Artists for Grenfell – A Closer Look at the Song’s Success

A few weeks ago, the group Artists for Grenfell shot to the number one spot with ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, a cover released to raise money for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. Following the song’s rise and fall in the UK charts, Impact takes a closer look at the biggest charity single of 2017.

‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is a classic song, prime fodder for a charity single. However, although well-meaning, the performance here is over-hammed and at points even cheesy. The song’s success, then, has little to do with its quality, but speaks volumes about the enormous impact that the tragedy had.

Where the single breaks from tradition is where it shines: starting with a brilliant verse from Stormzy that’s both candid and thoughtful. Lines like “that could’ve been my mum’s house / Or that could’ve been my nephew” really hit home – especially for students remembering that 30 people from Nottingham Trent were recently evacuated from their accommodation after similar cladding was found there.

“The elephant in the room here is why this song is even necessary.”

In fact, Stormzy outshines every other performer on the track. That’s no mean feat when he’s up against the likes of Leona Lewis, Robbie Williams and Paloma Faith.

The cut-and-paste production style means everyone appears at their most over the top, and while some do pull it off (for example, James Arthur), the overall effect is dry and unnatural. Roger Daltrey, for example, is apparently here to appeal to the dad-rock demographic, but he sounds totally absurd hamming it up to 11.

This isn’t as gently uplifting as the Simon & Garfunkel version, and it’s far less rousing than Elvis Presley’s effort. The instrumental is rudimentary: even Nile Rodgers (of Chic) sounds totally anonymous on guitar. The song was clearly recorded in a hurry, which is understandable, given the nature of the tragedy and the need for immediate aid.

The elephant in the room here is why this song is even necessary. The disaster was avoidable, and the blame has been clearly laid at the government’s door, thanks in part to their excessive budget cuts. But heavy focus on the investigation rather than sharing the spotlight with the survivors, means that enough isn’t being done for the victims.

We now find ourselves in a situation where a Simon Cowell charity single is doing the government’s work for them: charity starts and ends at home.

“A charity single needs to be properly good if it’s going to have a real, long-term impact.”

In two days, the single earned over £200,000, shifting 120,000 in combined sales, and had the biggest opening day of any single in the last decade. It even outsold the unstoppable ‘Despacito’ by 40,000 copies. This is the second time Bieber’s been knocked off the UK top spot by a charity single, after he told fans to buy up the NHS Choir’s ‘A Bridge Over You’ for Christmas in 2015.

However, the success didn’t last long. After only two weeks, the song sank to number 18. In contrast, Cowell’s last effort ‘Helping Haiti’ stayed at number 1 for two weeks before only dropping as far as number 9. In the age of streaming, where the charts reflect not just what people buy, but what they listen to, a charity single needs to be properly good if it’s going to have a real, long-term impact.

Simon Cowell’s pulled in an all-star cast for an important cause, raising a great amount of money, but after its initial success the song has fallen flat. In the future, charity singles will need to change. They’ll need to be better than this.

Mick Fitzpatrick

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Featured image courtesy of ‘ChiralJon’ via Flickr.

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