It's Been So Empty

Rap artists aren't supposed to have 25 year careers at the top. Or at least they were never meant to at first. They were supposed to burn out, fade away as a passing gimmick, perhaps die in increasingly futile ways. Or at the very best become businessmen and moguls, even ones who end up with their past behaviours catching up with them.

And rappers definitely weren't supposed to have 25 year careers when they are white men with an obnoxious streak, a carefully crafted line in outrage and ones whose very first albums had the morality police campaigning to have them ejected into the sun. But this is Eminem we are talking about. The man who began his career cocking a snook at all the rules eventually discovered that they didn't apply to him anyway.

That's why this week we are talking about Marshall "Slim Shady" "Eminem" Mathers III as the performer of the week's No.1 single.

Before today Eminem had managed a startling 10 No.1 singles, although it is telling that the majority (7) of these all came in the first five years of his career. All from the obnoxious, wisecracking, Slim Shady and pre-addiction hiatus period of his career. When he returned from that break in 2007 his music was darker, less fun. More evolved. No less acclaimed for all that and his singles duly charted with regularity but somehow he wasn't a big mainstream pop star any more. The two No.1 singles he's landed in recent years were genuine musical outliers and with star guests doing much of the heavy lifting - The Monster with Rihanna in tow. River (2017) featured Ed Sheeran while Godzilla (2020) had the hook of vocals from the stupidly deceased Juice WRLD.

The reason for all this context is to fully understand why this week's No.1 single Houdini is not only such an outlier but why, out of all his recent music, it has become so instantly huge. It is an outlier because it is a solo track, devoid of star power save for the man himself and dependent entirely on the entertainment value of his performance. But a performance is what it is, Houdini marking the resurrection after some considerable time of the naughty posturing and outrageous Slim Shady character you don't fully appreciate he can occupy until you spend time on his other acts. The video for Houdini plays this up to the full, the character stepping into our world from the past and featuring his bleached blonde turn of the century image coming face to face with the modern day black haired bearded Marshall Mathers of the 2020s.

This also means it is fun in a way many Eminem hits of recent years haven't been, a throwback to the intoxicating party spirit machine gun delivery of past classics such as Without Me, We Made You and The Real Slim Shady. It is the best pop record he has made in years. There's also a familiar sample at the heart of the track, Houdini based around an interpolation of the celebrated Steve Miller Band hit Abracadabra, a No.2 smash back in 1982. The song's composer appears to be quite honoured by the tribute.

For all that, the track was startlingly divisive, its chart success in marked contrast to the critical response that greeted it when first unveiled. Its very virtues - a fun throwback to his early days and its unabashed pop sensibilities somehow grinding the gears of those expecting the 51-year-old star to be looking further forward, not back. To watch the public ignore the critics and embrace the song so enthusiastically has been quite fun to behold.

So as noted Houdini is Eminem's 11th No.1 single, his first since the aforementioned Godzilla just over four years ago. It draws him level with Calvin Harris on the all-time list, with just seven other acts in chart history having topped the charts more times. He and Elvis Presley are the only American men to have more than 10 No.1 hits to their name - Justin Bieber lagging in third with a 'mere' seven. It is notably Eminem's first truly solo No.1 hit since Like Toy Soldiers marched to the top of the charts in 2005 - by a strange coincidence also a hit based around a sample of a 1980s smash - in this case Martika's 1989 debut Toy Soldiers.

For the first 67 years of chart history no Top 75 hit carried the name of the famous escapologist. But the 2020s have now seen three hits chart, all of them different songs. Eminem's hit joins KSI's 2020 No.6 epic and is hard on the heels of Dua Lipa's No.2 hit from the tail end of last year. Honourable mention should go to Canadian duo Kon Kan who released a single Harry Houdini in 1989 but who fell short of the published end of the charts.

There's plenty of other places we can go with this. Eminem's Houdini soars to No.1 with a truly gigantic sale, clocking up almost 105,000 chart sales. It is the first single this year to manage a weekly tally into six figures, the highest for a No.1 single in fact since Dave and Central Cee opened with 108,000 chart sales of Sprinter exactly a year ago this week. And it just so happens to be Eminem's own biggest weekly chart sale since Without Me debuted at No.2 in 2002 with 165,669 paid sales.

It all means British stars are once again locked out of the No.1 position, the streak now 23 weeks and counting. But RAYE has a new single out this week…

Take A Bow

The arrival of Houdini has prompted a surge of interest in Eminem's back catalogue, resulting in his two sequential hits collections enjoying their own chart boosts. Curtain Call - The Hits, first released way back in December 2005 but a constant chart evergreen in the streaming era is back in the Top 10 at No.7, with Curtain Call 2 (a more recent released from two years ago) surging back up to No.24 in its highest chart placing since February 2023.

We are so used to an endless parade of new releases debuting at No.1 on the albums chart that a long-runner is something of a novelty. Ensuring she is top of at least one chart as her Eras tour finally rumbles its way onto British shores, Taylor Swift remains locked at the top with The Tortured Poets Department as it enjoys a surprising fifth week in total at the summit. All this without a new CD editions (for a change). Hard on its heels though is Billie Eilish's Hit Me Hard And Soft which remains a streaming behemoth and spends a third straight week as a Top 3 album. This is all to the detriment of the week's big new releases which all had to contend to be No.3 behind the two biggies. Completing an all-female Top 3 then is Becky Hill, her third album Believe Me Now at least landing the spoils as the biggest new release of the week.

Other Hits? Really?

While not quite as becalmed as it was last week, the singles chart still requires some study to draw out anything resembling proper action. Of note though is a further jump for Chappell Roan's still compelling Good Luck Babe. After twice peaking at No.18 and twice falling back it now hits some brand new heights, albeit still only at No.16. The jump coincides with a renewed push for her debut album The Rise And Fall Of A Midwest Princess (on which the hit single doesn't feature). But that does mean she's blessed with two new entries for older songs this week, Hot To Go landing at No.53 and Red Wine Supernova at No.68.

Zach Bryan's Pink Skies is also moving in the right direction, with a nudge up to No.25, as indeed is Teddy Swims' The Door which reaches the Top 30 for the first time with a climb to No.28. He surely deserves a follow up to Lose Control, however long it takes to get there.

We Got Places To Go

So what is the highest new entry of the week in an Eminem free world? Well it is there, just, at No.35. Places To Be becomes the first Top 40 hit of the year for Fred Again… (his last chart single Stayinit wimped out at No.53 back in March. The track is notable for featuring a co-credited Anderson .Paak, this the first time the American rapper and producer has featured on a chart single outside his Silk Sonic collaborations with Bruno Mars, the union producing four chart hits during 2021.

Just when you thought I'd mentioned Eminem for the last time, guess who's back, back again. The aforementioned Without Me (given numerous callbacks by Houdini both on the track and particularly in the video) makes a sympathetic return and is a Top 40 once more for the first time since August 2002.

Future Hits

With the Top 40 empty of any other new material of note, let's see if we can get ahead of the crowd. No.100 last week and enjoying a 50 place rise this week is 6 In The Morning by teenage producer Flex (UK). His compelling club track is based around an unreleased acapella track from the late Nate Dogg which was recorded two years before he died in 2011. Dogg is co-credited on the single and as a result appears on his first new chart hit since 2004. If this isn't Top 3 by the time the schools break up you can colour me very shocked.

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