Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss NAV's 'Bad Habits' No. 1 Debut on the Billboard 200
4/2/2019 by Billboard Staff
Nav attends A$AP Mob Yams Day 2019 at Barclays Center on Jan. 17, 2019 in New York City.
Following a short-lived retirement at the beginning of 2019, Canadian rapper-singer NAV emerged in March with sophomore LP Bad Habits -- which is now the No. 1 album in the country, topping the Billboard 200 albums chart with 82,000 equivalent album units moved.
While the XO signee has long been the subject of Internet derision for perceived coattail-riding and general celebrity thirst in his music and public life, the Bad Habits debut would seem to be incontrovertible proof that he has more of a built-in fanbase than he's usually given credit for. But what other factors might be at play behind his debut? And has the album changed our opinion of NAV as an artist at all?
Billboard staffers debate these questions and more in this week's Five Burning Questions.
1. All right: Scale of 1-10, how surprised are you to be talking about NAV having the No. 1 album in the country this week?
Josh Glicksman: 8. In the spirit of March Madness mayhem, which keeps rolling into April, let’s draw a few comparisons -- Bad Habits is certainly not a Cinderella story, folks. Sure, NAV isn’t a top seed in the rap game, but it’s not like he pulled off any sort of major upset here, either; Jenny Lewis deserved much better numbers for her excellent On the Line, which will resurface on plenty end of year lists, but it was never a serious contender to top the Billboard 200. NAV nabbing the No. 1 is more so a circumstance of a lack of serious competition in the past few weeks than anything else. Basically, Bad Habits won the NIT.
Bianca Gracie: 8. I really can’t believe we’re having this conversation right now! I thought Rich the Kid would’ve taken the crown when The World Is Yours 2 dropped on the same day, especially because his last effort debuted at No. 2. But I’ll give NAV a small benefit of a doubt. Other than Rich, he didn’t have much competition in terms of album releases (Netflix’s The Dirt soundtrack wasn’t going to make a dent.) And his previous album peaked at No. 8, so I guess it's not a total stretch he'd jump to No. 1 with his sophomore set?
Ross Scarano: 8. I know it’s the wild west out here and that there are various ways to go about getting a No. 1 album, especially in the early part of the year, when competition is less stiff. Maybe I’m foolish to underestimate the strength of a VLONE merch collab, but yes, I am surprised.
Andrew Unterberger: 6. I wouldn't have predicted it, but once I heard it was even a possibility it seemed almost pre-determined. On the charts as in all other walks of life, sometimes it just comes down to who wants it more.
Christine Werthman: I'd say a solid 7. I didn't realize that people were listening to this album that much. Though perhaps it should've been a 3, because, really, what was his competition? Rich the Kid had a respectable showing but wasn't going to knock him down, Ariana Grande is still sitting at No. 2, and it's too soon for those Billie Eilish numbers to come through yet, right?
2. What do you consider the biggest factor behind the chart success of Bad Habits?
Josh Glicksman: Adding a deluxe version of the album with eight new songs in the middle of the week certainly didn’t hurt. The newly tacked on tracks brought the project’s grand total to a whopping 24, allowing NAV to benefit supremely from streaming numbers. It’s hard to fault the rapper-singer for deploying the oft-used strategy to his success -- considering that 30 percent of all U.S. music streams were either R&B or hip-hop in 2018, there’s no reason to avoid using that data to his advantage. Of course, it’d be ignorant to disregard the role that features from heavyweight names like Future, Young Thug, The Weeknd, Meek Mill and Gunna played in accomplishing the feat as well.
Bianca Gracie: Two words: Abel Tesfaye. The Weeknd is a Billboard chart regular, with three No. 1 LPs under his belt, as well as a respected figure among his hip-hop and R&B colleagues. So if it wasn’t for him making his debut as executive producer for the album, I’m sure it wouldn’t reach this position -- especially not this fast. Along with Tesfaye lending his immense popularity to his XO Records labelmate -- I don’t know whether to classify that as pity or enthusiasm -- the features also play a role. NAV scored a slew of current rap favorites for the record (Meek Mill, Gunna, Young Thug and Lil Durk), whose notable streaming numbers surely rubbed off on these sales.
Ross Scarano: VLONE. NAV’s friendliness, which is how I understand his star-studded list of features. (Other rappers must just enjoy hanging with NAV.) His XO affiliation. His taste in beats, which make Bad Habits an easy, homogenous listening experience, like if RapCaviar featured NAV on every song. I can’t unbraid those factors from each other to champion just one.
Andrew Unterberger: Hard to say "streamability" without getting flashbacks to some truly unconscionable Bud Light ad campaigns, but that does appear to be the ticket here. Light, melodic and unobtrusive, NAV made the perfect 16-track hip-hop album to hit play on and never once be bothered enough to move away from -- and then to be on the safe side, he piled another eight tracks on top of that for a late-arriving Deluxe edition. Them streams add up, and for Bad Habits the sum was 57,000 streaming equivalent album (SEA) units, more than enough to make it the album to beat on the BB200 this week.
Christine Werthman: Hate listens? Kidding, kidding. Kind of. I think that all the flack I saw NAV catching on Twitter inspired me to give the album a listen. Any kind of press -- or publicity on social media -- is good press, I suppose, and I'm sure that a lot of people who were not fans before tuned in because they wanted to hear what all of the Twitter fuss was about.
The surprising conclusion is that, once you listen to Bad Habits, you realize it's not a wholly objectionable listen — at least if you don't listen to the lyrics, which range from lazy ("Stackin' my racks, dawg, do you got my back, dawg? / Cover my back, dawg, yeah") to embarrassing ("I'ma throw a private ceremony, me and money gon' elope") to eerily possessive ("Bought her a bust down Patek, now that girl is stuck with me/ I brought you to where you at, don't you turn your back on me"). But the production is sort of woozy and late-night enough that if you turn down the volume, it kind of sounds like a lighter version of something from Drake or the Weeknd -- like OVO Kidz Bop.
3. Rap Twitter tends to have a field day clowning on NAV -- do you think he deserves it? And does Bad Habits change your opinion about that at all, one way or the other?
Josh Glicksman: In general, it’s hard to say that anyone “deserves” to be clowned on Twitter -- obvious exceptions excluded, of course. With that being said, Bad Habits is chock full of one-liners that don’t do NAV any favors. On “Habits,” the 29-year-old boasts (??), “I was hot when I was broke, but now you look at me, I’m icy/ Now when I go to the club, they don’t look at my ID/ Gotta make sure that my gang is right beside me.” Bragging that he no longer gets carded is a tough flex to buy for someone about six months away from entering his 30s. Congrats on getting your whole crew in the club, though -- a true sign of a good friend.
Bianca Gracie: I first heard of NAV on Travis Scott’s criminally underrated "Beibs in the Trap" in 2016, but little did I know that collaboration was going to be the highlight of his catalog. Canada has gifted us with droves of talented rappers in recent years, but NAV isn’t one of them for me. He relies on Auto-Tune way too much without attempting to use it in a new or interesting way and, his bars are just so lazy. I can’t tell if he’s being serious or if he’s just trolling us all, but I’m here for the ongoing roast sessions! And no, this album won't change my mind, nor will any project that follows.
Ross Scarano: “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” It’s the attention-based economy, baby -- and Nav is getting attention with every joke. Maybe he’s grateful. Bad Habits, which includes the line, “Sober I will never be, off the pills I'm cuddly,” has not changed my opinion about NAV.
Andrew Unterberger: He deserves it in that I have to imagine he's actively courting it in some ways at this point -- and if not, he's certainly not running from it, anyway. Bad Habits doesn't change my opinion of him as a punchline, but it helps me understand how he sorta uses it to his advantage: He doesn't mind if you can see his machinations at work, as long as they are in fact working. He's laughing all the way to the bank -- who cares who else is laughing too?
Christine Werthman: Listen, I don't condone bullying. But if you want to make fun of NAV for his music, Bad Habits would support your cause.
4. Tell us one thing you like about Bad Habits.
Josh Glicksman: It gives us new material from Meek Mill, The Weeknd, Young Thug, Future, Gunna and more. Despite the fact that NAV struggles to hold his own with any of the big name features, the talented guest list provides a nice change of pace in an otherwise monotonous project and gives Bad Habits some newsworthy buzz. It’s a Catch-22 for NAV: There’s very little chance he grabs the top slot without the big name features, but it also feels like he’s not even the main artist on at least five tracks on the album.
Bianca Gracie: This question forced me to actually sample the album in its entirety, which my ears do not appreciate. But I’d say the strongest point of Bad Habits is Meek Mill’s feature on “Tap.” He flows effortlessly on the moody trap production, and also gives us a fun What a Time to Be Alive reference with my favorite line: “I got bands for real, diamonds on me, they dance for real/ All these sticks and drums, banging like we in a band for real.”
Ross Scarano: I think that Young Thug admitting he’s sexually attracted to his aunt is perverse and brave.
Andrew Unterberger: I mean honestly, I kinda dig how low-intensity this album is. It's downright hilarious that a song called "Price on My Head" (with The Weeknd moaning "Night when I rest, with a knife by my bed/ I'm so paranoid, I'ma sleep when I'm dead" on the hook) could be so chill. When the lyrics don't get in the way, this is perfectly ideal zone-out work listening.
Christine Werthman: The Young Thug appearance. Also hearing the line "Skrrt skrrt Prada skirt" on "Vicodin" made me laugh.
Juice WRLD photographed on Feb. 13, 2019 in Los Angeles. Read More Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Juice WRLD's 'Death Race For Love' No. 1 Debut
5. What's your favorite moment from Pitchfork's "Lunch With Nav" piece?
Josh Glicksman: NAV going off about the paparazzi not taking his picture and then immediately dismissing the idea that he cares too much about outside validation. His reputation is all he cares about, and I just wish that he’d admit that -- because sometimes we all need that validation. Like in high school, I bought this pair of electric blue sneakers that I thought were a no-doubt hit. When no one complimented those kicks, I tried to brush it off like I didn’t care, either. But it bothered the hell out of me. And now those electric blue Nikes are stashed away somewhere forever -- which is a damn shame because those kicks were fire, NAV.
Bianca Gracie: His whining about TMZ not snapping a picture while he’s trying to stunt in front of Delilah with his Lambo truck -- that’s such a hypebeast thing to do! I wouldn’t be surprised if he was rocking some custom Supreme during the fiasco. The line “All my jewelry on and they don’t even take one picture” pretty much tells you everything you need to know about why he gets dogged on so much.
Ross Scarano: Tough call -- shout out to Alphonse -- but reading it again, I love the detail about how he’s overdressed for lunch, temperature-wise. Who among us hasn’t forgone comfort and kept on too many layers to preserve the integrity of a fit? Perhaps what fuels the jokes is the sense that Nav is closer to us than we care to admit, that if we were to suddenly come into possession of a Metro Boomin beatpack and professional guidance from XO, we would fail to appear cool enough too. Is he the ultimate expression of relatability as widely sold by Drake? Have you also fumbled when attempting to separate the cap from the truth? Do we resent NAV because we are NAV?
Andrew Unterberger: NAV shrugging off his haters between bites of shrimp tempura and tuna tartare: "It’s online from somebody with 10 Instagram followers, on private, with a dog picture display -- they don’t matter.” Got 'em/us.
Christine Werthman: His threat to his friends that if they didn't get this album right, then the "big dinners are f**king done.”
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers on Billie Eilish's Staggering Debut Week For 'When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?'
4/8/2019 by Billboard Staff
If you had any doubts that 17 year old alt-pop sensation Billie Eilish had already become one of the most impactful new artists of her generation, the first-week totals for March's When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? -- still technically her debut album -- should put those to rest.
When We All Fall Asleep moved 312,000 equivalent album units in its debut week, easily debuting atop the Billboard 200 albums chart and marking the second-biggest week for any album this year, behind the opening frame for Ariana Grande's Thank U, Next. (Eilish also becomes the first artist born in the 21st century to score a No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and the youngest artist to top the chart since Shawn Mendes in 2015.)
It's a lot to take in for an artist who most of us were largely unfamiliar with just two or three years ago, and leads to a lot of questions about where the left-of-center breakout artist fits in today's current pop landscape. Below, Billboard staffers try to make sense of it all by answering five of those questions.
1. Are Eilish's first-week sales numbers about what you'd expected?
Tatiana Cirisano: Billie has catapulted to celebrity status so quickly that, leading up to this album, I was still trying to unravel whether Billie-mania is a niche craze or more widespread phenomenon. Given the buzz around Billie’s debut and her recent moves on the Hot 100, I expected a big first week for the album, and figured she'd be a lock for No. 1 -- but these kind of record-smashing sales numbers, I did not see coming. The debut puts her just below par with megastar Ariana Grande, the only artist with bigger first-week sales this year. I wouldn’t say I’m shocked, but I am surprised.
Stephen Daw: Color me completely unsurprised. With every release of a single leading up to the album, I watched as the Billie Eilish train picked up more and more steam on social media, in the press, album streams and sales, and just simple word of mouth. Her fanbase not only has the makings of yet another terrifyingly well-organized stan militia, but they have been exceptionally good about getting the word out on Billie. She may not have the kind of radio presence to explain the prominence of these numbers, but she is one of the only artists that I have seen people talk about nonstop since her album drop.
Gab Ginsberg: Yes! Eilish feels something like the biggest artist in the world right now, and there’s no way this first week was going to be anything less than massive. Items in her wildly popular Blohsh merch line were bundled with digital album, which likely gave her a boost, and recent appearances at SXSW and on The Ellen Show (as both a performer and interviewee, the latter of which is rarer for artists) helped her gather momentum. Here’s what I didn’t expect, given the supposed age demographic of Eilish’s fanbase: 170,000 were in album sales, and a whopping 15,000 in vinyl. That impressed me, for sure.
Chris Payne: Billie is such a massively hyped artist without much commercial history; I don't think any number would have really shocked me, if you know what I mean. 500,000 units? Sure! The little bit of backstory offered plenty of clues to points towards such a success -- like the album being announced with plenty of lead time, all the exposure she had on the big streaming services, and how so many of her old tracks would linger in the Spotify top 200 songs chart long after their release.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, for at least the last half-year, Billie Eilish has been pretty firmly in Always Bet The Over territory. When an artist's popularity doesn't seem to waver much from release to release, and when every new song seems to serve as a rising tide to lift up all their own songs, those are pretty sure signs that something pretty massive is going on with them. Once "Bury a Friend" spiked to No. 14 on the Hot 100 -- almost certainly the weirdest non-hip-hop top 20 hit we've had in recent years -- all bets were pretty much off anyway. 2. Are you comfortable at this point referring to Eilish as a "pop star," full stop?
Tatiana Cirisano: I’d be quicker to label her disruptive brand “anti-pop star" -- but if we’re talking in terms of success metrics, then totally. She’s selling out arena stages, racking up Hot 100 hits and influencing the listening habits and style choices of a generation. Check her 17 million Instagram followers and counting, or better yet, listen to the glass-shattering screams coming from fans at her shows. How we define a pop star is definitely changing (Billie has little in common with, say, Britney Spears), but I’m comfortable referring to Billie as the 2019 version of the form.
Stephen Daw: What even is a “pop star” anymore? Yes we have our Ariana Grandes and our Demi Lovatos of the world, but I feel like in the last few years, the definition of what makes a person fit this label has only become more vague. So, when I see all of these different headlines saying that Billie is “redefining” what being a pop star means, I don’t really agree. She is undeniably a star, and she is making pop music -- albeit very dark, moody pop music -- so technically, she is a pop star. But it also seems like she is trying to bypass that label, and all labels in general.
Gab Ginsberg: Yes, though it seems wrong to not throw “anti” or “unconventional” in front of it. Eilish makes pop music, sure, but she also makes dubstep-tinged trip hop and spooky alt-rock. She’s aware of the pop spectrum, but is not interested in its limits, so she simply borrows what she needs when the song calls for it. The term “star” applies either way; one need look no further than her carefully curated aesthetic (see: edgy streetwear fits) and staggering amount of social media followers. I do think “pop star” applies more than any other classification at the moment.
Chris Payne: Yeah, that's the only way to go. Her whole vibe is definitely weirder than most of the other artists you'd call pop stars in 2019, but in commercial numbers she's right there with that crowd, even lapping some of them already. Sonically and visually, she might scan as more "alt" or "indie," but out in the real world she has has more in common with Ariana, Halsey, Post Malone, Khalid, etc.
Andrew Unterberger: Well, one person who definitely isn't comfortable with it is Billie herself. But most artists tend to shirk labels -- they're really more helpful to us than to them -- and eventually an artist gets so popular that there's nothing else to call them anyway. Worth noting, though, that perhaps there's a different label for Eilish that some people (like oh I dunno Dave Grohl) would argue is more accurate: Rock star. Musically, she doesn't totally fit into one or the other, but in terms of edge, personality, and general excitement of the new and unknown and potentially dangerous, the latter is probably the slightly more comfortable lineage to slot her into.
3. Much has been made about Eilish's singular appeal to the teens of the world. As a post-teen, tell us one thing about her that you still find particularly compelling or relatable, and one thing about her you don't get at all.
Tatiana Cirisano: Billie’s unflinching honesty is one of the most compelling things about her, regardless of the listener's age. She’s courageously open about her struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts (on songs like "Bury a Friend" and "Listen Before I Go"), and while celebrities have been breaking the taboo around mental health for a while now, I don’t know anyone whose lyrics are as starkly honest about those things as Billie’s. But it’s not just her willingness to share the darker parts of her psyche that makes her relatable -- she’s also just unabashedly a weirdo, in all the best ways, whether she’s professing an addiction to burritos, sticking a Sharpie up her nose or yodeling in the car. I don’t totally get the bored-to-death eyes she does in every single photo -- a stunt she’s kept up for years! -- but the more Billie establishes her anti-establishment aesthetic, the more I’m warming up to it.
Stephen Daw: As one of our staff’s more recent graduates from the esteemed school of Puberty, Pimples and Adolescent Angst, I can relate to a lot of what she’s doing: the attitude, the memes, the content of her songs, it all speaks to me. But it’s her refusal to add more definition to who she is or what she does that I find so endlessly interesting, because it so closely resembles the way that teens everywhere are basically giving up on labels of any kind. It infects pretty much every part of her public persona -- she doesn’t wear typically “feminine” clothing, her music straddles multiple different genres, and we literally just debated the question of whether or not she’s a “pop star.” That specific kind of non-conformity is really appealing to me.
That being said, I really can’t get behind her video with the spiders. That’s extra and I’m not here for it.
Gab Ginsberg: I definitely respect her authenticity. She calls the shots on everything from her personal style to her video treatments, which I find cool no matter what age you are, but the fact that she’s so self-assured at 17 years old is especially admirable. The one thing I don't get: her friendship with Bhad Bhabie.
Chris Payne: I connect to... her love of The Office? JK! I actually am not a big fan of the later seasons, and the "My Strange Addiction" sample is from season seven, so I guess that makes me a Certified Old. (There was a "classic" Office episode in 2011?!?!)
Andrew Unterberger: Agreed about The Office -- I can barely even watch the episodes of that show that I thought were good the first time around anymore. And perhaps more pressingly, Billie's presumed Instagram excellence is totally lost on me, a relative social media luddite. But musically, there's actually not a ton here I don't understand pretty well, even as a 30-something: Not to take everything back to the Alternative Nation days, but the first time I heard the growling drop on her EP track "Copycat," Eilish clicked with me instantly, the way top 40-subverting alt artists of my youth like Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins did back in the day. I haven't lost the thread with her since.
4. Elish's success as a singles artist has been building very slowly for the last few years, and seems to be hitting an early peak in 2019. But ten years from now, which song from When We All Fall Asleep do you think will be the best-remembered?
Tatiana Cirisano: “Bury a Friend.” It’s the epitome of a Billie Eilish Song, a recipe four years in the making: haunting; indulgent; bass-heavy yet delicate; cross-genre; dark as hell; somehow still a dance club banger. As such, it’s the most sonically-daring song on the album, making it all the more impressive that she pulls it off. But most importantly, the single was our first introduction to When We All Fall Asleep -- not counting the singles released from it before we even knew the album would be a thing -- establishing its woozy, delirious world inspired by night terrors and lucid dreams, and alerting listeners that, yes, things are going to get weird. Everyone I know had a different slightly different reaction on their first listen (mine: I am terrified and I like it!!), and its release is a moment I think we’ll all remember.
Stephen Daw: I genuinely love a lot of the songs on this album, but “Bury a Friend” is the only one, for me at least, that has spawned the most conversations and debate. It has the exact kind of unsettling vibe that perfectly encapsulates the album’s spooky is-it-a-dream-or-a-nightmare aesthetic, while also having some of the most interesting production choices I have seen in recent memory. Plus, with that very creepy and jarring video, I can easily see this being the song that everyone remembers from this era of Billie’s probably-illustrious career.
Gab Ginsberg: Personally, “You Should See Me in a Crown” (released in July 2018) was the first Eilish single that really hooked me since “Bellyache.” “Crown” has a sleek chorus that comes off as wonderfully jarring next to those sultry verses, and its lyrics are too prophetic to ignore. “Bite my tongue, bide my time,” Eilish sings. “Wearing a warning sign/ Wait ’til the world is mine.” Sort of already is, no?
Chris Payne: Man, this is really hard to answer. As the big single to drop alongside the album release, "Bad Guy" is going to have an advantage in pure exposure -- this could be the track that gets a ton of radio play on a bunch of formats and introduces her to the masses who aren't necessarily keeping track of the hottest, newest stuff. (It also f**king goes.) As for other contenders, "Bury a Friend" also has similar ear worm pixie dust thing going for it and "You Should See Me In A Crown" was an alternative radio hit, though I feel like its moment has kinda passed already. My sleeper pick is "Wish You Were Gay." The conversation topics and quotables are just baked into that one. And you're definitely going to have more people talking about taking out their Invisalign.
Andrew Unterberger: Put me down for "You Should See Me in a Crown" -- not her biggest hit on charts or on streaming, but the song that I think marked the first time a lot of people really understood what Billie Eilish was all about. The chorus drop will come to be iconic, as ready a signifier of late-'10s pop weirdness as you could ask for. That said, 20 yeas from now the answer might be different -- as by then, I imagine some enterprising music supervisor will have figured out a way to work "When the Party's Over" into a pivotal TV (post-TV?) moment, to finally get kids who've always thought of Billie Eilish as their parents' music intrigued by her for the first time. 5. It's been predicted that Billie Eilish's tremendous success will lead an industry scramble to find the next version of her. If a major label asked you for your recommendation, which artist would you point them to?
Tatiana Cirisano: Billie is such a remarkable anomaly in music that this is almost an impossible question to answer. But I’ll bite: King Princess, a.k.a. the 20-year-old singer-songwriter Mikaela Straus. Like Billie, she’s a strikingly young talent who emerged out of a viral hit (the tender queer love song “1950”) and has since amassed a dedicated following while flaunting a screw-the-system mentality: she prefers baggy tees and no makeup, her must-follow Instagram is basically a meme account and one of her most popular tracks is titled “Pussy Is God.” Both artists have risen so quickly, in fact, that they've been accused (only half-jokingly) of being industry plants. But my strongest evidence is anecdotal: At a recent sold-out show in Brooklyn (just her second-ever in New York), the way she commanded the stage and connected with adoring fans reminded me of, well, the first time I saw Billie live in the same city last spring.
Stephen Daw: In my humble opinion, I think Columbia Records already has an artist with the makings of the “next” Billie Eilish in King Princess. She doesn’t have remotely the same sound as Billie, but Mikaela has such a specific way of approaching music and her fans that really echoes that same sensibility of authenticity that makes Billie so appealing. My advice to them? Let her get weird if she wants to. Her last single, “Pussy Is God,” was an ethereal, verging-on-experimental pop song that was very different from her last EP. Take a note from Billie's success and understand that if the "weird" comes across as genuine, fans will eat it up and come back for more.
Gab Ginsberg: In terms of vibe, AU/RA immediately comes to mind. She's a 16-year-old German/Antiguan singer-songwriter with teal hair, a stunning voice and an affinity for sci-fi themes and creepy visuals. She’s also covered “Ocean Eyes” before, and the mutual AU/RA/Eilish fans are already begging for a collab.
Chris Payne: King Princess feels like a good answer to this; she's cool, has some successful singles already, and just generally feels like where pop that's popular with teens is headed. Maybe Clairo, though she strikes me as more of indie thing, at least so far. And Cuco is obviously a dude, but he is also very cool and talented and has a certain Future King Of the Teens vibe about him.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll go off the board here for an artist who might not have quite as high a commercial ceiling as Billie, but I think could appeal to a lot of the same fanbase: Girl in Red. The Norwegian singer-songwriter's Bandcamp info reads simply, "im 20 i make songs in my room," and her music -- gauzy, washed out, post-fourth-meal indie rock -- has that same kind of unpretentious directness, with a short-but-sweet editing style to make it accessible for the SoundCloud set. Most importantly, her songs keep getting better: March's "I Need to Be Alone." has a chorus to die for and a dramatic swell that should be practically impossible in its three-minute runtime. She might not ever fill arenas like Eilish -- though a couple of her songs are already hovering around the eight-digit-play mark on Spotify -- but she could probably open for her at a handful of them.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Khalid's Chart-Topping, 200k Week For 'Free Spirit'
4/15/2019 by Billboard Staff
It's back-to-back huge weeks at No. 1 for the two ascendant pop stars behind the 2018 Hot 100 hit "Lovely": After Billie Eilish's blockbuster opening frame for When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? last week, it's Khalid's turn to top the Billboard 200 this week, moving over 200,000 equivalent album units of sophomore set Free Spirit on the chart dated Apr. 20.
Even with the impressive opening numbers for the 21-year-old Khalid -- the best sales week of his relatively short career to date -- Free Spirit has drawn some mixed reviews, and has yet to spawn a hit single on the level of his radio-conquering 2018 collabs "Love Lies" and "Eastside." But are those hits still to come from Free Spirit? And how fair is some of the criticism he's received for the set so far?
Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Free Spirit moves 202,000 equivalent album units in its first week -- how happy should Khalid be with that number?
Carl Lamarre: I think 202k is a significant number for Khalid. Let’s remember that when he dropped his debut album American Teen in 2017, he bowed at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 with a first week of 37,000. So within that two-year window, he has not only bloomed into a perennial guest-verse star, carving hooks for the likes of Benny Blanco, Calvin Harris, and Marshmello, but a pop titan who is about to head off his first arena tour this June. That's some serious elevation for the youngster.
Jason Lipshutz: Very happy, if a little short of thrilled. Khalid has a top 20 single on the Billboard Hot 100, an arena tour coming and a ton of goodwill -- he’s a legitimate star whose Free Spirit was by far the most high-profile album issued during the April 5 release week. A 202k first week (with 85,000 in pure sales) is very impressive for a young artist on his second album, if a little short of the superstar debut of Ariana Grande earlier this year, as well as the hype-affirming Billie Eilish bow one week prior. But give Khalid credit for generating enough interest to score a strong No. 1 debut after never really disappearing over the past two years, thanks to several collaborations and single releases. Also give the album’s 17 (!) songs credit for no doubt bolstering those first-week streaming totals.
Joe Lynch: Massively happy: 202k is a great first-week number for anyone, but especially when you consider that his debut American Teen didn't hit numbers in that range for any single week, it seems like a huge achievement. Also, "Better" and "Talk" are doing well, but his biggest hit at the moment still comes alongside Halsey and Benny Blanco on radio smash "Eastside" -- which isn't even on his album -- so moving that number without the benefit of a runaway hit is impressive. And with so much of that sum in traditional album sales, it shows he has a listenership that's not just casually interested.
Andrew Unterberger: Solidly happy, though yeah, maybe a little short of ecstatic. That's a pretty big number for just about anyone in 2019 -- particularly someone who was still only lightly familiar to pop audiences even this time two years ago. But is it Whoa We Didn't Realize It Was Like THAT big? Not really -- not for a 17-song set that's already had four hits on the Hot 100. It's as big as it needed to be keep Khalid's rising star on track, and that's good enough.
Christine Werthman: Let's see. American Teen did 37,000? So by my calculations, 200,000 marks a 440% percent increase in first-week sales for Khalid, which seems like something he should be happy about. Though Billie Eilish got 313,000, so... 2. Of the advance tracks from this set -- "Better," "Saturday Nights," "Talk," "My Bad," "Self," "Don't Pretend" -- none has really separated itself as the big song from this Khalid era. Does any one of them particularly stand out from the pack to you?
Carl Lamarre: “Better” and “My Bad” both stick out to me the most. The latter in particular is a silent heater that cuts deep at the heart of floundering relationships. Sometimes, we have to remind ourselves that Khalid is only 21, but his ability to pen emotive lyrics about love and heartbreak makes him that much more intriguing as a star. “Gotta put my phone on silent,” is a line that every fallen romantic in a broken relationship can relate to.
Jason Lipshutz: “Better” has quietly crept into the upper reaches of the Hot 100, thanks to a hook that subtly separates itself from the rest of Free Spirit. There’s nothing especially groundbreaking about the trap-beat-assisted story of secret romance relative to the rest of Khalid’s discography, but the way he hunkers down on the line “Nothing feels better than this” as the percussion washes over his voice creates a feeling of melancholy worthy of replay.
Joe Lynch: I love "Saturday Nights"; I think it's the album's highlight. It's the kind of gently insistent melody that sneaks up on you and latches on to your brain, and I'm sure to someone in their teens the line about "All the things that I know / that your parents don't" seems impossibly romantic. With the Kane Brown remix (which is also excellent), I see this one becoming a sleeper hit.
Andrew Unterberger: Put me down for "Saturday Nights" as well, which has the kind of secret smile to it that most of the great young love songs do -- even if his and Kane Brown's performance of it at the ACMs last week was a little rough. Love Khalid going the anti-streaming-count approach of saving it for the very end of the album, too, where it serves as an unexpected and joyous set capper.
Christine Werthman: Definitely "Talk," which he did with Disclosure. That's the only one that doesn't sound so glum and Quaalude-y, thanks to the more upbeat clap track, the brighter synths and the fatter, springier beat. Khalid is moodier overall on this album, a little more pessimistic, but he's got those flirty "Location" vibes on "Talk." I hate to say I miss the old Khalid, but maybe I do?
3. That still leaves 11 tracks to go on Free Spirit. What else on the album was the most pleasant surprise to you?
Carl Lamarre: I’m gonna go with “Hundred.” To me, Khalid has already cemented himself as the protagonist of contemporary pop. He’s your everyday good guy, but that doesn’t mean he’s willing to be stepped on and taken advantage of. On “Hundred,” he speaks on being able to cut off shifty friendships with no regard. With Khalid, no bond is bulletproof, so be sure to stay 100 with him at all times.
Jason Lipshutz: My first reaction to the John Mayer collaboration “Outta My Head” was disappointment, as the featured artist’s contribution was seemingly limited to a few guitar screeches in the song’s back half. Yet repeated listens have been rewarding, as the disco-tinged groove has an airy quality highlighted by a call-and-response chorus. Even if “Outta My Head” could have used a little more of Mayer’s personality, the song certainly cuts from the same shimmery cloth as his fantastic single from last year, “New Light.” Maybe it never gets selected as a single, but I could see “Outta My Head” taking off as a highlight on Khalid’s upcoming tour.
