For the first time since year-end charts were introduced more than 50 years ago, British artists have made up the entirety of the year’s 10 most popular songs in the UK.
Topping the biggest songs of 2022 in the UK was Harry Styles’ omnipresent As It Was; Ed Sheeran had two songs on the list, while new artists such as south London songwriter Cat Burns and Scottish dance duo LF System rubbed shoulders with Kate Bush, whose 1985 single Running Up That Hill topped the UK singles chart for the first time last year after being featured in the latest series of Netflix drama Stranger Things, having originally peaked at No 3.
Leon Neville, British Phonographic Industry (BPI)’s director of research and insight called it “astonishing” that British artists were dominating given the global competition created by streaming. “This outstanding achievement is a testament to the rich music talent that continues to emerge from across the UK’s nations and regions, fuelled by the passion, investment and skills of UK record labels.
However, only the singles by Styles and LF System were actually released in 2022; with the exception of Bush’s 80s hit, the remainder of the Top 10 was released in 2020 and 2021. The chart illustrates the long-tail effect of streaming: Heat Waves by Glass Animals was released two years ago, but topped the US singles chart in early 2022 after a record-breaking 59-week climb to the top spot.
It also reveals the benefits of getting a superstar on a remix: Nigerian pop star Fireboy DML released his song Peru in summer 2021, though it found wider success when he released a version with Ed Sheeran six months later; Burns’ Go steadily grew on TikTok from its debut there in 2020, which led to a refreshed version with Sam Smith released this summer. All versions of the same song – with newly recorded guest verses or remixes – count towards the original’s chart placing.
Boom reported in 2022
The British singles sweep is just one of the booms reported for the UK music scene in 2022 by the BPI. The UK’s recorded music consumption has more than doubled in the past five years, and increased from 147bn audio streams in 2021 to 159bn in 2022.
More than 3bn audio streams were generated each week in 2022 on average: usually, it takes 1.3m streams to break into the UK Top 40 and a combined 7m audio and video streams to secure a No 1 single. Last year, 159m albums or equivalent streaming units were consumed; this year’s figure is 166.1m.
Old releases and compilation
The Top 10 albums of the year was also dominated by old releases and greatest hits compilations. Only Styles’ Harry’s House, at No 1, and Taylor Swift’s Midnights, at No 3, were released in 2022. Ed Sheeran’s =, Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour, and the Weekend and Little Mix’s respective greatest hits collections were released in 2021; similar older compilations from Eminem, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and Abba filled out the rest of the list Consumer ownership of albums has generally plummeted, with digital downloads down by 18.9% from 2021 and physical albums – on CD, vinyl, cassette and other niche formats – down by 13.1% overall.
Nevertheless, physical sales continue to produce the majority of No 1 albums, accounting for 38 out of 52 weeks in 2022. One physical sale counts as one unit; to calculate album-equivalent sales from streaming figures, the Official Charts Company takes the 12 most-streamed songs from one album, down-weighting the top two songs in line with the rest – to avoid hit singles skewing an album’s performance – and then divides the total streams by 1,000 on premium, paid-for services, and 6,000 for free, ad-supported services.
Vinyl sales grew for the 15th consecutive year, reaching a high of 5.5m units – the highest since 1990, when the list was topped by Phil Collins’ … But Seriously. Unlike in the streaming-dominated singles and overall albums charts, eight of the Top 10 titles were released in 2022, led by Swift’s Midnights, Styles’ Harry’s House and Arctic Monkeys’ The Car.
Sale of CD’s
CD sales continue to plummet, from 14m in 2021 to 11m, a drop of 19.3%. Swift, Arctic Monkeys and George Ezra’s 2022 album, Gold Rush Kid, sold significant figures on the format. While cassette sales account for a tiny part of the overall market, the format has continued to grow, up 5.2% to 195,000 units, dominated by Florence + the Machine’s Dance Fever, Muse’s Will of the People and west London rapper Central Cee’s 23.
The share of the market occupied by independent record labels grew for the fifth consecutive year, from 26.9% in 2021 to 28.6% in 2022. The biggest new independent album was Arctic Monkeys’ The Car, which was beaten to the top spot by Swift’s dominant Midnights in October but achieved 120,000 units; their Domino label mates Wet Leg’s self-titled debut was one of nine independent albums to top the UK albums chart in 2022.
The UK’s Top 10 most popular singles of 2022
1 Harry Styles – As It Was
2 Ed Sheeran – Bad Habits
3 Fireboy DML & Ed Sheeran – Peru
4 Cat Burns – Go
5 Ed Sheeran – Shivers
6 Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill
7 Glass Animals – Heat Waves
8 Lost Frequencies and Calum Scott – Where Are You Now
9 LF System – Afraid to Feel
10 Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under.
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