NOW 106: Michael Ball, Captain Sir Tom Moore & The NHS Voices of Care Choir – You’ll Never Walk Alone

NOW 106 may as well be called Now That’s What I Call Lockdown. Here are the songs which soundtracked the Corona Era, the months when people retreated to their bedrooms and scrolled through TikTok feeds instead of shouting in open fields or big arenas.

Spring 2020 was an odd period in music history. In the UK, people were told to rally around a 99-year-old former RAF captain who was walking 100 lengths of his garden to raise funds for the NHS. In the absence of PPE, track-and-trace systems and any leadership from the government, the country cheered on Captain Tom Moore, who eventually raised an astonishing sum of money for the NHS. As of July 10 2020 he had raised £32.8m from 1.5m donors via his JustGiving page (Tom’s Walk). will give you full information on his efforts.

Michael Ball, host of the Radio 2 Sunday Brunch show, got on board with a choir in tow. He and Captain Tom recorded a chart-topping version of the Carousel banger and Liverpool FC anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. At 99, Tom became the oldest man to have a single top the UK charts; weeks later, Dame Vera Lynn passed away at 103. Her funeral took place on the 80th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Britain. Captain Tom, meanwhile, was knighted and is tipped to front the Christmas advert season. His feelgood story sums up Britain in 2020: giving, but almost as a way to distract from the paucity of leadership.

Enough politics, let’s put on some music. Track one on Disc One is Jawsh 685’s song Savage Love, a TikTok viral video which added Jason ‘Jason Derulo!’ Derulo to the track and shot to number one in July 2020. TikTok also brought a hit for Natalie Taylor, whose song Surrender came out back in 2015 but started to soundtrack emotional videos of TikTok users. Everyone was now a music supervisor.

TikTok also helped Death Bed (Coffee For My Head) become a huge hit for Powful, featuring the sweet vocals of Beabadoobee, who is on the Dirty Hit label set up to promote the music of The 1975. If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know) could be classed as rock music as the guitar is the lead instrument and there’s a huge backbeat. The song was one of seven singles released in the year leading up to Notes on a Conditional Form. A young people’s band led by a charismatic old-school frontman, The 1975 frustrate as many as they delight.

Yungblud’s song Weird! is in the vein of The 1975, with hyperactive vocals and synth parts underpinning a huge chorus about love and stuff. To prove how skewed the charts are, Doncaster-born Yungblud was yet to have a Top 40 hit in the UK when Weird! featured on NOW 106. It also landed on the Radio 1 A List. So popular is Yungblud that in March 2021 he will play a week-long residency at the Kentish Town Forum (capacity: 2300).

Niko B’s viral hit Who’s That What’s That was the follow-up to Mary Berry, about growing up in Milton Keynes. It’s the equivalent of hipster East London ironic cool music from the 2000s and landed on the Radio 1 B List alongside songs by Kanye West, Charlie Puth and Tom Walker. Tom’s song is Wait For You, which is a safe song about love and stuff.

Just like Sam Fischer, Rhys Lewis enjoyed being next in the Sheeran-Capaldi-Walker collection of sensitive, boring blokes. Born in Oxford, Rhys is handsome but also tuneful. Two years after the initial release of his song No Right To Love You, it got a push to radio. I saw his album advertised in London with the words ‘Alexa, play Rhys Lewis’.

Several world-class popstars are on NOW 106: The Weeknd has the sax-assisted Max Martin co-write In Your Eyes; Sam Smith and Demi Lovato duet on the passable I’m Ready; Ellie Goulding promotes another album of dull dance-pop with the single Power; and trio Haim’s understated song Don’t Wanna (‘give up on you’) can also be found on their chart-topping album.

Sean Paul returns with a duet with Tove Lo, Calling On Me, a jittery bit of pop where Tove does a Rihanna impression and Sean Paul is Sean Paul. Celebrating 20 years in the business, according to the Official Charts Company Sean has now scored 26 Top 40 hits. If you count his appearance on the Live Lounge Allstars cover of Times Like These (not on NOW 105 or NOW 106), plus the Sean Paul-assisted remix of Hair by Little Mix, it’s 28. As of NOW 106’s release, Calling On Me has not charted.

As the due date for her baby with Orlando Bloom approached, Katy Perry added to her collection of hits with Daisies, written with the Monsters & Strangerz production team who have worked with Lauv, Dua Lipa, Camila Cabello and Maroon 5. Katy debuted the song live on American Idol, a show which you’d be forgiven for mistaking is about Katy and Luke Bryan, who are both gearing up for album cycles in 2020. Daisies became her 28th Top 40 hit in the UK when it reached number 37. Between 2008 and 2013, her golden era, Katy had 13 top 10s; since her chart-topper Feels in 2017 no song of hers has reached the UK Top 10. She is a heritage brand already.

The two biggest British pop stars of present on tracks two and three on Disc One. Watermelon Sugar became a sleeper hit for Harry Styles, helped by watermelon emojis, a fun video and Harry’s infectious delivery. Dua Lipa’s third big single from her number one album Future Nostalgia, Break My Heart, is a smashing tune that must have helped many kitchen discos in the Corona Era. The song borrows heavily from Need You Tonight by INXS.

The ‘make old music new’ trend is alive in 2020. Sweet Female Attitude’s terrific two-step-pop anthem Flowers is 20 years old and thus perfect for Nathan Dawe to rework. Jaykae delivers the vocals excellently. Pour The Milk takes an item found in a fridge and sets it to music; not only that, it recasts the line from Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega and is essentially a remix of the song by Robbie Doherty and Keees (with three Es).

Surf Mesa and Emilee’s ily (i love you baby) goes back even further into the musical past, borrowing from Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, making the song perfect for lovey-dovey montages. It’s background music but that seems to sell these days, plus it’s cheap to recycle old melodies. You can see that the music industry would be keen to foster this repackaging of old music instead of developing new ones.

Whatever next: Dame Vera Lynn being remixed by Joel Corry? Joel drafts in MNEK for his third hit in a row; Heart & Head again showcases MNEK’s excellent vocal talent, while Joel knows how to produce a catchy pop-dance floorfiller. The video is quite strange too, which helps drive an audience towards the song. Stealthily, Joel Corry is moving into Jonas Blue and Kygo territory. Indeed, Kygo only gets a ‘could do better’ for the dull Lose Somebody, where Ryan Tedder and OneRepublic prattle on about love and stuff.

Breaking Me by Topic and A7S was one of the big ‘club tunes’ of spring 2020 thanks to its addictive chorus. Ditto Secrets, where Regard follows up his summer smash Ride It with a song that used RAYE effectively. Midnight (The Hanging Tree) is credited to HOSH with 1979 ft Jalja. It features in the audio book for the prequel of The Hunger Games, which makes sense as the song is a remix of a track which featured in the famous movie franchise.

PS1’s song Fake Friends is a boring bit of poppy dance music about love featuring the vocals of Alex Hosking. The video is an ironic look at Generation Instagram and is better than the song. 220 KID and Gracey had a Top 10 smash with Don’t Need Love, which uses the Regard-style manipulation of a vocal line as a post-chorus hook. The rise and rise of the song was a thrill for Gracey who grew happier each week that she appeared on the Radio 1 Chart Show. For all the talk of streaming numbers, being an official Top 10 star is thrilling for any popstar.

Other dance music usual suspects are on NOW 106. Jonas Blue offers Naked, a funky song full of fingersnaps and helped by the falsetto of Max Schneider aka MAX. Many moons ago Disclosure helped launch Sam Smith’s career by bringing his vocals to their song Latch. Eko Roosevelt has been making music in Cameroon since the 1970s and the dance duo turn his song Tondoho Mba into a contemporary disco groove. Credit to them for giving Eko credit.

Aside from Tondo, perhaps the most interesting song on NOW 106 is by JP Saxe. If The World Was Ending crept up the charts as people grew increasingly sardonic about lockdown (which is not to diminish its effects on the vulnerable). Featuring JP’s gf Julia Michaels, the tender piano ballad was released way back in October 2019 and peaked at 14 during the lockdown period, where songs tended to hang around near the top of the charts for weeks.

They included Rover by S1mba and DTG, a lovely slice of Afrobeats, and Dinner Guest, by the terrible twosome of UK contemporary grime, AJ Tracy and Mostack. Stormzy pops up with the line ‘came offline I’ve been chillin’ in mountains’ on I Dunno, a song released on Atlantic Records by Tion Wayne and Dutchavelli, brother of rapper Stefflon Don. I like how the song namechecks former Manchester United defender Patrick Evra.

Columbia Records, meanwhile, spent 2020 pushing StaySolidRocky’s song Party Girl, which is an even less melodic version of what Drake and the other poppy rappers are doing. Over on Interscope, teenage rapper Lathan Echols aka Lil Mosey offered Blueberry Faygo. Set to a smooth sped-up sample of My My My by Johnny Gill (a 90s r’n’b slow jam), the lyric is a bit of nonsense about ‘two big .40s and a big ass Draco’. TikTok again took the song to new heights, turning it into a Transatlantic Top 10 hit. Babyface and Daryl Simmons earn royalties from the track, so they are happy too.

Black music was big business during lockdown, helped by the instant nature of social and performance media. We may see more political anthems later in 2020 but DaBaby’s song Rockstar – not on NOW 106 despite being number one for most of June – was helped back to the top by an additional verse about police brutality. If pop music can use its platform for social issues, which are very much ‘in’ at the moment, we could see a golden age.

In the meantime Doja Cat follows up Say So with nifty earworm Like That, featuring rapper Gucci Mane. Her breasts are practically on show in the video; Gucci keeps his top on. THE SCOTTS, Travis Scott and Kid Cudi, combine on the song THE SCOTTS (all in capitals), which sounds like contemporary rap music (ie Drake). Both songs, by the way, come in at less than three minutes, perfect for Generation ADHD.

Back to Britain, now. In a break from his boxing career, KSI released Dissimulation, a rap album which was led by the song Houdini, which featured Swarmz and Tion Wayne. It’s a very contemporary sound and the chorus (‘oh la laa’) is hummable. In a break from her podcasting career and being a Jewish mum (the best kind of mum), Jessie Ware released an album in the middle of lockdown. What’s Your Pleasure reached the top three in the UK, led by dancefloor banger Save A Kiss, which is a joyous presence deep on Disc Two of NOW 106.

In a break from his breakfast radio DJing career, Ronan Keating delighted mums everywhere with Little Thing Called Love, a poppy bit of fluff whose video was shot in the middle of a forest with fan-sourced videos popping up in frames around him. He has come a long way from the twiglet-haired days in Boyzone. The song promoted his solo career Best Of, which includes duets with Shania Twain, Robbie Williams and Emeli Sande.

For the dads, but not exclusively for men, Paul Weller brought out an album called On Sunset. When it went to number one, the statistic was that only Lennon and McCartney can match his feat of topping the UK album charts in five decades in a row. Like his mate Noel Gallagher, Weller has been moving away from guitar rock in recent years and Village is evidence of that. This is music that someone over the age of 60 should be making, with some real strings and a lyric about ‘heaven in my sights’.

NOW 106 will be a guide to pop music in a time when pop festivals could not take place, and when even Eurovision was cancelled. Absent from NOW 106 but hopefully lined up for NOW 107 is Think About Things, the unofficial winner of Eurovision 2020. Dadi Freyr may have to wait to bring the Contest to Iceland but he has sold out big venues in 2021.

That is, if Coronavirus retreats for the winter.

NOW 105: Matt Lucas – The Baked Potato Song

May 8 2020 sees the 75th anniversary of VE Day, commemorating the end of hostilities in the Second World War. The British people will enjoy a day off, such as they can during a time of pandemic. The first Monday of May is a working day, furlough permitting.

Plans for the Bank Holiday Friday are listed on, though Pageantmaster Bruno Peek has sorrowfully had to postpone the event to August, which will coincide with VJ Day. Thus will the street parties, rugby tours, memorial visits and ‘Nation’s Toast’ occur after the Corona Era subsides. Hey, we survived six years of conflict; we can survive this unprecedented pandemic.

May 8 2020 was announced as the rearranged release date of NOW 105. There is no room for tracks from NOW 5. Among the 46 tracks which soundtracked the Coronovirus lockdown, the obvious candidates lead off the two-disc set. Blinding Lights by The Weeknd (which sounds like 1983) and a horrible song by Justin Bieber and Quavo called Intentions all make it among the first five songs of Disc 1. Yummy, which is even more horrible, follows on Disc 2, as Bieber’s first album in four years plopped onto the world.

TikTok continues to influence the charts in 2020: Doja Cat’s earworm Say So, Supalonely by BENEE from New Zealand (featuring Gus Dapperton), Roses by Saint Jhn – a number one hit! – and Roxanne by Arizona Zervas were all fodder for tweens and teens. Chris Molanphy wrote an article for arguing that TikTok views could boost the success of a song in the traditional chart by driving listeners towards streaming the song, perhaps to rehearse dance steps to. Thus did Blinding Lights topple The Box by Roddy Ricch at the top of the US Hot 100.

With One Direction rumoured to be celebrating their tenth birthday (perhaps with a TV special or a new song), two former members feature on NOW 105. The great Harry Styles pushed his second album with a shiny single called Adore You, while Louis Tomlinson’s debut album included MOR ballad Walls. Though not as badly received as Liam Payne’s debut album, Louis’ record got more marks for effort than attainment; even he must know that Harry will have lasting durability and play huge venues in ten years’ time. Adore You, by the way, also sounds like 1983.

In other reality show success story news, Little Mix broke away from Simon Cowell and continued their odyssey with Break Up Song, which sounds like 2020. Becky Hill, who came to prominence on the first series of The Voice UK in 2012, keeps racking up the hits. She has now had eight of them: number seven was Lose Control, where Meduza repeat the Piece of Your Heart trick, while number eight is the soaring and anthemic kiss-off Better Off Without You, with the annoyingly named Shift K3Y producing. She has writing credits on both, so she’s not just taking the vocalist’s fee.

Then comes Lady Gaga, storming back with the Max Martin-assisted confection Stupid Love, which is 99% ‘YASS QUEEN’. Billie Eilish returns, fresh from taking home many GRAMMY Awards and singing the theme to the new Bond movie, with everything i wanted, a song originally written about feeling hopeless but deemed too depressing in its initial form by her brother/producer Finneas.