Joe Lynch: I might go with the title track as the most pleasant surprise – the guitar tone and atmosphere is very reminiscent of Roxy Music's sophisti-pop classic Avalon. Khalid is certainly a musical omnivore, but I wasn't expecting him to go Bryan Ferry/Phil Manzanera on us.
Andrew Unterberger: "Outta My Head," absolutely. The Mayer credit will earn it the most attention (and maybe the most streams -- it was easily the highest-ranking song from Free Spirit on last week's Spotify 200 chart that wasn't previously released), but really I dig it because it feels most like a spiritual sequel to my favorite song on American Teen, "8TEEN." It's got the same giddy mid-tempo synth-pop groove and let's-go-out-tonight feeling of momentum that generally make Khalid's gentle come-ons so irresistible. And the Mayer guitar break is a nice bonus, no doubt.
Christine Werthman: "Right Back" is also a standout for me because it's like a little burst of sunshine amid the gloom. That said, I also kind of love how jaded he is in "Hundred": "Got a hundred friends, but I'll cut 'em off, I don’t need em / Not like any of them gave a f**k if I was breathing." Yikes! Also when he says, "Everybody wants a favor, everybody needs me / But I'm too busy trying to fight away all of my demons," maybe he's talking about everyone asking him to collaborate. Leave Khalid alone! You're stressing him out!
4. Free Spirit has received some criticism for being kinda same-y. How fair is that? What do you think the biggest factor is in the album coming off a little monochrome?
Carl Lamarre: I can agree with that sentiment. I think the production on Free Spirit can be a bit predictable and dull. Khalid can do colorful records and thrive as proven by his past collaborations with Marshmello and Imagine Dragons. If you feed Khalid more uptempo records, I think he can evolve into a permanent resident on the Hot 100 charts. He’s versatile enough to do so.
Jason Lipshutz: Free Spirit remains a compelling listen, even if, as I wrote upon its release, the album suffers from a lack of musical chances taken. That’s ultimately the album’s dilemma: Khalid has discovered a rhythmic pop formula that’s both crowd-pleasing and sonically engaging, but with that same formula applied to all 17 tracks on his sophomore album, sections of the full-length tend to blend together. It would be simple to blame the various album producers for concocting a pallid collection of beats, but the songwriting also suffers from an easiness to please that curbs off the exciting detours Khalid could have taken. Overall, the album is far from boring, but if Khalid is going to take more risks on future projects, those risks have to start with the songs themselves.
Joe Lynch: It's absolutely fair. I think it's actually more musically diverse than it seems on first blush -- there's a wider sonic and instrumental palette here than some critics have noticed -- but the issue is that the delivery and energy level remain consistent throughout. And when an album is an hour and 17 tracks, that's going to get same-y; you need some peaks and valleys in terms of vocal delivery and intensity. We don't get that, and the album suffers for that reason.
Andrew Unterberger: I think the sameiness has been overstated: The album does maybe have four or five sonic sweet spots that it kinda cycles between, but even across a 17-track set, that's still pretty diverse for 2019. It is reasonable to say that Khalid is going to have to make a jump as a songwriter at some point -- he's still a little better at writing hooks than really telling stories at this point, and his personality can get kinda blurry and obscured as a result -- but I don't think we're at the point yet where his albums are wearing out their run-times. That title isn't doing him any favors, though; maybe Coloring Brightly Inside the Lines was already taken?
Christine Werthman: Pretty fair assessment. Most of it is a real mid-tempo drag, and I could not sing back one of the hooks from memory if you paid me. Well, maybe if you paid me a lot I could make something up, but it wouldn't actually be a real hook from the album.
5. If you could recommend one producer or production team for Khalid to work with to give his next project a little bit of a jolt, who would it be?
Carl Lamarre: I’m curious to hear what a Skrillex and Khalid record would do. Better yet, I would be here for a collaboration between him and The Stereotypes. These guys have a knack for creating electric records such as Bruno Mars' "24K Magic" and "Finesse." If you hand Khalid a high-powered track with that kind of punch, he's going to become an unstoppable force in the foreseeable future.
Jason Lipshutz: Get Pharrell on the phone! Williams stays producing irresistible songs across pop, R&B and hip-hop — just look at what he did with Ariana Grande’s “R.E.M.,” The Carters’ “Apeshit” and Migos’ “Stir Fry” last year. Obviously his reputation precedes itself, but Williams might be able to unlock some different shades in Khalid’s approach while still catering to his unique vocal gifts. Even if he doesn’t helm Khalid’s next album, two of three Williams-produced tracks might offer the type of daring sonic choices that Free Spirit unfortunately lacks. “Interesting detours” would be the worst-case scenario; the best case would be getting Khalid his own “Sing,” “Alright” or “Happy.”
Joe Lynch: Frank Dukes. Between his work in the pop realm (Camila's "Havana"), the R&B/hip-hop world (The Weeknd and Kendrick's "Pray For Me" on the Black Panther soundtrack) and everything in between (Post Malone's "Wow"), he's giving really distinct, interesting vibes to whatever songs he touches. And I think he might match up nicely with a fellow musical shapeshifter like Khalid. But I'd also be interested to see Khalid step outside of his comfort zone and do something with a crew like the Stereotypes (who are behind both Bruno and Cardi collabs) and try his hand at something unabashedly fun.
Andrew Unterberger: Too easy to ask for Billie Eilish's writer/producer brother FINNEAS? I'm not sure that we need Khalid to dramatically change the kind of songs he's doing in terms of style and tempo, I'd just love for them to be a little edgier and deeper. Get FINNEAS to draw out Khalid's inner weirder and then throw on some creaking floorboards and buzzing power drills and s**t on the tracks, and now we're really talking.
Christine Werthman: How about The-Dream? Or maybe just everyone credited as a producer on Beyoncé's third album, because Khalid needs to find his own Sasha Fierce? But really, I think The-Dream could be an interesting person to start with -- he knows his way around the more classic-sounding R&B that Khalid likes, but I think he would put an "-er" on everything: sexier, livelier, hookier, funner, memorabler. Some of those aren't real words, but I think the you catch my drift.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss BTS' Historic Debut Week For 'Map of the Soul: Persona'
By Billboard Staff | April 23, 2019 11:59 AM EDT
Another album, another set of chart milestones for BTS. The world-conquering K-pop group moves 230,000 equivalent album units of their latest set Map of the Soul: Persona this week, marking both the fourth-best first week for any album so far in 2019, and the group's third No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart in 11 months -- placing them in some pretty historic company.
It's not just the BB 200 where the group's chart impact is felt this week, either: They also score their highest-charting debut on the Billboard Hot 100 for their Halsey collab "Boy With Luv," whose No. 8 bow marks the all-time peak for any K-pop group on the listing. (The set also notches a No. 95 bow for "Make It Right," making them the first K-pop group with two simultaneous hits on the chart.)
Which of these chart accomplishments is the biggest of the bunch? And where does the group go from here? Five Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Which achievement from BTS' Map of the Soul: Persona debut week do you find the most impressive?
Eric Frankenberg: The quick succession of No. 1 albums stands out to me. Teen pop acts have always had quick turnover – One Direction released one album each year, same for Britney Spears at the beginning of her career, almost the same for BSB and *NSYNC. But three albums in under a year, with each one out-performing the previous release, is proof of how hard these guys are working and how rapidly American audiences are warming to BTS -- as well as to a load of other non-English-language acts.
Gab Ginsberg: Having the fourth-highest first-week numbers of the year impresses me the most, since the other accomplishments (while also great) are mainly just BTS breaking their own records. Being in the company of acclaimed American artists Ariana Grande, Backstreet Boys and Billie Eilish is no small feat. Also, 196,000 of that 230k sum is in pure album sales (with 173,000 in physical), a height that is increasingly harder to achieve in the streaming economy without tour or merch bundles.
Jason Lipshutz: Definitely the first-week numbers, considering that Map of the Soul: Persona was able to secure mind-boggling first-week streaming totals with only seven songs on its track list. A slew of shorter projects released in less than a year’s time can result in multiple No. 1 albums, but the fact that this debut number ranks among 2019’s best demonstrates that the hunger for new BTS music has grown instead of waned. Imagine if Map of the Soul: Persona had included a bloated track list, or even a standard length! BTS could potentially have been looking at the biggest bow of the young year.
Ross Scarano: Album sales. It’s not surprising at this point but the BTS ARMY shows up and shows out. With 196,000 album units sold, Map of the Soul: Persona put up the second-biggest album sales figure of the year. The group sold more albums than Billie Eilish -- hard to see that as anything but proof of the ARMY's commitment to the success of the group. There’s a sports analogy to be made here, in terms of diehard fandom, but I’ll leave it to someone else.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, it's gotta be the sales -- though let's not overlook the No. 8 Hot 100 debut for "Boy With Luv." Yes, having Halsey and her track record of major Hot 100 success certainly helps, but even her recent No. 1 hit "Without Me" only debuted at No. 18 on the chart.
2. While other BTS singles ("Fake Love," "Idol") have had impressive debuts on the Hot 100, they haven't managed to climb or really have extended runs in the chart's top tier. Will "Boy With Luv" be the first?
Eric Frankenberg: Yes. “Boy With Luv” is already trending toward becoming the group’s biggest radio hit stateside. The overall progress BTS has made in the US, the song’s hook, and Halsey’s involvement all play a part in what I think will be a “hit” in the traditional sense. But I’m also not sure how much it matters? Three No. 1 albums in under a year, sold-out stadium shows worldwide, and inclusion on the Time 100 seems like enough to convince anyone that BTS is among the most important acts in the world, despite not having any four-quadrant smashes to their name. At this rate, they’ll be on to their next Top 10 hit and No. 1 album in no time anyway.
Gab Ginsberg: Seems likely, thanks to a certain pop singer, who has already had a solo No. 1 hit in 2019 and twelve total entries on the Hot 100 throughout her career. Radio is one of the only American instructions that BTS has yet to crack, but they might finally get that break, especially since Halsey is essentially a magnet for it. Likewise, the collaboration queen has made one of her smartest moves yet by teaming with BTS, who have surely helped her gain new international attention.
Jason Lipshutz: It depends on whether or not Halsey’s presence on the song will help ingratiate it to U.S. radio. BTS obviously connects with fans through streaming platforms, digital and physical retail, but Top 40 is a format the boy band has yet to dominate, or even make a dent. Blame it on the language barrier, but the past two years of Spanish-English bilingual smashes have certainly extinguished that excuse to some degree. The good news for BTS is that Halsey has developed into one of the more reliable pop radio presences in all of music -- she already has two inescapable singles this year in “Without Me” and “Eastside” -- and “Boy With Luv” is a stronger radio offering than “Fake Love” or “Idol.” If the format accepts “Boy With Luv,” be prepared for a prolonged top 10 run on the Hot 100.
Ross Scarano: It could. For much of the year, the top ten of the Hot 100 has been static, meaning it’s a great time for this collab to break through. I don’t know that it's the strongest single in the group’s history; sometimes, the timing is just right.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll be a little less bullish here and say that while I could see the song lingering around the chart's top 40 for some time, I think No. 8 might be as high as it gets. As much of a sure thing as Halsey is on pop radio, programmers don't seem to have tired of "Without Me" or "Eastside" yet, and her presence on those songs is much more pronounced than it is on "Boy With Luv" anyway. I also just don't think the single is one of the group's most interesting, or really displays their strengths as much as the rest of Persona. But even if this isn't the hit that makes BTS unavoidable on U.S. airwaves, I could see it clearing the way for the one that eventually does.
3. If you had to choose a track on Map of the Soul: Persona besides "Boy With Luv" to help a non-fan get into BTS, which would you choose?
Eric Frankenberg: “Make it Right” was the most immediately catchy track on the album, but I’m most intrigued by “Dionysus.” While “Boy With Luv” thematically and musically fits within one’s expectations of traditional boy band music, “Dionysus” is weird. It crosses into stadium-rock territory, but in a much more… alternative?... way than the adult contemporary style of One Direction’s later albums. BTS has evolved from album to album and embraced a genre-agnostic spirit that is unique among their boy band brethren. Their willingness to experiment could surprise someone who hasn’t been paying close attention.
Gab Ginsberg: "Mikrokosmos" stands out to me as one of the more sweetly melodic cuts on Map of the Soul: Persona, but there’s also the upbeat “Home,” which serves up a great taste of the group’s rapping skills. Yes, I know that’s two. Honestly, carve out 26 minutes and just listen to the whole thing.
Jason Lipshutz: There are more impressive moments on the album than “Make It Right,” such as the ultra-ambitious closer “Dionysus” and the dynamic “Home,” but “Make It Right” is the answer to this question because Ed Sheeran co-wrote it, it sounds like Ed Sheeran co-wrote it, and a lot of people like Ed Sheeran. Seriously, the gentle rhythmic pop of the song sounds like it was lifted straight out of ÷, and that hook would appeal to someone who doesn’t even know how to spell K-pop. BTS has a strong global voice, but they can be chameleons when they want to be, and “Make It Right” showcases the group shapeshifting into the style of one of the pop’s most successful songwriters.
Ross Scarano: “Make It Right.” It’s a stand-out from the first listen, even if you aren’t familiar with its pedigree. The chorus -- sung partially in English -- wouldn’t be out of place on one of *NSYNC’s more R&B leaning tracks, and even the repeated horn-synth is catchy, delicious. Makes sense that Ed Sheeran has a writing credit. He brought the blue-eyed soul here.
Andrew Unterberger: Probably "Intro: Persona," actually, just because it's so unexpected to hear the group rapping over hard-hitting guitars and squeaking soul samples. It demonstrates perhaps the group's greatest overall attribute, and also the thing that ties them to most of the best boy bands in history: their confidence in leading the way with whatever musical styles they feel like rocking with.
4. It seems like just about everyone in the music industry now wants to get their own piece of BTS mania. If you could choose one current English-language artist for the group to collaborate with on their next album, who would it be?
Eric Frankenberg: I’d love to see BTS get in the studio (and beyond) with Grimes. She already dipped her toe in the K-pop pond with last year’s Loona collaboration and could lend BTS a hand in further pushing their hooky singles into bizarre sonic territory. She’s willing to do weird stuff with her voice (screaming, for instance) and her production incorporates many different styles, not unlike the versatility BTS has displayed. Imagining them inside the world of “Kill V Maim” or “Venus Fly” is exciting, if nothing else. Further, a Grimes-directed music video featuring their tight choreography and friendly charisma would be a dream.
Gab Ginsberg: Billie Eilish seems like a no-brainer, and the band said they’d love to work with her in a recent interview. But apart from that, I would love to see the group take a break from super familiar names -- past collaborators such as Halsey, The Chainsmokers, Steve Aoki and Nicki Minaj are all great, but now that BTS is so huge both at home and across border lines, they have the opportunity to lift up smaller talented artists, too. Kehlani (who RM has shouted-out) would be awesome, or rising pop singer Allie X, who has written for Troye Sivan (another BTS fave). That being said, I would live for a Demi Lovato collaboration. Please.
Jason Lipshutz: We need a BTS-Drake collaboration. Search your feelings -- you know it to be true. The biggest pop group on the planet paired with the biggest hip-hop artist of the decade, who’s proven the pristine collaborator, in and out of the English language, time and again? Even if the song is a mess, it’s a mess that everyone on this planet will need to hear. Jungkook, Jimin, Suga, V, RM, J-Hope, Jin, Aubrey: listen up, boys. Form like Voltron. Break the Internet.
Ross Scarano: There’s no real reason for this to happen, and not much historical precedent, but f**k it: Tyler, the Creator. His music has grown more and more ornate, more interested in combining voices (Rex Orange County, Anna of the North) and playing with sweet pop chords -- to say nothing of the subversive qualities of letting him toy with a boy band. If BTS wants to really stand out from the restrictive parameters of k-pop production -- in every sense of the word -- Tyler would blow everything up and open for them. What would the fans think?
Andrew Unterberger: Too on the nose to say BROCKHAMPTON? Whatever: There might not be a stage big enough to support a collaboration this literally and metaphorically massive, but let's get the combined 20 (!!!) members of the two groups together for a little East/West throwdown and just see what happens. You wanna be considered the best boy band in the world, you gotta play against the best.
5. Which of the three milestones happens first for BTS: a Grammy nomination (as performers), a U.S. festival headlining slot, or a Hot 100 No. 1 hit?
Eric Frankenberg: I think they’ll receive a major Grammy nomination and headline a U.S. festival at some point, but since most 2019 festival lineups have already been announced, I’ll say the Grammy nomination will come first. They presented at this year’s telecast and Halsey’s contribution to “Boy With Luv” to their latest hit could help bridge the gap for any voters hesitant to embrace Korean-language pop. They’re a rare act in today’s contemporary landscape that could make people who wouldn’t otherwise watch the Grammys, watch the Grammys. Plus, SNL often forecasts major Grammy breakthroughs (Adele says “hello”), and their recent appearance created enough buzz to get them over the edge come the December nominations announcement.
Gab Ginsberg: I do think “Boy With Luv” has a decent shot at No. 1, so I’ll go with that. But a headlining slot at Coachella or Governors Ball next year seems inevitable, too. BLACKPINK proved there's an appetite for K-pop at mainstream music festivals, and BTS would totally bring it.
Jason Lipshutz: My prediction is a Grammy nomination, but I do think all three could very well happen in the next 12 months. “Boy With Luv” could hit the top of the Hot 100 if it finds a radio audience, and don’t think that Coachella’s organizers weren’t paying attention to BLACKPINK's rapturous reception at this year’s festival and aren’t at least considering BTS at the top of next year’s lineup. But considering the strong quality of their output and their international success, it’s not hard to imagine the Recording Academy giving the boys a proper nomination, after bestowing their art director with a nod last year. While a Grammy nomination for a K-pop group would be groundbreaking, BTS has shattered barriers throughout their entire career — why stop now?
Ross Scarano: A headlining slot. At last year’s Billboard Music Awards, I had the pleasure of hearing the ARMY sing along to BTS during their show-stopping performance. They were louder than the group; their energy felt almost destabilizing, like I was at risk of being subsumed in the frenzy. I had no point of reference for it. Someone much older than me mentioned Beatlemania, which sounds preposterous, but maybe it isn’t. Just the mention of the group’s name had the fans redlining -- they nearly drowned out the voices of the presenters at times. True, they don’t have that chart-topping single yet, but all the same festival bookers should want this band on the lineup, and in a slot that’s commensurate with the force of its fandom.
Andrew Unterberger: The headlining slot. Think the Grammy and No. 1 are both still at least one more album away, and in the meantime there's just too many festivals for one of 'em not to bet on the ARMY putting their ticket sales over the top. It's time. Background Media:
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Lil Dicky's 'Earth' Top 20 Debut
4/30/2019 by Billboard Staff
You won't see their names on the chart listing, but Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Halsey and dozens of other hitmakers appear on a new debut in the Billboard Hot 100's top 20 this week. "Earth," a new charity single from rapper/comedian Lil Dicky, features an All-Star supporting cast of pop stars and other celebrities, and bows at No. 17 on Billboard's all-genre songs chart this week.
The ecologically themed single, co-produced by radio regulars Benny Blanco and Cashmere Cat, was released in advance of Earth Day, and will be donating proceeds to a variety of environmental charities. Despite its noble intentions, however, the song has drawn some highly negative reviews for its irreverent mix of juvenile humor with grave planetary concerns and charity single musical tropes. ADVERTISING
Is the criticism justified? And how will the song be remembered in the years to come? Billboard staffers answer these queries and more in this week's Five Burning Questions.
1. Does the top 20 debut for "Earth" surprise you? What do you think it's most attributable to?
Nolan Feeney: I would have guessed top 50 instead of top 20, but overall this doesn’t come as a shock. “Earth” feels less like an actual song and more a like a raunchier musical twist on the kind of viral video that ends up getting covered on the TODAY show -- the kind of viral video your parents are going to email you about in two weeks. I’d chalk up all those clicks to the pitch alone -- wouldn’t you just be a little bit curious about dozens of musicians voicing animals in a spoof of charity singles? It’s a pitch that by nature is going to attract actual laugh-seekers and hate-watchers alike, both kinda genuine and totally trolling at the same time. But unlike "Freaky Friday," his Chris Brown collaboration from last year, I don't think it sneakily resembles an actual pop song enough to have a decent shot at sticking around.
Josh Glicksman: Not at all, especially considering that the Chris Brown-assisted “Freaky Friday” debuted at No. 9 and peaked one slot above that. Given the star power attached to this track -- albeit in extremely small doses -- this felt like a lock for the top third of the chart, at worst. The promo video that dropped a few days before the song’s release featured names like Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Halsey in enormous, caps lock, pastel letters for crying out loud. Though “Earth” benefits greatly from the timing of its release and is much less repeatable both “Friday” (and to a lesser extent, 2015's No. 71-peaking) “Save Dat Money,” I wouldn’t be surprised if it sticks around another week before quickly falling down the ladder.
Bianca Gracie: This feat honestly doesn’t surprise me. For one, there’s not many great contenders for the top of the charts out at the moment, which probably made it easy for Lil Dicky to crawl his way into the No. 17 slot. But of course the single’s biggest attributing factor isn’t necessarily the rapper’s star quality, but the popularity of the onslaught of famous buddies he got for the track. Nearly all of the featured artists have enjoyed top 20 (and many even No. 1) success, and their diehard fans’ streams helped to boost “Earth” so high.
Andrew Unterberger: ...a little? Star power and inherent headline-catching virality aside, I just didn't expect this song to have legs for a whole week -- I thought it'd be 24 hours and out, for the most part. But Dicky & Co. hung around on Spotify, iTunes and particularly YouTube past Friday well into the next week, so kudos I guess. But yeah, you still have to figure that curiosity over the big names and its collective general ambition is the biggest factor in the initial popularity here.
Xander Zellner: It's not the least bit surprising. If "Freaky Friday" was any indication, all Lil Dicky needs to thrive is a mildly funny video to go viral, and, even if a controversial artist like Chris Brown is involved, it'll perform well. Add a couple dozen other mega-stars to the mix and you have yourself a top 20 hit. But the video is unquestionably what we can attribute the song's success to: From a charts standpoint, 80 percent of its Hot 100 points can be attributed to streaming, and when you look at the original YouTube clip, which has over 64 million views, it's pretty clear what's resonating the most. 2. Pitchfork called "Earth" "about as bad as global warming." How fair do you think the critical response to the song has been?
Nolan Feeney: “Earth” is sort of like a music critic’s version of The Purge -- at a time when declining celebrity access has publications dancing around calling bad songs for what they are, I think a lot of people are jumping at the chance to just absolutely trash something. Because otherwise I find it unfathomable that “Earth” would inspire strong feelings of any kind -- it’s a Lil Dicky video, what were you expecting? This is not the place for you if you were hoping for, I don’t know, a barrage of riotous one-liners (which has never really been what he’s about) or Max Martin-level songcraft (again, not his deal). Like any Lil Dicky project, you either appreciate the ridiculousness of the concept or you don’t.
In that sense, it reminds me of something you might find on The Other Two, the wonderful Comedy Central about the slacker siblings of a Justin Bieber-esque viral teen sensation who finds himself recording some over-the-top fake singles like “Marry U at Recess” and "My Brother's Gay" in pursuit of fame: “In the show it’s less that each lyric is a joke and more that premise itself was absurd,” co-creator Chris Kelly told Billboard earlier this year. “The song itself was earnest.” (That said, Ariana Grande playing a zebra and singing “Am I white or black?” in what must be a nod to the debate about whether her tan and adoption of hip-hop styles in her music amounts to blackface is a glorious self-own.)
Josh Glicksman: Few things are truly “about as bad as global warming” -- and Lil Dicky’s “Earth” certainly doesn’t fall in the category -- but it’s hard to argue against the wave of criticism washing over the track. For a song that LD refers to as his “life’s most important work,” and one that stakes its claim as raising awareness for problems with our environment, it certainly feels like Burd left too much of his tried-and-true anatomical and sexual references in there. For those playing along at home: “Earth” includes a combined eight references to baboon anuses, cow “tits,” skunk buttholes, horny rhinos, horny squirrels, the human penis and orgasms. It includes one mention of global warming and zero references to rising temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions or recycling. That’s, uh, not great.
Bianca Gracie: The critique has been pretty spot on in my opinion. “Earth” doesn’t have the catchiness nor the sincerity compared to other successful charity tunes. The artist features don’t impress me because it doesn’t seem like anyone is taking the cause seriously on the track. The song has this naive vibe about it that’s more suitable for a children’s animated show than an important message to impact the world. And the video, which looks straight out of 2005’s Madagascar, doesn’t help things either.
Andrew Unterberger: Basically. I just don't get who "Earth" is supposed to be for, aside from mischievous third graders tricking their teachers into showing it for its educational value before they notice all the orgasms and buttholes. It's dirty but not edgy, it's poppy but not all that catchy, it's humorous but not particularly funny. And the parts that mix a sort of "Heal the World" vibe with wildly inappropriate sneak-jokes like "We love you India/ We love you Africa/ We love you India/ We forgive you, Germany" are stomach-turning, to say the least. The good cause excuses a lot, but not everything.
Xander Zellner: The song has its flaws, but I'd argue that some of the criticism has been unfair. Has there ever been a charity single targeted towards young people, or with the intention of going viral? From "We Are The World" to "Just Stand Up," charity singles have historically, and perhaps understandably, been targeted towards adults (i.e. the people with money), and that may be why so many of them are largely forgettable. If this video is resonating with kids and getting them to actually buy the song, not just stream it, and also watch the climate change explainer videos on welovetheearth.com, then Lil Dicky may be on to something here. Whether he failed or succeeded, it's an interesting attempt at turning the idea of the charity single on its face.
3. Whose contributions to the song do you enjoy the most? Whose are you most disappointed in?
Nolan Feeney: To me, “Earth” is funniest if you have stan-level knowledge of pop music and think about the behind-the-scenes motives and antics of its participants: There’s fun to be had when you imagine Rita Ora showing up to the studio and earnestly doing her part because she does so many brand partnerships that it probably all blurs together -- voicing a wolf is probably not even the most ridiculous thing she’s done this year to up her Q score. It’s fun to imagine Katy Perry jumping at the chance to be a part of this of this because it’s probably the biggest hit she’s been a part of since “Chained to the Rhythm.” It’s fun (and a little sad) to think about how Meghan Trainor didn’t even get to have her own animal. But you’re not going to be able to enjoy any of that if you try and judge this like you would any other song.
Josh Glicksman: Lil Jon’s “What the f**k, I’m a clam?” is the best cameo of the entire song, and frankly, it’s not even close. The one-liner from the famed Atlanta rapper is gone before you even realize that it arrived, but leaves the jarring -- and I mean jarring; it immediately follows quick guest spots from well-established voices Adam Levine, Shawn Mendes, Charlie Puth, Sia and Miley Cyrus -- and attention-demanding bar in your head for the rest of the track. The Snoop bit doesn’t reinvent the wheel but lands as a reliable, safe joke nonetheless. Outside of that, most of the cameos are either too brief or forgettable to heap too much praise or criticism upon, although I surely wouldn’t have picked Meghan Trainor to deliver the “We love you, India” line.
Bianca Gracie: I liked Ariana Grande and Sia’s feature the most, simply because I love their voices. The ladies are a refreshing change from all the auto-tune and silliness found on the track. Leonardo DiCaprio’s appearance was also a favorite, as the actor has been a serious activist for years. The contribution I didn’t care for goes to Kevin Hart as Kanye West. It came off as too joke-y and unnecessary. If Lil Dicky couldn’t secure a Yeezy feature, then what’s the point really? Not to mention the “We forgive you Germany” and “We love you India” lyrics leaving a patronizing taste in my mouth. Also, the use of Bad Bunny and Tory Lanez was inconsistent compared to the other artists. Why weren’t they transformed into anthropomorphic characters like everyone else?
Andrew Unterberger: Justin Bieber's cameo might be the best, just because it's fairly clear he's waited his whole life to play-act as a baboon ("My anus is huge!") The most heartbreaking cameo to me personally is Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid, who despite being the GOAT basketball player and human being, really might need a Questlove intervention about his taste in musical projects. But the biggest disappointment for me are co-producers Cashmere Cat and Benny Blanco, who make no effort to give "Earth" any kind of distinctive musical signature -- understandable, given the level of material they're working with, but still not particularly admirable.
Xander Zellner: It was nice that PSY, Bad Bunny and Kris Wu each contributed with a lyric in Korean, Spanish and Mandarin, respectively. Lil Dicky's lines about absolving Germany (for what I can only assume is the Holocaust and Nazis) and Russia (for, I guess, communism, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Vladimir Putin, interfering with the 2016 United States presidential election leading to the ultimate election of Donald J. Trump resulting in political and social discord, and so on) were particularly disappointing.
4. Aside from being generally well-intentioned, what's something that Lil Dicky does well on "Earth"?
Nolan Feeney: This is maybe a weird observation, but he really captures the vibe of Disney World -- some of the animated sequences evoke the Epcot ride Soarin’ or the Avatar Flight of Passage ride in Animal Kingdom, and some parts of the beat sound like what you’d hear playing in the parks as you wander from attraction to attraction. But think too hard about any one part of "Earth" and your brain will break. Like, I spent a good five minutes wondering if vocalists shouting out country names and continent names interchangeably (“Hey Russia! We’re cool! Hey Asia, all of you, come on!”) was a genuine blunder or poking fun at people who write lyrics that read like the bridge of “Born This Way” (e.g. “You’re Lebanese, you’re Orient”).
Josh Glicksman: LD (a.k.a. Firm Handshake) told Sway Calloway that every artist he reached out to agreed to partake in the song. Given the guest list, that’s mighty impressive, regardless of the cause or the connections that he’s been able to create at this point. Say what you want about the song or about Lil Dicky himself, but gathering many of the top artist names in the industry to work together on a Cashmere Cat and Benny Blanco-produced track is nothing to scoff at. Would it have been nice to get lyricism more on par with his “Hype” freestyle rather than something closer to a second-rate Sausage Party and Kidz Bop lovechild? Sure. But give the man his credit for raising money for various important charities.
Bianca Gracie: The amount of popular singers and rappers that Lil Dicky was able to secure for “Earth” is pretty impressive. I honestly didn’t know he had connections with all these people, so I have to commend him for pulling that off. I can only imagine how long the process took to make sure that these artists were able to get on the track.
Andrew Unterberger: I do kinda like Dicky's out-of-nowhere swerve into darkness at the end of the song, when Baboon Bieber's panicked "Are we really gonna die?" question is met with a none-too-comforting, "You know what, Bieber? We might die, I'm not gonna lie to you." It's the only moment in the song that approaches legitimate gravity, and it's pretty jarring.
Xander Zellner: Not only do a portion of the sales towards "Earth" go towards various environmental charities, notably the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, but he actually cites the specific foundation in the song's lyrics -- rare for a charity single. The We Love the Earth website also features various explainer videos featuring Lil Dicky about climate change and how to help, which is nice.
5. Will "Earth" end up being better- or worse-remembered than the more straight-faced All-Star charity singles of the 21st century ("Just Stand Up," "We Are the World 25," Broadway for Orlando's "What the World Needs Now," etc.)?
Nolan Feeney: I think it will be just a blip on Internet history compared to those -- it's more like “Where Is the Love” with more dick jokes and less Fergie.
Josh Glicksman: Maybe this is a cop out response, but it doesn’t really feel fair to compare something like “Earth” to the rest of these. I guess it’ll be both better- and worse-remembered than the other tracks? Though the lyricism of “Earth” is definitely worse -- or at the very least, less important -- the animation adds a nice novelty to the whole thing. Also, it’s certainly the most memorable -- had any of these other singles rapped about baboon butts, they would’ve been both extremely inappropriate and more discussed. The objectives in all four of the charity singles may ultimately be the same (raise money and promote awareness), but Lil Dicky’s is unquestionably the one that’s most focused on remaining true to an artist’s brand.
