When is a No.1 album not a No.1? It’s a question that’s been dominating a host of think pieces since Nicki Minaj's recent tirade at Spotify and Travis Scott.
A quick recap: the rapper claimed the streaming site reacted to her Beats 1 show by torpedoing the rollout of her new album Queen (which they refuted), and maintained that Scott kept her off the top spot in America by selling merch/tour bundles with unredeemed albums (which many noted she also employed). "He knows he doesn’t have the #1 album this week," said Minaj. "I love my fans for the #1 album in AMERICA!”
Interestingly, rather than focusing on ye olde narratives of Apple vs Spotify brinkmanship, or even the various tactics by which No.1s can be attained, many articles instead interrogated what the top spot even means in 2018. Some argued that –bar bragging rights– Minaj would have gained nothing from reaching the chart summit that she didn’t get from being No.2: she still garnered critical acclaim and big first week numbers. Such commentators stressed that adhering to a Talladega Nights “If you ain’t first, you’re last” philosophy is a dangerous trap for an artist to fall into.
Whichever side you take, here's the thing: Nicki Minaj's passion for a No.1 is definitely healthy for the charts
But perhaps there's another reason for this. In the age of the so-called "uber artist" dominating consumption-based charts, couldn't the case be made that even the lofty No.1 has now become something of a glass ceiling? In the post-Ed Sheeran, post-Drake world, the true test of a No.1 seems to be the number of weeks, if not entire calendar months, you hold onto it for.
Yes, the charts will always reflect who is the most successful on any given week, but as many a rock band would tell you, chart positions do not necessarily a long careereth make. How important is one No.1 – and its tangible impact – if it constitutes a mere momentary disruption of one artist’s or film soundtrack’s hegemony? The answer, perhaps, is as much or as little as one artist makes it.
But whichever side you take, here's the thing: Minaj's passion for a No.1 is definitely healthy for the charts: it inspires a competitive spirit that gets people excited about music. The top spot is dead. Long live the top spot.