The two big men of UK music – ‘Teddy and Big Mike’ aka Ed Sheeran and Stormzy – keep racking up the hits too. Ed from Suffolk brings in Camila Cabello and Cardi B on his panpipe-FX-laden slinkathon South of the Border (he loves ‘her hips’ this time), while Stormzy has his third number one with Own It, where Burna Boy and Ed pop up too. The video to the song – which starts with the chorus, as befits a song by someone who has done his pop homework – has Stormzy holding an umbrella on a roof while singing song is about how he’s gonna ‘be right by ya’. It isn’t about very much at all.

2020 was meant to be The Year of the Stormzy as he pushed his way into the American marketplace; who knows how greatly the Corona Era has disrupted it. UK urban music will still dominate the Top 40, thanks to Aitch and AJ Tracey. They pair up on Rain, a song driven by a looped piano line and a trap beat, produced by Tay Keith, who brought us such bangers as Sicko Mode, Nonstop and Look Alive, three enormous rap hits from the 2010s. The lyrics of Rain namecheck McFlurry, Bugs Bunny, fellow British rapper Dave and footballers N’Golo Kante and Virgil van Dijk. It’s very British and very 2020.

Other British acts include Lewis Capaldi (Before You Go, a ballad), Sam Smith (To Die For, so-so) and Tom Grennan (This Is The Place, with its ‘you-you-you’ hook). It is no surprise that Sam Fischer, Australian-born but now based in the US, opened for Lewis; his song This City, first released in 2018, is Sheeran-by-Numbers but sung by a graduate of the Berklee School of Music. His voice is ten times better than Lewis’; fans of Ryan Tedder will like Sam, who deserves a spot on NOW 105.

For the Radio 2 crowd, we’ve got James Blunt and Ward Thomas, representing UK country, on the track Halfway, and Liam Gallagher’s song Once. The music video features Eric Cantona addressing his butler as ‘our kid’ (it’s Liam!!) while Eric lip-synchs the song in a bathrobe. It’s addressed to Liam’s brother Noel and rhymes ‘clean the pool’ with ‘send the kids to school’, with a mighty ‘SHEE-INE!’ in the first line of the chorus. Liam specialises in delivering meaningless lines with gusto, much like Cantona. Somehow, he has become a national treasure just by continuing to be Liam Gallagher for 30 years. Q Magazine’s May 2020 edition was splashed, again, with a celebration of the album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, now celebrating its silver jubilee but still reaching kids of 2020 as a fresh, classic album. (It’s an average album, but captured a moment in white rock culture.)

Ireland is represented by two songs. The Script are on NOW 105 with Run Through Walls from their nine-track album Sunsets & Full Moons, which was number one in the UK and in their home country of Ireland. Dermot Kennedy had an atmospheric hit called Power Over Me, for people who were giving Lewis Capaldi and Ed Sheeran a bit of a rest on their morning commute.

John Legend’s song Conversations in the Dark was performed on TV on Valentine’s Day, suitably for a lyric about, mostly, pillow talk. It’s as sickly sweet and sentimental as All Of Me: ‘In my eyes you are perfect as you are’ is John Legend-By-Numbers. It’s practically a Hallmark card set to music, but there’s a market for that and John is raking it in. Not as much as his wife, but their kids will never be poor.

Britain is finding it hard to produce a viable female popstar. Mabel, daughter of Neneh Cherry, is on with Boyfriend, a ‘this could be anybody’ bit of pop which, like Anne-Marie’s Birthday, is made for singing along to on TikTok. Is this what pop music is in 2020, bending to fit the medium? Absolutely. That’s the business: follow the money and the audience.

Dua Lipa, meanwhile, had a number one album with Future Nostalgic, after it leaked before its official release date. Its rush-release was especially useful when all fans could do was eat, sleep and make TikTok videos. Physical and Don’t Start Now, both on NOW 105, are pop gems: the former steals the title of one of the biggest Hot 100 songs of all time (which tied in with the keep-fit craze of the early 1980s), while the latter packs in musical, lyrical and production hooks that make it the best song of 2020 so far.

Perhaps Celeste, BBC’s Sound of 2020, will break through and join Dua Lipa and Mabel on a very sparse top table of pop. Stop This Flame was primed to soundtrack athletics montages (‘keep on, keep on going’) but will have to wait a year to do so.

The American version of hot pop star, in both senses of ‘hot’, is Selena Gomez. In April 2020, the former TV star had 173m followers on Instagram and was plugging her album Rare, her first in five years. It included the two hits Lose You To Love Me and the title track, both on NOW 105. The former is slinky and cool, the latter is sad and melancholic and was written with Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter. It’s modern pop music in two songs. Selena is still only 27. Fellow child stars Jonas Brothers return with new music, the poppy What A Man Gotta Do, which doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Rita Ora, like Rihanna, seems more interested in anything but music, with an acting role lined up in 2020. In the video to How To Be Lonely, a gift from Lewis Capaldi that failed to make the Top 40, she writhes on top of eggs at a time when supermarkets were running out of them. Tactless. Far better is Time Machine by Alicia Keys, with her first new music for four years; it’s a shuffling song where she hits some very high notes. We have to wait 90 seconds for the chorus, which seems like an eternity today. She is 39 and is more ‘adult contemporary’ than ‘pop’, and is thus an elder stateswoman of American pop and soul. At 39. Pop music, eh?

Back in the UK Ella Henderson (This Is Real, with Jax Jones), Paloma Faith (Mistakes, with Jonas Blu) and Jem Cooke (Rabbit Hole, with CamelPhat) continue the popular ‘Producer + Woman’ genre of music that found favour on Radio 1’s daytime playlist in 2020. Tweaking the formula by adding a man are Disclosure, who draft in Khalid to warble through Know Your Worth.

Other dance anthems of early 2020 are Lonely by Joel Corry – Disc 1 Track 2! – and Pump It Up by Endor, which is music for idiots to jump around to. MK and Sonny Rodera draft in Raphaella on the song One Night and Jax Jones two-times (and throws in a great ‘whatcha-whatcha-gon-do’) on Tequila, on which RAYE sings with passion and finesse of taking it ‘to the dancefloor’ and spending money at the bar. All three songs sound like the club in 2020, and it’s nice to hear RAYE team up with Jax Jones after the long-ago success of You Don’t Know Me, still one of the finest pop songs of recent years that introduced Jax Jones into the world. Would many people have recognised him on the BBC’s Top of the Pops Christmas special? Recognisability: whatcha-whatcha-gon-do?

Only five duos or bands are on the entire compilation: Little Mix, Ward Thomas, Jonas Brothers, The Script and The 1975. The last of these bands offer the indie love song Me & You Together Song, with a guitar-led hook and a baggy drum loop that distils 90s guitar music for an audience who missed the 90s and are now catching up on this weird series beloved by Mum and Dad called Friends. Through lack of competition, Matt Healy and co are the Band of the Moment; bands are in such short supply that, removing the trio of brothers and the twin sisters of Ward Thomas, there are only three non-sibling groups on the whole compilation.

This is incredible but not surprising. In fact, I just went to look up NOW 31, on which Oasis appear with their number one smash Some Might Say, and discovered that three bands – Wet Wet Wet, Pulp and Supergrass – comprise three of the first four tracks. In the Coronavirus era, where live venues cannot open and in any case may be forced to close, the rock band may be an endangered species if you can’t even be in the same room to rehearse. This is small beer compared to the impact of the global pandemic, but do we really want a whole Top 40 full of solo MCs, female singers and Ed Sheeran clones? Music industry: whatcha-whatcha-gon-do? (In the indie sphere, of course, there are tons of great bands.)

How about the track that I feel represents the era musically, lyrically and culturally? It’s for the FeedNHS cause, apt because its singer will host the next series of Great British Bake-Off, whenever the tent can be erected and everyone can take solace in baked goods. FeedNHS is an initiative to take food prepared by canteens and restaurants and divert it to hospital staff.

Originally sung on cult BBC TV show Shooting Stars – in the days before Facebook. Twitter, TikTok and iPhones – Matt Lucas posted a video on social media in which he imagined a baked potato advising people who were locked down in isolation to ‘wash your hands, stay indoors…Only visit grocery stores’, with Matt chiming in: ‘Thank you, Baked Potato!’

‘If I can connect with kids,’ he told the BBC, ‘maybe the kids can tell their parents.’ They did, as within two days 3m people viewed the updated version, which is a minute in length and perfect for virality. Matt helped push the song with duets with family favourites like Rick Astley, Ronan Keating, Gary Barlow (as part of his Crooner Sessions), Mylenne Klass and Brian May.

Matt had been on a NOW previously, with a charity cover of I’m Gonna Be along with Peter Kay’s character Brian Potter. Peter himself added to the efforts to cheer up Britain by releasing an audio version of his Car Share sitcom over Easter and fronting the Comedy Shuffle on Friday nights on BBC1. He ‘regretfully postponed’ a series of his Dance For Life shows in aid of Cancer Research UK.

In the 1940s, it was Vera Lynn, who turned 103 in March 2020, who lifted morale. Today it’s a bloke from Bolton and another from Edgware, proving that comedians are ‘essential’ workers in the Corona Era.

NOW 104: Kygo & Whitney Houston – Higher Love

An eBook of all the essays on the site will be available soon!

Dance Monkey would be the people’s choice, but I’m not The People.

In fact, the people’s choice was Colin Thackery, an octogenarian Chelsea Pensioner who was the winner of the 2019 run of Britain’s Got Talent. His immaculate version of the sappy, soppy Wind Beneath My Wings in memory of his late wife was great television, a Susan Boyle moment that led to an album deal just in time for Christmas. From One Direction to Colin Thackery, Simon Cowell has been responsible for some top moments in pop culture but, sadly, his era may have passed.

The end of the 2010s saw, predictably, a series of lists by music critics reminding people of the great recorded sounds of the previous ten years. There was plenty of music by women, gay or black artists, as the overcorrection of popular music began to accelerate. Significant lists were topped by Kendrick Lamar (Stereogum), Arctic Monkeys (NME, Lorde coming in second) and Kanye West (Rolling Stone, with Beyonce in the silver medal position). Incidentally, all three list-toppers are connected to California, either through being born, having recorded or being a resident there, though Kanye is on a different planet a lot of the time. He ended the decade as Musical Director of a gospel choir. Arctic Monkeys released a concept album with Alex Turner in the guise of a lounge singer, while Kendrick pushes the boundaries of hiphop and live performance. As the author of Alright, the anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement, he is if anything this generation’s Marvin Gaye or James Brown, a figure beyond music.

The big cultural hits of the decade were narrative television shows (Game Of Thrones, House of Cards) and Hollywood comic book adaptations like The Avengers. Politics went more right-wing while social media gave people the illusion of social democracy where opinion was currency. It also siloed people into tribes: we speak of ‘gay Twitter’, ‘black Twitter’ and ‘football Twitter’. Commentators like Katie Hopkins proved you could make money through commanding the air, even polluting it with toxic viewpoints. The likes of Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey and Louis CK saw their creative stock fall because of their private lives, and Michael Jackson and R Kelly ended the decade as pariahs.

To be a musical treasure in 2020, you must have millions of social media followers and ‘speak to’ (in the oleaginous phrase) hot-button issues like representation and diversity. This was, of course, before the Corona Era, which prompted the postponement of NOW 105 (due on April 3 2020). Sam Smith may prove to be more famous for coming out as gender fluid – Sam prefers the ‘they/them’ pronoun’ – than his/their increasingly derivative music, of which How Do You Sleep? is the latest.

NOW 104 was released in time for Christmas 2019, and collected the big hits of the last few months of the decade. The biggest of the lot was introduced to me on Twitter when someone said that Dance Monkey was number one in Australia and was going to take over the world: with four chords, a high-pitched voice and a ‘dance for me’ chorus primed for the era of TikTok, it did. Can Tones & I have another big smash or (as is likely) join Gotye and, to an extent, Hozier as one of the decade’s one-hit wonders?

The other big number one songs of the era featured Michael from South London. Take Me Back To London is a duet between Ed Sheeran and Stormzy (Michael Omari Jr), two acts who have performed on the Pyramid Stage – “headline slot” – at “Glasto”. A track from Ed’s collaborations album, it is a very contemporary song about the lives of world-renowned performers in jet planes (before the Corona Era) who just want to go home. Ed Sheeran has a pub in London, while Stormzy is the brightest light in the city’s urban music scene. It is only a matter of time until he breaks America.

Stormzy two-times on NOW 104 with the second hit from his second album Heavy Is The Head, which takes its title from the lyric in Crown. He the chorus as if intoning a hymn, before namechecking Jesus, Boris bikes, the Cambridge University scholarships in his name (“not anti-white, it’s pro-black”) and his rainfall-laden 2018 BRIT Awards performance (“I’m still soaked”). “I guess a little bit of heaven has to come with the hell” are his words of comfort for black Britons who are “on the cover of Elle”. Stormzy is a very important act and, like his mate Ed from Suffolk, has the business acumen to run his own career and dominate pop culture.

Stormzy has also kicked open the door for other British urban acts. AJ Tracey (“live and direct”) had a massive hit with Ladbroke Grove, named after an area in West London; it’s a significant song as it breaks him to a big audience but it’s quite a lightweight song and doesn’t say very much. Aitch, from Manchester and born in December 1999, appears twice: once with his own hit Taste (Make It Shake) and on Strike a Pose (“you’re kinda cute, you know”) with Young T and Bugsey. Fredo, who along with Dave beat Stormzy to the top spot when Funky Friday became the first purely grime track to get to number one – is on NOW 104 with So High, as a featured act with fellow MC Mist. (So Solid Crew and Roll Deep may lay claim to be the first overall.)

In America, of course, they have their own style of urban music: trap. Bbno$, pronounced ‘Baby No Money’, and Y2K duet on Lalala, which was top of the Viral 50 chart on Spotify nine months after it was first released. Over a trap beat they spout nonsense and it’s a fun piece of pop music while being entirely disposable. Yet the song warranted a Rolling Stone feature in which the pair talked about how to “spam people the same s— over and over again” through viral marketing, as well as how the song became popular on TikTok, which brings the school playground to the telephone screen. Strangely, it only reached number 55 in the USA and number 32 in the UK, but a hit today isn’t the same as a hit in the era of NOW 4 (more of which later).

Black artists dominate the trap scene but (of course) the biggest stars are the half-white Drake and the fully-white Post Malone. The latter has followed Aubrey From Canada into the pop sphere, with earworms like Circles (“run away, run away”) dominate streaming playlists and the radio. Incredibly, and maybe for the first time, an artist has a song with his name as the title performed by another artist (unlike Doop by Doop, which takes its title from the band themselves): Sam Feldt and RAN!’s song (“we party like”) Post Malone continues the DJ + Nondescript Female Vocalist tradition, as well as the current tropes of the bouncy post-chorus and the lyrical theme of partying nonstop, “never, ever, ever going home”. This was in the pre-Corona Era, before governments ordered people to stay home on pain of fines or illness.