Bianca Gracie: The straightforward charity singles will always prevail. Time and time again they have proven that the less fussy you are, the better. And they’re just more genuine — you can hear the passion and care these artists have for those causes. “Earth” ends up being too clunky and relies too much on silliness rather than getting an important message across to people that we have to take care of our planet. I keep saying this, but even with the weight of the features, the song still doesn’t come across as being earnest. I mean, this is the same guy that brought us “Freaky Friday” just a year prior. He hasn’t done anything that personally shows me he should be taken seriously.
Andrew Unterberger: I mean, for better or worse, I'll probably remember "My anus is huge" and "We forgive you, Germany" until the day I die. If I could single-handedly cure cancer by accurately singing any one line from "Just Stand Up!" my best bet would be to just sing the title phrase in some rousing manner and hope I was close enough.
Xander Zellner: At the most, it will be remembered as an innovative way to market charity singles towards young people and get them to care about serious issues and donate money. At the very least, it will be remembered when the next sta-studded single for a good cause is inevitably released, and it gets featured on a news-pegged Buzzfeed list titled “Our Top 10 Favorite All-Star Charity Singles.”
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss DaBaby's 'Suge' Hitting the Top 40 of the Hot 100
5/7/2019 by Billboard Staff
Breakout rapper DaBaby -- 27-year-old Jonathan Tyndale Kirk -- has been the toast of the hip-hop Internet since late 2018, making a name for himself thanks to a series of compelling mixtapes and a generally likeable social media presence.
In 2019, however, that attention is going above ground, thanks to the success of March's official debut LP -- which has reached No. 14 on the Billboard 200 albums chart -- and its lead single, the understated banger "Suge." Slowly rising the ranks of the Hot 100 for the last month, "Suge" jumps 46-27 this week, giving the MC his first-ever Hot 100 top 40 hit.
Will there be other singles off Baby on Baby to match its success? And what other breakout rapper might be experiencing their own top 40 bow before long? Billboard staffers take on these topics and more in this week's Five Burning Questions. 1. "Suge" seems well on its way to becoming the next big viral hip-hop hit. What do you think is the primary thing driving its success?
Bianca Gracie: Besides “Suge” being a supremely catchy tune on its own, I think the combination of DaBaby’s visuals and the power of social media helped it jump up the charts so quickly. A lot of new rappers prefer to show how “tough” they are for visuals that accompany introductory tracks, but DaBaby actually did the opposite and gave us a silly treat. The music video reminds me of the mid ‘00s when rappers like Ludacris, Busta Rhymes and Nelly sprinkled a little humor atop their music rollouts. And of course the onslaught of dancers creating their own social media-friendly moves to the track didn’t hurt either.
Carl Lamarre: There are so many driving forces behind DaBaby's recent success with "Suge." First, the hook pops and pays homage to one of hip-hop's most vilified stars in former Death Row Records CEO Marion "Suge" Knight. Though "Suge" is a speaker-rattling earworm, the song's visual is pure comedy. Puffing cigars, dancing on a pseudo-Soul Train line in the middle of a workday sounds like goals to me. And by no means is this a knock on the record's success, but "Suge" has encountered little competition on the hip-hop front this year -- and because of that, it will more than likely continue to glide its way into the top 20.
Jason Lipshutz: Sometimes a beat and a flow just complement each other perfectly, like a fine meal paired with the exact right wine. There’s no immediate chorus or “Bust down, Thotiana”-esque standout line on “Suge,” and the rubbery production from Jetson Made and Pooh Beatz is strong if not spectacular. But when DaBaby’s deep-voiced rumble is aligned with the beat, the result is quietly mesmerizing. Credit where it’s due, though: DaBaby’s confidence guides the song, each bar delivered like an old pro instead of an rising upstart.
Ross Scarano: The “joke” on Rap Twitter is that its success can be attributed to the embrace of young white men. (No comment.) “Suge” is humorous and surprising, with a hook that’s easy to recite, even if you only want to do the “yeah yeah” part. It has more quotables than some people’s albums, including “I don't follow no bitches on IG/ But all of your bitches, they follow a n---a.” DaBaby is a reminder that sometimes the best solution to a hostile world is a rude attitude and an ugly retort.
Andrew Unterberger: Sometimes in this life, stardom is as simple as being able to say a sentence like "I go where I want" and have it sound totally unquestionable.
2. Is there another "Suge" on Baby on Baby?
Bianca Gracie: This may be too obvious, but the latest single “Baby Sitter” sounds like another winner. The video already gained over six million views a month after its release and continues DaBaby’s hot streak of popping out wacky visuals. Offset is featured on the track too, and he’s no stranger to chart success -- so I wouldn’t be surprised if “Baby Sitter” takes off as well.
Carl Lamarre: "Baby Sitter" is a song that you worry about popping up on shuffle during a car ride with your mom. It's offensively good. Offset sounds like a starving dog gnawing away at the beat, while DaBaby's recklessness warrants a 10-minute timeout. When you hear a hook like, "You probably don't wanna let your baby mama take a picture/ Cause I'm the type of Baby that's gon' f**k the babysitter," you can't help but laugh and appreciate the rawness of the record.
Jason Lipshutz: It may not get the same type of mainstream love as “Suge,” but “Goin’ Baby” serves as a riotous introduction to DaBaby as a quick-witted ad-lib machine. The hook is cleaner, the pan flute-injected beat is more interesting, and the Patrick Ewing simile is perfect for NBA playoffs season. DaBaby was able to secure some impressive guest stars on his debut album, including Offset, Rich The Kid and Rich Homie Quan, but it’s another solo track that deserves to get wider recognition whenever “Suge” starts stalling.
Ross Scarano: “Baby Sitter" is even ruder than “Suge,” so much so that DaBaby pumps the brakes on his verse for a gentle scolding: “Nah, that's f**ked up bro, you ain't have to goddamn bring the kids into it.” Marii Beatz and Go Grizzly caffeinated beat suits DaBaby’s restless forward motion. He’s “snapping off the rip” on practically every song on the album, even more so on “Baby Sitter.”
Andrew Unterberger: Several, perhaps: I could see everything from "Pony" to "Best Friend" to "Walker Texas Ranger" hitting the same point of mass consumption as "Suge." But I'd have to say the quasi-title track "Going Baby" has the best shot -- it's already part of Rap Twitter lore, and maybe stands to have better odds at a chart presence now that a post-"Suge" public has more of a frame of reference for "goin' baby on baby." 3. If you could assign a DaBaby guest verse to the next single (or remix) from an established star, who would it be?
Bianca Gracie: Even though she’s currently working on being an established name, I’d pick Megan Thee Stallion. She and DaBaby have similar aggressive flows and they both love to s**t talk, so it would be cool to hear them go back and forth on a track. But another option I’d like to see -- and this may be totally odd -- is Bad Bunny. The Latin star also has a knack for spitting atop buzzy melodies, has interesting visuals and would match DaBaby’s energy well.
Carl Lamarre: If you saw DaBaby's "Walker Texas Ranger" video, then you already know that he would do Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road (Remix)" justice. A midwestern flick featuring Baby and Nas X decked out in cowboy gear is the perfect way to not only bridge together two of hip-hop's rising stars, but ultimately, pay real homage to Chuck Norris.
Jason Lipshutz: Someone should make sure he's on Cardi B’s next full-length: DaBaby’s deeper voice tumbles downhill in a way that could be smartly juxtaposed with Cardi’s wordplay, similar to how 21 Savage played off of her on “Bartier Cardi.” Cardi’s Invasion of Privacy album collected both her pop-rap tendencies and hard-nosed spitting on one track list, and DaBaby could sound right at home operating in the latter part of her next project.
Ross Scarano: Cardi B x Baby would be a potent combination of talented people saying outlandish s**t to make polite society frown. You could go high-concept rom-com with it and have them play two people who really don’t like each other at first -- a tried and true formula for sparks.
Andrew Unterberger: I'd love to pair him with a pop star -- preferably one with a similar sense of humor. Lana Del Rey seems an obvious, safer pick, though a higher-risk, greater-reward proposition might be Katy Perry: You get the feeling that DaBaby would really sink his teeth into the opportunity for such an unlikely collab.
4. Outside of Post Malone and "Old Town Road," does it feel like it's been kind of a slow year for hip-hop on the Hot 100? If so, why do you think that is?
Bianca Gracie: I think the appearance of rap on the Hot 100 has been pretty consistent so far. It probably seems to be slow just because there are fewer big names (like the Drakes and Kanyes of the world) and more rising stars. There were also more prominent releases from pop acts this year. So aside from the aforementioned artists, rap hasn’t really had an opportunity to gain huge chart moments. But it’s still early in the year, so I’m sure the genre will rise once again.
Carl Lamarre: Yes and no. I think it's been a quiet year for rap heavyweights. Outside of J. Cole's "Middle Child" and Post Malone's "Wow," we haven't seen a major rap act enter the top five of the Hot 100 this year with a brand new record. That said, I'm more than happy to see rising acts like Megan Thee Stallion, Polo G, Blueface, YK Osiris, and even City Girls find a home on the Hot 100 for the first time.
Jason Lipshutz: A lot of hip-hop superstars with recent success at the top of the Hot 100 have taken a relative breather during the first half of 2019, from Drake to Travis Scott to Cardi B to Migos to Rae Sremmurd to Childish Gambino -- and even with that in mind, Lil Nas X has become a household name (if your household keeps its horses in the back) and Post Malone has had two songs hanging out in the top 5 of the Hot 100. Chalk it up to coincidence that so many top-tier names are in between singles or projects, but no one should discount how thoroughly rap is continuing to impact popular music.
Ross Scarano: Perhaps, but if anything that’s given me even more time to spend with the hip-hop happening off the charts. The results may be questionable for my mental health, but I’ve been spending hours with the Billy Woods and Kenny Segal album Hiding Places, the Mach-Hommy and DJ Muggs collab Tuez-Les Tous and Lucki’s Freewave 3. Each offers difficult pleasures, from Woods’ claustrophobic nightmare scenarios to Hommy’s merciless antagonism to Lucki’s scary account of drug abuse -- it’s rap to get lost in, at your own risk.
Andrew Unterberger: A little bit, though maybe just because the pop stars of yesteryear -- both ones who have developed obvious hip-hop influences, like Ariana Grande and Halsey, and ones who are sticking to more of a conventional pop-rock mold like Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers -- have take up a surprising amount of real estate on the chart in 2019. And there's also been a dearth of truly big-ticket releases in the genre; new LPs from Nav and ScHoolboy Q are exciting, but it's just not the same thing as full-length drops from Drake and Kendrick Lamar. The A-List names will return to our orbit soon enough, and it's fun to see some newer ones getting play in the meantime.
5. It has been a pretty fruitful last few weeks for rappers making their first appearances on the Hot 100. Which rapper joins DaBaby in the top 40 first: Lil Tjay, Megan Thee Stallion or NLE Choppa?
Bianca Gracie: I mentioned her earlier, but I think Megan Thee Stallion has this one in the bag. Her “Big Ole Freak” is steadily climbing the Hot 100 (it’s currently at No. 76). While that position sounds low, she just got a co-sign from the most reliable rap co-signer of our time -- one Aubrey Drake Graham -- so his support is surely going to help her accelerate even further.
Carl Lamarre: I love Megan Thee Stallion, but I have to show love to my New York comrade Lil Tjay. Last week, we mentioned him for our latest edition of Emerging Hip-Hop because he has a knack for threading together fruitful guest verses. He's already flirting with top 40 success because of his appearance on Polo G's "Pop Out," and recently, aligned himself with French Montana for his single "Slide." He's a younger version of A Boogie, who can dish out dance-happy hooks or militant bangers for the streets. Check out "Brothers" or his newest track "Ruthless."
Jason Lipshutz: Give the edge to Megan: “Big Ole Freak” is damn compelling sex-rap that seems like it could start streaking up the Hot 100 as the warmer weather arrives (it moves up six spots to No. 70 on this week’s tally). Ms. Thee Stallion will assuredly be one of the bigger breakthrough stars within the genre in 2019, and “Big Ole Freak” is serving as the single to unlock a much wider audience for the newcomer.
Ross Scarano: I’m hopeful for Megan and I think she’s built for a long-term career; if “Big Ole Freak” doesn’t make it, her next big single will. But there’s no denying NLE Choppa’s momentum. “Shotta Flow” has 30 million streams on Spotify. (For comparison, “Big Ole Freak” has 6 million.)
Andrew Unterberger: I'll say Lil Tjay, mostly both because he's closest so far (up to No. 51 this week with his appearance on "Pop Out") and because he's the only one to debut two songs on the chart already (bowing at No. 90 last week with his appearance on "Slide"). I'm not betting against Megan's overall momentum anytime soon, though.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Vampire Weekend's No. 1 Debut With 'Father of the Bride'
5/13/2019 by Billboard Staff
Monika Mogi Vampire Weekend
Not many would've guessed when Vampire Weekend emerged as a collegiate and critical favorite of the peak of the blog-rock era in the late-'00s, we'd still be talking about them making history on the Billboard charts a decade later.
The band's fourth album, Father of the Bride, debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week, with 138,000 equivalent album units moved. It's the band's third consecutive No. 1 album on the chart, and marks the best first-week numbers of any rock album in 2019. Perhaps most impressively, it makes Vampire Weekend the first artist to ever score three Billboard 200 No. 1s without ever even notching a single entry on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart.
How have they been able to do it? Where does Father of the Bride rank within the band's catalog? Billboard staffers take on these topics and more in this week's Five Burning Questions.
1. This is Vampire Weekend's third straight No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, a streak that now stretches back to 2010. What's been the biggest key to their longevity?
Harley Brown: Vampire Weekend’s audience aspires to age as gracefully as the band has over the course of its past three albums, thanks in large part to consistently excellent and adaptable songwriting. After establishing themselves their debut in 2008, Ezra Koenig and co. continue to write with elegant irreverence, whether foraying into expansive jamming on Father of the Bride, delving into existential crises on 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City or hopscotching through tempos and reverb on 2010’s Contra.
Gab Ginsberg: While there tends to be big gaps between VW's albums -- three between Contra and Modern Vampires, six between the latter and FOTB -- they work each album over a long period of time by touring. Meanwhile, they know it’s important to stay active, so they maintain robust side projects during the off-times, never really taking a break. Still, the crux of it is that anyone who became a fan upon their debut has stuck with them... and that was quite a lot of people. It’s also worth noting that it feels like VW is still the only band in their lane: Despite that aforementioned six-year gap, they weren’t replaced by anyone, nor have they shapeshifted dramatically themselves. A decade later, they still feel like the band I fell in love with in high school.
Joe Lynch: Unlike a lot of bands who came up in the late '00s, Vampire Weekend have shown consistent growth on each album while remaining sonically accessible -- and they never oversaturated the market. Other bands from the indie boom decade who have released numerous albums without switching up their sound are at a disadvantage because of diminishing returns. And then there's other acts who release albums with similar infrequency, but many of them (Animal Collective, Destroyer) alter their sound radically LP-to-LP, which is too challenging for most listeners in that late 20s / early 30s demographic who just want a college nostalgia fix. Vampire Weekend's songs are easy to grasp but inventive enough that you're getting just the right amount of familiarity and variety.
Chris Payne: The short answer is making great albums that people want to own, because they know everything the band has released so far feels like their favorite Vampire Weekend album, at least on some days. More deeply, VW has endured because they have a long history of setting trends rather than chasing them. Back in 2008, hardly anyone in indie was dressing the way they were or repping the whole Afropop influence. Over their next two albums, they gradually outgrew their rock aesthetic and became more of a producer’s band, working samples, vocal effects, and other aspects of pop and hip-hop production into their sound - all of which coalesced with 2013’s Grammy-winning Modern Vampires.
But in the years that followed, every interview with an indie rock band trying to keep pace seemingly included a line about how they were getting tired of guitar, were getting super into ‘90s R&B, learned to love Carly Rae Jepsen, etc. So naturally, 2019 Vampire Weekend does a complete about face to all that, employing Dolly and Porter-esque singalong duets and jamming across four-hour concerts like the Dead. And now if alt radio is about to enter its "featuring Trey Anastasio" phase, rest assured Koenig and company will know the next move.
Kevin Rutherford: There’s something to be said about finding a sweet spot where you’re not gone for so long that people forget about you but long enough that the hype for a new release builds and builds the longer an act is removed from its last LP. Vampire Weekend seems to have figured out the formula, first when Modern Vampires of the City took three years and now with Father of the Bride, which doubled the wait time. The appetite for new music hadn’t been satiated, and it apparently hadn’t been so long that interest began to dwindle.
2. Father of the Bride's first-week numbers are even slightly higher than the debut tally for Modern Vampires of the City (134k) in 2013, despite being released six years later to a very different musical landscape. How surprised are you that their commercial performance has stayed so consistent?
Harley Brown: I’m not all that surprised. The band’s core audience has stayed steady, and each member has likely grown overall listenership through their independent pursuits: Koenig with his Beats 1 radio show (which has featured guests like Jonah Hill, Rashida Jones and Tim Heidecker), and Rostam Batmanglij with his solo work, including producing for Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepsen on E•MO•TION.
Gab Ginsberg: Not very surprised. For FotB, 119k of that sum was in album sales, which is an indication of how a mostly physical fanbase can help an artist benefit in 2019. Vampire Weekend fans are collectors; we’re the type to buy cassette tapes and colorful limited edition vinyl, and that’s exactly what they gave us.
Joe Lynch: I'm not surprised they went No. 1, but I am surprised at how well this moved units – for a rock band in 2019, outdoing your last album from six years earlier is no small feat. Part of that I'd attribute simply to how good Modern Vampires was -- it has their highest Metacritic score ever and it won over people who were haters of the first two albums. The album after a career-high LP is always going to benefit from some spillover of goodwill and interest.
Chris Payne: You know what? They’ve done this before. Back in 2013, few established acts were outperforming an album from three years prior, but Modern Vampires went and bested Contra’s first-week sales by about 10,000 copies. Factoring in Billboard’s 2014 transition from straight sales to equivalent album units, each of Vampire Weekend’s four albums has now topped the first-week numbers of its predecessor. That’s really, really rare in today’s industry, but I think we’ve already established that Vampire Weekend is a pretty unique entity. I’ll say this: “Harmony Hall” performed better at radio than arguably any Vampire Weekend single before it, earning them their first No. 1 on a Billboard airplay chart. That kind of radio love goes a long way.
Kevin Rutherford: Yeah, a little. Father of the Bride wasn’t gonna flop, but doing six digits in units is tough for anyone to pull off these days, let alone an alternative rock band with no Hot 100 hits who hasn’t put out an album in six years. At the same time, remember: those sales are goosed to an extent by ticket bundle redemptions for Vampire Weekend’s upcoming tour. That’s absolutely not to say it wouldn’t have still been a strong debut without them, but they sure do help matters.
3. Frontman Ezra Keonig & Co. have made a ton of unpredictable aesthetic choices in the sonics and visuals leading up to the release of Father of the Bride, finding inspiration in everything from Spencer Tracy-via-Steve Martin comedies to Jerry Garcia Band albums to uh, North Face tents. Do you have a favorite of these oddball new VW touchstones?
Harley Brown: I wear a whale tattoo, have swum with dolphins and was a cetacean obsessive as a youth so obviously my favorite inspiration for Father of the Bride is Ecco the Dolphin.
Gab Ginsberg: I’m going to go with the little green snake. Taylor Swift owns serpents, I know, but this one is just very friendly-looking. It’s also one of the earlier symbols they used in this new era -- one starred in the “Harmony Hall” video -- so I associate it with the excitement I felt over one of my favorite bands returning.
Joe Lynch: Naming the album after a beloved '90s comedy remake is just plain smart. People in the VW age demographic grew up watching that movie as kids (and it's constantly on cable), and so there's an immediate, warm familiarity with the album before you've even listened to it. My favorite of the oddball touches is undoubtedly "2021," which samples Haruomi Hosono's Watering a Flower, an '80s album that gained cult Internet fame thanks to sublimely ridiculous YouTube comments. Ezra is obviously paying attention to what Rivers Cuomo is doing.
Chris Payne: On Time Crisis, Koenig’s Beats 1 radio show, the frontman did a bit around last Super Bowl Sunday when he asked listeners to throw a party for the big game and for snacks, provide guests with only a big bowl of Goldfish and hummus. The joke/social experiment being, do they assume it must have been some mistake and ask you for something proper like pita bread to dunk in the hummus, or do they just go with it and try to scoop up bits of hummus with the tiny crackers? Anyway I’m not sure the Goldfish-and-hummus thing is manifested on the album per se (it should have been a line on “We Belong Together”) but I like how someone who thinks that way would wind up enlisting iLoveMakonnen and BloodPop on an album also heavily inspired by ’70s jam bands.
Kevin Rutherford: I was sold on Father of the Bride from the moment I heard the pedal steel in album opener “Hold You Now.” Ezra and the boys are in on the yeehaw agenda, y’all. And Danielle Haim’s the secret weapon there (as she is throughout much of the album), sounding like a veritable Americana veteran against the folksy instrumentation, as though HAIM had already put out its own Simple Dreams. Plus, sampling The Thin Red Line?! Hans Zimmer is the greatest composer of our time. Good taste.
Vampire Weekend perform at Webster Hall on May 5, 2019 in New York City. Read More Vampire Weekend Celebrates New LP With Six-Hour, 56-Song NYC Hometown Show: Live Recap
4. Where does Father of the Bride rank for you among the four Vampire Weekend LPs released so far?
Harley Brown: After my skepticism of the normcore aesthetic touchstones for the LP – and being underwhelmed by the two of the advance singles, “Unbearably White” and “This Life” – Father of the Bride has definitely grown on me as a coherent artistic statement. That said, my super-official-and-not-subjective-at-all-ranking of all VW albums is probably, in order of most to least favorite, is Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City, Contra, Father of the Bride. The band’s first album is just a classic that has untouchable nostalgia for me, Modern Vampires is incredibly poignant, and Father of the Bride falls last simply because I kind of hate Phish and I can’t escape the LP’s Phishy vibes.
Gab Ginsberg: It’s my third favorite, after Vampire Weekend and Contra, and ahead of Modern Vampires. I do think “Harmony Hall” is one of the best songs they’ve ever written, but there isn’t a track that evokes the same urge in me to shout along to the lyrics that, say, “Oxford Comma” does.
Joe Lynch: Last place, but I don't mean that as a diss. It's a good album, but the fact of the matter is their first three are basically classics. This is an album any band in its second decade should be proud to deliver, but it's not a game-changer, nor do its peaks approach the idiosyncratic highs of self-titled, Contra or Modern Vampires. And at an hour, it definitely has the most filler of any VW LP.
Chris Payne: Fourth of four, at least for now. Listening to Father Of the Bride, it feels like the first time a Vampire Weekend album doesn’t just mesmerize me, demand my attention all the way through. Listen to all of Modern Vampires -- or any of the first three LPs, really -- and then Bride; there are tangible lulls on the new set where hanging on every note just doesn’t feel necessary as it once did. But Bride could be a big-time grower: Given Koenig and producer Ariel Rechtshaid’s track record, I could see some of the album's best moments revealing themselves deep in its subtleties over time.
Kevin Rutherford: This is a rad album that’s got a good shot of making my best-of list at the end of 2019, but one week removed from release, I’ve got it fourth of four. Which is weird to say, because again, I like what I hear. But when I think of its predecessors, I can name you three, four, maybe five songs off each I’d consider essential Vampire Weekend listening. I’m not sure I can do that yet here, even with an 18-track album.
5. VW make history this week as the first artist to land three Billboard 200-topping albums without having ever spun off a single Billboard Hot 100 hit. Which song, from any of their four albums, do you think Vampire Weekend will best remembered for 20 years from now?
Harley Brown: I think “Married in a Gold Rush” will be remembered, because it’s the Vampire Weekend equivalent of a classic country ballad, and also references the time period in which this album was made (although to be fair, that theme runs through much of Father of the Bride). And we all know this time period won’t be forgotten, because it’ll be when climate change got so bad that it shifted the Earth from salvageable to doomed.
Gab Ginsberg: I really almost said “Oxford Comma,” because it’s my personal favorite, but I think it’s “A-Punk.” I have a theory that because that song title starts with the first letter of the alphabet followed by a dash, it appears at the top of most playlists and iTunes/Spotify libraries when sorted alphabetically. Which means you’re going to hear those first few chords, at least in your head, every time you see it. It’s also their only certified gold single, and it marked their breakthrough both critically and commercially.
Joe Lynch: "A-Punk" is the easy, and correct, answer. People who have no idea who Ezra Koenig is can recognize the song from its irresistibly jangly opening chords, and rock songs with a "hey-hey-hey!" portion tend to stand the test of time.
Chris Payne: First of all, shouts to Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” reaching No. 99 on the Hot 100 for one week in 2013 and making this distinction possible. And as much as I’d like to have a clever, unexpected answer for this… it’s “A-Punk.” It has more than twice as many Spotify spins as any other Vampire Weekend song and I’ve seen how (politely) turnt it gets their live crowds, even recently. It's short and sweet and easy to chant along to, and was the first song many fans heard from them. But "A-Punk" doesn’t overshadow the rest of their catalog, so this title doesn’t feel set in stone. Could a heady deep cut like say, “Hannah Hunt,” wind up soundtracking the emotional climax of a best picture winner 10 years from now and temporarily steal its title? Maybe!
Kevin Rutherford: It’s not just because it’s fresh in my mind as a number from a recent karaoke session, but the edge here has to go to the song the most folks are gonna recognize from the opening notes, and that’s “A-Punk.” Shoot, Vampire Weekend could finally score a Hot 100 hit via Father of the Bride or whatever album(s) come next and, barring some cultural moment, it’ll still be “A-Punk.” Your parents even recognize that opening guitar riff, and most of your parents are not cool.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber's No. 2 Debut For 'I Don't Care' Collab
5/20/2019 by Billboard Staff
Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber, "I Don't Care"
The return to the pop world of two of the biggest solo stars of the 2010s, Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber, has coincided on the same single: "I Don't Care," the new collab between the between the two "Love Yourself" co-writers, and Sheeran's first musical release since his world-conquering Divide album in 2016.
Released earlier this May, the breezy bounce of "I Don't Care" was always going to have an immediate and tremendous commercial impact -- and indeed, the single launches at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, both stars' best ranking on the chart since 2017. (Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus' "Old Town Road" remains at No. 1 for a seventh week, making Sheeran and Bieber the latest in an increasingly impressive line of veteran pop stars held at No. 2 by the viral hit.)
Will the late-spring release take over radio for the warm-weather months? And what does the sound of "I Don't Care" portend about the future musical directions of Bieber and Sheeran? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below. 1. The timing of the release of "I Don't Care" seems to be designed to maximize the song's chances at earning song of the summer honors. What kind of chances do you think it has to be a real contender there?
Danica Daniel: No one can deny that Bieber owned the summer of 2017 with his feature on “Despacito,” which helped make Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee the first artists to score a foreign-language-based Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit since the “Macarena.” The song was instantly catchy and carefree and -- I am not going to lie -- when “I Don’t Care” came up on my Spotify playlist I instantly hit replay a few times. So I definitely think it’s a contender for song of the summer. I also don’t think it hurts that the song is Sheeran’s first new music since 2017’s Divide and Bieber’s last album was 2015’s Purpose, so I am sure that Beliebers and Sheerios will be clamoring for new music and quick to add this song to their BBQ, pool and beach party playlists. (Which, based on the lyrics, is highly ironic.)
Eric Frankenberg: Two of the most prolific chart-toppers of the last five years releasing a new single, both years removed from their last LPs, right before Memorial Day, seems like a very easy bet to be a major contender for Song of the Summer. But historically speaking, the SOTS is usually an out-of-the-box smash that announces itself, unquestionably, as a dominant force. The No. 2 debut of "I Don't Care" behind the cultural juggernaut that is “Old Town Road” gives me pause that this track can not only become a successful hit but rise to the point of “Despacito”-level ubiquity. I think it will finish on the official Song of the Summer top 10, but I’m holding back from predicting an all-out victory.
Jason Lipshutz: After spending a week with “I Don’t Care,” my opinion has morphed from “This is a bit underwhelming coming from these two hit-makers” to “This is potentially the most surefire Top 40 hit since ‘Girls Like You’ was inescapable for months on end.” Like that Maroon 5 smash of yore, “I Don’t Care” takes a few spins to burn into your brain, but once it’s there, its pop appeal feels obvious and immediate, as if its universality had been hiding in plain sight. A splashy Hot 100 debut was an inevitability thanks to the star power involved, but I expect “I Don’t Care” to linger in the upper reaches of the chart for a while.
Andrew Unterberger: Say this: If it doesn't become song of the summer, it won't be for lack of trying. "I Don't Care" couldn't be much more custom-designed for sunny days, from the light Caribbean inflections of the beat to the shots of Sheeran and Bieber lounging by the pool in the video to the "Hell yeah!" mini-singalongs in the verses to the general affability of the chorus. But it's true that the most predictable song of the summer rarely ends up the overall champ, so maybe we tend to underrate music fans' desire for something a little new and different soundtracking their beach days and road trips.
Taylor Weatherby: I think "I Don't Care" is one of the catchiest pop songs 2019 has seen yet, so to me it's already a real contender. Though the production is a little more dance-leaning, it's melody and lyrics make it a pretty purely pop song -- and its bright production is perfect for the warm weather, with its "ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh" hook in particular being a brain-sticker that people will whistle all day after hearing the chorus for the first time. As far as the pop song of the summer candidates go, I'd say its biggest competition so far is the Jonas Brothers' "Sucker." 2. Post Malone, Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie, Shawn Mendes, and now Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber: Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" is keeping some mighty big pop names as silver medalists on the Hot 100 this year. What does the continued reign of Lil Nas X over these established superstars say to you about pop music in 2019?
Danica Daniel: Pop music is dead, right?! Just kidding. What I love about the success of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” is the fact that he found the track on BeatStars created by YoungKio and bought the track from the Netherlands teen for only $30, while Post Malone, Taylor Swift, Shawn Mendes and, of course, Bieber and Sheeran are undoubtedly working with exponentially bigger budgets. So I think it’s a reminder to the music industry that spending millions on a track and enlisting big name artists doesn’t necessarily guarantee a hit record. I also must mention that most music fans, like myself, are into more than just one genre -- so songs like "Old Town Road" that blur the lines of genre, in my opinion, will always appeal to a larger audience, and thus do better on the charts.
Eric Frankenberg: Sometimes, we have periods on the Hot 100 like 2010-11 (Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Adele, Kesha, Pink) and 2015-16 (Adele, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Drake, The Weeknd, Rihanna) where the usual suspects feel bulletproof. But we’ve also gone through periods where the throne is in flux, as some of the aforementioned superstars have stumbled trying to figure out how to move forward among new crops of hitmakers. Whether “Old Town Road” is a forebearer for the future of pop music or a singular vision that can’t be replicated is yet to be seen, but perhaps Swift and Mendes and Bieber and Sheeran can use Lil Nas X to recall the energy that yielded them their own breakthroughs as we head into the 20s.
