Hurts – Stay
Ah, the ballad. Adele notwithstanding, the slowie seems like a long forgotten art form at the top end of the singles chart. It would appear that – funereally paced cover versions aside *cough* Calum Scott *cough* – we don’t have the patience for anything under 110 BPM these days.
This is a thing that has been going on for a while now, so in 2010 it seemed a little strange that potentially exciting new duo Hurts had decided to release a ballad as their third single. Of course this used to be standard pop procedure – two uptempos and then a slow one, often just in time for Christmas (and potentially bonanza album sales). But for Hurts – who seemed to operate on a ‘what would Pet Shop Boys do?’ basis, it perhaps wasn’t quite so odd. Of all the new crop of pop acts who appeared early in the new decade, they seemed to have the most fully realised vision of how they wanted to be presented and marketed – and it had worked, to a degree, with their debut album Happiness scoring a top 5 debut. But as was true of quite a lot of acts around this time, scoring a hit single would prove to be more difficult. Wonderful Life, which had been released to launch the album, made no.21 – an improvement on the no.50 peak of the first single, Better Than Love – but it wasn’t the sizeable hit many were expecting it to be.
So, come the third single from the album, what did the synth pop duo choose? Of all things, a ballad – Stay. Completely the right choice if you were a big pop act in the 80s or 90s but probably not so smart if you were still trying to establish your fanbase and break out in 2010.
Despite this, I was rather happy about it: Stay was my favourite song on the album. Evoking memories of those big wintry ballads that used to come out as Christmas approached, the song starts off with a simple vocal from singer Theo Hutchcraft, joined by band mate Adam Anderson on piano. My write up might make the song sound boring but this ballad is anything but. Hutchcraft leads us up to the bridge then, for a fleeting moment, everything falls away just before we head into the chorus.
And what a chorus it is. A slow beat kicks in and Hutchcraft sings of the kind of break up that happens a lot in songs, but not so much in real life (it’s more likely to be in a McDonalds) – “We say goodbye in the pouring rain / And I break down as you walk away”. What gets me every time, though, is the choir: belting out “Stay! Stay!” with absolute tenderness and a gorgeous hint of slight desperation. Just that simple four letter word repeated twice conveys everything you need to know about this song. It works so fantastically and it’s no wonder that Stay – and in particular this bit of it – produces such a reaction from the crowd when it’s performed live.
Despite knowing the gloriousness of the chorus, you don’t spend the second verse wishing they would just get on with it (always the mark of a good song, that) – and even the middle eight is a thing of wonder, seeming like it’s building up to something huge before cutting away beautifully to just Hutchcraft, quietly pleading “So change your mind / And say you’re mine / Don’t leave tonight / Stay”. This breakdown (an almost literal one) leads to the final rousing chorus that anyone with an ear for pop has been expecting – the choir kicks back in spectacularly, Anderson ups the epicness on the piano and Hutchcraft flexes his vocals to raise the emotion to begging level (“as you wallllllllk away”) – it’s truly gorgeous.
Of course, 2010 being what is was, radio didn’t especially bother with Stay and the initial flurry of media interest in Hurts seemed to have evaporated somewhat. Without a fully established fanbase, what should have been this generations’s Stay Another Day only managed to equal the no.50 peak of their debut – and thus far it’s proved to be the duo’s last dalliance with the UK top 50 in their own right. Thank heavens, then, for Germany and Austria, both of whom sent Stay into their respective top fives.
Entered chart: 27/11/10
Chart peak: 50
Weeks on chart: 1
Who would sing this today and have a hit? If any of the One Direction boys were going to do an emergency ballad, they wouldn’t do badly with this – though they might struggle to convey the same sense of emotion and loss.