Let’s have a quick look at the current OLiS, the official chart of the best-selling albums in Poland. It’s based on data from the main chain stores and compiled every week by ZPAV, the Polish Society of the Phonographic Industry. The top of the list features a few of the local hip-hop artists, followed by mainstream female singers, a few crooners, then foreign metal bands, Polish rock bands, and some compilations. A week like any other on the Polish chart, one might say.
However, to understand the specifics of the Polish market, we have to take a few steps back into the past. Listeners’ attitudes towards music albums have changed over the decades. During the communist period in the 1970s and 1980s, records were treated with great respect, because they were hard to get. With the arrival of the free market and multinational companies in the 1990s and 2000s, CD production expanded, but then piracy decreased their value. After a long legal struggle, the market stabilized, but the only real solution for the issue of piracy was introduced by the hip-hop artists. They’ve managed to connect with their listeners through their music and convince them to support their work. The high rankings of Hades, Dwa Slawy and Paluch and the presence of veterans such as O.S.T.R. and Tede prove not only their artistic success, but also a loyal fan base.
Record sales have always been influenced by the financial situation and the age of the customers. Younger listeners usually have less money, so in the past, they tended to buy illegal CDs and later download MP3s. Their interest in music was never fully reflected in the official charts, with the charts since the 2000s shaped by middle-aged citizens with an income above the national average, or simply not enough experience in using the internet.
This all contributed to the rise of mainstream female singers, represented on the current charts by Sylwia Grzeszczak, Ania Dąbrowska and Agnieszka Chylińska. On the other hand, adult listeners and the conservative audience contributed to the high rankings of more poetic artists, such as Michał Bajor, Renata Przemyk and Marek Dyjak, and various rock bands – Nocny Kochanek, Organek and the legendary Kult, selling thousands of records.
The significance of albums in Poland is also hard to define due to the absence of singles on the market. So far, only one chart, Lista Przebojów Programu Trzeciego, has been run for over 35 years by the Polish Public Broadcaster. In the beginning, listeners voted for their favourite songs by sending postcards, then by calling, and later by SMS or e-mail. A few commercial radio stations still try to compete, but their shows have never reached comparable popularity and lacked a distinct character.
They did, however, manage to exploit the influence of radio on audiences while creating playlists, and thus found a replacement for singles by releasing compilations. These were the best-selling albums of the 2000s, but just a few remain on the current chart – music for Valentine’s Day from the main retailers, best songs from the tour sponsored by the biggest Polish brewery, most popular movie hits from the radio station with classical music.
So what do the music charts today say about Poland? If we compare the playlists and charts of various commercial radio broadcasters, then Polish taste in music doesn’t seem to be too different from other European countries, where people also like to listen to Adele, Ed Sheeran, The Weeknd, Sia, Rag’n’Bone Man, LP and local pop-rock artists. But if we focus only on the official album chart, then we get more a conservative snapshot of the nation, with listeners preferring Polish artists to international stars, listen to rock rather soul, funk, R&B or club music, and the biggest, most faithful audience belongs to Polish hip-hop.