Jason Lipshutz: This streak of huge names having to settle for the runner-up spot on the Hot 100 speaks less to any deficiencies with “ME!,” “If I Can’t Have You” or “I Don’t Care,” and more to the enormity of “Old Town Road,” which has seemingly united music fans across the country in a relatively short time span. The fact that the song has broken streaming records for multiple weeks in a row demonstrates how huge it’s become, to a point in which it will almost assuredly define the year in popular music in the same way that “Despacito” did two years ago. And that’s the exciting aspect of pop music — its ability to completely upend expectation. No one could have seen this out-of-nowhere single stymying the big new singles from pop’s A-list, but thanks to “Old Town Road,” Taylor, Shawn, Ed and Justin have had to keep their respective horses in the back.
Andrew Unterberger: I think it means we're in a pretty healthy place for pop music on the charts right now, to be honest: a place where there's still plenty of room for established stars to have their expected impact, but in which they're not walking into No. 1 hits by default. Maybe a few of them would have if not for the once-or-twice-in-a-generation moment like "Old Town Road," but you just never know when one of these unexpected cultural phenomenons is going to come along, or where from -- a concept that Bieber himself should be more familiar with than anyone.
Taylor Weatherby: That names are mattering less and less. Superstars clearly still have power, considering all of those artists shot to No. 2 on the Hot 100, but an undeniable smash is what ultimately wins no matter who is singing it. It also tells me that people are looking for different. There is nothing else out there right now as genre-bending as "Old Town Road," and its continued Hot 100 reign shows that people don't care about defining a song by musical style as much as they enjoy a ridiculously catchy tune -- whether it's sung by a rookie or a legend.
3. New albums from both Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber are sure to be two of the year's most-anticipated releases. Whose upcoming LP do you think "I Don't Care" will end up being more in line with sonically/musically, if either?
Danica Daniel: This is a tough one. I could see “I Don’t Care” fitting into either artist’s next album based on their previous work, but if I had to choose, I would go Bieber all the way. Besides Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” I feel Bieber has provided us with many more party bangers then Sheeran over the years, and “I Don’t Care” already reminds me eerily of 2015’s “What Do You Mean?” Also when I think of Sheeran, I think of songs that make me have serious relationship FOMO, and this isn’t one of them.
Eric Frankenberg: It feels like a total wildcard – both, or neither. Like Swift’s “ME!,” “I Don’t Care” arrived without a proper announcement of a forthcoming album. That allows both Bieber and Sheeran the freedom to re-arrange and adjust their track lists depending on the long-term performance of their new single. “I Don’t Care” doesn’t stray too far from the mid-tempo trop-pop of “What Do You Mean” or “Shape of You,” so this could simply be a re-introduction for both superstars, before the official unveiling of Bieber 2k20 and Sheeran 4.0.
Jason Lipshutz: Gonna go with the “neither” option here: “I Don’t Care” seems like a one-off, a stopgap single for two artists with little to prove and zero indication that an album is imminent. Ed and Justin probably saw an opportunity to come together, rack up millions of daily streams and goof around in front of a green screen together. Far be it from anyone to deny them such earthly delights.
Andrew Unterberger: Like his good buddy Taylor, Ed Sheeran's evolution from acoustic-toting singer-songwriter to top 40 pop centrist has been so gradual and smart that you have to flash back to the beginning sometimes to even remember how much distance they've ultimately traveled. Using that parallel, that would make this Sheeran's "Shake It Off," which would imply that his forthcoming fourth LP will be his 1989 -- an album of practically non-stop pop hits that all but officially backburners his folkier instincts. We'll see if that ends up coming to pass, but I find that a little likelier than Justin Bieber going for Round Two with the Island-and-EDM-influenced megapop of Purpose -- too much has changed for the Bieb since 2015.
Taylor Weatherby: My initial reaction to that question is "definitely Bieber" because its bouncy dance-inspired production sounds very "Sorry"-esque to me, but then again, I could see Justin steering his own music in a more unexpected direction since his next set has been so anticipated. The same goes for Ed -- you wouldn't necessarily expect a dance-leaning track from the guitar-strumming, occasionally rapping singer, but it would be a fun lane for him to explore in the post-"Shape Of You" era. That's a very long-winded way of basically saying I'm not really sure: I could see both Justin's and Ed's next albums following the "I Don't Care" vibe, but also wouldn't be shocked if this is the most production-heavy tune these two put out this year. 4. What's your favorite image from the hyper-colorful, green-screen heavy "I Don't Care" video?
Danica Daniel: While I literally burst out laughing at the visual of Bieber running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain in an ice-cream suit, my favorite shot has to be that of the 25-year-old flying on a magic carpet past a rainbow. Ever since Disney’s Aladdin, I have always fantasized about falling in love while on a magic carpet ride -- and who could deny that Justin is, for Beliebers everywhere, a modern-day prince?
Eric Frankenberg: Ed Sheeran as a panda bear in space. At this point, I trust pandas over humans to figure out our next steps, assuming Earth is, in fact, in as bad of shape as Lil Dicky tells us it is. Close runner-up is Bieber as part-ice cream cone, part-magical pony.
Jason Lipshutz: There’s a scene in which Justin Bieber, dressed as an ear of corn, hops up to the fence overlooking a pool party. What’s going on in this moment? Is Corn Bieber about to excitedly enter the pool party, or is he dejected about his exclusion from the festivities? I’d love to hear Bieber unpack his motivations for this fascinating development in the story of the video.
Andrew Unterberger: Give me the teal-and-purple windbreaker that Sheeran sports sporadically throughout the video, please. Actually, just give me a pop culture moment for boldly colored windbreakers in general.
Taylor Weatherby: This video is too much for someone as indecisive as me, so I have three favorites: First, when Justin bounces behind Ed at the pool while dressed in the corn costume gets me every time (honestly, any time he's in the corn suit or the ice cream costume I crack up -- he looks so giddy it's hilarious). Second, the shot of a monkey holding Ed dressed as a banana. It flashes by so fast you almost don't see it, which is what I love about it most. And third, the shot of Ed marrying Justin's "Never Say Never" cardboard cutout is classic -- it makes me think this is a bromance that's going to live on past "I Don't Care." That's what I hope, anyway. 5. Not counting "I Don't Care," what's your favorite song about not fitting in or not wanting to be at a club or party?
Danica Daniel: I’m taking it back to 1997: Hands down my favorite song about not fitting in has to be "Outside," the final track off of Mariah Carey’s Butterfly album. When the 2019 Billboard Music Awards Icon recipient cooed ethereally in her signature soprano that “Early on, you face the realization you don't have a space where you fit in and recognize you were born to exist,” my teenage self felt like Carey had ripped a page out of my diary. And while the song most likely spoke to her mixed-race heritage, it also spoke to a then-chubby little girl from Brooklyn who literally could not fit into most of the clothes being sold on the sales rack, and yet was still “eager to just believe” I was “good enough to be” what I really was.
Eric Frankenberg: I’m going to bend the rules and choose “Telephone” as the best song about not wanting to be bothered while out in the club (sipping that bubb). While Ed and Justin feel most at home while literally at home with their respective baby(s), Gaga and Beyoncé choose the freeing euphoria of the dance floor.
Jason Lipshutz: When the 2010s are over (which isn’t too far away!) and we’re looking back at the defining songs of the decade, the go-to out-of-place-at-the-party song has to be Alessia Cara’s “Here,” its anxieties and misgivings about what should be “cool” beautifully developed and still impactful years later. Cara may not have dressed up as an ear of corn in its music video, but “Here” one-ups “I Don’t Care” by best defining that feeling.
Andrew Unterberger: Here, I bow to the (once, relatively) infinite wisdom of Morrissey in summarizing the entirety of the clubgoing experience for roughly half the world's population: "So you go and you stand on your own/ And you leave on your own/ And you go home and you cry and you want to die."
Taylor Weatherby: Radiohead's "Creep." Not so much a song about not wanting to be at a party, but the "What the hell am I doing here?/ I don't belong here" line of the chorus certainly sends the same message as an anti-party tune. And I love how flawlessly the eerie verses and reverberating electric guitar fits the vibe of the unsociable lyrics ("When you were here before/ Couldn't look you in the eye..."). Certainly more straightforward than the contrast of the "F this party" lyrics and bubbly vibe of "I Don't Care," even though "I Don't Care" is definitely more my style.
Five Burning Questions: Tyler the Creator's Career Week on the Charts With 'IGOR'
5/31/2019 by Billboard Staff
Tyler, the Creator had reached every other peak in the Billboard 200's top five with his first four albums: No. 5 with debut Goblin in 2011, No. 4 with third set Cherry Bomb in 2015, No. 3 with sophomore LP Wolf in 2013 and No. 2 two years ago with fourth album Flower Boy. And now, with latest effort IGOR, he's completed the top-five set with his first ever No. 1 on the chart.
IGOR moves 165,000 equivalent album units this week -- a career-best for the Odd Future rapper -- allowing it to finish above DJ Khaled's guest-heavy Father of Asahd venture, which finishes at No. 2 with 137,000 units moved. Just as impressively, IGOR charts eight of its 12 tracks on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, led by "Earfquake" at No. 13 -- doubly notable, because Tyler had only scored three total hits on the chart before, and none higher than No. 87.
Are there more hits to come from IGOR? And why is Tyler enjoying this level of commercial success only now, almost a decade after he initially achieved mainstream notoriety? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. IGOR arrived with little advance notice, no advance singles, a hidden guest list and few if any obvious radio songs. How surprised are you (if at all) that it was able to outperform DJ Khaled's Father of Asahd -- with its established singles, star-studded guest list, heavy week-of promotion and big swings at big hits?
Tatiana Cirisano: I’m not too surprised, even if Tyler himself was. Hype doesn’t necessarily equal hits. I think the lack of build-up actually helped Tyler here -- since I had zero expectations for the album, I came to IGOR with a completely open mind, free of the wear that often comes with heavily-promoted projects. (“Just go, jump into it,” he writes in a note on the album art, suggesting this was just what he intended.) And despite the hidden guest list -- or maybe in spite of it -- I found myself replaying certain tracks to hunt down those features. IGOR is that special kind of record where the more times you listen, the more you hear, so I’m not shocked that it garnered this many spins. Of course, you need an established fanbase and a healthy level of notoriety to pull off this kind of surprise drop. Thankfully for him, Tyler has both.
Josh Glicksman: Given that both of DJ Khaled’s last two albums went No. 1, it’s not hard to imagine an alternate reality where he picks up a third consecutive chart-topping record. However, the promotion efforts behind Father of Asahd might’ve cost him such a scenario. Following two singles that were released way too early in advance -- “Top Off” dropped in March 2018 -- there was hardly any buzz surrounding the project until it arrived on May 17. Ultimately, it’s not that shocking to me that Tyler edged out DJ Khaled. The former provides a more appealing and digestible body of work for listening. Other than popcorning around to the tracks from your favorite collaborators, the once-omnipresent jet skier doesn’t provide much content worth repeating on Father of Asahd.
Bryan Kress: I’m pleasantly surprised. Tyler was nipping at that number one spot with Flower Boy, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping he could bring it home this time. Clearly, lessons have been learned since 2017 with the expansion of his reliable merch bundles, but following the release, the album itself proved to be a worthy match to Father of Asahd. IGOR arguably hosts more diverse and thoughtfully implemented features, and attracts a stronger intrigue as Tyler unveils the latest phase of his transformative career.
Carl Lamarre: Not surprised. The thing about Khaled is that he hasn't developed a core fan-base. I think fans are more geeked about his single collaborations as opposed to hearing a full-length album from him. As for Tyler, he's coming off a Grammy-nominated effort in 2017's Flower Boy, and at the time, it was considered his best body of work. I think we were all initially stunned to see his level of vulnerability on that album, and because of that, curiosity drove back to him that format, and with IGOR, it was worth the wait.
Ross Scarano: I’m not surprised. This is the sort of success Tyler’s been working towards his entire career; he’s diligently nurtured a fanbase of hyper-invested consumers that’s grown large enough to turn his festival, Camp Flog Gnaw, into one of the premier West Coast music festivals. Factor in his clothing line and sneaker work and you have an artist who has convincingly, authentically and sensibly built a brand. At 28, he’s a vision of coherence, a former agitator who has followed his heart into more mellow but nevertheless ambitious musical territory that lays bare his interiority in a way that’s totally distinct from the early years of his career but without feeling disconnected from them. It makes me really happy.
2. IGOR also represents Tyler's best first-week numbers and first No. 1 album, nearly a decade into his career as a solo star. What about this album (or about the industry in 2019) do you think has led to him reaching these new commercial heights?
Tatiana Cirisano: Tyler has always been a musical shape-shifter, but with IGOR, he’s never been more true to himself. On the album, he explores every sonic whim and curiosity, and treads pulpy subjects like heartbreak, self-worth and the thread that connects love with obsession. I think listeners are responding to that vulnerability. I also think today’s listeners are more open to the kind of genre-blurring experimentation on IGOR, a trend that might be driven by the wealth of music niches available through streaming. After all, it was just a few weeks ago that another genre-bender, Billie Eilish, topped the Billboard 200. In today’s anything-goes musical landscape, fortune favors the bold.
Josh Glicksman: Though Tyler hasn’t experienced a whole lot of Hot 100 success before IGOR, it’s worth noting that he hasn’t been far off from the top of the Billboard 200 with previous efforts, coming one spot away from the top with Flower Boy in 2017 -- held off only by Lana Del Rey’s Lust for Life -- and never charting lower than top five. Tyler’s growth as an artist is continued with each passing work, and he has undoubtedly benefited from today’s streaming age, but let’s not dismiss his successes from earlier in his career, either.
Bryan Kress: Tyler has slowly crept into mainstream consciousness by building an empire on the foundation of his endlessly popular GOLF brand and burgeoning television career. Though IGOR might be less accessible than typical chart-topping fare, Tyler as a public figure has never been more popular.
Carl Lamarre: I think it just comes down to Tyler and his evolution. At the start of his career, he enjoyed going against the grain, churning out inflammatory bars, some of which sparked controversy among the LGBTQ community. The skill-set was always there, but he needed to be a bit more polished. Once he exuded a sense of openness within his music, beginning with Flower Boy, fans embraced him for his refreshing candor and have championed his newfound transparency. The more layers he continues to peel back, the more receptive his audience will be.
Ross Scarano: If the streaming economy as it exists now existed in 2011, when “Yonkers” dropped, I don’t think we’d be talking about new commercial heights in 2019. That said, this album feels perfect for right now -- a few steps ahead of the curve but on a continuum with recent work from many of the stars in the musical community Tyler fits into. (Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs and Frank Ocean’s Endless also fall into this category, in that they’re going to inspire lots and lots of music to come.) Tyler’s love for Stevie Wonder, especially his warm ‘70s synth work on albums like Talking Book and Innervisions, is a ribbon running through all of IGOR, and rhymes with the weirder slice of Wonder that Solange drew from for When I Get Home. He tapped Playboi Carti for an exquisite verse, continued to further the decades-long excellence of Uncle Charlie Wilson and brought Solange on for vocal flourishes -- it feels like family.
3. "Earfquake" is easily Tyler's biggest Hot 100 hit to date, debuting at No. 13 on the chart this week. He's said that the song was turned down by Justin Bieber and Rihanna -- could you see it being even bigger or better as performed by one of those superstars, or did it end up being recorded by the right person?
Tatiana Cirisano: Bieber’s voice strikes me as too polished to suit the song’s rough edges. I’ll admit: I wouldn’t turn down a Rihanna version, or any new Rihanna music, at this point. Still, “Earfquake” feels like Tyler’s baby. I just don’t think the song’s funky, swerving beat would be the same without his (plus Charlie Wilson’s) soulful, literally quaking vocals to match it. The lamenting track is also crucial to IGOR, setting up the tenuous relationship at its core. (...But seriously, Rihanna, WYA?)
Josh Glicksman: Would it be bigger? Yes. Any time you’re attaching a huge name like that to a track, whether just for a hook or for the whole thing, it’s inherently going to get a huge boost -- Tyler has 8.1 million Twitter followers, versus 91.2 million and 105.6 million for Rihanna and Bieber, respectively. Would it be better? No chance. Everything from its groove cooked with opening piano chords and synths to its Adult Swim-vibe music video screams Tyler, the Creator. The final result likely gets something of a tonal shape-up with either Rih or JB involved, but I doubt “Earfquake” works nearly as well with either of the two parties participating.
Bryan Kress: In its current form, I can only see the song working with Tyler. Though the prospect of Carti sharing credits with Justin Bieber or Rihanna is an enticing thought experiment, Tyler is the only logical fit for a tune that fondly equates heartache to a natural disaster. His wish list artists may have been able to net a higher spot on the charts, but it’s the rare vulnerability and sincerity in Tyler’s voice that gives the song its heart.
Carl Lamarre: Yeah, Rihanna and Bieber would have smashed this song, but there was just something special about Tyler's rendition. He imbued a sense of rawness that only he was able to capture. Tyler knows he can't sing, but sometimes, just owning the song is as good enough. Many of us can't sing like a Bieber or Rihanna, but, we do all have loneliness in common.
Ross Scarano: The song wouldn’t work with a stronger vocalist; you need Tyler’s tentative pipsqueak performance to sell the feeling it describes. The earthquake is most shattering when you, the listener, can hear that this love is bigger than the singer’s body.
4. "Earfquake" is just one of eight songs Tyler notches on the Hot 100 this week. Which of the other seven songs do you think has the most potential to be a breakout track from the album?
Tatiana Cirisano: With its gritty, chopped-up beat and woozy dream of a bridge, “I Think” is a straight-up jam. Positioned at the start of the love story told by IGOR, the song feels like striking a match. That said, the menacing “New Magic Wand” could be a sleeper hit, if for Tyler’s infectious “EEE! EEE!” alone. You read that in his voice, didn’t you?
Josh Glicksman: Maybe it’s because I haven’t been able to get “You so motherf**kin’ dangerous” out of my head since the project dropped, but I’m going with “A Boy Is a Gun*” here. The Kanye influence is fingerprinted on the track with Tyler using the same Ponderosa Twins Plus One sample that Ye utilizes on “Bound 2.” It’s also Tyler’s strongest lyrical performance from IGOR and is riddled with memorable one-liners like “Cause this parka is Comme, you’re my favorite garçon” and “You invited me to breakfast, why the f**k your ex here?” It’s a bit more of a dark horse, but paired with a well-timed music video, “Gun” has the potential to explode into the perfect song for all of your late summer nights.
Bryan Kress: While I see “New Magic Wand” as the next mosh-ready staple of his live show and “I Think” as the dance-y deep cut held in reverence by fans, it’s the sample-laden love song "A Boy Is a Gun" that’d I’d like to succeed the most. It embraces a softer sound that Tyler typically swerves against, but it completely works as the euphoric climax of the album’s concept of love and loss that garners its brightest moment.
Carl Lamarre: I'm huge on song sequence, so, of course, I love how "Earfquake" segues into "I Think." That song has N.E.R.D. vibes all over it. After being in a state of romantic depression the track before, "I Think" not only refuels one's hopes for love but makes you want to race to the floor and party the night away. I can only imagine what the energy will be like when this song comes on during Tyler's headlining set at Gov. Ball this weekend. Dance Fever.
Ross Scarano: “A Boy Is a Gun” grabbed me most on my first listen. It could be the song that’s destined to be more of a fan favorite than a breakout single -- it’s also the only track on here where Tyler says “you're my favorite garçon,” a line that always gets me.
5. So much about where Tyler, the Creator is at as an artist in 2019 would have been unforeseeable from his early days as an Odd Future provocateur. What about his evolution have you found the most surprising or impressive?
Tatiana Cirisano: I’m continually impressed by how involved Tyler is in every aspect of his work. The guy just goes above and beyond. He produced, wrote and arranged all of IGOR, and his fingerprints are absolutely everywhere. Even the shaker sound you hear in “Running Out of Time,” among other tracks, is actually his vocals. I find the first part of that question harder to answer -- everything he’s done has been surprising! Knowing that I’m a fan, another staffer looking to get into Tyler recently asked me if IGOR is a good place to start. There is no good place to start, but that’s why I like Tyler’s music so much. You just jump in.
Josh Glicksman: is ability to present listeners with something totally different than the rest of his catalogue with each new release -- and his ability to present it extremely well -- is incredibly impressive. From early Odd Future work to “Hot Chocolate” anthems to more recent melodic cuts, Tyler constantly keeps his listeners guessing and manages to level up while doing so. His maturation in lyrical content and production is among the most impressive of any artist in the genre over the past decade. Simply put, my favorite part about Tyler, the Creator is that I still don’t know how to adequately describe his discography in a way that does justice to its evolution.
Bryan Kress: From the album’s initial announcement as a work "written, produced and arranged by" Tyler himself, it was clear IGOR would be a culmination of his singular vision; the most impressive thing about the album is just how well he was able to execute that. The many sides to Tyler’s persona and the competing sounds of his discography, from the half-baked homicidal lyricism in his OF days to the brash discordant production of Cherry Bomb to the melodic pop/R&B experimentation on Flower Boy, are filtered into a coherent, affecting and surprisingly soulful project. No matter how far he's pushed the boundaries as a rapper and producer, his music always seemed to have obvious ties to his self-professed influences whether it was Pharrell, Kanye, Eminem or Roy Ayers. IGOR feels like Tyler's first album to build off a sound that's uniquely his.
Carl Lamarre: Tyler's willingness to open up has been vital in his maturation as an artist. Reality is, there's a ton of lovelorn twenty-somethings seeking answers. With Tyler, they now have someone who will unabashedly dish out their feelings at the front door with zero regrets. If you need proof, look no further than his IGOR Apple Music concert in L.A., where fans were confidently belting out his lyrics after he had just released the album less than a week prior. Tyler is a crucial leader for this generation of fans, and if he continues to follow that blueprint, he'll be nearing legendary status in hip-hop.
Ross Scarano: I’m genuinely impressed with his progression from no-holds-barred provocateur to tenderhearted maestro, producing and arranging an album that chronicles a queer relationship -- precisely because it’s unpredictable, but not unnatural. There are through lines for these feelings and sounds.
Five Burning Questions: Lil Nas X, Billie Eilish, Khalid & the New Generation Leading the Billboard Hot 100
By Billboard Staff | June 04, 2019 2:05 PM EDT Lil Nas X
As the turn of the decade approaches, it appears the future of pop music is in capable hands. This week, the top of the Billboard Hot 100 is dominated by young folks -- Lil Nas X ("Old Town Road," No. 1), Billie Eilish ("Bad Guy," No. 2) and Khalid ("Talk," No. 3) --- marking the first time since Post Malone, Camila Cabello and Lil Pump reigned in Dec. 2017 that the chart's top three is all led by artists who are 21 and under.
Is it a one-week thing, or are the kids really taking over? Who might be next to join them, and who might shepherd them along the way? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more about this week's Hot 100 below. 1. For the first time since Dec. 2017, all three of the top three songs on the Hot 100 are by lead artists 21 or younger. Is this a fluke, or do you think 2019 has been legitimately representative of a youth movement in pop music?
Trevor Anderson: No doubt that we’re in the middle of a musical baton-passing to a new class of hitmakers, and the key thing to me, is that they’ve all come to prominence on their own terms. Lil Nas X hit the jackpot, obviously, through a good-luck-replicating-this combination of a clever ass song, TikTok memes and a headline-grabbing genre controversy to record-breaking success. Billie Eilish -- at 17! -- has navigated that special space where she’s the most refreshing pop star but not a pop product. Khalid, meanwhile, is by far the most conventional of the trio, but he spent the years between his two solo albums on a litter of collaborations, none of which seems to have worn him out with the public. I’ll slightly raise the age bar to 25 to get Ariana Grande in the mix, but I think the old guard of the pop world has their work cut out for their comebacks.
Stephen Daw: In the words of Kevin Malone (see, Billie, I like The Office too): "A fluke is one of the most common fish in the sea, so if you go fishing for a fluke, chances are, you just might catch one." It is crystal clear to me that young artists are having a real moment in pop music. In years past, young stars like Justin Bieber, Aaron Carter and Miley Cyrus became famous as members of the "child/teen pop star" trope -- cute kids singing cute pop songs about cute things. While none of these artists would qualify as "kids" (though Ms. Eilish is certainly a teen), they are also breaking the mold of what a young star looks like, making genuinely interesting music that can easily compete with megastars like Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. In 2019, the kids are more than alright.
Bianca Gracie: No, I don't think this reoccurring trend is happening by chance at all. The Hot 100 is a reflection of what's currently popular in music and -- truth be told -- the kids are now the ones who are creating the most innovative tunes (in my opinion, at least). Not to take away from the veterans of the game, but it does say something when the the lower you reach on the charts, the higher the average age rises. It's an exciting time seeing younger artists unleash more experimental music, which in turn challenges the OGs to either keep up or try to switch up their formula.
Ross Scarano: Hip-hop is the most powerful youth movement I know of, and unless something has replaced it as the most consumed genre of music, I think we’re still living under its auspices. I know what this question is getting at, but still sort of object to its framing, since most pop music chases youth: its signifiers, its capricious interests, its intense vision of the world.
Xander Zellner: Music has always been defined by what’s new and young and hip, so it’s no fluke that young artists are flourishing on the charts, but it’s certainly rare for this many 21-and-under artists to be dominating at the same time. In 2016, we determined the average age of a lead solo artist at No. 1 on the Hot 100 to be 28.5 (that average may have fluctuated slightly since then). Looking at this week’s chart, every lead solo artist in the top 10 of the Hot 100 right now is younger than that -- if we’re talking every artist present, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kevin Jonas and Joe Jonas are the only ones older than 28.5. So, yes, there certainly seems to be a youth movement happening in pop music in 2019. 2. While "Old Town Road" has already fended off its fair share of challengers at No. 1, most have come via big first-week launches from established names, rather than songs like "Bad Guy" and "Talk," which have built momentum slowly over the course of months. What would you say the chances are that one of those two songs ultimately becomes the one to unseat "Old Town Road" at No. 1?
Trevor Anderson: If we’re playing “Guess Who” Hot 100 Edition, the only artists still standing who have an outright shot at outperforming “Old Town Road” in a week to debut at No. 1 are Rihanna, Adele and Drake. With question marks all around those artists, “Bad Guy” has risen to become the most pressing challenger. It’s only at No. 22 on the Radio Songs chart and is gaining by leaps and bounds each week, so its radio peak should come as “Old Town Road” begins to decline. “Guy” also sits at No. 1 on the Spotify U.S. Top 50, and notably, is really the first song to overtake “Road” that isn’t a brand new release. That said, “Guy” still claims only one-third of the Hot 100 points that “Old Town Road” has -- so it's possible that "Road” may block “Guy” for a long while, and then just as the race tightens between the two, some other blockbuster may come out and takes No. 1 for itself.
Stephen Daw: With the summer officially in full swing, I would be pretty surprised if either of these two songs managed to topple Lil Nas X's reign atop the Hot 100. Don't get me wrong -- I love both "Bad Guy" and "Talk" dearly, but particularly with new music coming down the pipe from Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Halsey and so many more, I can't see either of these late-bloomers rising the ranks to overtake "Old Town Road."
Bianca Gracie: At the rate that "Old Town Road" is going (it's now in its ninth week atop the Hot 100), the chances for a slow-building tune to dethrone it are quite unlikely -- especially now that Lil Nas X is planning to drop his new 7 EP sometime in the coming weeks, which will probably give "Old Town Road" yet another boost once the project's streaming numbers kick in. It's pretty wild that massive pop names like Shawn Mendes and Taylor Swift failed to knock the rapper off his horse, so I can't even think of what it'll take for someone else to finally have the chance to snag the top slot anytime soon. That is, unless one Robyn Fenty decides to drop a musical bomb out of nowhere...
Ross Scarano: Maybe, but even if either overtakes Lil Nas X, it’s a battle of attrition situation that’s more contingent on timing than anything else. What I’m getting it is that it won’t have the same rush or definitive sense of victory, if you can use such a word, compared to a brand new song overtaking “Old Town Road.”
Xander Zellner: Pains me to say, but highly unlikely. Both songs are excellent in their own right, and career-altering, but I don’t see either having a chance. Lil Nas X's streaming lead is so monumental that by the time its streams level out, “Bad Guy” and “Talk” will likely have fallen well below the top 10. The most likely scenario is that streams for “Old Town Road” will steadily drop (as is the case for every song), and as it begins to level out, another big-name artist will drop a new Song of the Summer contender and debut at No. 1 (Rihanna, where are you?!). 3. Lil Nas X, Billie Eilish and Khalid make for a pretty coherent top three when it comes to trying to encapsulate this moment in popular music. Which other two artists would you choose to round out a Definitively 2019 top five?
Trevor Anderson: I gotta bring Lizzo to the field. She’s such a welcome break from a lot of the stereotypical norms that many might project onto her in the industry, and her roles as both a comedic therapist and a total champion for everyone to live their best lives feel very of the moment in pop culture. For my second pick, I’m gonna pick more of a dark-horse choice and say A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, who's showed a sneaky consistency this year. His album Hoodie SZN achieved the rare feat of actually climbing into the No. 1 spot of the Billboard 200 in January (rather than debuting there), and it’s remained in the top 20 every week since. Musically, he checks off most boxes of what’s making poppy hip-hop (pop-hop?) make ever-increasing inroads into top 40 territory: His raps aren’t the aggressive-threatening type, he can carry a tune, and he floats between moody, downtempo reflections and hype anthems with equal skill.
Stephen Daw: Lizzo definitely earns one of those remaining slots -- she's been around since 2013, but with her first Hot 100 single and her debut album, 2019 is clearly her year. I'd also have to put BTS in the mix here, since 2019 has seen them make a clear breakthrough into the mainstream that was previously thought to be improbable, if not impossible.
Bianca Gracie: It would be sacrilegious at this point to not include Ariana Grande in this conversation! Before Lil Nas X came galloping through, it was her "7 Rings" single that wouldn't let up on the Hot 100's No. 1 spot. And her thank u, next album is one of the strongest releases not only of this year, but of her career. Along with Grande making her mark in 2019, I also think Halsey has proven that she's an artist who's here to stay. Her "Without Me" single is still going hard and her latest "Nightmare" shows her growing versatility. But the ladies across all genres have been kicking ass this year so far, and it's great to witness!
Ross Scarano: Rosalia, whose new song “Aute Cuture” is one of the strongest singles of the year, and maybe let's round it out with Tyler the Creator, who along with artists like Solange and Standing on the Corner, are at the center of their own musical universe -- one that has brought me a lot of joy recently.
Xander Zellner: Ariana Grande, Halsey and Post Malone would make it a top six, but they each have to be a part of the conversation. Of the 23 weeks of 2019, there’s only been two where Lil Nas X, Ariana Grande, Halsey or Post Malone didn’t have the No. 1 song in the country (hello, Jonas Brothers and Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper).
4. What 21-and-under artist not currently threatening for the Hot 100's top spot do you think might have a chance of doing so in the not-too-distant future?
Trevor Anderson: He was threatening a few weeks ago, but that momentum’s slightly cooled for the moment: Shawn Mendes. The fact that “If I Can’t Have You” started at No. 2 on the Hot 100 -- his career best rank -- is a welcome indicator for the future. Mendes had never had a song open above No. 24 on the Hot 100, and all three of his top 10s, “Stitches,” “Treat You Better,” and “There’s Nothing Holdin' Me Back” all needed wide radio support to reach the chart’s upper tier, something that “You” had little of in its very first week. Shawn’s latest single has retreated safely into the lower stretches of the top 20, but given that he can post a No. 2 debut driven mainly on sales and streams, he should soon find that magic track that will keep streamers’ interest long enough to give radio programmers time to push the track into overdrive, and as a result, net that elusive Hot 100 No. 1.