There are plenty of DJ + Woman songs on NOW 104: Becky Hill sings on I Could Get Used To This, with Weiss on production, and it’s Bebe Rexha who is roped in to sing the Jax Jones-produced Harder (“you know I need that [sound effect + melodic line]”). Sigala return with We Got Love, calling up Ella Henderson, while Ritual has Rita Ora singing with TWO DJs, Tiesto and Jonas Blue, at times sounding like Korean Pop (“come on, come on” recalls the “ooh-wah” bit of Boy With Luv by BTS). Tiesto two-times with Mabel on God is a Dancer, on which the daughter of Neneh Cherry is sculpted into A.N. Other popstar: one moment she sounds like Ariana, now like Selena, now like Cher (the song is saturated with auto-tune) and not in any way like the singer from Finders Keepers. A shame, but that’s business, folks.

Also falling under this DJ + Woman category is a song from the latest release which updates old club music for the new era. Paloma Faith sings the Artful Dodger track Moving Too Fast from 2000 under the direction of DJ Spoony, who follows Pete Tong as brand ambassador for garage music, rather than house music, which has strings thrust upon it. The album Garage Classical brings back some of my favourite smashes from the turn of the millennium: Flowers, Body Groove, Crazy Love, Sweet Like Chocolate, Fill Me In, 21 Seconds and Gotta Get Thru This. Is it time for a Daniel Bedingfield comeback?! If so, the 20-year cycle strikes again.

Going back even further into the past, to Yazoo’s synth-pop, are Riton and Oliver Heldens who turn Don’t Go into Turn Me On. Woman singer Vula goes on about wanting a medical remedy from her “doctor love” in the pre-Corona Era. The music video features face masks and dancing nurses, and came out mere weeks before the Coronavirus struck Wuhan, China. Going back even even further are Haim, who offer the jazzy Summer Girl (from an album called Women In Music Part III) which has the feel of Walk On The Wild Side. In the modern era, the song which provides ‘the feel’ must be given songwriting credit (under the Blurred Lines precedent) and thus the late Lou Reed’s estate will see proceeds from the song. Lou Reed was famously not a nice man but he still influences rock music 50 years on from his heyday.

In the guise of Thomas Wesley, DJ Diplo collaborated with acts including Cam, Morgan Wallen and Jonas Brothers on dance tracks in 2019. The Jonases sing Lonely over a looped electric guitar line and snare rimshots, which give way to a parping post-chorus and some “hey”s. I still maintain Nick Jonas will be an important songwriter in the coming decade, not least because he was given an award by the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2016. (Ed Sheeran and Halsey have won the same award in recent years.)

The first rock tracks of any description on NOW 104, those with electric guitar as a lead instrument, come on Disc Two. Outnumbered is by Dermot Kennedy, the Irish Ed Sheeran, while Better Half Of Me is by Tom Walker, Ed Sheeran in a beanie hat. Sam Fender, the Ed Sheeran of the North-East but with more of a political conscience (the Kendrick Lamar of the North-East??) offers Will We Talk?, a very modern rock song that belies comparisons with Bruce Springsteen (the Boss of the Toon?).

Someone described Lewis Capaldi as the child of Kevin Bridges and Adele, and his very first single Bruises (“it’s your love I’m lost in…There must be something in the water”) finally takes its place on a NOW, with its sparse piano line and Lewis’s keening vocal. It was first released in March 2017; three years later, a possible subject of the song won the winter series of Love Island, more on which shortly.

Meanwhile Maroon 5 are still doing whatever the record company tells them to do: on Memories, a number 2 hit in America in which Adam Levine burbles on about the past, they repurpose Pachelbel’s Canon with the help of hip producers Monsters & Strangerz (Slow Hands, Work From Home) and top topline (melody) writers Jon Bellion and J Kash.

Malcolm Gladwell does not get a credit on 10,000 Hours, the collaboration between Scooter Braun’s clients Justin Bieber and Dan + Shay, whom I nickname Plant Pot + Shay because Dan brings very little to the table…Alright, he writes and produces a lot but you can’t hear him as much as Shay. And he looks attractive, like a tousle-haired Bieber. The song is about how much the three of them love their wives (“if that’s what it takes to learn that sweet heart of yours”) and could foreshadow a new, mature, middle-of-the-road Bieber, even though his 2020 album Changes is so current it’ll be out of date by August.

Two dance anthems of autumn/winter 2019/20 took off through use in other media. Ride It was an update of Jay Sean’s smash by a DJ called Regard, aka Dardan Aliu from Kosovo, putting the tiny new country on the map for happier reasons. People danced to the 20-second snippet on TikTok and the song became a club and radio hit. What’s Dardan’s next trick?

Joel Corry is a fitness trainer who was previously on Geordie Shore. TV show Love Island used Sorry, which is sung by the uncredited Hayley May (did she sign away her rights?), during the summer run and it thus became a hit. It is the perfect track for the show as contestants are forever apologising and mouthing platitudes. The track is notable for having the music drop down to just vocals and a beat for the chorus (“there’s no need to live if I can’t be with you”). Love Island was a guilty pleasure for many, but the suicides of two former contestants, as well as the death of presenter Caroline Flack, may mean it is mothballed in the post-Corona Era.

A-List Ladies are present and correct on NOW 104. Two former members of Fifth Harmony are next to one another: Camila Cabello with Liar, which thanks to its Dembow beat sounds like much of global pop in the last few years; and Normani with Motivation, which is made for My Gym Playlists. Lizzo’s 2016 song Good As Hell (“I do my hair toss, check my nails”) got a big push in 2019 and became a radio smash, while Lana Del Rey’s chart-topping album named after Norman Rockwell yielded the single Doin’ Time, which opens with a quote from the Gershwins’ banger Summertime.

Miley Cyrus wants to Slide Away (“I’m not who I used to be”) on a woozy track written with hip and cool Finnish popstar Alma. Expect Miley to dominate pop music in the post-Corona, along with Ariana Grande (who appears with a clean version of boyfriend, a duet with rap duo Social House) and Billie Eilish, who offers the similarly lower-case all the good girls go to hell from her GRAMMY Album of the Year. The number of singers and performers they will inspire will be incalculable.

The most fascinatingly performer on NOW 104 is the inspiration to the likes of Ariana and Camila. Now in her fifties, Celine Dion was one of fourteen children in Quebec who married her manager and has become one of the world’s most beloved vocal performers. Like Elvis and Sinatra, Celine is an interpreter, not a writer; she played Las Vegas in her thirties and has released 27 albums in English or French. Courage was her first in the former since 2013, on which Sia gave her the excellent title track Love Me Back To Life. Celine enlists Sia and David (real name Pierre!) Guetta for Lying Down, a self-empowerment anthem (“I can’t hear you when you speak your poison, bitter words can’t hurt me now”) that sums up her place in culture.

Lying Down is, of course, a piano-and-strings-led ballad, and follows Westlife’s song Dynamite, which in a departure for them is a fast-paced K-Pop track where Nicky does a rap. Not this time: Ed Sheeran wrote the song, which is all about ‘sleeping in on a Sunday morning’, love and stuff, with a chorus full of colours (“purple and green and red”). Both songs sound like the artists who wrote them: Shane is doing Ed and Celine is doing Sia. I think both writers are modern equivalents of the artists for whom they compose, with Ed writing soppy ballads that a boyband would have sung 20 years ago and Sia doing vocal gymnastics like her heart will go on and on. Music is repeating itself, or at least it is when you recognise the past in the present.

So what is genuinely new? The abovementioned British urban music and American trap that appeals to the kids with their smartphone jukeboxes. Two rappers are put together on Disc One: Lil Tecca’s Ran$om cycles a trap beat over which lazy-eyed Tecca sings for just under 2 minutes 30 seconds about what he “got”: Fendi, Chanel, Prada and quotes Drake (“started from the bottom”); on Panini (“don’t you be a meanie”), Lil Nas X bangs on for just under two minutes about having fans and women and being “number one on streaming”. It will sound old by the end of 2020, but sounded fresh when it came out.

Also new is Afrobeats, or Afro-fusion, spearheaded by Burna Boy, who guests on Be Honest by the underrated Jorja Smith. He pops up halfway through with a soulful croon. Fun fact: his grandpa Benson was manager of Fela Kuta, the pioneer of Afrobeat.

NOW 104 tacks on five tracks from NOW 4 because there’s space left over on the CD. The Style Council (Shout To The Top), UB40 (If It Happens Again) and Level 42 (Hot Water) all pop up, while Together In Electric Dreams struts in and proves that Giorgio Moroder is one of popular music’s great geniuses. He didn’t sing, so recruited acts like Donna Summer and, here, Phil Oakey from The Human League, to warble over the top of his sexy synth-pop. No Moroder, no Daft Punk, Guetta and the rest. Michael Jackson appears on Rockwell’s Somebody’s Watching Me (“And I have no privacy”), as a comment on the era of data harvesting and the like, 30 years ahead of its time.

And this we turn to the NOW Playlist entrant. Whitney Houston spent the start of 2020 on tour from beyond the grave. Eight years after she died, Kygo puts a fresh spin on Higher Love, which she covered in her Imperial Phase for a Japanese edition of her album I’m Your Baby Tonight. Love is a successful piece of product, for both remixer and performer. Her vocals are pushed forward in the verse and chorus, while horns and synths act as framework; the breakdown is addictive, chopping up syllables and creating a dancefloor-filling climax.

The future of pop music is using the brands of the past – Whitney, Madonna, Elvis – and refreshing them for a contemporary audience. ABBA had a musical, and now a live theatrical show while you eat dinner (at least you could pre-Corona), but I wonder if we’ll get a new version of My Heart Will Go On or Flying Without Wings, whether we want them or not. Will Burna Boy or Aitch be involved, and which dance producer will be tasked with updating it?

NOW 103: Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus – Old Town Road

Disc one track one surpasses all other tracks on a packed 103rd instalment. Number one in the US for 15 weeks on the day NOW 103 was released, Old Town Road is one of the most successful pop songs of all time. OF ALL TIME!

It’s a four-chord ditty sampled by Kio (Kio! Kio!) from a Nine Inch Nails track. If you had told Trent Reznor (who I hope it getting money from the success of Old Town Road) that he would soundtrack most of 2019 inadvertently, he would hurt you to see if you still felt. While you focus on the pain, you would get your ‘horses in the back’ and alcohol (‘lean’) in your bladder and resist attempts for people to tell you anything. Then Billy Ray Cyrus would pop up to remind the world he existed and all was right with the world.

As America detained migrants, geared up for another presidential election and welcomed two new babies into it – my half-brothers Joe-Joe and Jake-Jake – everyone was dancing like a cowboy to Old Town Road on a service called TikTok. People want to show off and dance: The Twist remains the biggest song of all time according to Billboard, with Black Eyes Peas’ I Got a Feeling and Uptown Funk high up there too. Only Despacito and One Sweet Day, a song about missing your loved ones, have been more durable number ones in the US than Old Town Road, which is not about missing your loved ones. Every year, it seems, has an inescapable party song. Maybe I can write the one for 2020.

What else is on NOW 103? Ed from Suffolk returns with two rappers – Chance The Rapper & PnB Rock – with a song with a hook ‘if you cross her, then you cross me’ about being nice to someone’s immediate friends and family. He also gifts Better Man, the most middle-of-the-road song you can imagine, to Westlife, the most middle-of-the-road band you can imagine. The song that knocked Ed off the summit of the UK charts (I Don’t Care is not on NOW 103) is Senorita, a duet between Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello that was chiselled to sound like summer, something to listen to as you munch burgers and kebabs. Now that’s what I call throwing another shrimp on the barbie.

Ed put out an album of collaborations (Bruno Mars, Khalid, Ella Mai, Travis Scott and Eminem among others) but chose not to tour it. Yet. Madonna also put out an album featuring plenty of acts (Quavo, Swae Lee, Maluma) which she will tour in 2020, with a slew of dates at the London Palladium. Her Eurovision appearance was a failure, and her focus has shifted to motherhood (her son David is a footballer in Portugal).

Without Madge there would be no Beyonce and indeed very few of the women who, unlike Madonna, are on NOW 103: Billie Eilish (Bad Guy, which is dull but has a hell of a hook), Zara Larsson (Don’t Worry Bout Me), Miley Cyrus (Mother’s Daughter), Mabel (the contemporary sounding Mad Love), Ellie Goulding (Sixteen, which caught my attention when I first heard it as it was better than the dross she usually releases) and Kylie Minogue.

New York City, produced by DJ Fresh, is a track promoting another Greatest Hits set, her fourth. I have two of them!. Her ‘Legends’ set at Glastonbury included guest spots from Nick Cave and Chris Martin; the set proved that the fluffy pop princess from off of Neighbours had fully become an adopted National Treasure. P!nk, meanwhile, had played two dates at Wembley Stadium in June 2019 and a single from her latest album Can We Pretend is nestled in the middle of Disc One. Little Mix, who must be headlining stadiums soon to add to their success playing repeatedly at big arenas like the O2, were set free from Syco and previewed album six with Bounce Back, which is 99% Back To Life by Soul II Soul, a number one 30 summers ago. Before any of them were even born.

Before Stormzy was born too. The Glastonbury headliner took time during his set to shout out to most of the UK grime scene, as the music of council houses in East London had a moment in the hot Somerset sun. Fashion Week, by Steel Banglez ft AJ Tracey & MoStack, is one of two grime tunes on NOW 103; the other is by Stormzy. Vossi Bop is about having fun at a coffee shop, and became the second UK number one for a grime act after Funky Friday.

Perhaps mums and their kids would not like grime, so the compilers give them Emeli Sande (Sparrow, another gospel-pop song from the underrated Scottish singer) and One Republic, whose song Rescue Me is another Ryan Tedder-penned smash. The world didn’t ask for a Lighthouse Family comeback, but they got one: My Salvation sounds like commercial radio in 1998. The new album included a greatest hits set, much like their next tour, which will see a sea of grey hairs.

Will any Ariana Grande fans go for Tunde and the other one? She two-times on NOW 103: break up with your girlfriend I’m bored (all lower case!) has Max Martin’s fingerprints all over it, while MONOPOLY is a duet with songwriter Victoria Monet and includes the word ‘discography’ over a trap-type delivery that is very current. Katy Perry, a TV judge, returns with Never Really Over, written by nine writers and sounding like everything else on the radio.

