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Here’s an interesting music stat for you. Taylor Swift was the top artist of 2022 according to global industry body the IFPI’s analysis of sales and streams, but she doesn’t make it onto the same organisation’s chart of the top 20 singles for that year.

That’s a testament to the success of her overall back catalogue, as well as the sales and evenly-spread streams of her latest album ‘Midnights’. The IFPI’s singles chart is a barometer of the biggest individual tracks of the last year. Or, as we’ll find out, of the last three years…

The 2022 rankings, released this afternoon, are topped by Harry Styles’ ‘As It Was’ with 2.28bn ‘global subscription stream equivalents’. It was the clear winner on that metric ahead of second-placed ‘Heat Waves’ by Glass Animals’ with 1.75bn, and third-ranked ‘Stay’ by The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber with 1.74bn.

(The wording of the metric may be slightly misleading. The calculations include streams on both paid subscription streaming services and ad-supported (free) ones, as well as single-track downloads. It’s just that it’s all been converted into a number for the equivalent paid streams.)

The chart illustrates some other current industry trends. Four of the top 20 tracks are performed mainly in Spanish: a reflection of the global success enjoyed by artists Bad Bunny, Farruko and Karol G.

Kate Bush’s Netflix-fuelled success with ‘Running Up That Hill’ is also reflected in the rankings: it was the 16th biggest track of 2022 by the IFPI’s reckoning, with 1bn global subscription stream equivalents.

The chart also shows the long lifespan of some of the streaming era’s big hits. Specifically those by The Weeknd. He released his ‘Blinding Lights’ single in November 2019, and it was subsequently crowned by the IFPI as the biggest digital single of 2020 with 2.72bn subscription stream equivalents that year.

‘Blinding Lights’ continued to be streamed in droves, and placed seventh in the IFPI’s chart for 2021 with another 1.61bn subscription stream equivalents. Did it drop out of the chart for 2022? It did not.

‘Blinding Lights’ was the 16th most popular track last year with 1.01bn subscription stream equivalents. Meanwhile, The Weeknd’s ‘Save Your Tears’, which topped the 2021 chart, was still the fifth most popular track of 2022.

The Glass Animals track is another interesting example in a different way. ‘Heat Waves was originally released in June 2020, but (unlike The Weeknd’s hits) took its time catching fire on streaming services, Placing second in the IFPI’s rankings for 2022 shows its slow-burning popularity.

Today’s chart announcement also enables us to compare the scale of the biggest hits, collectively, to previous years.

The top 10 global tracks in 2020 – the first year the IFPI used the global subscription stream equivalents methodology – collectively generated 17.13bn of those. That grew to 17.7bn in 2021, but has taken a big dip to 14.55bn in 2022.

We’ll steer clear of making any grand claims about the biggest hits being less popular based on a single year-on-year comparison, but it’s something to watch for the future.

2021 may be an outlier, in that all of the top 10 tracks that year were streamed more than 1.5bn times, whereas in 2022 only the top two beat that milestone.

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