Stephen Daw: There are so many young, already super-popular artists who could so easily take this spot; Noah Cyrus, Lil Pump and Juice WRLD are just a couple of names that come to mind at the moment, and Shawn Mendes -- still just 20, incredibly -- has obviously nearly accomplished this goal with "If I Can't Have You" debuting at No. 2 on the Hot 100 (but still getting blocked by Lil Nas X). But I've got my eye on a more left-field pick in Carlie Hanson. At 19, her recent string of singles, like "Back in My Arms" and "WYD," prove that she is an up-and-coming force in pop music. With her Junk album -- her full-length debut -- arriving on Friday (June 7), I wouldn't be surprised if, sometime within the next few months, she begins to slowly ascend the charts, eventually claiming a top-tier position.
Bianca Gracie: It's been a while since we've had a traditional hip-hop track sit on the Hot 100's throne, so I'd love to see a rapper finesse his or her way back into that spot. And I think Polo G and Lil Tjay -- who are 20 and 18, respectively -- will be the ones to do it. The pair established themselves as ones to watch in the game with their incredibly catchy single "Pop Out," which is slowing climbing the chart and now sits at No. 27. Both rappers are signed to Columbia's urban division, which has a pretty tight lock on the streaming scene. So as the song grows larger on streaming platforms, it's only a matter of time that it completely takes over.
Ross Scarano: Polo G, from Chicago. "Pop Out" is one of the year’s longest-burning new rap singles, and a number of industry folks I’ve spoken to have their eye on the 20-year-old.
Xander Zellner: It’s got to be Shawn Mendes, right? He nearly got there four weeks ago when “If I Can’t Have You” debuted at No. 2 (and became the highest-charting song of his career), but he was blocked by “Old Town Road.” I don’t think that’s necessarily the single that will get him to his first No. 1, but once all the OTR hoopla has subsided, Shawn is certainly due for a Hot 100-topper.
5. Of course, even with all these young'ns populating the top three, there remains an old in their midst: 57-year-old Billy Ray Cyrus, star guest on the "Old Town Road" remix. Do either Billie or Khalid a favor by choosing any artist that's at least twice their age -- i.e. 42 or older -- to hop on a remix to their hit and help get them over the hump.
Trevor Anderson: Can I cheat, a bit? Thanks. I’m going to round slightly down and call 40-year-old Usher Raymond IV to the stand for a “Talk” remix. The song is perfect for Usher -- its lyrics center on a strained, confused relationship and the vocal skill required grants him full use of his trademark wails and falsetto. But the irresistibly bounce and synth beat, courtesy of Disclosure, would open a new lane for Usher, whose stylings have stayed closer to traditional R&B in the 90s and a double-down on trap sounds with Hard II Love and A. If Usher needs that comeback hit, why not take a swing with a new sound and one of the freshest faces in R&B for a record that’s unlike anything we’ve seen in his quarter-century career?
Stephen Daw: "Bad Guy" has the beat and the vibe to support a well-crafted rap verse. If we're looking for an artist who will compliment Billie's effortlessly confident attitude, along with providing that final wow factor to boost the song over the top, then we ought to look no further than Missy Elliott. She's got the clout and name recognition necessary to give the song brand new life, she's got the skills necessary to make a truly insane guest verse, and she oozes that same sense of swagger and cockiness that Billie so expertly displays throughout the track. I mean, just imagine Missy spitting a rapid-fire set of bars, only to accentuate it with that iconic "duh." It would be *chef's kiss*.
Bianca Gracie: I think Billie's "Bad Guy" is great enough on its own and wouldn't fare well with a remix. Adding an older artist to the track would take away from its uniqueness. But if I must choose one for her among her recent hits, I'll go with Trent Reznor hopping on "Bury A Friend." The Nine Inch Nails frontman would match well with Billie's intensity and the tune's industrial-heavy, skin-crawling production. As for Khalid? He does really well with female collaborators ("Love Lies" with Normani still remains one of his best tracks), so it would be cool to see someone like Mariah Carey hop on Free Spirit cut "My Bad." The song's mellow tone and themes of complicated relationships pairs well with the icon's penchant for smooth, sultry grooves.
Ross Scarano: I don’t think this would help it get over the hump, but let Björk hop on “Bad Guy.” Her voice is perfect for it.
Xander Zellner: A Billie/Björk collaboration would be very interesting. Their music has some similarities -- they both straddle multiple different genres (it’s kinda electronic, kinda experimental pop, kinda alternative) -- but they’re also so uniquely themselves in their music. If someone put them in a studio together, they would walk out with magic, and possibly the first Hot 100 No. 1 for the both of them. Background Media:
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Katy Perry's Hot 100 Debut For 'Never Really Over'
6/11/2019 by Billboard Staff
Katy Perry is back, and far from over. The pop star launches at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week with her new single "Never Really Over" -- the week's highest debut, even beating out new entries from fellow marquee names Cardi B and Miley Cyrus.
While it's hardly new ground for Perry on the chart -- she's scored nine No. 1s, and even 2017's Witness lead single "Chained to the Rhythm" bowed at No. 4 -- the "Never" debut does show that after a rocky couple of years for the veteran star she's still a major factor in pop music. But how big a turnaround is it? And what helped Perry turned the tides? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. Is a No. 15 debut for "Never Really Over" better, worse, or about what you would have expected for a new Katy Perry solo single?
Eric Frankenberg: About what I’d expect. If we were still in the iTunes era, it’s No. 3 debut on the Digital Sales Songs chart would be enough to make “Never Really Over” a top 10 hit. But it might be tough for the veteran pop star to compete with the titles that are out-streaming her, like “The London,” “EARFQUAKE,” and even the nearly-year-old “Sicko Mode.”
Coming off an underwhelming era like Witness, the No. 15 debut feels reasonable, after she hit No. 4 with the highly anticipated “Chained to the Rhythm” and missed the top 40 with follow-ups “Bon Appetit” and “Swish Swish” in 2017. Similarly, Lady Gaga debuted and peaked at No. 15 with “Perfect Illusion,” a presumed comeback single after the relative chart disappointment of 2013’s ARTPOP (which also topped out with a No. 4 single, “Applause”). The tit-for-tat comparison ends there for now, but perhaps in two-to-three years, Perry too can return to the summit with her own Oscar-winning power ballad.
Gab Ginsberg: While her last major single, “Chained to the Rhythm,” debuted at No. 4, a lot has happened between then and now. (See: Witness.) Katy also already released “365” with Zedd this year, so the world has not been totally starving for content. No. 15 is pretty much all a Katy Cat could hope for, and about what I expected. I see it as an optimistic start for her next era.
Jason Lipshutz: Much, much better, and that’s solely based on recent history. While Perry’s first three albums each had multiple No. 1 singles, transforming her into an especially inescapable superstar, her 2017 album Witness only had one top 10 hit (“Chained to the Rhythm,” featuring Skip Marley). Her follow-ups, including the Migos-assisted “Bon Appetit” and Nicki Minaj team-up “Swish Swish,” couldn’t crack the top 40, and Perry’s quasi-comeback earlier this year with the Zedd collaboration “365” could only muster a No. 86 peak. A No. 15 debut for a single would have been a disappointment for Perry in her Prism heyday of 2013, but that was six years ago. Given her track record over the past three years, a top 20 bow is a major coup for Perry.
Andrew Unterberger: Probably a little better. The charts seem to be feeling a little friendlier to synthy turbo-pop at the moment than they were during Katy Perry's last go-round, true, and we are in the early-summer doldrums when it comes to major releases cluttering the top tier at the moment. But man, you just don't hear much of this stuff in the mainstream these days, and given the minimal impact of "365" and the post-"Chained" Witness singles, I've been betting the under with Perry's debuts these days. To land at No. 15 with this song should be pretty validating for her.
Christine Werthman: Perry has had 32 hits on the Hot 100, and of all them, this is her fifth-highest debut. So color me at least a little surprised surprised that this return single, after a two-year hiatus, reached No. 15 right out of the gate.
2. "Never Really Over" is much closer to the older turbo-pop Katy Perry made her name with than some of the murkier singles of her Witness period. Does it feel like a throwback to you, or the start of a new chapter/sound/era for Katy?
Eric Frankenberg: Never Really Over” certainly calls back to Perry’s Teenage Dream-era hits in sound, but is more “The One That Got Away” than “California Gurls” in aesthetic and lyrical content. Perhaps this is what she meant (or should have meant?) when she coined the term “purposeful pop” around the failed politico-pop of Witness. A song that combines the inescapable melodies she rode to mega-success with hard-earned wisdom and experience could be the most impactful artistic evolution she (and we) could dream up -- especially if she has an album full of 'em still to come.
Gab Ginsberg: There are definite Prism vibes on this one, and it’s got a nice chill factor, too, a la “Wide Awake.” But that breathless chorus, in the vein of “DidyoutakehimtothepierinSanta Monica/ Forgettobringajacket,wrappedupinhim’causeyouwantedto?”, is a smart update for sure, and Katy is wise to call on Norwegian upstart Dagny for help with crafting a unique pop song in 2019.
Jason Lipshutz: There are certainly shades of Perry’s past in here — the mix of the driving electro-pop and contemplative tone resembles “Part of Me” most closely — but one of the most striking things about “Never Really Over” is its departure from absolutely everything that Perry’s last album showcased. Gone are the political undertones of Witness, as well as the wackier similes of “Bon Appetit” and “Swish Swish,” in favor of streamlined romance that’s more grounded than her Teenage Dream days. A pivot away from her least successful album was expected, but Perry was succinctly wiped any trace of Witness clean on her new single, and it’s pretty remarkable to hear.
Andrew Unterberger: I definitely get vague Teenage Dream flashbacks, but more than anything, this feels like one for Pop Twitter -- for the voracious consumers of bops who stan Sigrid, still believe Tinashe's big comeback is imminent, and can't comprehend why Carly Rae Jepsen and Charli XCX aren't the two biggest pop stars on the planet. In that respect, the Dagny lift almost feels like a nod to them (OK, to us).
Christine Werthman: This song is way more in Perry's big-hit, pop-juggernaut wheelhouse than any of those more subdued (for Perry) and introspective (for Perry) non-hits on Witness, but it's not a total TBT. Zedd's sharp, clean production places this electro-pop smash squarely in 2019. I wouldn't call the song sparse because there's a lot going on here -- a finger-snapping start, a thunderous drum-line, a vocal explosion of a chorus that's very classic Katy -- but Zedd really puts some air around her voice. As was the case with "The Middle," he's really good at making sure the vocal is supported by the music, not in competition with it. I didn't love "365," but I thought that Perry/Zedd collab functioned in the same way: gave her space, kept things driving forward and made her sound more contemporary.
3. Much has been made of some of the missteps Katy Perry has made in the past two-plus years, since the Witness era probably didn't unfold quite as she'd hoped. What's something she's done that you think actually worked out in her favor, and maybe helped reverse her momentum a little?
Eric Frankenberg: She got engaged to Orlando Bloom. This might sound counter-intuitive, since her comeback single refers to being haunted by memories of an ex-lover, but there is a maturity and general zen to “Never Really Over” that eluded recent underperforming singles like “Swish Swish” and “This is How We Do.” Perry made her name on brash, juvenile stories of browned-out memories and partying in Vegas, but more than a decade removed from her pop-punk-adjacent debut, maybe it’s time for the teenage dream to face adult reality. If this new chapter in her personal life is focusing her songwriting, mazel tov to the beautiful couple.
Gab Ginsberg: An itemized list of my favorite non-Witness-related Katy Perry moments over the past few years:
1. Her Calvin Harris collaboration "Feels" (along with Pharrell Williams and Big Sean), which has an undeniable groove and soothing, pastel-hued music video
2. Her cover of "Waving Through a Window" from the stunning Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen, which everyone should see
3) Her contribution to the remix of Daddy Yankee's "Con Calma," which is extremely catchy and I dare you to prove otherwise in a court of law
Jason Lipshutz: Surprisingly enough, American Idol! The rebooted singing competition has been successful enough to earn multiple seasons, and has kept Perry in the public eye as she’s been trying to move on from Witness and figure out her next era. Maybe it’s not the sexiest path back to superstardom, but Idol has given Perry the type of weekly audience that can otherwise be hard to come by in between projects.
Andrew Unterberger: Let's give special notice here to her turn on "Con Calma," which has stealthily returned her to Top 40 radio for the first time since "Feels" a couple years earlier -- the song is a top 20 hit on both Billboard's Pop Songs and Radio Songs chart. Jumping on a bilingual remix to a Latin pop smash could've backfired spectacularly for Perry, but her brand of fizzy pop silliness has proven to be the perfect mixer for a song already rooted in some slightly messy cultural mishmashing.
Christine Werthman: Disappeared? OK, she didn't totally disappear -- and who among us would pass on a Sunday Service invite? -- but a relative hiatus is often the right move if you're trying to reset. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.
4. Norwegian pop singer/songwriter Dagny received a writing credit on "Never Really Over" because the song borrows some melodies and structural elements from her own excellent "Love You Like That." What other underground pop song of recent years would you love to see Katy Perry reinterpret and/or revive next?
Eric Frankenberg: The ”just because it’s over doesn’t mean it’s really over…” backend of Perry’s chorus screams MUNA to me. I’m not sure which song in particular, but I can hear the women of the USC-bred trio harmonizing over that one-note refrain. A new collaboration between them could be artistically inspiring for Perry and commercially beneficial for MUNA. But a collaborative song-of-the-summer redo of “I Know a Place” or “Crying on the Bathroom Floor” would also do.
Gab Ginsberg: Norwegian singer Astrid S recorded backing vocals for “Hey Hey Hey” from Witness, and it would be cool to hear them collaborate in a more robust fashion. I think Astrid’s "Emotion" or "Someone New" would both go over well.
Jason Lipshutz: A few weeks ago, Peter Robinson of Popjustice tweeted that “Strangers” by Sigrid would have been a great Katy Perry song; since reading that tweet, I’ve thought about this true statement quite often. Imagine Perry attacking that “stra-a-a-a-a-ngers!” on the chorus! Those understated verses sound perfectly suited to her speak-singing mode, too! From Twitter to Perry’s ear: please, make this happen, Katy.
Andrew Unterberger: Let's get weird with Let's Eat Grandma: Perry could iron out a couple of the kinks to the U.K. psych-pop duo's "It's Not Just Me" -- and maybe jack up the melody a couple keys -- and still have one of her friskiest, most fun dance-pop shimmies, and one still moody enough that it wouldn't have sounded out of place on Witness. We're probably only an album away from the young dark-pop savants showing up deep in the credits to the new Beyoncé or Frank Ocean sets anyway, Katy may as well get ahead of the curve on this one.
Christine Werthman: Anything by Kim Petras. Maybe "Hills," which dropped in 2017 and has a slower tempo and chilled-out vibe, but is still upbeat and has room for a feature. Or "Hillside Boys," which is straight-up summer pop and drops in a guitar solo that is both totally unexpected and pretty righteous! Petras's music is super pop-y and playful, but it's a little funkier than what Perry usually does. The only one I forbid Perry from touching is "Heart to Break" because that song is goddamn flawless.
5. Along with Katy, fellow megastars Cardi B and Miley Cyrus also debut on the Hot 100 this week with new songs, "Press" and "Mother's Daughter," respectively. Of the three, which do you think is most likely still to be having an impact on the charts -- or maybe just with pop listeners in general -- towards the end of the summer?
Eric Frankenberg: If we’re to look at recent chart histories for all three artists and trends across pop and hip hop overall, then Cardi B. But “Never Really Over” debuted (one spot) higher on this week’s Hot 100, and also feels like a bigger event than “Press,” which appears to be another in a string of Cardi releases to hold us over until launching her next official album cycle. It’s a toss-up but I think Perry’s track embodies a Summer vibe better than the other options and will play well throughout Pride Month, the 4th of July, *my birthday*, and Labor Day.
Gab Ginsberg: This might be cheating, but I believe all three have potential. Miley made quite a comeback in 2019 thanks to her EP, stint on Black Mirror and sure, her familial connection to the Hot 100 chart-topping monster that is “Old Town Road.” Even if the more alt-leaning “Mother's Daughter” doesn’t stick around, a Miley bop to be named later will. Katy, meanwhile, hasn’t shown her whole hand yet, and there’s a good chance she’ll drop more tracks before the summer’s out. Finally, Cardi has the sort of chart stamina that ensures “Press” will stick around at least for the next few months. Let’s be sensible, popheads: there’s a seat at the table for everyone.
Jason Lipshutz: While I believe that “Mother’s Daughter” is a behemoth of a pop single from Cyrus, “Never Really Over” has more momentum and, I believe, greater staying power. Perry’s latest single possesses the shimmer and repeatability of a great summer single, as well as a comeback narrative that can be conveyed to both KatyCats and casual pop fans. Few would have expected the summer of 2019 to be prime territory for Perry to dominate, but in a chart world firmly ruled by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, anything is possible.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll say "Press." Have you seen Billboard's Hip-Hop/R&B Airplay chart at basically any point this year? Spoiler alert: Cardi B was probably No. 1. Even "Money" and "Please Me" -- two songs that might not go down as among Cardi's five best-remembered from her 2.5 years in the spotlight this decade -- have topped that thing for a combined 20 weeks. The harsh, confrontational "Press" might not immediately sound like an obvious radio smash, but radio comes to Cardi these days, not the other way around.
Christine Werthman: Katy's, for sure. Miley's isn't catchy enough to catch on ("must be something in the water or that I'm my mother's daughter" is a little too cumbersome of a chorus to get shouted on a dance floor), and Cardi's is too heavy for summer, like wearing a wool sweater to the beach. Summer is totally Katy's season, and I think the charts will reflect that.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Jonas Brothers' Massive No. 1 Album Debut
6/19/2019 by Billboard Staff
On this week’s Billboard 200 albums chart, the biggest story is the biggest debut week of the year. Jonas Brothers’ Happiness Begins, the reunited trio’s first new full-length in a decade, scored 414,000 equivalent album units in the U.S. in the week ending June 13, of which 357,000 were in pure album sales. Those figures each represent the largest week of the year for any album.
While the JoBros have been a topic of conversation in the pop world for much of 2019 — especially with the album’s lead single, “Sucker,” becoming their first Hot 100 chart-topper — the album bow is a particularly momentous achievement for the reformed group. To put the Happiness Begins debut in context, Billboard staffers discussed the No. 1 album, what’s next for the group and what other pop act should follow in the Jonas footsteps. 1. How shocking is it that the Jonas Brothers, out of any artist with a new album released this year, just scored the biggest album debut figure of 2019?
Stephen Daw: I'm certainly not surprised that the JoBros managed to debut at No. 1, but seeing them surpass the 2019 record for both single-week album sales and overall equivalent album units seems pretty shocking to me. I'm very happy for them — Happiness Begins has a lot of grade-A pop music throughout, and they deserve to see this kind of success for their hard work. But to pull off the feat they did in the same year as monster albums like Ariana Grande's Thank U, Next and Billie Eilish's When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is, to me at least, mind-blowing.
Gab Ginsberg: The boys are about to embark on a major arena tour -- their first tour of any fashion in about a decade -- and per the norm these days, there were ticket bundles involved. With that in mind, 357,000 in album sales might not be a terribly surprising number, but it is still impressive. The JoBros having the biggest debut week for an album in 2019 is a well-deserved honor, no matter which way you slice it.
Joe Lynch: I think you can explain it away with a number of talking points – ticket bundles, the perfect nostalgia gap between this album and their heyday – but anyone who's telling you they went into 2019 expecting a JoBros reunion to be THIS successful is lying.
Taylor Weatherby: I'm pretty biased when it comes to thinking these guys are great, but I'm not sure I foresaw this kind of success! While I definitely expected the album to debut at No. 1, the fact that it even outsold Ariana Grande is mind-blowing. Sure, a lot of their album sales came from their concert ticket/album bundles, but to me that says they're even bigger than the numbers: People aren't just wanting to listen to the music, they're eager to see the Jonas Brothers live, too.
Jason Lipshutz: Obviously the Jonas Brothers’ comeback album received a huge boost from a legitimate smash of a lead single and a lot of interest in the trio’s upcoming arena tour, but if you time-traveled back to the start of 2019 and told slightly-younger me that the biggest album debut of the year’s first half would be from the JoBros, that version of me would have scoffed pretty loudly at you. Comebacks of this magnitude simply do not happen in modern pop music, and what the Jonas Brothers have accomplished extends far beyond one successful single or bigger-than-expected album bow. This is a full-on triumph that will, no doubt, help define the narrative of pop music in 2019.
2. Most casual pop fans could have streamed “Sucker” and disregarded its parent album. What do you think is the biggest factor for such high interest in the new Jonas Brothers full-length?
Stephen Daw: I do think that the brothers were smart to time the release of their juicy documentary Chasing Happiness so close to the debut of their new album, and it likely gave them a big boost. But I also think it's important to look at the way the group broke this record — the album had almost as many direct album sales (357,000) as Grande's Thank U, Next had in overall equivalent units (360,000) for its debut back in February. Jonas Brothers fans spoke with their dollars this time around, which is likely due to a grassroots movement amongst their fan base to support the band and their return. Clearly, that worked.
Gab Ginsberg: Shortage of supply. JoBros fans waited a decade for new material, and even if “Sucker” didn’t grab us, we sure as hell weren’t going to give up before listening to anything else. I was personally lukewarm on second single “Cool,” for example, but I knew the rest of the album had the potential to sound completely different. Fortunately, I was totally blown away.
Joe Lynch: "Sucker" is a great song, and their comeback wouldn't work if it were limp, but the reason for their success isn't "Sucker" (especially since its sound isn't typically what's landing at radio these days). They're benefiting from a massive flood of goodwill and nostalgia from fans who were tweens when they fell in love with Joe, Kevin and Nick, and now have purchasing power and – incredibly – undiminished interest in seeing these three guys back together. Why is that interest undiminished? Maybe we're more invested in seeing families reuniting, versus just a collection of random dudes a label forced into a band together.
Taylor Weatherby: I think it comes down to a few things. One: “Sucker" is a smash that left people wanting more just like it; it made people curious to hear what else the Jonas Brothers had in store. Two: Happiness Begins is their first album in 10 years, and after leaving fans hanging in 2013, thousands of people were dying for another Jonas Brothers full-length. Three: As Republic Records' Monte Lipman pointed out in our cover story (shameless plug), “They're the kind of band that's bigger than anybody realized." I don't think people who weren't in the fandom understood the passion, and those same die-hard fans are still supporting them in the same way. On top of all of that, they've garnered so many new fans with their side projects that I bet tons of people were wondering what 2019 Jonas Brothers music would sound like — especially since "Sucker" is such a banger.
Jason Lipshutz: I think part of the answer lies within the JoBros’ level of ubiquity over the past three months: Nick, Joe and Kevin have seemingly been featured on every morning and late-night show, appeared on multiple magazine covers (including our own), and squeezed in a celeb-filled, headline-dominating pop-up wedding in the middle for good measure. Fortunately, the Jonas Brothers are so likable across demographics and generations that we collectively seem to never have gotten sick of them during this promo blitz, and ultimately wanted to experience their full body of work upon its release. The Jonas inescapability raised awareness for Happiness Begins’ release, and contributed to a massive debut. 3. “Sucker” from Happiness Begins has already topped the Billboard Hot 100, while “Cool,” its follow-up, has reached No. 27 thus far. Which song from the album do you think would be the most successful follow-up single?
Stephen Daw: I just don't think that the trio are going to be able to come even close to the success of "Sucker," truly one of the best pop songs released this year, and still far and away the standout track on this album. I'd say their best bet for a follow-up would be "Don't Throw it Away" — it's got fun synths and beautiful harmonies, and it's probably the purest pop song of the bunch. It would make for a nice summer single, and I do think it would do well, but even their most successful follow-up is still going to ultimately pale in comparison to the pop-rock perfection that is "Sucker."
Gab Ginsberg: “Only Human,” and I’m not just saying that because it’s one of the album’s streaming leaders so far. The reggae beat is an unexpected but brilliant move for the guys, and the chorus contains one of my favorite melodies on the album. It’s a jam and a half.
Joe Lynch: "Only Human" seems like the perfect update for these GroJoBros (Grown-Up Jonas Brothers, I'm working on trademarking that). With references to drinking and dancing, it's sexy, but not overtly thirsty. A lot of Disney kids go the R-rated route to announce that they're a Mature Adult now, but "Only Human" smartly shows the Jonas Brothers maturing without losing their homespun charm.
Taylor Weatherby: "Only Human,” the only track that debuted on the Hot 100 after the album release. The guys are clearly feeling the song too, as they performed it on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon the week after the album dropped. All that aside, "Only Human" is simply a freakin' bop: It has an infectious xylophone hook and brass-tinged melody, as well as sultry lyrics that fit the Jonas Brothers' mature new vibe.
Jason Lipshutz: Please let “I Believe” blast from every pop radio station on warm summer nights. In the same way that “Sucker” acted as the jolt to reignite the JoBros’ mojo a few months ago, the ‘80s groove of “I Believe” could be the immaculate slow roll to sustain that success.
4. Happiness Begins is the Jonas Brothers’ first album in a decade. Name another long-dormant pop act that you think would achieve a similar level of success if they came back in 2019.
Stephen Daw: If we're strictly talking pop music, I'm pretty confident that a Spice Girls reunion album would do pretty well on the charts, especially if they kept some of the camp and humor from their '90s days but then translated that feeling into a modern pop sound. Just imagine it — "The Spice Girls, featuring Billie Eilish." But if I can cheat just a little, I would also say that if OutKast were to make a follow-up to Idlewild (which, let's face it, will never happen at this point), that album would become a mega-hit.
Gab Ginsberg: Where the heck is Fun.? While the indie pop trio is technically "on hiatus," the band hasn't released an album since 2012, and most every member has gone in a different direction since (which isn’t a bad thing -- I mean, I’m totally grateful for everything Jack Antonoff has created). Nate Reuss tried the solo career for a while, but has been quiet since 2015. As for Andrew Dost, well... he’s been writing music for dogs. All extremely noble pursuits, but now that the JoBros have made their comeback, Fun. is the next group on my list that I’m starving for content from.
Joe Lynch: I'd be curious to see if Big Time Rush could pull off a similar second act. My inclination is "no," especially considering that they were never quite as much of a household name as the Jonas Brothers, but I bet they could get some nostalgia dough if they regrouped.
Taylor Weatherby: *NSYNC. Their Coachella performance with Ariana Grande sparked so much buzz, and after the Backstreet Boys ignited serious nostalgia with a 2019 album, I feel like there's some '80s and '90s babies eager to also get some new *NSYNC tunes, too. While I don't think they'd reach Jonas Brothers-level numbers -- especially if Justin Timberlake really isn't going to be involved -- I think they could achieve similar success to BSB, whose DNA album earned 234,000 equivalent album units in the U.S. in its first week in January.
Jason Lipshutz: Can you imagine the fanfare surrounding a new Destiny’s Child album in 2019? Beyonce reforming her beloved trio with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, updating their sound, bringing their many hits on the road, reaffirming their everlasting bond and place as one of the most important girl groups of the new century. If they found their own version of “Sucker,” they could certainly hijack Top 40 radio, and add a new chapter to Queen Bey’s legendary run. 5. What’s one song on the album that you definitely need to see the JoBros perform live when they embark on their arena tour later this summer?
Stephen Daw: I have said it before, and I will say it again — "Sucker" is a perfect pop song, and I will never get tired of hearing it. It's got the energy, the melody and the groove needed for an amazing live performance, as we've already seen. I have eyes only for "Sucker."
Gab Ginsberg: This answer is really gonna shock everyone: “Only Human.” Joe, in particular, is going to catch a vibe during the performance of that one. Mark my words.
Joe Lynch: I'm going with an obvious pick. Their performance of "Sucker" at the Billboard Music Awards was jaw-dropping – a visceral reminder that even before the Disney cameras entered their world, these guys can actually rock.
Taylor Weatherby: "Don't Throw It Away." Its anthemic chorus struck me the first time I heard it, and I think its echoing melody would make for such a powerful live performance. It's also not super guitar-driven, so it'd likely give Nick a chance to work the stage a little more than when he's playing an instrument -- maybe even Kevin, too!
Jason Lipshutz: I would like to see some misty eyes and onstage hugs during “Rollercoaster,” please.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Taylor Swift's No. 2 Hot 100 Debut For 'You Need to Calm Down'
6/25/2019 by Billboard Staff
For the second time in as many months, Taylor Swift has landed a song at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in its first full week of tracking. Following the Brendon Urie-featuring "ME!" reaching the runner-up spot in May, this week, Swift's "You Need to Calm Down" is the biggest song in the country not by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus.
It's an impressive launch for the LGBTQ-themed single, especially given that it lands above a couple new songs from one of the only other artists in the world on Swift's level of popularity. But how will the hit endure? And can anyone take down "Old Town Road" at this point? Billboard staffers disucss these questions and more below.
1. "You Need to Calm Down" makes it two consecutive No. 2s for Taylor Swift. Between it and "ME!," which song do you think will ultimately prove the bigger hit for Taylor?
Trevor Anderson: Well, this circles around that impossible-to-agree-upon-but-let’s-try definition of what a ‘hit’ is. In strictly chart terms, it feels open: “ME!” isn’t pulling ‘Shake It Off’ numbers, so it’s not an uphill battle for “You Need to Calm Down.” In terms of cultural tolerance, however, “ME!” has a big edge. It’s a song you’ll hear in the grocery store, in the mall and in-between innings and halves at sporting events for its universality and general boppiness. But throw cultural importance -- if that plays into your definition - in the mix, and it’s all lined up for “You Need to Calm Down.” It may not be the most out-of-the-box smash, but it can grow into an appreciation that “ME!” doesn’t inherently have.
(One possible pessimistic caveat: How will the song age? An already social media split-chorus on the track makes me wonder if our future cultural tastemakers will look back on this song with disdain and poof! There goes its legacy.)
Tatiana Cirisano: "Calm Down." It's more approachable and familiar -- in fact, I found its airy synth-pop melody and droll punchlines (“like, damn...it’s 7 a.m.”) instantly reminiscent of her 1989 era. Swift also has a habit of releasing the relatively understated, more dynamic single second: “Shake It Off” preceded “Blank Space” on 1989; “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was followed by “Begin Again” on Red. On the same note, while the relatively saccharine “ME!” forces a bright and chantable message that feels perfectly calculated to appeal to everyone, “Calm Down” is both sonically superior (IMO) and a lot more interesting -- and if I’m going to guess, a better example of what fans can expect from Lover.
Stephen Daw: For "Me!" personally, "You Need to Calm Down" is probably going to end up being a bigger hit than "Me!" Fans seem to like the song much better than the first single of this new era, and all of the conversation surrounding the new track, be it positive or negative, is likely just going to end up helping it out. Plus, with the last few events of Pride month taking place this weekend, there is no doubt that her queer fans will absolutely be playing the song on repeat for the next few days.
Jason Lipshutz: “You Need to Calm Down” will have the longer legs in the same way that “Blank Space” ultimately lingered atop the Hot 100 longer than its predecessor, “Shake It Off,” two albums ago for Taylor Swift. Like “Shake It Off,” “ME!” with Brendon Urie is the splashier single and made sense as a general introduction to this pastel-colored new era, and while it’s proved to be a durable top 10 hit, “You Need to Calm Down” has the slicker hook and more memorable lyrical concept. It’s still relatively early days for both, but I’d be surprised if the second single wasn’t bigger than the first in this case.