The sound of 2019 is sculpted by the likes of The Chainsmokers, who enlist 5 Seconds of Summer on the bro-EDM of Who Do You Love, and Avicii, whose posthumous album Tim yielded two hits: SOS with Aloe Blacc, which is not as good as Wake Me Up, and Heaven, with an uncredited vocal from Chris Martin of Coldplay. All proceeds from the album go to a foundation set up in his name. Incredibly David Guetta is still contributing to NOW, using the voice of Raye on Stay (Don’t Go Away), which is a triple rhyme!

Sigala have the lovely Becky Hill on Wish You Well, another one of their soaring dance-pop songs, while prodigious Martin Garrix brings in the fun pair of Macklemore and the bloke off of Fall Out Boy (Patrick Stump) for the excellent Summer Days, which reminds me of DANCE by Justice. Jonas Blue, revealed to be a massive fan of Max Martin in a show dedicated to Max on BBC Radio 2 over May 2019, re-introduces people to Theresa Rex on What I Like About You. Most people will know her voice from Solo Dance by Martin Jensen; here Theresa gets a credit as Jonas does his bounce-pop stuff.

Another Theresa got no credit when she resigned as leader of the country, leaving the mighty philanderer Boris Johnson to seize power. ‘F— Boris!’ chanted crowds at Glastonbury; what will Britain look like when NOW 104 emerges in November, allegedly after Brexit has been concluded. MEDUZA ft Goodboys have the song for the lads this summer with Piece Of Your Heart (‘DUH DUH DUH!) to distract people from the Brexit negotiations which began back in June 2016 (NOW 94!!).

Mark Ronson’s album of ‘sad bangers’ Late Night Feelings, written in the wake of his divorce, includes Find U Again, to which Camila Cabello lends her Ariana-esque vocals. Jax Jones (whatcha whatcha gon do!) two-times on Side One: One Touch is a song sung by Jess Glynne, and All Day and Night has Madison Beer and the disgraced DJ Martin Solveig, last seen asked a footballer if she could twerk. An innocent question asked with a guilty face: that’s the world we live in, an age of Uninnocence.

White men like Shawn Mendes (If I Can’t Have You), James Arthur (Falling Like the Stars), Lewis Capaldi (Hold Me While You Wait, from the UK’s biggest-selling album of the first half of the year, with the title Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent) and Jake Bugg (on the CamelPhat tune Be Someone) are on NOW 103. The brilliant Hypersonic Missiles by Sam Fender, the BRIT Award winner for Critics’ Choice aka This Guy Can’t Fail, and 3 Nights by Dominic Fike (a ‘listeners who like Post Malone and Drake might also wish to listen to…’ of a song) are great presences on Disc Two.

Groups of white men like Jonas Brothers (Cool, a lot of fun but not as good as Sucker), Bastille (Joy, from a concept album about a house party) and the two-timing 5 Seconds of Summer (Easier, which it doesn’t get as you grow up as a boyband) are also here, as is the frontman of another group of white men who have graced a NOW. While his brother gets column inches by bullying Lewis Capaldi, Liam Gallagher has put out a documentary (or, as one critic called it, a ‘corporate rebranding exercise’) showing him as a dad and a running addict. Shockwave is the first single from his second solo album, due in the autumn. Black Star Dancing, Noel’s new one that led Liam to tweet ‘LEO SAYER’ because it has a disco beat, is not on NOW 103. As you were.

The other big event of spring/summer 2019 was Rocketman, Elton John’s movie about Elton John starring Taron Egerton as Elton John. Together with Bernie Taupin, Elton wrote an original song for the end credits called (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again which he sings with Taron doing an Elton impression, which is odd. The chorus is in a different key from the verse (C-sharp while the verse is in C), which isn’t often the case in Elton’s songs. The new version of the movie’s title track also finds its way onto NOW 103, as does the title track from Yesterday, sung beautifully by Himesh Patel, who plays a bloke in a Richard Curtis film who is the only person to remember The Beatles. He gets a girl and things happen, as they do in Richard Curtis films.

The last four tracks, in the modern way, are from NOW 3: White Lines (Don’t Do It), Locomotion by OMD, It’s Raining Men and I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. That was 1984 in music: rap, synth-pop, kitsch disco tunes and blokes from Ipswich singing pretty songs. Nothing has changed, nothing has changed!

NOW 102: Keala Settle – This Is Me

In the 1960s, before The Beatles released self-penned pop songs and sold them to the public by waggling their moptopped heads, official soundtracks to Hollywood films were the big-sellers at record shops. The Sound of Music OST kept on selling for years after its release; fans of the movie purchased a recording of the soundtrack so they could sing of female deers around the house and carry them with them in their hearts when out and about listening to the sounds of the sixties.

Then came rock music as a cultural force. OSTs did kick back in the late 1970s thanks to The Bee Gees and songs from Grease then, in the 1980s, pop songs would be tacked on as the ‘theme’ from a certain film. They could also be added as an afterthought to play over the closing credits: Everything I Do (I Do It For You) by Bryan Adams and My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion are two monolithic pop songs from movies, both about the clash of rich and poor, funnily enough.

As 2018 turned into 2019, a movie about a man who grew rich through his circus enchanted millions of people. The Greatest Showman is going to be Hugh Jackman’s magnum opus, the one between the commas in his obituary: ‘Hugh Jackman, the actor who starred as P.T. Barnum in the musical film The Greatest Showman, died…’ I saw the film in London a few weeks after it came out and thought it was fine. It was Disney product which was a vehicle for both Zac Efron and Zendaya, positioning them as the (rewritten) stars of their era.

The Greatest Showman is also a timely film in that its cast of freak-show curiosities are fighting for representation, just as transgender folk and women are being heard in a post-masculine world. Unfortunately, there are not one but two love stories getting in the way of this part of the plot, and I stopped caring about both love stories long before the film’s all too sudden final reel. I actually went ‘KA-CHING!’ on seeing This Is Me, the film’s big song written by Pasek & Paul and sung by Keala Settle, which I had been impressed with on the soundtrack.

At long last, This Is Me finds its way onto a NOW album a full 17 months after it was first heard. The mix of NOW 100’s reduction in current hits and the success of the official soundtrack, which was by far the biggest album of 2018, meant that the compilers of NOWs 99, 100 and 101 reckoned there was too much Greatest Showman in everyone’s car. NOW 102 relents and features three songs from the show: This Is Me is obviously there with its lyrics about self-empowerment (‘I won’t let them break me down to dust…for we are glorious’) and lots of woahs; from the re-recorded soundtrack album the song Rewrite the Stars is given new oxygen by James Arthur and Anne-Marie; and the opening song of the soundtrack, The Greatest Show, was performed by Huge Action himself at the 2019 BRIT Awards. The song closes Disc 2…Except it doesn’t close Disc 2.

What follows are six tracks from NOW 2, introducing young fans of pop music to Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (‘mummy, what does “when you wanna come” mean?’), Wouldn’t It Be Good by Nik Kershaw (odd chord progression in the verse), one-hit wonder Break My Stride by Matthew Wilder (majestic key changes), enrapturing Girls Just Want To Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper, Culture Club’s It’s a Miracle (Boy George and the band are still going) and Hold Me Now by an act who would score low on Pointless in the round ‘Performers at Wembley Stadium at Live Aid’, Thompson Twins.

NOW is a heritage brand, appealing to people who still buy CDs but who are adept at finding new tunes on streaming services. The point of NOW is to collect the best songs that capture a musical ‘season’. Early 2019, the ‘season’ captured by NOW 102, was dominated by the glory of A Star is Born. Sensibly the compilers have no qualms over including the mighty two-week number one hit Shallow, the duet between Lady Gaga’s Ally and Bradley Cooper’s Jackson in a film I thought was too long but made its point well. Lady Gaga will move into the phase of her career where she plays Vegas, writes modern standards and breathes new life into her old tunes. I always preferred her cabaret version of Poker Face, played solo on piano, and that is the Gaga I would love to see in concert.

Katy Perry, meanwhile, is the latest female voice on a Zedd track: the video for 365, inspired by the Spike Jonze film Her, is much better than the track. Katy takes a break from filming American Idol, where she is a judge, and staying active in gossip columns after becoming engaged to Orlando Bloom. I wish she’d make another I Kissed a Girl, and her recent hit Chained to the Rhythm came close.

Shallow was co-written by Mark Ronson, who returns with a new album in 2019 after his success with Silk City in 2018. Late Night Feelings will include Nothing Breaks Like a Heart, a fine pop song with vocals from Miley Cyrus, who is inspired by her godmother Dolly Parton’s song Jolene. Miley has stopped pratting about with wrecking balls and foam fingers and is set to dominate the culture for a decade, settled in domestic bliss with a movie star for a husband and in no great need of money. She need never work again.

There is a high quotient of men on NOW 102, both hip and heritage (ie, formerly hip). With Ed Sheeran settling into married bliss and building swimming pools with all his money, other men have stepped into the gap due to the absence of Ed product in the charts. George Ezra chose Pretty Shining People as single number four from the Staying at Tamara’s album, which was the biggest-selling album not to be attached to a Disney movie in 2018. The Times gave George five stars for his O2 Arena show, virtually saying he’s a nice bloke with an interesting voice. Tom Walker’s solo written Just You and I is a piece of fluff that climbed slowly up the charts when it was re-released in advance of his debut album. The aforementioned James Arthur offers Empty Space, while Raging Binman (aka Rag’n’Bone Man aka Rory from Brighton) wails over Calvin Harris’ Giant.

The heritage category makes NOW 102 an interesting purchase. Bryan Adams finds his way onto the compilation thanks to a co-write with Ed Sheeran called Shine A Light, the title of his fourteenth studio album; the Groover from Vancouver now lives in Hammersmith, has a young child at home and is a professional photographer. Westlife offer Hello My Love, written by Ed Sheeran, from their final ever album. Michael Buble enlists Charlie Puth, a sort of American Ed Sheeran, to help write the smooth Love You Anymore, from what could be his final ever album (his Carpool Karaoke, screened on Channel 4 to launch the album, was excellent). Hozier returns after several years counting the Take Me To Church money with Almost (Sweet Music), which has nothing to do with Ed Sheeran, and 74-year-old Rod Stewart offers Look In Her Eyes. He is not, however, as Sir Rod. The song was omnipresent on Radio 2 at the end of 2018, and includes the word ‘voguishly’ in its second line. (Why is Ed not Sir Ed yet, for services to British music?)

Take That put out Everlasting, another offering from their Odyssey collection, with a lead vocal from Mark Owen, a Barlow-by-numbers melody and a lyric about being ‘stars when we’re dancing’. Truly, Gaz is the Andrew Lloyd-Webber of pop, cranking out the same sort of thing for those who like it and who will pay good money to see the song performed at a Take That gig where they’ll be dancing.

I don’t need to tell you who wrote Thursday by Jess Glynne; if you imagine Ed from Suffolk singing it, you are correct to assume his fingerprints. Even when he’s not in the charts, he’s affecting the sound of pop music, like the Bee Gees did when they wrote songs for Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross. Lost Without You by Freya Ridings, however, is an outlier: a solo write by the act, released at the end of 2017 (the Year of Sheeran) which affected more and more people as the months elapsed with its first line ‘standing on the platform, watching you go’. The sentiment is so simple and the soft piano accompaniment perfect. The song became a top 10 hit in October 2018 and with any luck there will be more of that sort of thing on Freya’s debut album. Unlike Ed Sheeran, she did go to the BRIT School.

Congratulations are due to Jack Savoretti, real name Giovanni. His ballad Candlelight received a lot of love from Radio 2 and propelled his sixth album Singing to Strangers (good title) to the top of the UK album chart. The song has real strings on it and his voice is excellent; he grew up in London and Switzerland but his heart is in Genoa. He plays Wembley Arena in May 2019, whose next performers as I write this are Busted.

The big smash hit of the first quarter of 2019 came from nowhere. The Jonas Brothers were like One Direction but better, with a run of albums that came out every summer between 2006 to 2009. They were Disney stars of stage and screen, and music was just product to them, albeit ones they mostly wrote, to their credit as musicians. Two early hits of theirs were covers of songs by Busted, including Year 3000, where they did not sing about ‘triple-breasted women’ because they were teenage children. In 2019, the Jonasim (using the Jewish plural) reconvened and brought out Sucker, written with Ryan Tedder and driven by a syncopated beat. It went straight to number one in the US, helped by a big-budget music video and a Carpool Karaoke chat with James Corden.

A segment initially turned down by TV networks has now become a show in its own right, with folk driving around and singing songs in a car with the human form of an Excited gif, High Wycombe’s favourite son. P!nk was another act who was driven by James, and the announcement of her Wembley Stadium dates in 2019 bemused me until she was announced as the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BRIT Awards. Her catalogue is one of the most impressive this century, and she seems to be respected in the industry. Walk Me Home is her latest hit, written with old pal Nate Ruess from fun and with Scott Harris, who wrote Don’t Let Me Down for The Chainsmokers and is Shawn Mendes’ big songwriting buddy.

As of the end of March, this year there have been four songs which have topped the UK chart. There is no place on NOW 102 for the song which started the year as a rollover number one from last year: We Built This City (‘on sausage roll’), by the Internet parent LadBaby, of whom I hadn’t heard until the campaign to get the song to the top. Instead we get three of the other four: Sweet But Psycho by Ava Max (Amanda Koci to her tax authority) is 99% Lady Gaga and topped the charts all January.

The second number one takes a song from The Sound of Music, in a lovely piece of symmetry given the opening paragraph of this essay. Ariana Grande’s song about buying 7 rings for her friends takes the melody of My Favorite Things (Will Ferrell does the best version of the song as Robert Goulet) and then breaks into a trap beat. Disc 2 houses the 2018 number one and title track of her 2019 album thank u, next, where she is so ‘f—ing grateful for my ex’, Pete Davidson, who is getting funnier every episode of Saturday Night Live.

Ariana’s imperial period (copyright: Chris Molanphy, writer of’s Why Is This Song Number One? and presenter of the Hit Parade podcast) continues; Ariana is playing songs on her world tour which are drawn from both her recent albums. Miley, the Jonasim, Ariana: all were American kids TV stars in an era before LadBaby and Youtube. (Ariana was on Nickelodeon, not Disney.)

