in Spanish and English.  Shakira and Gloria Estefan are two obvious examples.      

So the lack of an Arabic #1 is unusual, but not altogether shocking.  The most improbable fact about the amazing success of "Habib Galbi" is not that it reached #1 in Israel, but in how it's making waves in other countries.  I first heard about it a few months ago in the context of its surprising success in Arab countries.  More recently, the group has begun a tour in Europe.  English language media may be starting to pay attention.  

The song was produced by Balkan Beat Box singer Tomer Yosef, whose band has been a trailblazer in Israel in fusing Eastern music with modern dance music.  It's really a perfect combination of artist and producer.  And of course "Habib Galbi" is hardly the first song of its style to become a hit in Israel, it's just the first one in Arabic.  So before anyone thinks of complaining about "cultural appropriation" or something, consider that this is absolutely nothing like "Ice Ice Baby" becoming the first ever Rap #1 hit on the US Hot 100.  If white and black people had both been making rap since the very beginning of rap, but had begun rapping in different languages and dialects in more recent years, only to have a white rapper hit #1 in a language that had often been more popular among black artists, then one could possibly draw a trickle of a comparison between the two.

Yes, A-WA are Jewish.  No word on whether they changed their name from "Haim Sisters" after learning about their namesakes from LA.  

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