Andrew Unterberger: I think "You Need to Calm Down" will be better remembered, but "ME!" will be more widely remembered. The latter might not have been a particular critical favorite, but it's also a song that seemingly everyone heard at least once upon its release, and which is so instantly insidious that that might be all it takes to remember it forever. Put it this way: Your seventh grade English teacher might not even know "Calm Down" by its title, but they've probably found themselves humming "Me-e-eeee!" to themselves a couple times without even realizing it.
2. If not for Lil Nas X's once-in-a-generation pop phenomenon, we might be talking about Taylor Swift's second consecutive Hot 100 No. 1 launch. Are we underrating just how big an impact on pop music Swift still has?
Trevor Anderson: One of the big paradoxes of a pop career: once you’ve got a No. 1, you’re measured only by your No. 1s. Look, it’s nowhere near time to call for Last Rites on Taylor Alison Swift’s career -- even when the haters licked their lips a potential Reputation flop, the thing still blew past 1 million in its first week and sports two top five Hot 100 hits. That said, the initial returns suggest the momentary impact is bigger than the long tail, something that’s unusual among Taylor’s past hits. “ME!” would have been a No. 1 if not for “Old Town Road,” sure, but the song didn’t hold onto the No. 2 spot and is already retreating at radio. So, yes, Taylor is still a major player in the music landscape today, but the stranglehold she once had on the pop culture landscape has considerably loosened.
Tatiana Cirisano: It’s hard to deny that Swift is still a pop behemoth. As the chart bows for both “ME!” and “Calm Down” prove, when Taylor speaks, the world listens. She continues to achieve that status while (and maybe, by) being one of the only pop stars who still follow the industry rulebook. Just look at the meticulously-crafted rollout of Lover: the trail of bread crumb hints, the wiped social media accounts, the new singles timed to major events as wide-ranging as Pride Month and the NFL Draft. It’s all working just as she intended. But with today’s new guard of rule-breaking pop artists, it’s worth wondering how long that influence can last. More about that in question 5...
Stephen Daw: I don't think anyone's underrating her, because I don't think you can exist in 2019 without understanding that Taylor Swift is one of the most ubiquitous pop stars on the face of the Earth. No, she's not the "next big thing" in pop music, but she has created such a massive and fierce fan base, and is clearly mastering the art of rebranding, teasing and releasing new music. Maybe Reputation didn't perform the way fans wanted it to, but that certainly didn't mean Taylor was on her way out of her near-universal popularity, and I think both of her new singles are just proof of that fact.
Jason Lipshutz: We sure are! It feels like a stale talking point because it’s existed for so many years, but Taylor Swift remains an enormous music star, one of the biggest and most influential of this century. Her last album, Reputation, was supposed to be a commercial swoon following the apex of 1989; it still moved over 1 million copies in its debut sales week and resulted in packed stadiums across the globe. The fact that she just sent two straight singles to No. 2 shouldn’t be surprising for an artist who, regardless of what you think of her or her music, remains impossibly popular. The back-to-back runner-up bows demonstrate just how year-defining “Old Town Road” is, to topple a queen as mighty as Taylor.
Andrew Unterberger: I think we're underrating just how few artists can dominate a release-day conversation the way Taylor Swift can. She doesn't quite have the same near-unanimous approval rating that she did a half-decade ago, but she's still one of only a handful of figures in pop music that absolutely everyone has to have an opinion about whenever she does anything. Not the same thing as being the unquestioned pop star of the moment, for sure, but there's still a lot of currency in that -- as we're seeing now.
3. Comfortably below Taylor at No. 2, Drake lands two new entries of his own -- "Money in the Grave" at No. 7 and "Omerta" at No. 35. Considering Drake scored three separate No. 1 hits last year -- two of which debuted on top -- are you surprised that he didn't get particularly close with this two-pack?
Trevor Anderson: Nah. I’ll call part of this situation a collective Drake fatigue from his victory in the NBA Finals (he’s essentially on the team now, right?). Without touching a ball, he was still the cultural centerpiece of the basketball world’s biggest series, and posted more screen time there than at any music industry event in 2018. But more to the music: As Billboard great Dan Rys noted, these are essentially Drake loosies, a pair of tracks that commemorate the occasion more than serve as the warmup to Scorpion 2.0. But let’s not lose sight of the facts -- even a random Drake single reaches the top 10 with ease in 2019, so when he calls in the full reserves, get ready for another onslaught.
Tatiana Cirisano: I’m not that surprised. The songs -- Drizzy’s celebration of his beloved Toronto Raptors’ first NBA title -- were released with barely any advance notice or promo, and besides, Drake hasn’t been in the spotlight for a while now. The pack feels a little like a throwaway, though I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I do think the songs have the potential to rise, though, particularly “Money in the Grave.” His whole “where -- should I -- really even start” feels destined to become one of those Drake lines that everyone yells in unison when they hear it come on.
Stephen Daw: "Omerta" and "Money in the Grave" are two very good Drake tracks, but let's make no mistake; they are not "God's Plan," and they are certainly not "Nice for What," truly one of his best songs to date. So while I'm not absolutely shocked that these two didn't strike a louder chord, I'm also not convinced that one won't go on to become a hit single later on. Yes, "Omerta" is underperforming. But "Money in the Grave" is at No. 7, just one place lower than his "In My Feelings" debut last year. That song went on to be a No. 1 smash hit, so there's still a good possibility that Drake's collab with Rick Ross could still find its way to the top.
Jason Lipshutz: Not especially, considering that these two songs were presented as Toronto Raptors victory-lap tracks, neither of which features anything resembling a pop hook, both of which dropped nearly a full day after the chart week’s beginning. If anything, Drake would have had a better shot at a higher debut if he had just released one song to focus on instead of two — but then, that would mean we’d be dinging the artist who just broke a tie with the Beatles for the second-most top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Andrew Unterberger: I'm a little surprised. Yes, neither of these songs sounds like a surefire No. 1, but remember that few thought that "God's Plan" sounded like one either, until it ended up spending 11 weeks on top and entirely recalibrating what we thought of as a pop song in 2018. Not that I expected Drake to default his way to No. 1 considering how bulletproof "Old Town Road" has been in its run at pole position, but given that Drizzy ultimately spent a record-setting 29 weeks at No. 1 last year, I figured any new songs of his would at least present a formidable challenge. Maybe if Canadian streams had counted towards his Hot 100 totals?
4. From its lyrics to its music video to its release during Pride Month, Taylor has obviously geared "You Need to Calm Down" to be a love letter to her LGBTQ fans. Do you think it will endure as a classic gay anthem?
Trevor Anderson: Tough call. I agree with most of the points made in the question, but a key distinction that I think gets lost is that the song isn’t entirely about LGBTQ fans. The second verse certainly is, but the first verse leans more toward anyone who’s had to fight Internet trolls and haters, while the bridge speaks to the media’s love on incessantly comparing women and their accomplishments. That helps the song’s universality, and I expect this song to find lasting resonance with the population, but I’m not sure whether it’ll become the de-facto anthem when other tracks out there speak more directly and wholly to the community.
Tatiana Cirisano: It’s definitely a love letter -- and one that will be significant to many people -- but I don’t think the song has “classic” potential. Even with its rainbow-splashed music video, “Calm Down” plays it pretty safe, and doesn’t have the same clear direction as something like Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” (which came after Gaga had already nurtured a longstanding relationship with the queer community, but more on that in a sec). We barely knew “Calm Down” was tied to gay rights until the video dropped, save two bare-minumum lines: “why be mad, when you can be GLAAD,” a reference that’s totally indiscernible to the ear, and the brain-bending “shade never made anybody less gay.” (Am I the only one still trying to figure out what that means?)
I don’t doubt that Taylor’s support of gay rights is genuine, but many fans are -- understandably -- taking the song and video as a bit performative, given that until the last year or so, she had rarely used her enormous platform for political advocacy in the past. At the end of the day, “Calm Down” is a positive gesture in this terribly imperfect world, but it could be too little, too late to have a surviving impact among the community it hopes to uplift.
Stephen Daw: Listen, I think that the message of Taylor's song is great, and I think the dialogue she has created thanks to her outspokenness for the Equality Act is so beneficial to the queer community. She's putting her money and her platform to good use, and that deserves to be celebrated. That being said ... no, this song will not go on to become a historically revered LGBTQ anthem. Even at this moment, people in the queer community are split between liking the song and thinking it's a stunt, unlike the near-universal acclaim the community had for a modern anthem like "Born This Way." Plus, in this day and age where there has been a surge in highly visible queer talent, most Pride anthems that will end up standing the test of time are likely going to come from those artists who identify as LGBTQ.
Jason Lipshutz: I expect “You Need to Calm Down” to exist less as an anthem for the gay community, and more as an important step toward LGBTQ visibility within the world of one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. The fact that Swift is standing as a prominent ally, and offering a call to action meant to champion gay rights at the end of the video, must be viewed as a meaningful show of solidarity from an artist who only recently has been more vocal about her political leanings.
Andrew Unterberger: Hardly the first to point this out, but looking over the history of the most revered gay anthems, it's rare that they've felt as purposeful -- not even calculated, but just explicit in their desire to support and uplift -- as "You Need to Calm Down." "Born This Way" would be the most obvious modern exception, but even that felt like a natural extension of musical and topical themes that had existed in Gaga's artistry and history since her debut. Swift's reach is considerable enough that her gesture could be meaningful to plenty of LGBTQ folks who don't even yet have access to a community for support, but for those who do, I'd have to imagine this is the last Pride month where "Calm Down" will feature prominently.
5. Now that global superstars Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and Drake have all had multiple cracks at unseating Lil Nas X at No. 1 on the Hot 100 and (to this point) failed, is there anyone else you're still looking to as a looming threat? Or is the only challenge remaining to "Old Town Road" tying the 16-week Hot 100 No. 1 record maintaining its own momentum?
Trevor Anderson: Well, we got Discount Drake this time, so Premium Drake is always a threat. The Halley’s Comet that is Adele is out there somewhere, as she’s really the only artist who can simultaneously stream and sell enough to overrun the market. Rihanna attended at the BET Awards last week – is she gearing up for a non-Fenty Beauty press run – a.k.a. music?!
But as the almighty “Old Town Road” machine starts to slow -- it recently fell from the heavens to return to an eight-digit weekly stream total -- it looks like it might come down to a good-old-fashioned numbers race. “Road” is losing several million clicks a week, and the No. 2 streamer, Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” is still picking up steam. Lil Nas X’s new EP should help juice the track for a bit, but I’m eyeing -- and hoping for? -- a photo finish. A small, but significant variable to consider, too: Will the Lambs and Beliebers jump on the Billie bus if Lil Nas X gets dangerously close to their artists’ vaulted records?
Tatiana Cirisano: If Ed, Taylor, Drake -- and Katy Perry, I’ll add -- can’t topple Lil Nas X, I’m not sure who can. Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes come to mind for their heavily-promoted, Latin-flavored new single “Señorita,” but to land at No. 1? I’d be shocked. That said, I also mention “Señorita” because it reflects the Latin-flavored, R&B-influenced sound that’s increasingly landing on the charts these days. Maybe it’s not that the global superstars have failed, but that listeners just aren’t satisfied by bubblegum-leaning pop music anymore. “Old Town Road” is racing against its own momentum, for sure -- but at this point, maybe the song’s only real competition is something just as out-of-left-field, whether that’s another impossible-to-predict viral smash or hit that’s a genre of its own. (It’s worth mentioning that Billie Eilish almost had it with “Bad Guy,” which peaked at No. 2.)
Stephen Daw: I have given up on attempting to predict what will happen with "Old Town Road." Every time a song comes along that looks like it will finally overtake him on the chart, it falls short and LNX/BRC's reign on top continues. At this point, I wouldn't be all that surprised if he makes it all the way to the 16-week record. But there is one artist who I think could overtake him. If Rihanna were to drop the first single off of her forthcoming ninth album anytime within the next few weeks, I am confident that she could have the star power to topple Lil Nas X's reign. Outside of Ri-Ri, I don't see anyone else successfully challenging "Old Town Road."
Jason Lipshutz: Give us something, Rihanna! She’s recently been teasing new music, popping up at more high-profile events and generally outdoing the winding lead-up to Anti three-plus years ago. If a summer-ready new Rihanna single materializes in the coming weeks, the devotion from the Navy and curiosity from casual fans could finally tame Lil Nas X’s wild horse and burst into the top spot of the Hot 100.
Andrew Unterberger: Adele's probably not walking through that door anytime soon, so among the artists we haven't heard from yet during this run, I'd say it's probably down to Rihanna or Unexpectedly Massive Viral Artist To Be Named Later to launch a proper siege on No. 1. Don't discount "Señorita," though -- it's perfect for 2019 pop radio, it's already climbed to No. 1 on Spotify and its music video has launched a million 'shippers across the Internet. I also wouldn't totally count out Drake either: If the Best in the World twofer is him dipping his toes back into the recording waters, there's no telling when he might return with a proper comeback single, with a video and narrative hook and all the usual bells and whistles. The man does love a challenge, and he doesn't have a whole lot of other worlds left to conquer at this point.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello's 'Senorita' No. 2 Hot 100 Debut
7/2/2019 by Billboard Staff
Another week, another debut right below the unassailable "Old Town Road" on the Billboard Hot 100. And once again, it's an artist we've seen at No. 2 just recently -- Shawn Mendes, this time teamed up with fellow pop star Camila Cabello for the sultry duet "Señorita."
Mendes ties his best-ever Hot 100 placement with the runner-up bow, while Cabello has her highest-peaking hit on the chart since she went to No. 1 alongside Young Thug with "Havana" in early 2018. But which of the two artists is more likely to have their future direction influenced by the song's success? And how important is their chemistry to the song's success? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.
1. Last week we were talking about two straight No. 2 first-full-week launches for Taylor Swift -- now it's Shawn Mendes with two straight runner-up debuts. Does this officially cement Mendes as a peer of Swift's on pop's A-list?
Danica Daniel: Shawn Mendes has all the markings of a pop superstar. Striking good looks? Check. Vertically blessed? Check. Expert at strumming a guitar while gazing into the heart of millions, hypnotizing the masses into singing an effortlessly catchy chorus? Check. Check. Check. There’s no denying that the 20-year-old Canadian is already a household name -- though what is yet to be seen is if Mendes will enjoy a career with as much longevity as Swift. Considering the lyrical maturity evidenced on his 2018 self-titled LP, transitioning from the teeny-bopper beginnings 2016's Illuminate and 2015's Handwritten, Mendes is off to a great start.
Nolan Feeney: I don't think you can necessarily equate Mendes and Taylor just because they both have two recent No. 2 debuts, in the same way I don't think Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" domination these past few weeks automatically makes him an A-lister; despite the ubiquity of that song, he still feels like a relatively unknown quantity to the public. That said, while Mendes doesn't exactly summon a wave of thinkpieces with every move he makes in the way Swift (or even Ariana Grande) does, his overall commercial success has been strong enough and steady enough that I'm not raising an eyebrow at the thought of them occupying the same category. (He's certainly made good on the potential he showed back when he was opening her 1989 World Tour.)
Kevin Rutherford: Of course! That doesn’t mean Shawn Mendes and Taylor Swift are suddenly equals in the pop world, but there are levels to A-list-dom, and it’s tough to argue against Mendes’ place there in 2019. Maybe if both songs had help like “Señorita” did with Camila Cabello, there’d be an argument against it. But we’re looking at someone who did 24 million first-week streams on his own with “If I Can’t Have You” and nearly doubled that with “Señorita.” He’s arrived, that’s for certain. Which, of course, is always a double-edged sword, because now he’s in the territory of having people question his relevance when something doesn’t debut top five. But hey, enjoy it while you got it!
Andrew Unterberger: Not an equal, but a peer, sure. Though Mendes has been one of the most rock solid radio and touring presences of the last half-decade, and has taken recent strides as a songwriter and album artist, he's never had immediate smashes (or a general streaming presence) on this level before. There's still a certain neatness to his career that doesn't necessarily jibe with pop superstardom -- generally speaking, our culture prefers our biggest stars to be at least a little bit messy -- but by just about every other metric at this point, he's already there.
Taylor Weatherby: I'd say so -- and it seems Taylor herself considered Shawn on his way to pop's A-list when she invited him out on the 1989 Tour four years ago. Though he hasn't had a Hot 100 No. 1 hit yet, he has plenty of other accolades that prove him worthy of an A-list ranking: Three Billboard 200 No. 1 albums, eight Top 20 Hot 100 singles, 46 million Instagram followers, and nearly 6.5 billion YouTube views (not to mention, 7 million more monthly Spotify listeners than Taylor). And frankly, if Lil Nas X hadn't played the trump card of 2019 with "Old Town Road," I think Shawn would have one, if not two, No. 1s this year. Plus now that he's a little more rugged and writing songs about anxiety and one-night stands, it's easier to see Shawn as more than just some teen heartthrob.
2. Of course, Mendes is only one of two artists on "Señorita." With both him and duet partner Camila Cabello currently in between full-length projects, whose future direction would you guess the song and its positive reception tells us more about?
Danica Daniel: "Señorita" screams Camila Cabello, and will definitely do more to bolster her career. With only one solo album under her belt, many may still see her as less of a solo artist and more of a former member of Fifth Harmony. Sonically the song could fit into either artist’s next tracklist, but honing into the song’s Spanish flair and steamy, sweaty lyrics about nights spent in Miami, and suddenly "Señorita" feels tailor made for the Cuban-American singer -- with the addition of Mendes being a well-chosen afterthought. Honestly, "Señorita" feels eerily similar to Cabello’s last hit about falling in love in the summer: Just switch the numerous “ooh la la la”s to “oh na na"s.
Nolan Feeney: He's the first name billed, but I don't think Shawn Mendes could pull of "Señorita" without Camila Cabello. I do think Cabello could absolutely pull off "Señorita" without Mendes, though -- the sensual Latin pop vibes just don't come as naturally to him for obvious reasons, even with all the very Mendes-y guitars going on. That said, I don't know if a solo Cabello version would have been as successful, either -- without that energy of a duet partner, I wonder if "Señorita" would feel like a "Havana" redux, or like a deep cut from Camila getting the single treatment.
While I wouldn't be surprised to see it show up on a future project from either of them, this song feels more like a victory lap than the start of a new era -- a chapter-closing on the last four years of their careers before they move onto the next stage, a celebration of how much their stock has risen in the past four years. I don't know that "Señorita" tells me anything new about their musical identities or impulses other than a desire to stay in the zeitgeist and feed demand. If anything, the Cabello collaboration that has me most interested in what she'll do next is her charming Mark Ronson jam, "Find U Again," which is funny and a little emo and also sounds it like at any point it could veer off into an Uffie song from a decade ago.
Kevin Rutherford: “Señorita” feels less about where Mendes is going and more about Cabello, and not just because of Camila’s discography boasting “Havana” before now. She’s also the first voice you hear on the song, the lead voice in the chorus – I mean, look, this is more Camila with Shawn rather than Shawn with Camila. Given the runaway success of “Havana” plus the strong start of “Señorita,” it seems unlikely that Cabello wouldn’t have similar tricks up her sleeve for her sophomore album.
Andrew Unterberger: The song sounds more like Camila than Shawn Mendes, for sure, but it's probably more interesting to me as a sign that Mendes is drifting towards Top 40's current moody, acoustic-driven center -- "Señorita" sounds explicitly designed to be a contemporary radio smash, in a way that the singles off his last album weren't. It makes me wonder if Mendes' next full-length project will be less of a singer-songwriter exploration and more of a kick-down-the-doors pop album, to assert his position as one of the defining stars of the end of the decade.
Taylor Weatherby: That's a toughie, because I feel like the Spanish vibe is almost too predictable for Camila's next project, but almost too left-field for Shawn's. If I had to choose I'd probably say Camila, but I do think "Señorita" indicates that Shawn isn't afraid to take some risks with his next project. As for the positive reception, I think their fan bases -- which, frankly, I don't think are all that different -- are so passionate that neither Camila nor Shawn can really do any wrong. And if "Señorita" is any indication, they're not going to disappoint anyway.
3. This isn't the first time that Shawn and Camila have linked up on record, of course -- but their first duet, 2015's "I Know What You Did Last Summer," topped out at No. 20 on the Hot 100. Is "Señorita" actually that much of an improvement on that initial collab, or is it just better timing in summer 2019?
Danica Daniel: Timing is definitely the greatest factor. Cabello and Mendes were early on in their careers in 2015 and their superfans had not yet reached their full force. In my personal opinion, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” was actually the superior work: Not only is the song’s premise of someone keeping “dirty secrets” more relatable than watching a “tequila sunrise” in Miami, but it reminds me of the '90s slasher flick of the same name, which eventually led us the everlasting love affair between Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar. For that I will forever be grateful.
Nolan Feeney: Better timing. For starters, they're simply a lot more popular than they were back then: She's topped the Hot 100, he's had multiple No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200. (Her solo career aside, Cabello hadn't even done her best work with Fifth Harmony when "Last Summer" arrived.) But "Señorita" also feels more of the moment anyway. Despite Mendes' popularity, his guitar-driven brand of pop -- as much as it has expanded to include new influences over the past few years -- has been a little detached from what his pop peers are doing. Here, it feels like he's coming to play on everyone else's turf for a moment.
Kevin Rutherford: Definite improvement. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is an unmistakably fun song, but “Señorita” tops it in production value, songwriting, that hook – all around, really. Looking at it from a data perspective, though, it’s tough to compare them because they came out four years apart, and during that span, Mendes began playing arenas and snagging top five hits while Cabello departed Fifth Harmony and scored huge personal successes in her own right. Had “Summer” been released this year, it would have debuted higher than No. 20, let alone peaked higher. But would it have topped “Señorita”? Doubt it.
Andrew Unterberger: A refinement, anyway. "Last Summer" had a fun energy to it, and its two stars were down to match its breathlessness, but something about the actual songwriting couldn't help feel a little... well, rushed, and it wasn't surprising when the same general formula ended up working a lot more successfully for Charlie Puth and Selena Gomez a half-year later. But this time, the titration is immaculate: every word, every note, every sonic flourish of "Señorita" feels empirically correct. There might end up plenty of pop songs this year more inspired, but few will be better executed.
Taylor Weatherby: I do think it's an improvement, but I also think it's better timing in the sense that Camila and Shawn have each established themselves as major pop players in the four years since "I Know What You Did Last Summer." Though their voices don't sound much different, you can sense that they've grown up in both the sultry production and risqué lyrics of "Señorita" ("When your lips undress me/Hooked on your tongue" is definitely not something 2015 Shawn would be singing...). Because of that growth, "Señorita" is both relatable and believable to a broader audience.
4. Dig into the writing credits of "Señorita" and you'll see a familiar name: Charlotte Aitchison, a.k.a. Charli XCX. What's your favorite song that Charli's written for without actually being a featured artist on?
Danica Daniel: “Same Old Love,” off Selena Gomez’s second solo album Revival, is a personal favorite. Not only did I have that album on repeat when it debuted in 2015, but the song was a standout, filled with pianos and snaps and oozing with heartbreak that felt authentically expressed as it left Gomez’s lips. The wordplay of the lyric “you left in peace, left me in pieces” was expertly crafted by Charli & Co. and perfectly summarized the feelings around a painful breakup.
Nolan Feeney: I'm a huge fan of the last time Charli wrote for Cabello: the icy, Quavo-featuring, Stargate-produced "OMG." The song came out the same day "Havana" did back in 2017, and if you had asked me then which of the two I thought would have been the bigger hit, I... wouldn't have bet on "Havana." But "Señorita" also marks a reunion between Charli and writer-producers Benny Blanco and Cashmere Cat, who previously worked together on a handful of scrapped songs for Gwen Stefani's third solo album. Those tracks never saw the light of day, but some of them have leaked over the years -- and reader, if you've never heard "Hell Yeah Baby" before, let me tell you that it's the "Hollaback Girl" sequel we deserved.
Kevin Rutherford: That a Buckcherry EP titled f**k features a writing credit from Charli XCX (“Say f**k It” is, as you could possibly guess from the title, a quasi-cover of Icona Pop’s “I Love It”) will always be a highlight of the 2010s. The answer to the question is obviously “Same Old Love,” by the way.
Andrew Unterberger: Respect for Ryn Weaver's 2014 alt-pop mini-masterpiece "OctaHate," the kind of too-perfect debut single that proves virtually unfollowable and ultimately leads to a whole lot of "Wait, whatever happened to Ryn Weaver?" questions a half-decade later. (The answer: Returning the favor to Charli with a writing credit on her recent BTS duet!)
Taylor Weatherby: Selena Gomez's "Same Old Love." I appreciate that it starts out with Selena telling how hurt she is, followed by an empowered verse that says "I refuse to change for you." Plus, the hook is infectious -- there's nothing like a breakup song that makes you want to dance instead of cry.
5. All right, there's no getting around it: A big reason for the No. 2 debut of "Señorita" is that Shawn and Camila have become one of the most-shipped pop couples on the Internet, in no small part due to the song's steamy music video. How real do you feel their chemistry is, and how important do you think it is to the success of "Señorita"?
Danica Daniel: When two pretty people get within the same vicinity, society can’t help but wonder, “Are they dating? When’s the wedding?” Especially when those two people are young and good-looking celebrities singing together on screen. (Nope, I am not talking about Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper from A Star Is Born, although those rumors show no sign of stopping). Enter Mendes and Cabello: The Grammy-nominees have maintained that they are “just friends” for years but in the three-and-a-half-minute video for "Señorita," the chemistry is palpable. While I don’t think i'ts manufactured, I truly believe they seem comfortable on screen together because they are friends, not necessarily lovers. Only time will tell.
Nolan Feeney: The steaminess of the video feels too forced for me to take seriously. Shawn Mendes spent a large portion of his recent Rolling Stone cover story addressing rumors about his sexuality and talking about how such speculation weighs on him; that story ends with Mendes taking a woman back to his hotel room in full view of the reporter. So when he and Cabello play on-screen lovers and exchange smoldering eye contact, I don't wonder about what happens when cameras aren't there -- I just feel bad that his personal life is subject to so much of this kind of scrutiny, and I wonder if this video would have turned out the same in a world where he didn't feel he had to prove anything and people were kinder about this stuff.
Kevin Rutherford: Coming back to record a second duet after their initial pairing did so well -- at relatively speaking for where they both were in 2015 -- suggests at least some chemistry; it means neither party had such a terrible experience four years ago that they shook hands and vowed never to let it happen again. So there’s some semblance of verity in their relationship both on- and off-screen, and it shows; “Senorita” is almost effortlessly smooth, Mendes and Cabello playing off each other as though they’d recorded a dozen duets before. And that’s definitely palpable in the song’s early success; aside from both singers’ formidable fan bases, casual listeners are clearly drawn to it – and the steamy music video, of course, helps matters. Had “Senorita” been a clunky, no-chemistry mess, smart listeners would have noticed immediately, and wouldn’t have returned.
Andrew Unterberger: I'd say it's exactly as real as it has to be. I don't watch "Señorita" and assume that any of it carries into their off-screen relationship once the cameras stop rolling, but they're a plausible-enough match on screen that their scenes together do give the song a little bit of an extra jolt. More importantly, their voices pair really nicely; both have a very gentle power to them that suggests real passion without particularly high stakes.
Taylor Weatherby: The more I watch the video, the more I question if they're just really good at acting like they're into each other because they've been such good friends for a long time. Their chemistry definitely doesn't feel insincere, I just wonder if it's more platonic than romantic (then again, "You say we're just friends/ But friends don't know the way you taste" is one hell of a line to sing with someone you aren't interested in). I also think they are well aware of their shipping and knew they'd make fans go nuts with a video as hot as this one. That all being said, I don't think they're using their rumored romance as a money ploy, and they're awesome collaborators regardless. Shamila is a pretty great ship name, though...
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Lizzo's First Hot 100 Top Ten Entry With 'Truth Hurts'
7/9/2019 by Billboard Staff
After nearly a decade of slowly building her fanbase and overall buzz over various mixtapes, albums, singles, syncs and TV appearances, Michigan-via-Texas singer-rapper Lizzo finally has her first true crossover hit. In its ninth week on the Billboard Hot 100, "Truth Hurts" jumps 11-6, marking her first top 10 hit on the chart.
While the breakthrough is in many ways overdue, it's also somewhat unexpected, since it comes with a song that was first released in 2017 and not even included on the initial release of recent LP Cuz I Love You -- though following the song's viral explosion, it was added as a bonus track to the set's Deluxe edition. But was "Truth Hurts" the right song to give Lizzo her first pop smash? And now that she's here, will she stay a chart regular moving forward? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. The journey to the Hot 100's top tier has been a long one for Lizzo and "Truth Hurts," including a whole lot of TikTok challenges, Netflix synchs and award show performances. At what point in the song's evolution from forgotten 2017 single to 2019 Billboard top 10 hit did you start to really believe in it as a legitimate pop smash?
Eric Frankenberg: It was already in the top 20 when this happened, but I’ll cite her BET Awards performance. Watching Rihanna, Tyler Perry, and the entire audience jump to their feet felt like the arrival of a major star with a major hit on her hands. As Lizzo’s cult fan base blooms into universal acclaim and the song’s airplay on the rise across multiple formats, “Truth Hurts” appears to be one of very few legitimate contenders to be replace “Old Town Road” atop the Hot 100.
Bianca Gracie: I remember being a fan of the sassy "Truth Hurts" video when it first dropped, but I never thought the song was going to have legs this long! The TikTok challenge really sold it for me, just based on the platform's winning streak of taking unexpected songs to the top of the charts. (Looking at you, Lil Nas X.) This generation is really smart when it comes to grasping the wildest parts of a song and giving it a memeable voice, and the DNA line has "Twitter pop stan" written all over it. Once that took off on social media, I realized the song wasn't going anywhere for a while. It's surely going to crack through the top 5 of the Hot 100 soon!
Jason Lipshutz: I have not yet seen Someone Great on Netflix — apologies, Gina Rodriguez, Always Be My Maybe was ahead of it in my queue! — but I have seen the trailer for Someone Great, and the 15 seconds or so soundtracked by “Truth Hurts” feature Rodriguez and her pals singing, dancing and generally mining pure joy from “Truth Hurts.” It’s a breathtaking sequence, and although the subsequent memes and awards show performances helped solidify the song’s breakthrough potential, those 15 seconds represented the moment where something was clearly unlocked.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll also mention the BET Awards performance as the moment I was sold. Great award show performances have the ability to showcase and really crystalize a hit song at the peak of its momentum, and that's what Lizzo's high-energy, masterfully staged and choreographed performance at BET did for "Truth Hurts." Plus, no one ever became less of a star by performing at an awards show in a wedding dress from atop a gigantic cake.
Christine Werthman: I am old and don't know about the TikTok memes, but I did hear about it being featured in the Netflix movie Someone Great, and saw the subsequent chart spike. I first heard this song in December 2017, a couple of months after she first released it. This was my introduction to Lizzo, and I was completely obsessed with it after that initial listen, so the attention this track is now getting is long overdue. This song might have started on the fringes, but it was always meant to go big. 2. Do you think "Truth Hurts" was the right song to finally put Lizzo over the top? Or would you have rather seen her cross over with a different one of her earlier singles?