Social media has made a star of the holder of another number one in 2019, which is present and correct on NOW 102. Someone You Loved is an overly emotional song by Bathgate-born Lewis Capaldi, whose sense of humour is clear on Instagram and Twitter. Grace was his first big smash and is also chosen for the compilation, thanks to its huge chorus. Mabel was unlucky to be stuck behind Someone You Loved as the grime-pop of Don’t Call Me Up rose up the charts in spring 2019.

Kicking off Disc 2 is a song tacked on to the end of a Hollywood blockbuster, in this case Swan Song from the film Alita: Battle Angel, an odd-looking futuristic film helmed by James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator, Avatar). Dua Lipa co-wrote Swan Song with the great Justin Tranter (Sorry for Justin Bieber, Centuries for Fall Out Boy) and it’s a great record with a great title. Zara Larsson offers Ruin My Life, which only got to number 76 in the US Hot 100 (she can do better), while Sigrid released the euphoric Don’t Feel Like Crying, which is her fourth big smash in a row.

In March 2019 Sam Smith came out as non-binary. They (as one must use as a pronoun) team up with Normani, formerly in Fifth Harmony with Camila Cabello, on Dancing with a Stranger, a woozy pop song written by the superteam of Sam and Normani along with Jimmy Napes (Sam’s longtime collaborator) and Stargate.

There is only one orgy on NOW 102, perhaps because of the presence of The Greatest Showman. Goodbye is credited to (breathe in) Jason Derulo x David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj and Willy William. Elsewhere Marshmello enlists hip New York-based Glaswegians CHVRCHES on Here With Me and Jax Jones has help from Olly Alexander and Years & Years on the bouncy Play.

Little Mix offer Think About Us, with Ty Dolla $ign popping up. The song is so far removed from Wings, the girls’ first proper single, and it remains to be seen what effect splitting from their management group, Modest, will have. They are also The Spice Girls’ managers; expect them on NOW 103 after a summer of stadium fun. Cardi B is the main artist, with Bruno Mars finessing the chorus, on the alluring Please Me, though I wonder how she will survive the recent admission that she robbed men while working as an adult entertainer.

Meanwhile, Charli XCX and Troye Sivan go back to 1999, complete with Michael Jackson impressions. The big entertainment news story of the first months of 2019 has been Leaving Neverland, the expose of two children who were bewitched by Wacko Jacko and are finally telling their side of the story. One of the morals is that unchecked power can lead to criminality, but also no chord progression ever did anything awful to children.

NOW 101: Marshmello & Bastille – Happier

The NOW series did not wither at 100, and continued to collect the best music for another four or five months just in time for Christmas 2018. By the end of the year I had moved into a flat, had found a raft of freelance and shift employment and was waiting with the millions of other Brits for our great nation to leave the European Union. As I write, the government are voting to influence how best to compromise so everyone is happy (nobody is happy).

Music brooks no compromise: it’s a product that has to appeal to as many people as possible, which is why Ed from Suffolk is one of the men raking it in at the moment. Ed does not appear as an artist on NOW 101, but a song he wrote is Track One on Disc One. The gossip was that Little Mix didn’t want Woman Like Me to lead off the campaign for LM5, their fifth album (the Spice Girls only managed three!). Its reggae feel works on any radio station the world over, the language is direct and there’s even a reference to ‘my mama’, which is still a terrible trope. Nicki Minaj pops up sounding neutered on a guest verse designed to keep her in the public eye, while Little Mix take her edgy sound and water it down for preteens, with added squawk midway through the chorus.

Benjamin Levin, who has also made a lot of money recently, appears under his stagename benny blanco (all lower case) in a trio with Khalid and Halsey with his/their worldwide smash Eastside (‘in the city where the sun don’t set’). It takes the bajon beat and wraps it in immaculate production; the song is okay but Ben knows how to make a record. Halsey two-times with a slow-burner of a song called Without Me. She performed both of the songs as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live, which I enjoyed.

Not only does Khalid appear three times, he follows himself on Disc Two. Better is followed by Ocean, the latter as a guest vocalist on a track produced by Martin Garrix.

Elsewhere it’s orgies all over the place. Stay Flee Get Lizzy call upon Fredo, Young T and Bugsey on Ay Caramba, which shows that UK grime can also do pile-ups to incite singalongs at house parties. When I heard No Brainer by DJ Khaled and friends (Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper and Quavo), I came up with the genre of ‘orgy-pop’, which some have called ‘pile-ups’. This is obviously a ruse by record companies to increase awareness of certain acts by cross-pollination, the same way Youtube influencers collaborate on videos to drive eyeballs to their own channels. Is this what happened in the 1960s? Did Mick Jagger pop up on a Beatles track, or Lulu duet with Dusty Springfield? Major labels have fewer acts and less product to push, which explains the orgies. I’ll stop saying orgies.

The big pile-up can also be just an expansion of an act: track ten on Disc One is Electricity, which I will always associate with child Irish dancers taking their bows after the medal ceremony at the Watford Colosseum. Dua Lipa sounds great as she sings about love having ‘no ceiling’ to the backing of Silk City, who are the duo Diplo & Mark Ronson. Oddly, the pair are listed as featured artists even though they are Silk City, which is surely a tautology, like Wham ft. George Michael, as Careless Whisper was listed at the time.

Dua Lipa two-times with the Radio 2 playlisted If Only, a piano-led duet with tenor Andrea Bocelli that closes Disc One, while Diplo three-times. Ellie Goulding and Swae Lee are the voices chosen to sing the melodies of Close To Me, while Diplo guests on the irresistible Thunderclouds, credited to LSD ft. Sia, Diplo and Labrinth. The song was used to help someone sell tablet computers; I forget who.

Other faceless producers returns to NOW 101: Clean Bandit offer Baby with Marina and the Diamonds (as she is still called in the tracklisting, though her new album will be as Marina) and Luis Fonsi; Zedd produces another fine song in Lost In Japan, with vocals by Shawn Mendes; David ‘Pierre’ Guetta gets Anne-Marie in for the 2018-sounding Don’t Leave Me Alone, whose melody was written by Sarah Aarons, who wrote Zedd’s The Middle.

Jonas Blue two-times on consecutive tracks, the first with Back & Forth, billed as MK X Jonas Blue X Becky Hill (who deserves to be a bigger star), and next with Polaroid. Here he has help from Liam off of One Direction and Lennon Stella, who played Maddie in the TV show Nashville and is now using her long legs to try to have a Taylor Swift-type pop career (she’s a better vocalist than Taylor). Sigala trump both producers by enlisting, for some reason (see above), Ella Eyre AND Meghan Trainor AND French Montana: Just Got Paid has Meghan singing ‘gimme that money, money’ and it’s a song that is perfect for payday. It is functional and very little more, and is 99% Nile Rodgers.

Mr Montana gets Drake to help out on No Stylist, which is a melody attached to the ubiquitous trap beat (the one with the processed hi-hat) while Travis Scott does the same on SICKO MODE (all capitals). Oddly, Drake has no credit on the track in spite of Travis not entering it until a minute in. It’s like a James Patterson novel where the co-author has written most of it but Patterson’s name is still on it. Here, Drake fans know Aubrey from Canada is on it; looking at the Youtube entry, Aubrey Graham is listed along with (and I won’t name them all) TWENTY-NINE other writers, including Notorious BIG, whose track Gimme the Loot is sampled. I hope Travis negotiated a good contract to see money from SICKO MODE.

The big hits of the last half of 2018 include Promises, by Adam from Dumfries and Sam Smith (‘tonight!’); Hold My Girl by George Ezra, who played two dates at the O2 Arena in March (the song’s co-writer is his long-time guru Joel Pott, who was in the band Athlete); Be Alright by Dean Lewis, another hot guy emoting in musical form; the alluring Nevermind by Dennis Lloyd; and the party-starting Fine Girl by ZieZie.

The ‘it girl’ of 2018 was Cardi B. After contributing to a remix of Finesse by Peter from Hawaii (Bruno Mars), she pops up with a few bars on Girls Like You, a four-chord marvel from Maroon 5 who are doing exactly what they are told, but this time melodically and with a positive message for women. The band performed the song at the 2019 Super Bowl after Rihanna declined the offer to entertain the world at half-time. The music video, starring women as diverse as Jennifer Lopez and Sarah Silverman, was made for Youtube clicks, and the band succeeded with a US number one.

I Like It takes the old Latin hit of the same name and adds a beat to it, over which Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin join forces. It was a US number one too. Taki Taki, another example of music industry executives trying to hit every marketplace at once, is credited to DJ Snake ft. Selena Gomez, Ozuna and Cardi B. Ozuna is enormous in Latin America. Selena appears on track 21 of Disc 2 with her own song Back To You, another song which has been made to capture the trend that Zedd started off: vocal-heavy choruses, a quirky post-chorus instrumental bit and a woman singing about love and stuff.

The surprise hit of the season, which was enormous in the States, was Happier, where an ampersand joins Marshmello & Bastille. Culture is pushing the mental health trend (about fifty years too late) so we have songs that advise the listener to ‘be happier…see you smile’. The bounce of the track is addictive and Dan Smith adds a terrific vocal. Steve Mac, who co-wrote Woman Like Me and Shape Of You with Ed Sheeran, is the third writer on the track.

On Disc Two, the UK number one Funky Friday by Dave and Fredo yet again took the grime movement to the top of the charts, something not even Stormzy has done. Dave didn’t even include the song on his album Psychodrama, so confident is the Streatham-born rapper. Elsewhere in music that landed on Radio 1’s playlist in the autumn of 2018, 079ME by B Young and Body by Loud Luxury ft. brando (lower case) seemed to be played every hour. In My Mind by Dynoro & Gigi D’Agostino is a well-produced earworm. Best Life by Hardy Caprio ft. One Acen took the popular phrase ‘Living my best life’ and turned it into a hit before anyone else could, and Au/Ra and CamelPhat impressed me with Panic Room, which I first heard on a bus going to Hay-on-Wye and was pleased it had a wide audience.

It seems that it is Cheryl Tweedy’s turn to be the object of tabloid fun. She spent the first weeks of 2019 on BBC television as one of the captains (or judges) on the Greatest Dancer show. Love Made Me Do It was written by Cheryl with former Girl Aloud Nicola Roberts; Kylie Minogue and Natasha Bedingfield are also listed among its writing team. The song is forgettable fluff in which she says both the F word and the S word, and was her return to music after a few years raising her child Bear, whom she had with Liam Payne, her former partner. The Cheryl soap opera continues, as Heat Magazine reported on March 26 that the pair had ‘big plans for Bear’s second birthday party’. Was this how it was in the 1960s? Did magazines make a fuss about Julian Lennon’s birthday, or care about Carole King’s children?

As I write this paragraph I have just discovered that Britain will soon have a new Prime Minister. Brexit dominated the news in the final months of 2018, as did the American President and his cabal of advisors and friends. Amongst all this Ariana Grande continued her ‘imperial period’ (copyright: Chris Molanphy of with a release of her album Sweetener. G-D is a Woman was a song I never much cared for (breathin is far better) but it sounds like one she needed to put out; her BBC special was fine, but I’d have liked more ‘bops’, as she calls them.

Jess Glynne has become the most successful solo UK singer based on number ones. Many of these have her singing a chorus (Not Letting Go) or a looped line (My Love). All I Am is in the same key as Hold My Hand and is sung in a similar register, with some hooky parts and a killer chorus (‘I’m breaking my silence!’) that make it sound excellent in the car.

Other women on NOW 101 include Rita Ora, who seemed to be on tele all the time performing her solo comeback song Let Me Love You, which promoted her long-awaited second album Phoenix, and Sigrid. The Norwegian popstar contributes the title track of her debut LP Sucker Punch; the moment where the track drops out before the final chorus is magical. Mabel had another urban-inflected pop smash with One Shot.

We get to track 13 on Disc 1 before we meet a traditional rock band in Maroon 5. Panic! At the Disco is now pretty much lead vocalist Brendon Urie, and his/their song High Hopes did brilliantly well thanks to having a brilliant bridge, beginning ‘mama said’ and with a diminished chord on the word ‘complicated’, starting with the triumphant chorus and sticking the middle eight (‘stay up on that rise!’) next to the second verse. We’re still looking for the next Freddie Mercury, whose legacy was celebrated in the last quarter of 2018 with the PR piece Bohemian Rhapsody.

Odd, really, that there is nothing from that film’s soundtrack considering Queen’s long history with the NOW series. Instead we have a song that wasn’t good enough for Mamma Mia’s first movie, sung by four thesps on a jolly. When I Kissed the Teacher comes near the beginning of the second Mamma Mia movie, which stars Cher, whose album of ABBA covers is not represented (scandalously!!) on NOW 101. Nor is there anything from The Greatest Showman. Yet.

The eye-catching listing on Disc One is Pray For Me, by The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar, with the former sounding like Michael Jackson and the latter sounding like one of the most original voices of his era. Black Panther was one of the films of 2018 (didn’t see it, but should soon), and Kendrick was entrusted with the soundtrack, making it a phenomenon that tied up music, movies and internet culture: Wakanda and the characters in it dotted social media for months afterwards.

The 1975, led by Matty Healy, returned with TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME, which had a video much better than its title, while Take That delivered some new product in advance of their Odyssey Best Of celebrating 30 years of the band. Out of Our Heads was a ragtime-pop jam that had Gary singing in the top of his register and the other two (Howard and Mark) providing backing vocals. The band play stadium gigs in 2019 with Rick Astley; former member Robbie spent autumn 2018 on Saturday night TV debasing his legacy. He’ll always have Angels instead; maybe someone should make The Robbie Williams Story, starring Olly Murs in the title role.

Failing that, Rami Malek would do.

NOW 100 – The People’s Choice

The final curtain on this project but not the final NOW, NOW 100 is released on July 20 2018. It enters a world in which people have the option to not own the music they enjoy but to instead subscribe to a streaming service. Because of this, artists are having to go to the courts to get the money they deserve for having their work enjoyed by billions.

The big challenge of the next few years is fair compensation from Youtube, Apple Music and Spotify for songwriters in an era where nobody buys music if they can access millions of songs for free. As a songwriter myself, I will be supporting my peers and hope that ‘your songs’ can literally be your songs.

Stuart Maconie let the Radio 2 listeners choose the final entry into his People’s Songs playlist. Shrewdly we picked Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade (never on a NOW!). In the same spirit, you can take your pick from the 23 tracks from 2018 which are on NOW 100. Just 23?! Are they streamlining?

As well as announcing a CD release of the original Now That’s What I Call Music, it was revealed that NOW 100 would include songs from the decades; not just as in 1980s and 2000s, but as in NOW 1-10, NOW 41-50 and NOW 81-90. That is a great way of thinking about pop music, as the average pop act has a shelf life of three to four years, or ten NOWs.

A piece in the Observer ran in June 2018 a month before NOW 100 came out on July 20. Tom Lamont watches how the tracks for NOW 99 are selected, at the hallowed Abbey Road Studios.

‘[Jenny] Fisher brings her bag of memory sticks and printouts of a spreadsheet that lists about 65 songs for possible inclusion,’ Tom notes as ‘the cull’ starts when engineer Alex shows up to upload music to the computer. Meanwhile Steve Pritchard and Peter Duckworth wait to see that week’s chart positions, which could decide a track’s fate. As with the best mixtapes, the tracks flow from one to the other, then the jigsaw continues (‘Taylor to Bruno!…The Craig David features Bastille. We haven’t done Kylie yet.’)

It seems like an editorial conference on The Times to decide which stories have two pages and which have one, except it’s more frothy. Peter Duckworth opines on the popularity of the NOW series. ‘It’s the car,’ he correctly says. ‘The last bastion of the CD…Plus the CDs are “gift-y”. At Easter, when people don’t want to give more chocolates, they give a NOW.’

Speaking to Billboard, which celebrated the 100th edition with a piece of its own, Peter said that longevity makes NOW ‘cross-generational in its appeal. So mums and dads who had received NOW as a kid and felt nostalgic for it could then buy the album for their own kids and give their children the gift that they had loved when they were young.’

Peter even compares NOW’s effect to that of Star Wars, where parents took their kids to see the characters they had loved when they were kids. I would thus make Chris Brown and R Kelly the Darth Vaders of NOW. Robbie Williams and Kylie Mingoue are Luke and Leia; Ed Sheeran is Chewy.

I had no idea that NOW’s Christmas edition is one of the ten best-selling albums in chart history. Only six albums are ahead of it, which shows the pulling power of Jesus and Slade in equal measure. Christmas 2017 saw good sales for the first NOW Country released in the UK, which includes the likes of John Denver, Glen Campbell, Dolly Parton, Lady Antebellum and Shania Twain.

Radio 2 (naturally) broadcast a celebration of Now That’s What I Call Music as part of a show about compilations. The 1970s gave consumers the chance to buy soundalike compilations, with the songs recorded almost X Factor-style by session singers and musicians. The current team of compilers combine science and art with an objective view of what a hit is, responding to the taste of the audience who stream and download in their millions. What’s more, they are a trusted brand. ‘Even in the age of streams, people need a curator. It’s a vast forest of songs out there,’ says Peter.

Do we, as fans and consumers who can listen to a New Music Friday playlist every week to refresh the sounds and tastes in pop, need NOW? Peter Paphides, the music critic, says that NOW ‘provides some direction’ to people trying to ‘find their way in the jungle of streaming’. Mark from Westlife think the compilers do a great job picking the tracks (less so when the early Westlife tracks weren’t on them) but ‘you can’t replace A&R-ing. At some point someone has to have good taste in music.’

The songs that were chosen for Disc 2 of NOW 100 summarise pop music neatly. From the first ten NOWs come Red Red Wine by UB40 and Against All Odds (Take a Look At Me Now) by Phil Collins, perhaps as an acknowledgement that two Virgin acts were omnipresent on the early NOWs. The compilers then skip to the 1990s quarter of Wet Wet Wet (Love is All Around), Spice Girls (Wannabe), Oasis (Wonderwall) and Robbie Williams (She’s Madonna…nope, it’s Angels), who have all sold millions of albums and remain part of British culture today.

NOW 100’s second disc lays out songs by the key sonic architects of the pop era. Mutt Lange is there thanks to Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi, and Max Martin is represented by Baby One More Time and I Kissed a Girl (two-timing even on the Best of NOW!). Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars appear with Uptown Funk, Timbaland is there with Cry Me A River by Justin Timberlake, and Wyclef Jean and Shakira prove the indomitability and timelessness of the Colombian’s truthful hips.

Ed Sheeran two-times with Sing, co-written with Pharrell, and Love Yourself, his song for Justin Bieber. The compilers could not ignore the power of the beige, with You’re Beautiful, Rule The World and Viva La Vida representing James Blunt, Gary Barlow (via Take That) and Chris Martin (via Coldplay). Survivor, the Destiny’s Child song, and Can’t Get You Out of My Head represent the titanic mononymnical pair of Beyonce and Kylie.

Xenomania pop up, not with any of Girls Aloud’s classics but with Believe by Cher, 20 years old in 2018 and still sounding like the future. It is also brilliant that the compilers also saw fit to include my playlist entry for NOW 46, Reach by S Club 7, written by Dave Arch Orchestra whose arrangements of classic tunes have been delighting millions on Strictly Come Dancing in the last 15 years.

Six weeks before the compilation was released on July 20 2018, which brought my silly project to a close, ran a vote to see what the general public thought were the top tracks ever committed to NOW. A series of songs from each decade – 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s – were picked by the team over there and fans could vote on individual tracks of the decade and overall Best Song Ever. You could also pick your favourite NOW; mine was NOW 25.

Elsewhere the King and Queen of NOW were selected, as was the best band. Respectively I voted George Michael, Kylie Minogue and Spice Girls, acts who had hits in at least two, sometimes three or, in Kylie’s case, four decades. The best song of each decade according to me (end of debate.) went to Wake Me Up Before You Go Go (1980s), Baby One More Time (1990s, praise be to Max), Crazy in Love (2000s) and Someone Like You (2010s). Uptown Funk, Happy and Black Magic are all worthy winners for the 2010s and for the overall Best Song Ever, but let’s see whose fans can game the system.

For best collaboration, I lingered on Rather Be but went for George & Elton for Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me: ‘Ladies and gentlemen Mr ELTON JOHN!!’ swung it. The guys from the suburbs who took on the world are inspirations to me as I draw this Now That’s What I Call NOW project to a close today, with the final podcasts and the final slew of songs recorded for the project.

But what of Disc 1, representing summer 2018? In the podcast series I spoke about eight or nine NOWs at a time, with the final podcast separated into two: Iain Richards helped me pick tunes from NOW 91 to NOW 99 to advance to the playlist but, since we were recording in May, we predicted songs which would make the cut for NOW 100.

We got most of them, including the three number one hits One Kiss, by Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa (note the ampersand, denoting a duet rather than a ‘feature’), I’ll Be There by Jess Glynne and Shotgun by George Ezra. I think this is a country song and I am pleased to see two country acts on NOW 100, as expected. Maren Morris sings the mighty The Middle, another collaboration between producer Zedd and ‘trackmeisters’ Grey, while Florida Georgia Line are listed as being featured on Meant To Be by Bebe Rexha, which sounds like a duet to me.

Two pioneers of the ‘feature’ are present, along with Adam from Dumfries. David Guetta and Sia team up again on Flames, which was nowhere near as epochal as Titanium, while Clean Bandit enlist Demi Lovato on Solo and cut up her vocal in one of the choruses of the decade to rival their others. It is incredible that the band have not followed up their debut album yet, despite issuing a total of six songs (five of them massive hits) since the New Eyes cycle ended.

Max Martin and Ed Sheeran are here too, represented respectively by the lower-case no tears left to cry by Ariana Grande (about the Manchester bombings in 2017) and 2002 by Anne-Marie. Perfect is omitted, probably because enough people own the song and its parent album Divide. Also missing is anything by Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the people’s cellist who played at the Royal Wedding. Maybe NOW 101 will have some classical pieces on it.

Post Malone is the latest white guy to take the sounds of black music and become a millionaire: Better Now makes its way onto NOW 100, proving the compilers have their finger on the pulse. Years & Years teamed up with Greg Kurstin for their second album, whose second single If You’re Over Me went into the top ten. It is no coincidence that the album came out the week of London Pride; Olly Alexander is an openly gay frontman who may be the most important singer-songwriter of the era not to be from Tottenham or Suffolk. Shawn Mendes is so well respected that he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 People of the Year; he appears on NOW 100 with In My Blood.

Scott Mills, the new presenter of the Official Chart Show on Radio 1 after deputising for decades, announced that Youngblood by 5 Seconds of Summer was one of his songs of 2018 so far. Scott’s show often accompanies an old reference with the sound ‘WHOOOOO?’, which is never not amusing.

Elsewhere, Jonas Blue enlists Jack & Jack on Rise, the newly single Liam Payne duets (it’s an ampersand) with J Balvin on Familiar and Khalid and Normani do the same on Love Lies. Cheat Codes (whom I just looked up are three American DJs) draft in Little Mix on Only You, giving Simon Cowell a presence on NOW 100. M-22, another new name to me, is a dance duo comprising a Brit and a German (it’s like the Christmas truce!!) who bring in Medina, a successful singer from Denmark, on First Time.

The trend for piling up artists (I call it ‘orgy pop’ but nobody else will) is present: Bad Vibe, by M.O., Lotto Boyzz & Mr Eazi; Jackie Chan, by Tiesto & Dzeko featuring Preme & Post Malone, who thus two-times; and Ring Ring, by Jax Jones & Mabel feat Rich The Kid. Why is Mabel an ampersand and Rich the Kid a ‘featuring’? My friend Henry told me that the difference between an ‘and’ and a ‘featuring’ is in the essentiality of how they contribute to the track; if they are in the room when the song is written, it’s an ‘and’.

Hence the top ten hit Answerphone by (note the credits) Banx & Ranx & Ella Eyre featuring Yxng Bane, which must be the most ‘x’s in any pop song credits aside from the late XXXTentacion, whose music is too full of swear words for a NOW. Avicii is also missing from NOW 100 despite his death earlier in the year.

In a perfect bridge of then and now, four girls performing as MU4 sing the old Supremes song You Can’t Hurry Love which, in its version by Phil Collins (not Sir Phil, oddly) was track one on side one (not Disc 1) of Now That’s What I Call Music, the first volume. Helpfully the song is listed as GMB Competition Winners, which must have meant Good Morning Britain shut up the former editor of The Mirror up for long enough to allow singers to entertain the nation. The judging panel included Kimberley from Girls Aloud, A&R chap Mac Fox and X Factor icons Reggie & Bollie.

Part of the prize was to record the song at Abbey Road and have it featured on the album with ‘up to three nights in a three-star London hotel’ and £5,000 split between the performers with no other royalties ‘for the avoidance of doubt’. They also got a free copy of NOW 100. It is no surprise whatsoever that MU4 are current students at the BRIT School, which since 1992 has trained kids in the art of being a recording or performing artist. BRIT School old boys and girls to have appeared on a NOW include Katy B, Karis from Stooshe, Dane Bowers, Ella Eyre, Imogen Heap, Jessie J, The Kooks, Leona Lewis, Katie Melua, Joel Pott from Athlete, Raye, Rizzle Kicks, Kate Nash, Noisettes and the two chanteuses of pop of this century, Adele and Amy Winehouse. But not Ed Sheeran.

I have really enjoyed sifting through hundreds of tracks for this project, some of which have been lost to the ages, others rediscovered by my 30-year-old ears. I have a new appreciation for British soul and nineties dance (but NOT Cotton Eye Joe by Rednex).

I hope that one of my own songs will make it onto a NOW of the future. Here’s to the next 100 compilations and to the good health of Now That’s What I Call Music!!

Hear 12 podcasts and 100 Songs from 100 NOWs at

NOW 99: Stormzy featuring MNEK: Blinded By Your Grace (Part 2)

In 2015 Kanye West performed his song All Day (which was co-written by Paul McCartney!!) at the BRIT Awards. Behind him were figures in black who made up the UK grime scene. Dan Hancox, in his excellent new book on the genre, notes that there was ‘no way any MC would be invited to perform under their own steam’, so a major star gave them a leg-up.

By the end of 2017, grime artists had been nominated for the Mercury Prize and, in Skepta’s case in 2016, won it. Wiley was named an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours list, while his foe Dizzee Rascal had left Miami and settled in Kent. The Boy Better Know crew, including Skepta and JME, headlined the 16,000-capacity O2 Arena in South-East London, mere miles from where Wiley and Dizzee had started their beef in 2003, and Akala, brother of Ms Dynamite, was gaining more plaudits every time he spoke eloquently on the BBC. I bumped into him at the Hay Festival and had a short chat with him. He’ll be an MBE soon too, as will his sister.

The start of 2018 was dominated by another ambassador of grime. Drake’s song God’s Plan was number one until new rules about streaming forced it down the charts after ten weeks. Because NOW 99 does not include the song, it isn’t eligible for inclusion in the NOW Playlist. I have instead chosen a popstar who, like Drake and before him NWA and Snoop Dogg, sold black sounds to white audiences.

It was a tough call. I asked Fraser McAlpine which track he would choose and he sensibly went for IDGAF, the sixth single from Dua Lipa’s debut album, but thanks to a coin toss New Rules went through from NOW 98. When she was profiled in GQ magazine, Dua came across as determined to succeed. IDGAF, as in ‘I don’t give a fig’, is a fun, poppy tune that sounds great on a car stereo or at a party.

Other party bangers populating NOW 99 include These Days, on which enlist three helpers: Macklemore, Jess Glynne and newcomer Dan Caplen. The song kicks off NOW 99 and eventually knocked Drake off the top. Sigala and Paloma Faith’s top 10 hit Lullaby, and Jax Jones, with vocals by the mighty Ina Wroldsen, finds it hard to Breathe. Like Zedd, Jax Jones is growing in my estimation with every radio hit. Likewise Anne-Marie, whose song FRIENDS is a collaboration with Marshmello on which they receive equal billing; the tune is single number five from her album Speak Your Mind.

Old friends return. Taylor Swift, missing with music from 1989, released Reputation in 2017; …Ready For It makes the compilation, while her fellow female Pink had Beautiful Trauma, the second single from the album of the same name, beautifully sung.

Many tracks point to the sound of now. Camila Cabello’s follow-up to Havana is the incredible Never Be The Same, a song whose ‘nicotine’ chorus (or is it the bridge?) goes right up into the top of her range. It sounds like nothing else on the radio. Sigrid’s next single is Strangers, which is also remarkable in structure, melody and lyrics; her talent is scary. Fine Line is by Mabel & Not3s, while My Lover is credited to Not3s X Mabel, proving both that either men or women can come first these days and that Mabel has inherited her mum Neneh Cherry’s ear for a hook.

Raye, who is working with Fraser T Smith on new music, looks back to the Ashanti song Always On Time on her own Decline, another winner and a duet with Mr Eazi, a Nigerian singer. I hope more African stars make their way over to the UK, not just to play for the diaspora here but to work with Western acts.