Eric Frankenberg: Yes. Quite simply, it’s her best single to date and her most direct expression of self. “Juice” and “Tempo” are great (and deserve to be top 10 follow-ups) but to my ears, both songs sound like they were Lizzo’s interpretations of songs designed to be hits on the radio and/or in the club. Whereas “Juice” calls back to “24K Magic” or even “Shake it Off,” “Truth Hurts” doesn’t sound like it had any intention other than Lizzo being 100% (that bitch) Lizzo. The song is the perfect distillation of her rapping, singing, humor, and ear for slightly unconventional hooks. It’s reminiscent of the late-in-the-game, unexpected success of Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” following its bonus-track inclusion on Pink Friday. An undeniable track that ties together it’s undeniable superstar’s best instincts, opening the door for years of hits to come.
Bianca Gracie: As much as I love how brash and in-your-face "Truth Hurts" is (Why're men great 'til they gotta be great?" is one of the dopest chorus openers in recent memory), I really would've loved to have seen "Good as Hell" get all this shine. The track is the highlight from her 2016 Coconut Oil EP and while soundtracked on Barbershop: The Next Cut and A Bad Moms Christmas, the song felt more like a blip during its release that year instead of having a growing momentum. "Good as Hell" is the ultimate self-care anthem that is meant to uplift women at their lowest points, which is why I was surprised that it wasn't given enough of a pop boost.
Jason Lipshutz: “Boys” and “Juice” are both giddy and inviting, while “Phone” and its accompanying music video remain top-notch, but it was always going to be “Truth Hurts.” The song perfectly bottles the slick humor and ebullient attitude of Lizzo; she becomes the wisecracking older sister you never had within the first minute (hell, by the end of the first line!). And the hook here is wordy but memorable — everybody knows and loves the Minnesota Vikings call-out by now. “Truth Hurts” didn’t follow a straight path to the top of the heap for Lizzo, but it’s her most accomplished single by far, and the one that correctly made her a star.
Andrew Unterberger: I'm more convinced about the worthiness of "Truth Hurts" now than I was a month ago, but color me still a little bit surprised that it was this song, and not either the pitch-perfect soundtrack single "Good as Hell" or the expert-level pop-funk banger "Juice," that first introduced her to the Top 40. This song feels to me like the hit that Lizzo has after crossover audiences are already well familiar with her and love everything she does, not the one that puts her in their hearts for the first time. But it just goes to show that you never know with pop music: sometimes the most obvious K.O. single in the world doesn't connect as well as the random single from two years ago that finally caught on with the right people at the right time.
Christine Werthman: Absolutely. I was so happy when I saw that it was on the deluxe version of her debut album because it meant that more people would get to experience the track. I still think it's her best song.
3. Now that she's here, do you think Lizzo will be a fixture in the top 40 heading into the next decade? Or do you see her having more of a career more like recent collaborator Charli XCX, of having a devout pop fanbase and an occasional cameo on someone else's smash, but only one true crossover of her own?
Eric Frankenberg: Regrettably (and hopefully not for long), Charli never had the solo momentum on the charts that Lizzo has right now, despite two earth-shaking features. “Truth Hurts” has already passed the No. 8-peaking “Boom Clap” on the Hot 100 (with a significant bullet) and she’s quickly becoming 2019’s go-to artist for water-cooler TV performances. Plus, Cuz I Love You is showing impressive longevity in the top 10 of the Billboard 200, whereas Charli’s Sucker debuted at No. 28 and fell off the chart a couple months later. Most importantly, Lizzo’s album is loaded with a few more song that are (should be) primed to follow up “Truth Hurts.”
Bianca Gracie: 2019 is definitely Lizzo's year, but with so many artists coming in an out of the Top 40 it's hard to say if she'll remain a mainstream pop figure. I do think Charli XCX is the more suitable comparison of where I see Lizzo's career going: Her fanbase is growing into a niche one, similar to the likes of pop singers who don't get their dues (Charli, Carly Rae Jepsen, Zara Larsson, etc.) There's definitely nothing wrong with that. But once the novelty of "Truth Hurts" wears off, I think Lizzo's crossover spotlight will begin to dim just a little bit.
Jason Lipshutz: Lizzo’s personality as a pop artist is both unique and immediate -- as in, there are no other stars quite like her, and even though she only has one hit and one album thus far, it’s easy to get a sense of her identity and approach. Whether she’ll be a consistent hitmaker or a cult hero is difficult to say at this point, and depends more on the songs and projects she’ll release to follow up the success of “Truth Hurts.” But based on that core appeal, Door No. 3 -- one-hit wonder status, disappearing into obscurity after this stint in the mainstream -- doesn’t seem possible for Lizzo.
Andrew Unterberger: It's tough to say, mostly because the path of "Truth Hurts" to crossover glory was so unpredictable and unrepeatable -- which can prove pretty tricky for even the most talented pop artists to follow up. But Lizzo is certainly that talented, and she also has the drive to keep putting herself in as many positions to succeed as possile. I could see her not spawning another major hit off Cuz I Love You, or maybe even the album after that, but then having some completely unforeseeable smash five years from now that ends up outstripping even "Truth Hurts."
Christine Werthman: I don't think anyone right now (beyond the big guns, like Drake, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, etc.) has the power to be a regular fixture in the top 40, because there's so much out there and tastes are constantly shifting. But I do think that Lizzo's got the chops to continue to shine with her own material, not just as a guest. I would put her closer to Charli XCX in terms of adventurousness with her music, but it's not like Charli XCX is that left-of-center or obscure anymore. She opened for Taylor Swift last year!
4. A lot of people have been rooting for Lizzo to succeed at this level for a pretty long time now. What do you see as the most important or encouraging part of her pop triumph?
Eric Frankenberg: Lizzo is a champion of the alternative on the Hot 100, no matter how goddamn catchy her singles have consistently been. Following the turn-of-the-decade pop/EDM boom, Adele rolled in and opened the door for Gotye, fun. and Lorde to compete against Pitbull, Katy Perry, and Flo Rida. Similarly, alongside Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X, “Truth Hurts” has shown up at the exact right time, to broaden the scope (sonically, aesthetically, lyrically) of the pop and hip hop that has been dominating the Hot 100 for the last couple years.
Bianca Gracie: I love that Lizzo is the latest to break the mold of what it means to be a black female artist in 2019. When's the last time you saw a plus-size black woman be accepted (and also dominate) in the pop realm without being confined to the industry's stereotypical ideation that they should only stick to gospel, soul or traditional R&B? Lizzo seems to be aware of this, and it's great to see her fully embrace her curves without apologizing for it. She can pen a pop tune just as effortlessly as Top 40 competitors and has a bright personality that just sucks you in. Plus, anyone who can twerk while playing the flute at the same time is forever good with me!
Jason Lipshutz: Simply put, there are not enough plus-size pop stars — to watch any music awards show, peruse any YouTube playlist or gaze at any main stage of a music festival remains an exercise in seeing mainstream artists that exhibit similar physical features. Lizzo, thankfully, is here to upend those expectations: she proudly flaunts her beauty, never apologizes for her weight and refuses to tone down her sexuality to fit within whatever society deems her able to say and do. Regardless of how high “Truth Hurts” climbs on the Hot 100 or how long Lizzo’s star burns, her presence in pop already feels important, and a welcome inspiration.
Andrew Unterberger: I'm always just excited to have a rapper -- or a rocker, a country star, even a DJ -- who very obviously wants to be a pop star, and has the skill, the imagination and the ambition to actually make it happen. Lizzo is big, sure, but she also thinks big, performs big, dreams big. Top 40 can never have enough artists like that.
Christine Werthman: That she is a woman of color who takes no prisoners with her wordplay and is celebrated for it in the pop world feels encouraging. I still cannot believe sometimes that a song that opens with the line "Why men great 'til they gotta be great?" is in the top 10. Just like, yes. Yesssssssss. 5. If you could choose any other 2017 pop song that should have been bigger than it was to give second life via memes and syncs, which would it be?
Eric Frankenberg: While there are a lot of underrated pop (or almost pop) tracks from 2017 that deserve a second chance but regarding syncs, I’m day-dreaming about St. Vincent’s bittersweet ode to “New York” crushing me with all of the melancholic nostalgia of a pivotal montage, break-up, or loss of a hero and a friend. It’s further to the left than “Truth Hurts” (not to mention 2017 bangers by Carly Rae Jepsen or Kelela) but a marriage to the perfect scene or trailer could produce an undeniable emotional impact that sends St. Vincent to the Hot 100 for the first time.
Bianca Gracie: Tove Lo's "Disco Tits" from her third album Blue Lips was one of the more slept-on tracks from 2017, so I would be so psyched to see it get another chance. It's a sweaty, slightly drugged-up and erotic dance track that could live through all four seasons -- from underground clubs in the winter to summer rooftop parties. The deadpan lyric "I'm fully charged, nipples are hard/ Ready to go" would be hilarious as a meme, or even as a line that buzzed character spews in the middle of a Netflix dark comedy. And the video! It's a wonder how Tove Lo's naughty road trip with a freaking muppet failed to drive past the border of 2017. With how wacky the pop world as been lately, it's definitely time for the singer and her furry bae to make a resurgence.
Jason Lipshutz: Norwegian pop artist Sigrid has never had a Hot 100 hit, and while debut single “Don’t Kill My Vibe” became a moderate hit in Europe, a song as pristine as “Don’t Kill My Vibe” deserves a second, third and fourth chance at ubiquity. That hook! That bridge! That Scandinavian form of pop that will never not warm my heart! C’mon, Netflix -- let's make sure vibes are not killed in an upcoming rom-com trailer.
Andrew Unterberger: Give me a pivotal first-love relationship montage -- and then later, a callback with the song set to a heartbreaking breakup farewell -- set to Wolf Alice's impossibly lush alt-synth epic "Don't Delete the Kisses," please. Like, right now. Tomorrow at the absolute latest.
Christine Werthman: Charli XCX's "3AM (Pull Up)" feat. MØ from Number 1 Angel. Should've been a hit!
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Lil Nas X's 'Old Town Road' Pursuit of Hot 100 History
7/16/2019 by Billboard Staff
This week, for just the third time in the 60-plus-year history of the Billboard Hot 100, a song spent its 15th week atop the chart. That song of course was Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" -- which has also included Billy Ray Cyrus for the 14 weeks since that remix debuted, and which now sits one week away from tying the all-time record for the longest reign atop the marquee chart.
But will a superstar addition to the song just below "Old Town Road" in the rankings get in the way before Lil Nas X can join the historic rankings of Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's "One Sweet Day" and Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's Justin Bieber-featuring "Despacito" remix? And what do those songs tell us about what it takes to make this level of Hot 100 history? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below. 1. When Lil Nas X first hit the Hot 100's top 40, most of us thought we were being optimistic to say that the song might one day make the top 10. Now at 15 weeks at No. 1 and on the doorstep of Billboard history, what's the biggest thing you think we all underestimated when it comes to Lil Nas X and "Old Town Road"?
Trevor Anderson: I underestimated nothing! But I think there’s two factors at play here: One, the streaming landscape has slowed a bit in 2019 compared with last year. In 2018, 69 (nice) songs debuted in the top 10 of Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart. A little over halfway through 2019, we’re still only at 25 top 10 debuts, so fewer songs are crash landing like a meteor to shake up the top of the charts out of nowhere.
Second, with the controversial dust surrounding the song mostly settled, a lot of people discovered “Old Town Road” is…a good song! It has clever lyrics, great production and is a step removed from the rest of the crowd, so though most may have expected the song to plummet when the headlines vanished, the fact that the song isn’t just a viral, gossip phenomenon has played into its favor.
Gab Ginsberg: Its longevity, certainly. We can’t forget the other select few songs that come from viral trends or memes, and proved to be more than mere flashes in the musical pan -- the dance challenge-driven “Harlem Shake" enjoyed five weeks at No. 1, and the "Macarena," also popularized by a dance craze, spent 14 weeks at the summit. So this has happened before... but for this length of time? Guess we’re really in the new frontier with OTR. The lesson is that in 2019 especially, it doesn’t pay to underestimate the power of meme songs, and the kids who obsess over them for months on end.
Carl Lamarre: To be completely frank with you: The power of Billy Ray Cyrus. Now, that's not to diminish Lil Nas X's hitmaking prowess, but Billy Ray polished an already strong record into a superior gem. We all knew he was a country savant, but to see him attack "Old Town Road" to the point he's doing hip-hop shows, it's honestly just dope and mindboggling to me all at the same time. He's a bad man on that guitar.
Jason Lipshutz: We all overlooked how damn catchy that hook is. I certainly dismissed the original version of “Old Town Road” as a novelty that could gain some Hot 100 traction thanks to its utilization as a meme, but the reality is that the song’s refrain is a perfect sing-along — simple and immediately memorable, familiar yet unique enough to separate itself in your brain. The Billy Ray Cyrus remix re-contextualized that hook into a proper chorus and unlocked its full power, but the foundation for a monster hit had been there all along.
Andrew Unterberger: I think we underestimated LNX's ingenuity, and just how many cards he had to play to keep the song at the forefront of the conversation. He timed the whole thing beautifully -- from the initial Billy Ray Cyrus remix that propelled the already-massive song into the stratosphere, to the song's star-studded video, to the release of debut EP 7, to this newest trot around the track with Young Thug and Mason Ramsey in tow. He spaced them out well enough from one another that it always seemed like there was something new to talk about with "Road," and that's why 15 weeks into its run atop the Hot 100, it still doesn't feel like it's all that tired. 2. We've lived with Justin Bieber's new Billie Eilish remix for the better part of a week now. What chance do you think it has of giving "Bad Guy" enough of a boost to launch it from No. 2 to No. 1 on next week's chart?
Trevor Anderson: One thing’s guaranteed: It can’t hurt. “Old Town Road” has certainly departed the chart heavens and returned to the atmosphere, so other songs finally have a shot at taking it down. Even if “Bad Guy” isn’t dominating the competition – it sits at No. 10 on the U.S. Spotify Top 50 today (Tuesday) – the combo platter of the original and remix make it a serious threat to Lil Nas X. “Bad Guy” is now above “Old Town Road” on radio (No. 5 vs. No. 8 on the latest chart) and remixes tend to drive a good sales boost. And I suspect savvy Bieber fans will be keen on returning their king to No. 1 and preserving his current record-tying mark, so they’ll likely consume the song in several ways to boost his chances.
Gab Ginsberg: The good news is that streaming, sales and any airplay of The Biebs’ remix of “Bad Guy” will contribute to Billie’s solo version, certainly giving it a boost. However, Lil Nas X pulled the same trick on Friday, so his remix with Young Thug and Mason Ramsey will also count towards his No. 1 with Billy Ray. Hard to say whether Bieber’s helping hand will be enough.
Carl Lamarre: No chance. Again, you know I think the power of Billy Ray and Lil Nas X is too strong of a duo to oust of the top spot. While Justin's appeal will certainly help "Bad Guy" remain a top-three lock, I do think Post Malone and Young Thug's "Goodbyes" has a chance to stifle their run. Hate it or love it, Posty has a thing for ending streaks. If you remember, he stopped "Bodak Yellow's" mini-run at No. 1 and dethroned the single with "Rockstar". Because of his die-hard fanbase, I think Posty is the dark horse that can still storm his way through "OTR."
Jason Lipshutz: A pretty good one! We’re talking about a pretty enormous hit on its own merit receiving a well-timed boost from one of the most in-demand pop artists on the planet. We’ll see how the showdown between the “Bad Guy” remix and the new “Old Town Road” with Cyrus, Young Thug and Mason Ramsey plays out, but Bieber’s star power should not be discounted here.
Andrew Unterberger: I would've guessed that Bieber's additions to "Bad Guy" would have been novel enough to at least give the song a fighting chance at taking down "Old Town Road" next week. But I'm not sure that it's captured enough of the public imagination to really make that much of a difference -- Bieber's slightly ill-fitting verse might ultimately have been too much of a wasted opportunity. Just goes to show that as much as these high-profile remixes might impact a song's chart math, it's still more about art than simple addition.
3. Of course, Lil Nas X returned fire with his own new OTR remix this week, and has been (jokingly?) teasing still more remixes to come on his Twitter. Is there any potential "Old Town Road" remix guest at this point who you'd still be interested by, or has that well officially run dry?
Trevor Anderson: Have to say we’re kind of maxed out – I’ll save a mention for Post Malone if he weren’t juggling three singles right now already. Let’s move on to what the people really want to hear, and an automatic 17-week No. 1 in my book, that Gordon Ramsay remix of “Panini.”
Gab Ginsberg: I honestly think the Billy Ray Cyrus version is where the whole thing peaked, and wouldn’t see myself getting too excited about any additional guests. Except for maybe Cardi B, who already appears on Lil Nas X’s EP elsewhere, but I’d still love to see her hop on OTR.
Carl Lamarre: I still think Da Baby would sound great on it. His delivery can fit any track, and he already has a penchant for anything country (See "Walker Texas Ranger"). I do believe Rihanna would inject an extra dose of life to the record if she chose to jump on the track. Think about it. Her fans are dying for some fresh vocals, why not easily notch another No. 1, while still appeasing to her fanbase with new material?
Jason Lipshutz: We’ve had the Cyrus patriarch on “Old Town Road” for months — it’s time for his superstar daughter to ride through. Miley Cyrus makes a ton of sense for one final remix: she’s been active with new music in recent weeks, has been supportive of Lil Nas X and has certainly moseyed around pop, hip-hop and country over the course of her career. If she can’t hop on a remix, however, Ashley O would be a great backup option.
Andrew Unterberger: C'mon, let's put a cap on the Reznorssaince by getting the man himself caterwauling over some extra buzzsawing guitars on the song's chorus. As every Revisionist Western of the past half-century has taken great pains to point out, there's a dark side to the Old Town Road, and Trent's the man to show us where it leads. 4. "Old Town Road," "Despacito" (Remix), "One Sweet Day" -- are there any common threads you see to those three songs? What lessons, if any, can we take away from them being the only three songs in over 60 years of Hot 100 history to spend 15 weeks at No. 1?
Trevor Anderson: Everyone wins with collaborations! But truly, that seems to be a key thing in these four-month stays. Funny enough, they’re all different types: “One Sweet Day” united two proven powerhouse talents, “Despacito” catalyzed a global superstar to an already-on-its-way hit that reached into an underserved audience in U.S. popular music and “Old Town Road” was the Internet willing on an underdog with help from a sentimental favorite. That's about all I can come up with, but the fact there isn’t a Guaranteed Formula works for me -- it’s more fun when it comes out of the blue.
Gab Ginsberg: All three songs are obviously collaborative efforts. OTR was a solo track at first, but truly took off once Billy Ray Cyrus got involved, and we don’t have to rehash what Justin Bieber did for “Despacito.” Then there’s "One Sweet Day," which was a duet from the start. This isn’t to say that dual or even triple star power is a sure bet for a long-reigning No. 1, but man, does it seem like it’s at least required.
Carl Lamarre: I think each record demonstrated how star power could fuel a record if done correctly. Boyz II Men and Mariah were upper-echelon stars in the R&B world in the '90s. Justin Bieber is a star magnet who helped accelerate Latin music on the mainstream circuit with his appearance on "Despacito (Remix)." For "OTR," it was the killer combination of old school meets new blood from two genres coming from the opposite side of the spectrum. When you pair up together, especially on the right track, great things can happen.
Jason Lipshutz: There’s a unique braiding of sonic DNA and timing going on with all three. “Old Town Road,” “Despacito” and “One Sweet Day” are all special singles that made sense for the world to latch onto, but they also blew up at their different respective moments for a reason. “One Sweet Day” rode the wave of light-R&B balladry on pop radio in the mid-90s; “Despacito” captured a moment in which Latin trap was spilling over into mainstream pop; and “Old Town Road” harnessed meme culture and genre-smashing into the annals of history.
Andrew Unterberger: I think it shows that a song can't just be an undeniable radio favorite or club-killer to reign for 16 weeks -- it sorta has to be an event. That's certainly what it was when the two preeminent Hot 100 forces of the first half of the '90s teamed up for "One Sweet Day," and that's what it was when one of the biggest North American pop stars of the '10s cosigned a blossoming Latin pop crossover by singing in Spanish for the first time. "Old Town Road" certainly didn't feel like that at first -- a sub-two minute genre hybrid by a relatively unknown rapper -- but countless memes, videos, remixes and controversies later, it's absolutely turned out to be one. All of these songs eventually felt strange to discuss as songs, not phenomenons; even though at the end of their chart runs, they were all just great songs, too.
5. Final predictions time: What total number of weeks does "Old Town Road" notch at No. 1 before finally falling off for good?
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Lil Nas X's 'Old Town Road' Tying the Hot 100 Record For Weeks at No. 1 7/23/2019 by Billboard Staff
For the second time in under two years, history has been made at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. This week, on the Hot 100 dated July 27, Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" spends its 16th week on top -- 15 of them alongside remix partner Billy Ray Cyrus -- holding Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy" at No. 2, despite a surge aided by a new remix featuring Justin Bieber. That 16th week ties "Old Town Road" with Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's "One Sweet Day" (1995-96) and Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's Justin Bieber-featuring "Despacito" remix (2017) for the longest run at No. 1 since the chart was first introduced in 1958. Next week, the song will look to move into sole possession of that record, by becoming the only 17-week No. 1 in Hot 100 history. How do we explain the song's incredible success? And how do we feel about it potentially putting "One Sweet Day" and "Despacito" in its rearview mirror next week? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. "Old Town Road" has now been at No. 1 for as long as any song in the 60-plus-year history of the Hot 100. Without thinking about it too much, what's your gut reaction to that sentence?
Katie Atkinson: I didn't expect it. When it reached the 10-week mark, I guessed it would hit 12 weeks. (I was wrong.) At this point, I have no idea how far it will go. A few weeks back, Billboard awards editor Paul Grein wrote about whether "Old Town Road" would get any love at next year's Grammys, saying the question is if "voters will see the hit as a jokey novelty like 'Macarena,'" a song that spent 14 weeks at the top of the chart but wasn't honored by the Recording Academy. I would probably put "Old Town Road" in the same gimmicky category as "Macarena" and, having lived through the overwhelming 1996 dance craze, it's truly wild for me to imagine that Lil Nas X's hit is as pop-culturally dominant to its moment in time.
Tatiana Cirisano: Yeehaw! And also, holy s**t! So many iconic Hot 100 artists are running through my head right now, from Britney Spears to The Beatles. And Nas beats all of them? If you had told me this four months ago, I would not have believed you -- in fact, I put my doubts in writing, and I stand corrected. Stephen Daw: I love that sentence. With every passing week that "Old Town Road" has spent on the charts, I have only grown to love it more. Sure, that's partly because of what a meme the song has become, but it's mostly because it bangs from beginning to end.
Eric Frankenberg: Shocked! But simultaneously, it feels like a fit. The mega-pairing of mid-90s Mariah Carey with mid-90s Boyz II Men aside, Luis Fonsi, Mark Ronson, Los Del Rio, Santana, and many others dominated the Hot 100 without much warning or precedent. A newbie like Lil Nas X, with a catchy-AF sub-two-minute genre-smashing meme-hit like “Old Town Road,” makes sense these days as a 16-week chart-topper.
Andrew Unterberger: Still sorta bewildered, but not mad. I could tell pretty early that this song had already reached a level of momentum that wouldn't be slowed till it got to No. 1 -- but the fact that nearly four months later, that momentum has yet to really let up, was something I couldn't believe until I actually saw it happen. Now it has, and all I can do is tip my Gucci cowboy hat to the young man. He's earned it.
2. Well, looks like for a second time, a Justin Bieber guest appearance proved insufficient to help unseat "Old Town Road." Of the many songs and artists Lil Nas X has kept one spot away from the top spot, which do you think is most impressive?
Katie Atkinson: Without a doubt, Taylor Swift's "ME!" Setting aside the quality of the song or where it ranks among her catalog, just looking at it as "Taylor Swift's first single since her 2017 album, PLUS music video, all of it teased over months of Easter eggs dropped weekly to a rabid fanbase," this seemed unbeatable. And yet, Lil Nas X beat it. By the time Swift's next attempt, "You Need to Calm Down," came along, I was a little more mentally prepared for the cowboy rapper to come out on top.
Tatiana Cirisano: Billie Eilish. At first glance, I wanted to say Taylor Swift -- given that she’s, well, Taylor Swift -- but I don’t see “ME!” or “You Need to Calm Down” specifically as hit material. Those songs didn’t stay near the top for long, and I imagine it was mostly our knee-jerk excitement over new Taylor material that jolted the songs to No. 2 in the first place, rather than lasting appeal. On the other hand, “Bad Guy” -- a dark and delicious slice of pop that’s arguably the superior song on this list -- seems to have had the best shot at earning No. 1 here. The hit has hovered steadily in the top three for almost two months! It was remixed with Justin Bieber, dammit! Eilish’s fans are notoriously obsessive, too. It’s not just impressive to me that Lil Nas X beat the teen star, but also a little bit shocking.
Stephen Daw: The fact that Lil Nas X boxed out Taylor Swift not once, but twice, is really surprising to me. Yes, Bieber has a better history on the charts than Swift, but he was the featured artist on "I Don't Care" and "Bad Guy," whereas Taylor is introducing her fans to her entire new Lover era. I think the fact that Lil Nas X managed to keep "Me!" at No. 2 is pretty impressive. That song had all of the assured signs of a chart success: a gargantuan music video with cameos and easter eggs and massive production value, a week-long tease of new music leading up to the single's release, even a feature appearance from a newly minted mainstream pop fixture in Brendon Urie. But it was all for naught, because as we've stated already, "Old Town Road" is a true bop. Period.
Eric Frankenberg: Based on combined star power and momentum in 2019, I was sure that Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber would debut at No. 1 upon the announcement of “I Don’t Care.” Both artists have set Billboard chart records in the streaming era. Both artists debuted at No. 1 with their last lead singles and both hit No. 1 again later in their respective album cycles. Two of those No. 1 singles topped consecutive year-end Hot 100 rankings (in 2016 and 2017). Bieber’s 2016 year-end chart-topper in was even co-written by Sheeran himself. On paper, it was a sure thing -- shout out to “ME!” as well -- but their (still impressive) No. 2 debut, along with those by Taylor Swift and Shawn Mendes, serves as a reminder that in the streaming era, you’re only as strong as your current hit... or at the mercy of the opposing hit dominating the Hot 100.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll say a combination of Bieber/Sheeran (about as powerful a teamup from within the pop aristocracy as you could ask for) and Eilish on her own (as electric a pop breakout force as we've seen in 2019) as being the most impressive, since it demonstrates that OTR was phenom enough to hold off both the Top 40 establishment and its insurgent new class. Also, let's not forget about Post Malone and Drake, arguably the two most indomitable Hot 100 forces of 2018, who've also had new songs kept outside the moat during Lil Nas X's reign as king of the castle.
3. The 16-week mark of "One Sweet Day" stood tall for over 20 years, and now it's been tied twice in two years. Coincidence, or do you think there's something about the way the charts or pop music works in the late '10s that makes 16-week No. 1s more feasible?
Katie Atkinson: We can't exactly adjust the Hot 100 for inflation like they do with box-office rankings, but I would be so curious to see how a song like "Macarena" would perform in this streaming era. Would it have spent even more time up top? Or would it have spent less time (or not even made it to the top) if kids could have just pulled up the video on YouTube and learned the dance in one hour and then moved on, à la the No. 3-peaking "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)" by Silentó? Since three makes a trend, it will be interesting to see what that third megahit song might be and whether it can also coast to 16 weeks. Mariah will not be pleased if that's the case.
Tatiana Cirisano: I think the semi-recent trend of all-star remixes has something to do with it. Nowadays, the trick to maintaining a hit song’s momentum is simple: Add a new star, stir and serve. Just as guest Justin Bieber helped propel “Despacito” to No. 1, Lil Nas X called on Billy Ray Cyrus, Mason Ramsey, Young Thug and Diplo for various remixes to make sure fans keep spinning “Old Town Road.” It seems there are now more ways to promote a single than ever, whether through the artist’s social media (definitely a major factor for meme expert Lil Nas), a fan-led dance challenge, TV and awards show appearances or multiple music video versions.
Stephen Daw: I think it absolutely has to do with stan culture. Back in 1995, fans weren't nearly as connected with one another as they are today thanks to social media. Now, with the evolution of online fandom being what it is, fans go out of their way to make sure that songs get as many streams and purchases as they possibly can by promoting them endlessly with one another. That, combined with the fact that fans have chart data and records more readily available to them at all times, means that these supporters have become more directly involved in pushing a song straight to the top of the charts.
Eric Frankenberg: “Despacito” and “Old Town Road” were and are phenomena and it would be unfair to say that their success atop the Hot 100 is simply a sign of the times. But... it’s also kind of a sign of the times. Of 38 songs that have topped the chart for 10 or more weeks (in over 60 years), 10 of them have happened since 2015, versus six between 2005-2009. If you loved Mariah Carey's 14-week No. 1 “We Belong Together,” you bought it once and that was essentially the end of your affect on its Hot 100 run. If you love “Old Town Road," you may still be listening to it constantly, forever increasing its stream count and ultimately, its chart position. It’s easy to imagine songs as overwhelmingly popular as “Yeah!,” “I Gotta Feeling,” and “Low” stretching their No. 1 reigns a bit further with the benefit of streaming, perhaps toward the 16-week mark.
Andrew Unterberger: Streaming definitely has a large part to do with it, as in the last six years we've generally seen Hot 100 records being approached, tied and broken at a level analogous to baseball during the peak of the steroids era. But I wouldn't rule flukiness out entirely, either: "Despacito" and "Old Town Road" were both the type of unpredictable, life-of-their-own phenomena that might show up only once or twice in an entire decade, and are never guaranteed to enjoy such unimpeded Hot 100 success. If you told me the next 16-week No. 1 happened two years from now, I'd believe it, but if you told me it took another 20 years for another to come around, I wouldn't be shocked either.
4. "One Sweet Day," "Despacito" (Remix) and "Old Town Road" (Remix): You have to listen to one on repeat on the way to work, play one at the peak of the next party you host, and perform one at your next karaoke function. Which do you choose for each?
Katie Atkinson: Wow, the f---, marry, kill of music! OK, I'm prioritizing the song I play at my next party, because that's the one that most reflects on me and my music tastes. For that reason, I'm playing "Old Town Road" because it will make the most sense in the year 2019, whereas the other two would be truly hard to explain (and I'm following it up with Blanco Brown's "The Git Up," and then maybe some Bubba Sparxxx and just leaning into the whole country-rap theme).
Next up is karaoke, and since there's no chance I'm attempting to sing Spanish in front of a crowd, I'll pick "One Sweet Day." Hopefully I can recruit my husband to handle the Boyz II Men parts while I try to keep my head above water singing Mimi's high notes. Finally, I'm jamming to "Despacito" on repeat in my car, where I can comfortably belt out the "pasito a pasito, suave suavecito" part without judgment.
Tatiana Cirisano: “One Sweet Day” on repeat on the way to work (instant commute-stress-reliever!), “Despacito” at the peak of the party (the most dance-able of the three), and “Old Town Road” at the next karaoke function (although if I don’t, someone else surely will).
Stephen Daw: "Old Town Road" is definitely a commute song for me. It's upbeat and catchy enough to start energizing you before going into the office, but not so much that it's jarring in the morning. While "Despacito" has been played out, absolutely everyone will know it and start grooving to it on the dance floor, whether they like it or not. And "One Sweet Day" is the best kind of song to do at karaoke: if you're not great at singing, you can get a lot of friends up there to attempt those whistle notes with you for a laugh; if you're a great singer, then you get to show off just how great you are by hitting some fat trills at the end.