Peter from Hawaii is dripping in Finesse, with Cardi B singing the opening rap on a remix of an album track that sounds like the best of Jam & Lewis and Teddy Riley crunched into a pop-funk granola. Craig David continues his run of hits with I Know You, a duet with Bastille where his vocals mesh with those of Dan Smith. Jason Derulo enlists French Montana to help him with the tush-shaker Tiptoe, George Ezra brings the ‘love-a, love-a’ hook on Paradise and there are appearances from Paloma Faith (Guilty), Calum Scott (You Are the Reason), Sam Smith (One Last Song, a move into 80s hair metal…nope, it’s a ballad) and James Arthur (Naked). Tom Walker had a top ten hit with Leave a Light On, a cross between Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, befitting for a track co-written with Steve ‘Shape Of You’ Mac.

Much hoohah was made when Radio X named a Top 100 Song list with 16 Oasis songs – five in the top 10 – but Oasis remain the last great rock band. Arctic Monkeys have a claim, as do Muse, Kasabian and The Libertines, but for durable acts to press themselves upon pop culture, Oasis are really the last ones. As I mentioned in the NOW 33 essay, it was all downhill from Knebworth…

Closing the compilation is catalogue, selected for wretched reasons. After the horrid attacks on Manchester in May 2017, Oasis soundtracked the city’s revival. In an eerie repeat of the choice I faced on NOW 33, Don’t Look Back In Anger was the song that made the biggest mark, but Live Forever remains an important part of their catalogue. Liam Gallagher had taken to performing the song in his live shows to promote his album As You Were; perhaps this is a compromise, as Noel wrote the tune and Liam sang it.

There are now popstars who were barely out of nappies when Oasis were playing to half a million people in Hertfordshire. Many of them make the NOW 99 tracklisting: 5 Seconds of Summer (Want You Back) and Demi Lovato (Tell Me You Love Me). J Hus (Bouff Daddy) was born in May 1996, Ramz (Barking) in February 1997, Khalid (Location) in February 1998. This makes me, at 30, feel ancient.

Dave, a young rapper who won an Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically with the seven-minute Question Time, appears on a NOW for the first time, featuring fellow rapper MoStack, with No Words. Other stars talking over beats effectively include NF (Let You Down), B Young (Jumanji), G-Eazy & Halsey (Him & I) and CLiQ ft. Alika (Wavey). Getting very rich very quickly, Post Malone was joined by Ty Dolla $ign on Psycho, while Drake features on the BlocBoy JB song Look Alive, driven by a looped piano but missing a chorus.

Dimelo by Rak-Su, featuring Wyclef Jean and Naughty Boy, was debuted on Saturday night TV: a Watford band with a Watford-based produced and a Fugee, with someone genuine and original. The debut album from the winners of The X Factor 2017 will emerge in 2018, and will build on the success of their hit, which aped the Latin influence of 2017 that Simon Cowell realised could make him some money. I preferred the Havana knock-off Mamacita.

Blinded By Your Grace (Part 2) is an anomaly on NOW 99. Its gospel feel, finger-clicking on the offbeat and massed choir outro helped bring it to the Radio 2 audience: grime had finally reached the middle of the road!

Stormzy had already had exposure on BBC 1Xtra, the urban station, with his freestyle skills and his campaign to get Shut Up to number one over Christmas 2016. In 2017, Gang Signs and Prayer emerged, an album of immaculately produced contemporary British rap songs. He appeared with David Beckham at an event for a sportswear company, made the NME apologise for putting him on the cover without his permission for a piece about mental health and was nominated for the Mercury Prize.

More than that, his BRIT Awards performance of his two big hits (this one and Big For Your Boots) gave him front-page headlines. He called out the Prime Minister on ‘the money for Grenfell’ as water poured down on him, alone at a microphone stand singing along with a choir wearing balaclavas covering their faces. It was broadcast on primetime on terrestrial television and remains one of the decade’s most brilliant performances of its kind. When he kicks into Big for Your Boots, he reminds me of the first time I heard Dizzee Rascal, but without the abrasiveness of Boy In Da Corner.

According to Dan Hancox, grime emerged through its environment, its power coming ‘from transmuting the anxiety, pain and joy of inner-city live into music’. It was a ‘sonically violent enactment of the claustrophobia of the inner city’, with a ‘collective spirit’ keeping the scene together even as it tries to expand beyond small postcodes in London.

Annoyingly live shows were tough to put on thanks to Form 696, where police could shut down an event if it posed a risk to the public; if so, they needed ‘the full names, addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth for all of the artists and promoters’ or just their passports. It seemed racist, and it was, and the form was finally rendered unnecessary in 2017, just when MPs were pledging allegiance to the grime sound.

Stormzy is Britain’s most important popstar. He represents black youth in a time where, in 2018, sixty kids were murdered 110 days into the year, and in April 2018 the Prime Minister had to apologise to anyone of West Indian descent who was worried they would be deported from the UK due to a lack of paperwork, which the Home Office were alleged to have destroyed ten years ago. Remember how I said in the last essay I have never been ashamed to be British? I am now.

In his freestyle Stormzy referenced Daniel Kaluuya, the lead actor in Get Out, a black horror film that satirised race and privilege. At the same time, actors like John Boyega and broadcasters like Clara Amfo and Julie Adenuga were visible presences in the media and arts. Riz Ahmed, who won a drama scholarship to the secondary school I attended, is one of the most promising young actors in Britain, if not the world; there is a black editor of Vogue magazine in the UK, Edward Enninful, and the model Adwoa Aboah is everywhere in fashion. At long last, and with good reason, black men and women are being allowed (which is a verb I hope doesn’t come off in the wrong way) to succeed. In 2018, however, Lil Dicky can still mine a comic seam with Freaky Friday (not on NOW 99 because it mentions a very rude word), in which a Jewish boy wakes up the body of a black popstar who is still having hits despite hitting Rihanna.

In case you are wondering if Calvin Harris has made it onto a NOW from 2018, he has: The Weekend is a collaboration with SZA. It appears he has had 30 UK top 40 hits, though this track did not chart, a standalone single.

U2 in 2018 seem like an anachronism; they haven’t troubled the UK top 10 since 2007 (their 2009 single Get on your Boots stalled at 12), but they don’t mind so much as their heyday brought them 34 hits, including seven number ones. They remain one of the world’s greatest groups, worth their status alongside The Who and The Rolling Stones as great survivors. You’re The Best Thing About Me sees them return to a NOW and it’s a perfectly fine pop song with guitars.

30 years into her own career, and turning 50 in 2018, Kylie Minogue celebrated a number one album which included the mighty, country-tinged Dancing, with the double-edged hook ‘when I go out I wanna go out dancing’. Some of the album was written by renowned country producer Nathan Chapman. Aside from a run in the late 1990s where Shania Twain emerged, country has never been ‘it’. I am confident it will have its moment in the next five years, and on NOW 99 Florida Georgia Line feature on the pileup, or ‘orgy’, song Let Me Go with Hailee Steinfeld, Alesso and Watt.

Chris Stapleton co-writes and sings Say Something with Justin Timberlake, who released his fourth album Man of the Woods to coincide with his 2018 Superbowl Half-Time Show. Stapleton’s beard is more impressive even than Rory Graham’s, aka Rag’N’Bone Man, whose song As You Are sits between Wild Love, the return of James Bay who famously wore a hat to promote his first album and equally famously didn’t wear a hat to promote his second.

Maroon 5 also linger deep on the second disc, with a tune called Wait written by singer Adam Levine with Ammar Malik (Moves Like Jagger), J Kash (collaborator with Charlie Puth) and John Ryan (most One Direction songs). Maroon 5 used to be rock and now they are pop, which begs the question: is the rock band dead or just lumbering on waiting for an asteroid to hit it?

Maybe the asteroid has ‘Michael Omari, Jr’ on it: the name Stormzy was born with.

NOW 98: Dua Lipa – New Rules

It took the toss of a coin to determine the NOW playlist entrant for NOW 98. Iain Richards tossed and it came down on Dua Lipa, with New Rules, the sixth single from her self-titled debut. It sounded like female-dominated pop in 2017 and was a much-deserved first number one that kicked the door open fully for Dua to burst through. She was on the cover of GQ Magazine soon after, in which her parents kvelled, to use the Yiddish word for being proud of their progeny.

The coin helped Dua defeat the era’s most prolific songwriter to have ever come from Suffolk. Ed Sheeran played to over 300,000 over four June nights at Wembley Stadium in 2018, cementing his status as ‘the stadium busker’ with a spreadsheet on his laptop mapping world domination.

I admire musicians who, from an early age, know what they want to do. Britain doesn’t like musicians getting too big, and so Ed from Suffolk follows in the grand tradition of people who are ‘too successful’. Chris Martin from Coldplay, Bono from U2 and Simon Cowell from TV are three men who are hugely wealthy but much mocked in culture, Martin for his lyrics and ‘uncoupling’ from his Hollywood wife, Bono for his sanctimony and Cowell for making Robson & Jerome a chart-topping duo.

Ed from Suffolk played open mic nights as a teenager, building connections, discipline and resilience while improving his songwriting. Never mind Gladwell’s Ten Thousand Hour theory, Ed created his own story, not dissimilar to The Beatles in Hamburg or Ashley McBryde’s eleven-year stint playing dive bars before having her first big hit about a dive bar.

Ed is signed to Elton John’s management company Rocket Music, can sell out Wembley Stadium over multiple nights (as Elton did in the 1970s) and shifs millions of units (as Elton did in the 1970s) full of well-written songs about love and life (as Elton did in the 1970s, 1980s and up to the present day). Record sales in the UK in 2017 show Ed far, far ahead of second place. Taking silver was Ed’s mate Taylor Swift, on whose couch Ed had surfed on a visit to Nashville.

Ed Sheeran’s music is an example of the ‘monogenre’. His music is a little bit r’n’b, a little bit urban, a little bit Top 40, but also a little bit folk and country. From the time of his first album + (or Plus), Ed was equal parts Damien Rice and Damian Marley (sorry…), rapping along to an acoustic guitar like some ginger busker who could also write political songs like Small Bump and The A Team.

On x (Multiply), Ed went stratospheric thanks to Thinking Out Loud. When I first heard the song, I messaged the song’s co-writer Amy Wadge on Twitter congratulating her on writing the Song of the Year (it was). Amy goes over to Nashville several times a year to write with American acts, a move copied by writers usually based in Los Angeles or New York City. I know friends who go to Nashville once or twice a year who then build followings on both sides of the pond. If anything, Ed Sheeran blazed the trail; he is an admirer of country band The Shires and gave them a song, Stay The Night, that made it on the duo’s third album.

On his third album Divide, Ed outsold every other album in the world. My friend Angeline bought three copies of the album to take back home to East Asia. It included two tracks released on the sixth day of 2017 which dominated not just that week, or that month, but the entire quarter. Shape of You was number one in the UK for so long that it was able to be joined by the other fifteen tracks in the UK Top 20. No performer will ever match his nine songs in one Top 10 because the Official Charts changed the rules to ensure only three songs from one album charted at any one time. Ed Sheeran literally altered pop music.

Castle on the Hill (which was on NOW 96) was the other song released two months before the album came out, a song that included a namecheck for Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. The song that was the third single was Galway Girl and is on NOW 98; it is rooted in an Irish folk instrumental written by the band Beoga, who are all credited alongside Wadge, Foy Vance, Johnny McDaid and Sheeran on the track. It’s a country song: verse one sees Ed meet the girl in Dublin on Grafton Street; verse two sees Ed get trounced at both darts and pool before watching her sing and dance (‘a cappella…using her feet for a beat); verse three sees the closing of the bar and the close of the ‘perfect night’ that goes no further.

Many people, including Laura Snapes and Ed’s record company, did not like Galway Girl. The Unbreak My Chart podcast was launched on iTunes by Laura and her friend Fraser McAlpine in 2017, but the pair rapidly realised the Top 10 was not Sheeran-proofed. In any case, Laura accepted a job as Deputy Music Editor of the Guardian so could not dedicate the time UMC deserved. Fraser McAlpine, Laura’s co-host, came up with the term ‘The Ed Sheeran Singularity’ to mark the moment.

I like Ed Sheeran as a businessman and had a realisation when I wandered around Wembley just before one of his four shows. For every girl who was walking towards the event there was a guy, usually with muscles, tattoos and an expression of ‘doing the right thing for this one’. I realised Ed’s genius was not in combining rap and acoustic music, but in marketing: every girl wanted their boyfriend to tell them they ‘look perfect tonight’, were ‘in love with the shape of you’ and ‘played the fiddle in an Irish band’ (mmm…) and Ed was the soundtrack to their romance. Though the boyfriend may not like Ed banging on about takeaway pizzas or Doritos or Van Morrison or Damien Rice, he still bought a ticket to the show, because he was ‘doing the right thing for this one’. Ed also gives a shoutout to the ‘hero dads’ at his concerts; he is a businessman of the highest order who ought to teach at the BRIT School which (little known fact) he didn’t attend. Every musician on NOW 98 can learn from Ed from Suffolk, the market leader.

Post Malone, the white version of Drake, blethers monotonously over his UK number one Rockstar, a trap song which admittedly has good production as well as rapper 21 Savage. I prefer the three-chord marvel Havana, a step up in the career of Camila Cabello, who is assisted by Young Thug. Havana is part of the trend that is the result of music executives, in time-honoured fashion, demanding more of whatever just made their company a lot of money. In the Despacito mould are Mi Gente by J Bavin and Willy William (not a good name!!) and Reggaeton Lento by CNCO (pronounced ‘cinco’) and Little Mix, on a song that is sung in English and Spanish. Say the song’s title in a strong Scottish accent and laugh for weeks…

Sticking to the script and not going Latin are the following acts: Sam Smith returns with Too Good At Goodbyes; Charlie Puth is as addictive as ever on How Long; Clean Bandit team up with Julia Michaels on I Miss You (one of their best songs); and Pink blethers on about ‘searchlights’ on What About Us, a three-chord marvel that sounded great on the radio over late 2017, which saw me the most depressed I have ever been.

I was working at this job and then ten weeks later (it’s always ten weeks later) I wasn’t. The boss was woeful, the atmosphere was morgue-like and everyone leapt up at 5.30pm to leave. In December I was late in because of snow two days running, took the third day off and was fired on the fourth day. I was annoyed as I wanted to keep the job for the sake of the CV; in the end, I realised the world was unfair and I had to stop putting myself in stupid positions just to earn money. I would write songs instead, an activity that Ross Golan has said has a 95% failure rate: if one song is written every working day of a typical month, one in 20 songs might get cut by an artist. At least I would create something while failing and not have to play office politics, a game I always tend to lose. As for recruitment agents, I hope they enjoy their commission bonuses and office Christmas parties.

Zayn Malik and Sia, who need never work again, team up on Dusk Til Dawn, a song I never liked; Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj tell Taylor Swift (not mentioned in the song) to ‘retire’ on Swish Swish, a song I never liked; Maroon 5 do whatever the record company tell them to do and duet with new star SZA on What Lovers Do, a song I never liked; Louis Tomlinson takes the lead vocal on Back To You, a pileup of Bebe Rexha and Digital Farm Animals, a song I briefly liked because of the syncopated vocal delivery.

Old friends apart from Ed from Suffolk return: Jason Derulo (If I’m Lucky), Craig David (Heartline, where he puts his ‘heart on the line’ like he did back in 2000 when he had sex for four out of 7 Days), Demi Lovato (Sorry Not Sorry), Stefflon Don and French Montana (Hurtin’ Me, WITH NO G!!) and Charli XCX, with the video game-sounding Boys.

Remember the chap who hit Rihanna in 2009? Me neither, but he appears with Questions on NOW 98, which repurposes Turn Me On by Kevin Little. More Than Friends repurposes the lyrics of Don’t Let Go (Love) by En Vogue and is credited to James Hype and Kelli-Leigh, who sings competently.

Top dance anthems from the end of 2017 include Real Life, a massive banger from Duke Dumond, NAATIONS and Gorgon City, and the fun More Than You Know, a collaboration credited to ‘Axwell /\ Ingrosso’. MK took listeners back to the early 1990s with 17, thanks to uncredited vocals from Carla Monroe. The song was co-produced by Camelphat who, along with rapper Elderbrook, was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award in 2018 with the groovy Cola.

The Killers return to a NOW with The Man, which moved towards disco; Paloma Faith offered Crybaby, one of her better songs; The Script warbled their way through Rain (which was all over Radio 2); and Rag’N’Bone Man offered more of the same with Grace (We All Try). Returning to a NOW is Liam Gallagher with Wall of Glass from his album As You Were, which became his Twitter sign-off; Twitter was invented for mouthy acts like Liam, and he has earned a lot of money since going solo and exploiting the catalogue while also introducing some new songs co-written with top writers and producers. Brother Noel once called him ‘a man with a fork in a world of soup’; his own new material from the quirky album Who Built The Moon, released in 2017 too, is missing from NOW 98.

Several acts two-time. Liam Payne yells at the listener to Get Low on one of Zedd’s less good tracks (hey, not every one can be a hit…), then sings falsetto (badly) on the awful Bedroom Floor. Rita Ora offers the slight Anywhere and sings on the excellent Avicii song Lonely Together, while Khalid comes from nowhere to offer his own Young Dumb & Broke (was I young at 29? I was certainly the other two adjectives) and Silence, a track produced by Marshmello, another anonymous dance producer who two-times with Selena Gomez purring the song Wolves, ironic since she admitted suffering terribly from lupus.

Mabel McVey, daughter of Neneh Cherry, appears with Kojo Funds on the brilliant Finders Keepers. Another new name for NOW 98 was Alma, sounding like 2017 on Chasing Highs, while in UK rap Yungen and Yxng Bane teamed up on Bestie. Also appearing was Michael Daapah, who performed as Big Shaq and sang a song that had the chorus that said he would take off his jacket but Man’s Not Hot. It was a pastiche of grime and proves that whatever genre becomes big, it was always a safe, stupid parody that sold more than the harder-edge artistry. Stormzy would have torn his hair out if he’d had any!

Over in the States Lil Uzi Vert had a hit with XO TOUR Lif3, a song that takes the Drake template and runs with it, as so many hundreds of songs in 2017 did. Far more exciting, even though there was not much melody here either, was Bodak Yellow by Cardi B, a former stripper who looks set to be the key female voice of US hiphop in the next few years.

In the post-Trumpian world, young people were more aware of the world around them. Logic and Alessia Cara team up on a very important song which uses the Suicide Prevention Hotline number, 1-800-273-8255, as its title. It seems that, in the absence of leadership from the White House, popstars were trying to educate their fans on how best to deal with the pitfalls of life, much as grime stars did in the UK.

And I almost got through this essay without mentioning Little Bit Leave It, a song that capitalised on the bromance between Chris & Kem on the stupidly popular TV show Love Island. They will always have a NOW 98 appearance, which capitalised on their 15 minutes of fame.

NOW 97: Luis Fonzi featuring Justin Bieber and Daddy Yankee – Despacito

Summer 2017 can be summarised by one word: Despacito.

You heard it the first time and thought it was fine, then it got better with each listen. Luis Fonzi’s four-chord Latin pop hit was reworked for an anglophone market and with Daddy Yankee rapping and Justin Bieber singing in Spanish, Despacito was a global smash. It equalled I Gotta Feeling’s 16 weeks at the top of the US Hot 100 and topped the UK charts on three occasions between May 18 and August 17. Its total of 11 weeks makes it one of the biggest hits of all recorded time. Tushes were shaken and Bieber had yet another number one.

The song that Despacito knocked off the US and UK number one slot is also on NOW 97. DJ Khaled was famous for yelling three phrases: ‘We The Best Music’, ‘Another One’ and, famously, his own name. His 2017 album Grateful included the likes of Beyonce, Jay-Z, T.I., Drake, Rihanna, Rick Ross, Nas, Alicia Keys, Nicki Minaj, Calvin Harris, Future, Fat Joe, Gucci Mane and his newborn son Asahd. The big song was I’m The One, a four-chord marvel with verses rapped by Quavo (‘QUAVO!!’), Chance the Rapper and Lil Wayne, while Justin Bieber showed up to sing the irritating ‘oh-way-oh’ hook. I hated the song but loved the energy of DJ Khaled, who returns in 2018 with more of the same or, as he would put it, another one.

Also on NOW 97 is the number one by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, who is no relation to any character on Coronation Street. Humble is a great song from DAMN, an album that would help him win a Pulitzer Prize for his great work with words. The song was replaced at the top by Peter from Hawaii, as Bruno Mars released the second single from 24K Magic called That’s What I Like, which had a gorgeous bridge and a tremendous middle eight.

Lady Gaga’s song The Cure, written with Willie Nelson’s son Lukas, was performed at Coachella, the festival for beautiful people in California, and released as a standalone single. Gaga headlined the 2017 Superbowl Half-Time Show, opening with a version of God Bless America pre-taped on the roof of the stadium and running through Poker Face, Born This Way, Telephone, Just Dance, the glorious A Million Reasons and Bad Romance, six hits that prove the durability of the star born Stefanie Germanotta. A horrible illness would derail her world tour, though A Star Is Born will send her back on the publicity trail in October 2018.

Justin Bieber – who will certainly headline a Superbowl show within the next three years, probably with DJ Khaled – showed up to record 2U, an execrable piece of music by David Guetta (who two-times but I’ll get to that later), while Mama bounces along thanks to Jonas Blue’s production and the vocals of William Singe. Calvin Harris put out the track Feels, as in the phrase ‘it gives me all the feels’ which idiots were saying during 2017, with vocals from Pharrell Williams (whose band N.E.R.D. returned in late 2017), Katy Perry and Big Sean, another ‘pileup’ or, as I call it, orgy. Katy two-times with the average Bon Appetit, a Max Martin track, and Max also co-writes Rockin’ (WITH NO G!!) for The Weeknd.

Clean Bandit follow up Rockabye with another great song called Symphony, with vocals from the ever excellent Zara Larsson. Anne-Marie & Mike Posner showed up on the dull Remember I Told You by Nick Jonas, which Nick wrote with Mike. Oddly, it was never released as a single and went to number 97 on streams, so why was it on a NOW if it wasn’t a hit? It just seemed to be brand awareness with a bit of a melody, something to flesh out the compilation. Nick’s fellow photogenic chap, Shawn Mendes, outdid himself with the outstanding There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back (WITH NO G!!), which is not fleshy at all and is all sinew and bone, muscular pop from a guy who has gone up in my estimation with every song he has released.

Miley Cyrus, who turned 25 in November 2017, returns with the languid Malibu. Fun fact: Billy Ray named his daughter Destiny Hope but she was nicknamed Smiley, hence Miley. She will have a terrific career now she has stopped swinging on wrecking balls, though her recent album Younger Now was not as successful as it could have been and she promoted it through a judging stint on The Voice.

Cowellpop was still going strong. Niall Horan had 2017’s biggest song on American radio with Slow Hands, a song I didn’t like at the time but appreciated enough to record a version as part of my 100 Songs from 100 NOWs project. His mate Harry Styles had a UK number one with a song that was compared to David Bowie (by idiots); Sign of the Times was long and dull and was allegedly about a mum having a difficult birth, which seems like fake news. James Arthur, meanwhile, popped up to moan his way through Sun Comes Up by Rudimental, which could have done with a better vocalist.

Olly Murs duetted with Louisa Johnson on Unpredictable and Little Mix two-time: on Power, featuring a rap from Stormzy (more on him later), they are exceedingly naughty (‘I’m a machine when I do it’), while they are poppier on No More Sad Songs, featuring a rap from Machine Gun Kelly, from Cleveland, Ohio. Future, from Atlanta, Georgia, appears on a NOW with Mask Off. He would end the year as a featured act on Endgame by Taylor Swift.

Nine writers came together to compose Swalla, a tush-shaking piece of pop from Jason Derulo featuring rappers Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign; Nicki would feature on a Taylor-baiting track by Katy Perry called Swish Swish, which is on NOW 98. Taylor’s ‘squad’, visible on social media, included Hailee Steinfeld, who appears with a song which could be sung by anyone – Most Girls, a self-empowerment song co-written with Ryan Tedder – and HAIM, who return to a NOW with Want You Back, one of very few songs led by a guitar riff on NOW 97.

Sia helped write Crying in the Club for Camila Cabello, who sings over the demo. Camila had split from Fifth Harmony, who try to keep their career going with Down, featuring Gucci Mane; Demi Lovato appears twice as a featured artist on No Promises by Cheat Codes (which is dominated by a chorus full of ‘na-na’s) and on the MNEK co-write Instruction by Jax Jones. The latter also has a rap from NOW newcomer Stefflon Don, as in ‘Stephanie from London’. Fellow UK rapper J Hus leapt out of radios over summer 2017 with Did You See, as another UK rap artist broke big with a predominantly white audience, following in the bootsteps of Stormzy.

Dance producers Martin Garrix (There For You, a duet with gay popstar Troy Sivan), Kygo (First Time, a duet with Ellie Goulding that is 99% something by The Chainsmokers, as if the world needs more of that sort of thing) and Sigala (Came Here For Love, a duet with Ella Eyre) return to a NOW, while Maggie Lindemann had her song Pretty Girl remixed by Cheat Codes & Cade. I was ambivalent about that song. I loved On My Mind by Disciples, which got my tush moving..

RAYE follows her guest vocal on Jax Jones’ big hit with her own tremendous song The Line, which shows a keen awareness of the recent output of Bruno Mars and pop music in general, making her a talent to watch. Neikid return, with help from Mimi, with Call Me, a dance-pop update on Call Me Maybe that sounds awfully like 2017. Bad Liar, the new single from Selena Gomez co-written by Julia Michaels and based on Psycho Killer by Taking Heads, was beloved by Fraser McAlpine, who helped me on the first three of my podcasts to go with this series of essays.

Along with fellow Cornish scribe Laura Snapes, Fraser presented the excellent, short-lived Unbreak My Chart podcast, which I adored listening to in spring 2017. Ed from Suffolk, whose music dominated the run of UMC and who will (at last!!) be discussed at length in the next essay, writes two songs for other people that make NOW 97. Strip That Down was a hit for Liam Payne featuring Quavo (QUAVO!) while Your Song was given, gift-wrapped, to Rita Ora. The song that was the only non-Sheeran song in the UK top ten the week Divide was released is on the compilation too: Something Just Like This took a great Chris Martin vocal and ruined it with awful squelches from The Chainsmokers.

Disc 2 kicks off with Unforgettable, a song I took a long time to warm to, by French Montana (‘Mon-TANA!’) and Swae Lee; I didn’t like the production on the vocal, until I heard it enough times and did. JP Cooper still receives a push on a NOW with the hugely melodic and whistle-tastic Passport Home, written with Jamie Hartman, who was counting his Rag’N’Bone Man money from Human.

The three members of Take That return with Giants, and it’s only fair for the compilers to include them after having Robbie on a recent NOW. I went to see the band perform the song for a BBC TV show and was struck by how professional they were, plugging their music (and appeasing Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs) and forthcoming tour on primetime TV. Gary Barlow had spent the first quarter of 2017 as a judge on his own BBC TV talent show Let It Shine, as he and his band picked young lads to play a boyband who would sing Take That songs on a musical which would also appease the taxman.

2017 was marked by two awful tragedies in quick succession. A moron broke fire at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in May, killing girls who only wanted to dance to pop music. Ariana’s song One Last Time became the rallying cry of defiance, though it was not even on her current album, and that song closes Disc 1. David Guetta co-wrote it, which I didn’t know.

Disc 2 closes with a version of Bridge Over Troubled Water by Artists for Grenfell. Stormzy opens the track with a rap that notes, ‘That could have been my mum’s house, that could have been my nephew’, while WSTRN divide the verses with a rap of their own. There are also appearances from Tokio Myers (the piano-playing BRIT school alumnus who won Britain’s Got Talent 2017), Robbie Williams (who lives just up the road from the Tower), James Blunt, Rita Ora (who grew up in the area), Bastille, Craig David, James Arthur, Labrinth, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Leona Lewis, Jessie J, Ella Henderson, Louisa Johnson, Jorja Smith, Emeli Sande, Kelly Jones from Stereophonics, Paloma Faith, Roger Daltry of The Who, Anne-Marie, Nile Rodgers and a choir of children from local schools singing almost a cappella. The song shot to the top of the charts before being dislodged again by Despacito, an accurate summation of the general mood of London and Britain as a whole in summer 2017.

I have never felt ashamed of being British – I am a British Jew whose home has always been the UK – but I came close when it became clear that the victims of the inferno in the Grenfell tower block in West London were mostly of immigrant background. I hope that the Inquiry into the deaths of innocent people will bring justice and comfort to those who lost their loved ones, though I cannot be sure of anything these days. It ought never to happen again.