Eric Frankenberg: “One Sweet Day” is the song I’d listen to on repeat. I take the subway to work but I’m imagining myself in my own car so that I can sing along at top volume without the rest of New York hearing (and judging) me. “Despacito (Remix)” will be for the party. The remix(es) for “Old Town Road” already feels like a karaoke classic. It’s short, it’s an easy sing-along, and there is no wrong choice of the four verses that can be split among friends.
Andrew Unterberger: Gonna go the slightly unconventional route here and say that while I'll do "Old Town Road" on repeat in the morning -- it's almost custom-designed to survive that level of replay -- I'll use "One Sweet Day" as my party song. Nothing wrong with a little group singalong as a party intermezzo, and if the experience is too intense for any of my guests (or, worse, they think the song is lame), I don't really need to be wasting drinks on them anyway. Then I'll try my hand at "Despacito" karaoke: a challenge for sure, but I'm willing to put in the leg-work ahead of time, and there's always the reassurance that no way could my version be as much of an embarrassment as Bieber's own.
5. Allowing that none of us have any direct impact on the actual result, be honest: Are you rooting for "Old Town Road" to set the new all-time Hot 100 record next week?
Katie Atkinson: I think of Mariah as the unofficial Queen of Billboard, so the idea of her ceding one of her crown jewels has me a little bummed. But records are made to be broken -- even Mariah knows that, as evidenced by her cheeky Twitter response to Lil Nas X inviting her to be on an "Old Town Road" remix -- so we might need to start carving out some extra space in our Hot 100 Mount Rushmore for the 10-gallon-hat-wearing rapper.
Tatiana Cirisano: Definitely. It’s refreshing to see an artist reach this level of success by simply doing their own thing, tearing down stereotypes and peeling back the curtain on fame (as Lil Nas does with his must-follow social media accounts). To me, there’s also something hopeful and world-affirming about the support behind “Old Town Road.” I don’t mean to be overly simplistic, but if this song -- with all of its perceived contradictions -- can reach the top, maybe the world is less close-minded than recent headlines would have us believe.
Stephen Daw: Yes, 100 percent. I don't need the song to go on and stay at the top of the charts for much longer than that, but now that we've come this far, I need to see Lil Nas X complete his goal.
Eric Frankenberg: Absolutely. As a lifelong chart nerd, it’s been a 23-year journey watching Eminem, Beyoncé, Elton John, and even Mariah Carey herself challenge this record. I would be thrilled to see a queer black cowboy-rap newcomer stroll, err, ride along to 17 weeks.
Andrew Unterberger: I always end up rooting against the 16-week Hot 100 record being broken, since that's the record I most grew up with as a chart-watcher and the one I consider to be Billboard's most sacred. But if it has to fall, this is the kind of hit it should be falling to: innovative and accessible, classic and new, and somehow both immaculately contrived and refreshingly organic.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Lil Nas X's 'Old Town Road' Breaking the Record For Most Weeks at No. 1
7/30/2019 by Billboard Staff
Lil Nas X visits the Spotify House during CMA Fest at Ole Red on June 6, 2019 in Nashville, Tenn.
It's been the talk of the chart-watching world for nearly the entire year, and it's all culminated in this: Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" finally breaking the long-held record of 16 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with his Billy Ray Cyrus-assisted debut smash, the 17-week No. 1 "Old Town Road."
Yes, despite 16 weeks of worthy challengers -- including multiple songs from pop's best and brightest stars, like Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Drake, Justin Bieber, Post Malone and Shawn Mendes -- "Old Town Road" has held onto the Hot 100's top spot longer than any song in the chart's 60-plus-year history. But what comes next at the No. 1 spot? And what comes next for Lil Nas X himself? Below, our staffers debate these questions and more.
1. So that's it: "Old Town Road" has the Hot 100 record to itself, and nothing else much happened in its Week 17 at No. 1 to give it any kind of new challenge. Are you still excited about the history being made, or after all the drama of the previous 16 weeks, does this feel a little anti-climactic?
Bianca Gracie: Okay, don’t get me wrong -- I’m definitely happy for Lil Nas X’s success. But that poor horse was bound to get exhausted sooner or later. After dominating the top slot for what seemed like an eternity, it became pretty obvious the rapper was going to make history by the 17th week. From the ongoing remixes (some of which were brilliant trolls), poking fun of haters who oddly backed out after he came out as gay and even taking over Twitter as CEO, the rapper has played the game perfectly to make sure it happened. So while some Lambs may feel crushed that Mariah Carey’s “One Sweet Day” no longer carries the diamond-encrusted torch (which she clearly doesn’t mind sharing), he earned it.
Jason Lipshutz: The real drama occurred in the week leading up to the record-breaking 17th week at No. 1: when “Old Town Road” was threatening to tie “One Sweet Day” and “Despacito” with 16 weeks in the top spot, Justin Bieber stopped by Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” the No. 2 song on the Hot 100 chart, and a race was quickly forged. With “Old Town Road” riding by the Billie-Bieber union a week ago, and no new competition emerging the following week, it was easy to conclude that the record was being broken. And who says the lack of drama is a bad thing? After vanquishing several high-profile songs vying for the top spot in weeks past, it was sort of nice watching Lil Nas X cruise to the record over the past week.
Chris Payne: "Old Town Road" has already fought off so many heavy hitters -- with relative ease -- that this week's prolonged coronation ceremony felt deserved. Lil Nas X fended off Taylor Swift (twice), Shawn Mendes, Sheeran and Bieber, "Bad Guy" and Bieber... did we really need to see him punk another industry favorite to prove his place in history? He was essentially competing against himself and I'm glad "Old Town Road" never lost momentum. Well earned.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, I could've gone for a little more excitement down the final stretch -- maybe Adele making a surprise WWE-style entrance from the wings? -- but hard to argue the entire race hasn't been exciting. If you spend four months fending off an entire award show's worth of pop stars, I guess it's only right that you should get to coast for one week at the end there. There were only so many final bosses left anyway.
Xander Zellner: Maybe it was a little anti-climactic considering there wasn't a photo finish between "Old Town Road" and "Bad Guy" (or any other song), but that certainly doesn't take away from the general excitement behind the record being set. It's like watching the Super Bowl and the team you're rooting for wins by a landslide -- sure it wasn't close, but you still had a good time watching it happen. So the drama will certainly die down a bit now, and people may be less inclined to “stream it so we can break the record!” But it’s still fun to see just how far it’ll go. My guess is that it has one more week at No. 1 and then it’ll taper off.
2. It could take another 17 weeks for all we know, but is there another song on the Hot 100 right now with at least a semi-credible chance of taking over from "Old Town Road" that you're rooting for becoming the next No. 1?
Bianca Gracie: I honestly cannot see another single knock Lil Nas X off his throne anytime soon -- unless Rihanna finally decides to grace us with her musical presence. I think the rapper will remain at No. 1 until sometime after Labor Day, when the spectacle dies down a bit and people are looking for a tune that can carry them into autumn. But if the “Old Town Road” novelty does happen to die down before then, Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” could have a chance to dominate. She’s shining even brighter in the spotlight -- especially after that incredible “Tiny Desk” performance -- which could boost the tune from No. 5 to No. 1 with ease.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s pretty wild that Shawn Mendes hasn’t had a No. 1 on the Hot 100 yet, right? Dude keeps getting stuck in the runner-up spot — it’s happened twice during the run of “Old Town Road” alone, with “If I Can’t Have You” and his Camila Cabello duet “Señorita” each blocked by Lil Nas X. I personally find his new solo single more compelling than his latest team-up with Cabello, but either one hitting No. 1 would be a fine way to reward one of the more consistent voices in pop.
Chris Payne: There are a handful of new singles gaining momentum outside the chart's top 10, but I'd be full of it if I called Lil Tecca's "Ran$om" (No. 19) or Blanco Brown's "The Git Up" (No. 14) as the song to unseat "Old Town Road" with any certainty. I mention those though, because the former is currently No. 1 on Spotify's U.S. Top 50 and the latter sounds like the industry's less outsider-y reaction to the record-breaking No. 1. But instinct tells me nothing will unseat "Old Town Road" until it's lost a good deal of its traction. That could take some time. I think the next Hot 100 No. 1 is a song we haven't heard yet.
Andrew Unterberger: I'd appreciate the symmetry of "The Git Up" -- a song that approaches the same country-rap hybrid terrain, but essentially coming from the other direction -- being the song to unseat it. I'd also be happy to see "Bad Guy" get there, but I also kinda like the idea of Billie Eilish's first No. 1 being more of a long-awaited breakthrough, like it was when Ariana Grande or her guy Justin Bieber finally got their first. "Bad Guy" is already one of the year's defining hits regardless.
Xander Zellner: I’d love to see Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” reach No. 1, and at the rate it’s going (it’s one of only two songs in the top 15 that’s up in airplay, streaming and sales), it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Similar to LNX, “Truth Hurts” is Lizzo’s first Hot 100 entry, and it’d be great to see back-to-back artists reach No. 1 with their first Hot 100-charting single. I’m also rooting for Blanco Brown (who would also fit into that category), with his similar country-trap single “The Git Up,” which has been inching closer and closer to the top 10. It’s not impossible that his dance challenge will catch on and lift the song to No. 1.
3. All hard numbers and stats aside: Does this feel to you like it's really been the most popular song in the country for as long as it has been? Can you think of a song from this decade -- "Despacito" or otherwise -- that feels like it was as big for as long?
Bianca Gracie: Well “Despacito” is the only other song that comes to mind, but the situations are a little different. Justin Bieber was on a roll with his collaborations in 2017, so him hopping on the “Despacito” remix made for a guaranteed smash. And along with his superstar status, the Latin music wave was making another mainstream resurgence at the time. So the hit-making formula was perfect. In the case of “Old Town Road,” this feels more like a pop culture event. With the controversy, memes and artist co-signs, Lil Nas X really disrupted the industry in a way that I haven’t seen in a while.
Jason Lipshutz: “Uptown Funk!” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars topped out at 14 weeks at No. 1, but it really felt like 30 weeks -- that song was absolutely everywhere four years ago. Maybe it’s because “Funk!” became an instant wedding/party/Bar Mitzvah/karaoke staple, blaring from every DJ booth when the person manning it is searching for a cross-generational crowd-pleaser. “Old Town Road” has defined the year in popular music, but I’ve certainly heard it out in the wild slightly less.
Chris Payne: Nothing this decade felt as much a song of the people as "Old Town Road." Thanks to Lil Nas X's mastery of all things online, the song was everywhere long before radio or any of the traditional industry mechanisms caught up. It was disruptive and masterful, neatly packaged with its own debate for the kitchen table or the comment section. I don't even know what constitutes the second-biggest song over its reign. If I had to pick I'd say "Bad Guy," but even that feels largely due to the ascendance of Billie Eilish at large rather than the song's own ubiquity. As for other songs this decade, "Despacito" is the only one that can hold a candle to it.
Andrew Unterberger: "Call Me Maybe," "Uptown Funk," "Closer" and "Despacito" maybe all felt bigger in the way that I grew up with massive hits feeling massive -- they're always on the radio, they're unavoidable at public functions, you learn all the words to them without even really trying to. (OK, maybe not all the words to "Despacito.") But I guess this is what a four-quadrant hit looks like in 2019: Unavoidable on social media, in headlines, in streaming playlists and in general conversation. And not like OTR was a no-show in those old-guard measures of smash-dom either; hell, it was the most-karaoked song in the country on Healsonic last week.
Xander Zellner: It sounds crazy to think of this song consistently being the most popular thing when you realize everything that’s happened, culturally, in the past 17 weeks, but yes, it undoubtedly has been. The sheer number of remixes and memes attached to this song in each passing week has kept it top of mind to not just active music followers, but anyone who hasn't been living in a cave. And when something notable happened in the news, “Old Town Road” managed to quickly insert itself into the storyline (see: “Old Town Road (Area 51 Video).”) No other song has ever been so successful at adapting each week to keep itself popular. If I had to think of another song that feels like it was as big for this long… Adele’s “Hello” comes to mind, but it still feels incomparable to OTR.
4. Now that the record's been set, and he can presumably move on with his career, what advice would you give Lil Nas X about what he should do next?
Bianca Gracie: Many are going to brand him as “The Old Town Road Guy,” but what has prevented him from becoming too gimmicky is his down-to-earth personality and self-awareness. If he doesn’t want to be confined into a box, he should remain as authentic as possible -- both in and outside the studio. And his 7 EP saw him experimenting with various styles, so I think he should keep trying different hats on to figure out which sounds he really loves and expand on them in his unique way.
Jason Lipshutz: Look, I’m sure Lil Nas X is going to release more new music, or promote the songs on his 7 EP, and answer some calls to collaborate, and perform “Old Town Road” for the rest of his days. That’s all well and good! But I need a Christmas remix of “Old Town Road” later this year. The timing would be perfect -- he should wait four months or so, when “Old Town Road” has finally tapered out of the public consciousness and the world is ready for another visit -- and as for a guest star, how about Mariah Carey, the queen of Christmas whose tied Hot 100 record Lil Nas X just surpassed (and who warmly congratulated him on social media)? I don’t want a lot for Christmas, Lil Nas X. There’s just one thing I need: “North Pole Road,” or “Old Saint Nick Road,” or whatever you want to call it. Just give it to me.
Chris Payne: The 7 EP, his first actual project, arrived last month and it's not very good. Reviewing it for Pitchfork, Alphonse Pierre remarked, "For the entirety of 7, it’s unclear if Lil Nas X actually likes music" -- one of the most painfully accurate lines of criticism I've read in a while. Lil Nas X is consistently one of the funniest posters on my Twitter feed, but as for his music, I've gotten to the point where I need some humanity beyond the memes, the irony, and what "sounds like B.o.B. got hired to make a J.C. Penney commercial in 2010" (sorry, that review once again said it better than I ever could). I'd advise him to step away, take several deep breaths, and hold off on new music until he has a project he feels speaks to where he's at once the "Old Town Road" madness subsides.
Andrew Unterberger: I'm not sure this is advice I'd give to pretty much anyone else in pop music in the year 2019, but I might tell him to collaborate a little more. Search out some opportunities to make low-stakes guest appearances, and use those verses as opportunities to try out some new approaches without having the pressure of it being an "Old Town Road" follow-up in any way. And in the meantime, work on finding your comfort zone as a performer and artist, with producers and mentors that you trust (and have your best interests at heart) hopefully helping to lead the way.
Xander Zellner: I feel like he doesn’t need any advice at this point, considering how well his methods are working. But if he were to ask, I’d say to focus all of his energy on his second single “Panini” and to keep experimenting with new genres. It’s a testament to his talent that the track (which interpolates Nirvana’s “In Bloom”) debuted at No. 16 earlier this month without any additional guest vocalists -- perhaps he can return to No. 1 again with an unaccompanied solo song.
5. 40 years from now, your pop-obsessive grandkid or great-niece/nephew asks you to explain how this very unusual song was able to become the longest-reigning hit in Hot 100 history. Do your best to explain it to them in one sentence.
Bianca Gracie: The YeeHaw agenda unexpectedly came galloping through the music scene and shook everyone -- especially your pop faves -- to their core.
Jason Lipshutz: There was this platform called TikTok, and a rapper who stumbled upon the perfect hook, and then this older country artist who snapped on the remix, and it didn’t make much sense, but it made everyone really happy.
Chris Payne: It got really big on Tik Tok and YouTube, kind of like our president, Logan Paul.
Andrew Unterberger: Nobody in 2019 pop better understood how to make a smash that was transparently contrived yet inspiringly organic than a 19-year-old SpongeBob and Nicki Minaj stan with too much time on his hands.
Xander Zellner: He was an underdog who created a genre-bending song that was undeniably catchy, original and innovative enough to change the way artists think about releasing and marketing their music.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss NF's 'The Search' Album Outpacing Chance the Rapper's 'The Big Day' For No. 1
By Billboard Staff | August 06, 2019 2:16 PM EDT
While the top of the Billboard Hot 100 remains static yet again this week, the Billboard 200 sees one of its more interesting album races in recent months, with NF's fourth album The Search ultimately bowing at No. 1 -- one spot above Chance the Rapper's proper debut LP The Big Day.
The top finish for The Search has made for a great deal of industry conversation, since despite already having a No. 1 LP to his name (2017's Perception), NF has not been traditionally seen as a star on the same level as Chance -- whose long-awaited first official album after a series of hit mixtapes and other projects was one of the year's most anticipated releases. But is the disparity between the rappers really as great as Twitter tends to see it? And does their chart finish really mean that much about either artist anyway? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. How surprised are you that The Search was able to outperform The Big Day last week?
Trevor Anderson: Somewhat surprised – 5/10? Funny enough, this fight came down to a good-old-fashioned symbolism contest: Album sales vs streams. In some ways like Logic before him, people underestimate NF’s small-but-loyal fanbase willing to buy the album and any associated merchandise or bundle offers. They wanna see their guy succeed, point blank. Curiously, I wonder if Chance’s super-Internet career upbringing affected this too: Since all his mixtapes never went on sale until just weeks ago, does anyone even consider buying a Chance album? Sure, for some, this may seem a very inside baseball debate, but, as we see, it has a very practical effect on the No. 1 race.
Josh Glicksman: Extremely surprised, though maybe I shouldn’t be. Chance has racked up quite the list of accolades over the past few years: three Grammys, headliner at major festivals, a No. 1 hit as a featured artist on the Hot 100. But from a charts standpoint, you could certainly argue NF has very quietly outperformed the Chicago rapper since 2016. NF notched his first No. 1 album in 2017 -- a feat that still eludes Chance -- and has six lead artist entries on the Hot 100 to Chance’s three. Twitter followers be damned (Chance has over 8 million; NF has fewer than half a million), maybe we should’ve seen this coming.
Ross Scarano: I was surprised. Working at Billboard has forced me to pay closer attention to NF and made me understand that he has a seriously engaged following -- this is the culmination. Still, I assumed that Chance would draw a bigger, no-less-engaged audience for such a long-awaited album. But The Big Day arrived in the wake of a delay and without a strong pre-release single -- not necessarily egregious problems but considering the race in hindsight, they’re worth mentioning. And then there’s the sense that, among critics at least, consensus had turned against Chance. My mom isn’t aware of that changing tide, but I’m sure it took took its toll among some listeners who came to find his brand of buoyancy, well, tired.
Andrew Unterberger: Pretty surprised! Not that I doubt NF's following -- he charts pretty much every new song on the Hot 100 regardless of outside support, usually a sign of someone whose fanbase is stronger than we might realize -- but I did think Chance's streaming dominance would win out here. But we're also just not seeing full rap albums dominate on streaming in 2019 the way they have in years past; maybe just due to the A-listers who've yet to check in, but maybe because the hip-hop streaming bubble is finally starting to deflate a bit.
Christine Werthman: Not surprised at all. Chance the Rapper's album is mostly about his wedding and his love for his wife, while NF's songs deal with mental health, anxiety, and self-acceptance, and as we've seen with Logic, that frank discussion of insecurities attracts a lot of listeners these days. No shots at Chance for making a feel-good record -- lord knows we could use some positive vibes -- but discontent is sometimes easier to connect with.
2. Clearly a lot of onlookers have underestimated NF's current place in the industry. Why do you think NF tends to go under the radar, and what about him has allowed him to amass such a fanbase while doing so?
Trevor Anderson: NF operates in a weird space for 2010s hip-hop: He’s not a certified legend (duh), and he doesn’t fit in to this new landscape that prizes genre-bending, melody and mood as hip-hop music undergoes a big transformation, so he doesn’t attract mass attention for either his past accomplishments or any groundbreaking innovation. But, in some ways, that does invite a different group of potential fans: (white?) people who enjoy rapping as a skill and concept but appreciate how he gravitates toward more-familiar pop and rock sounds, and, crucially, doesn’t curse! I’d imagine, too, that his prior status as a Christian rapper, helps here: For those church-abandoning millennials, NF still discusses very pressing personal issues but in a digestible, no-censorship-needed way.
Josh Glicksman: Addressing the latter question first, as much as NF is likely sick of the comparison -- just listen to his alleged diss on “Returns” -- he sure sounds a lot like Eminem. That’s not to say NF didn’t amass a strong fanbase on his own, but the lyrical rapid fire, dark subject matter, and abruptly transitory choruses are all reminiscent of Slim Shady (as well as Logic, who he toured with in 2018). NF doesn’t shy away from the fact that he’s not itching for big media promotion, either. On “-Interlude-,” he calls equates the most “successful” moment of his life to his worst. Under the radar feels more intentional than coincidental for NF.
Ross Scarano: Accurately or inaccurately at this point, NF is perceived as being an explicitly faith-based musician; he signed to Capitol Christian Music Group in 2014. Of course, Chance’s music is often explicitly Christian too -- in that way that lots of rap music can be, just as lots of significant rap music has been made by Five Percenters and Muslims -- but Chance didn’t come up through a faith-based label system. He made his name as an exciting young unsigned rapper, covered by outlets like Fake Shore Drive and Complex, and he happened to work Christianity in some of the time. NF wasn’t covered by outlets like that. He chose a path that, even though it involved a label, made him perhaps more of an underdog for mainstream success than Chance.
Andrew Unterberger: I think hip-hop has become such a collaborative community and economy -- one largely based on features, co-signs and other forms of artist crossover and co-sponsorship -- that when we get someone like NF, who seems to operate entirely outside that system, we tend to write them off as niche. "Platinum with no features" is a cliché at this point, but The Search is so firmly NF's own sound and vision that it's almost jarring to listen to. But there's power in that kind of singularity, too, and NF appears to have tapped into it in a way that few of his rap peers have in 2019.
Christine Werthman: I'm sure a lot of people overlooked NF, or intentionally wrote him off, for being a non-swearing, white, Christian rapper. That does not exactly fit the description of the next hot rapper, who magazines and websites are tripping over themselves to interview. Despite now making more of a mainstream play, NF came up in the Christian music world, collaborating with TobyMac of DC Talk, and even jumping on a track in 2013 with the Christian artist Flame, (a.k.a. the guy who sued Katy Perry over "Dark Horse" and won). The Pew Research Center says that Christians make up about three-quarters of the country, and while I'm tempted to do some speculative number crunching about what percentage of those people are rap fans, instead I'm just going to say that that's a lot of potential listeners and fans.
3. As one of the decade's most beloved rappers, is a No. 2 debut for The Big Day actually that much of a letdown for Chance the Rapper? Or is that still pretty good for a rapper who's never really had a conventional smash hit and has remained fiercely independent for his entire career?
Trevor Anderson: Leading question, no? But I’ll bite. It’s not a disaster for Chance, by any means. He still broke the six-digit figure in terms of first-week consumption units and, given that Acid Rap reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200 just weeks ago, people still ride for him. Curious, however, to see where we go from here – the reviews for The Big Day are mixed, and, as Chance’s proper debut album, will an artist who traces part of his novelty and appeal to breaking the rules finally have to settle into convention?
Josh Glicksman: It’s both. Whether or not you want to buy into The Big Day actually counting as Chance’s first album, it was heavily branded as such. Bowing at No. 2 is quite good for a debut album, but the feat loses a bit of its shine when taking into account that he’s already notched two entries in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 (Coloring Book at No. 8 in 2016, Acid Rap at No. 5 following its placement on DSPs a few weeks ago). The elusive No. 1 still feels more like “when” than “if” for Chance, but the pressure will continue to mount with each passing body of work.
Ross Scarano: I think a bit of the answer is given away in the question here. Chance is about to headline an arena tour. NF gets his big day (sorry), but Chance is still doing pretty good, to say the least.
Andrew Unterberger: It's not a failure, certainly, but it's hard to deny at this point that Chance's momentum in 2019 is simply not what it was in 2016, when Coloring Book and "Ultralight Beam" positioned him as next in line for the hip-hop crown. Maybe that's not even what he wants in 2019 -- avowed family man that he currently is, he likely has different priorities than straight-up numerical supremacy, and that's almost certainly the healthy thing. But a couple years ago, it'd have been tough to believe that Chance would finish the decade second to pretty much anyone.
Christine Werthman: I can't speak for Chance, but as a Chance fan, I can say that I wasn't disappointed by the No. 2 slot. In fact, I was sort of happy that the more basic rapper prevailed and allowed Chance to maintain his underdog status.
4. If you could try to give either NF or Chance one piece of advice for the betterment of their long-term career, what would it be?
Trevor Andreson: For Chance, The Big Day tries to navigate too many moving parts, and the weight of that expectation makes for an shaky, uneven output. Perhaps it’s the natural outcome from a buildup of pressur, following three acclaimed mixtapes, one of which (Coloring Book) made leaps for streaming and won him three Grammys, including best new artist. Whatever it is, Chance sacrificed the intricacy and depth of his bars in favor of a more mass-appeal project. It works in some ways -- who’d thought we’d see a surprisingly good Shawn Mendes feature on a Chance album? -- but we need a return to authenticity and intrigue here. You don’t need to seek out to capture the world, Chance. We’ll come to you.
Josh Glicksman: Chance, take a break from the internet. It feels like Chance has gone down the rabbit hole of the comments section, which is never, ever a good thing. Following the release of The Big Day, he’s been deemed rap’s “wife guy,” with many eager to bash the 22-song project, even though the album is surely no disaster. Yesterday morning, in a response not clear to anything in particular, Chance tweeted, “I’m getting this crazy feeling that people want me to kill myself.” So Chance, if you’re reading this, please log off. The Internet is (usually) a bad place. Take some time, celebrate the new album, and most importantly, make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
Ross Scarano: Whatever NF is doing, he should keep doing that. It’s worked this far and by remaining under the radar, I’m sure he’s lost none of the credibility and luster that his fans obviously cherish. Exposure can be a dangerous thing; wear gloves when you handle it. Of course, growth and/or change can be alienating to a fandom too. (Think of how many Kanye fans wish he would return to the sound and style of The College Dropout or Late Registration.) Ultimately, the artist needs to trust their own course, while hopefully sharpening their skills as an editor as they go.
Andrew Unterberger: I'd maybe nudge NF to resist the crossover offers that are likely coming his way in the wake of his exposure bump following this album's No. 1. Not to say he should cut himself off from collaborating with artists he legitimately wants to find creative overlap with, but when the more faceless producers and stat-thirsty pop singers come out of the woodwork asking for a guest verse/signal boost, he'd be wise to be careful about who he says yes to. Continuing to represent for the outsiders as an insider can be tricky terrain, and a status not worth jeopardizing for a strong New Music Friday placement.
Christine Werthman: Don't listen to me because I'm not a professional musician and most of my advice would be unfounded?
5. These NF "Real Music" sweats: Fire, trash, both or neither?
Trevor Anderson: I have no strong feelings about these – I’ll hope the material is nice, though. If NF wants to send a brother a pair though, I’m not upset.
Josh Glicksman: Maybe it’s because it’s perpetually sweltering in New York, but the idea of buying these sweatpants for $50 dollars is ludicrous. They’re just black sweatpants with simple print. I did roughly 30 seconds of research, and I found a way to custom print the text ‘REALMUSIC’ down the pant leg of plain black sweatpants for less than $20 bucks. Luckily for NF, I won’t reveal my sources, but just know it’s an option.
Ross Scarano: *signal lost*
Andrew Unterberger: Disparage them now if you want, but when Ezra Koenig (or whoever his 2030 equivalent is) shows up to a Lollapalooza headlining slot in them one day, you'll kick yourself for not having been ahead of the curve.
Christine Werthman: Hot fire. Offended that no one has purchased them for me yet.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Drake's 'Care Package' Debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200
8/13/2019 by Billboard Staff
It's certainly nothing new to see Drake at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 -- in fact, he's now been there nine times since 2010, more than any other artist this decade. But Care Package topping the chart (with 109,000 in equivalent album sales units, mostly from streaming) is something of a first for Drake, since while he's had No. 1s with sets he's called albums, mixtapes and playlists, he's never been there before with a compilation.
Care Package doesn't include any brand new music for Drake, rather assembilng loose tracks that had long been floating around the Internet -- many of them as uploads to his official SoundCloud account -- but were not previously available on most major streaming services. But the collection has garnered more excitement than most rappers' new projects, charting five tracks on the Hot 100 for the first time in addition to besting the Billboard 200.
What lessons are there to take from Drake's latest entry in his winning streak? And are there other artists who should think about similar compilations of their own? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Drake just had one of the best streaming weeks of the summer -- with a compilation of songs fans have mostly known for years already. What does the success of Care Package say about Drake, his fanbase and his catalog that detractors or even casual fans might not fully realize?
Eric Frankenberg: It says a lot but a lot that we already knew. Drake has been the undisputed king of streaming for the last five years so it doesn’t shock me that an album of loosies breezed in with a No. 1 debut, especially in the relative dead of August. It also makes sense considering recent top 10 debuts for Drake’s own So Far Gone and Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap mixtapes -- projects that were beloved throughout the last decade and were able to make much-anticipated splashes on the Billboard 200 upon proper releases. But like those much-delayed gifts to diehard fans, I don’t expect Care Package to show the same unstoppable chart longevity as Views and Scorpion (or even More Life), since it lacks anything new blasting onto the Hot 100 to keep it afloat.
Bianca Gracie: We’re all more than aware of Drake’s star power at this point, especially when he broke the Beatles’ record last summer with seven songs in the top 10 at the same time. Even he knows he’s the s**t, cementing it with an Abbey Road tattoo on his forearm. The 6 God is truly a deity when it comes to dominating the charts, and he’s grown into more of an unstoppable musical giant. And he did it with a couple of random loosies. Like, who does that?? Fans like myself have remained loyal from the beginning, because we knew his massive catalog had the range to stretch far enough to reach moments like these. Looking back at the opening lyrics of Care Package’s “Dreams Money Can Buy," his success was inevitable.
Carl Lamarre: The Boy can't lose. At 32, his armor is still firm and impenetrable. Records that were once thought to be lost in the underworlds of SoundCloud and Reddit powered him to his 9th No. 1 album, trumping that week's new releases. That feat teeters along the lines of incredible and disrespectful. He has the Midas Touch, and he knows it; remember www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHYG2crLab4? Drake understands he can't lose and at this point, is jogging backwards on the competition in pursuit of that elusive GOAT title.
Jason Lipshutz: Remember how rock legends -- your Beatles, your Dylans, your Stones -- all inevitably received compilations of their respective B-sides and more obscure material? Care Package is that, for the streaming age. As one of the defining artists of the decade, Drake has the type of catalog in which “lost” tracks (i.e. hard-to-stream releases) are going to generate enough interest to buoy a full album -- and, on the right type of sleepy release week, guide that album to No. 1.
Andrew Unterberger: I think the sheer volume of Drake's catalog sometimes gets overlooked. This is a guy who's released about an average of a full-length project a year all decade (several of which have spilled into double-album territory in length), as well as countless feature appearances, remixes and one-off singles. And not only does he still have enough unreleased material to cull together a full compilation's worth -- one in-demand enough to top the Billboard 200 on release -- but there are still enough songs he left off the set for fans to complain about snubs. That's production.
2. We're all old enough to remember the days when official compilation releases were still important, occasionally essential parts of our favorite artists' catalogues. Is there anything that hitmakers from the 2010s can learn from the strategy behind Care Package that might lead to a revival of interest in such compilations in the future, or is it a largely unrepeatable anomaly?
Eric Frankenberg: I don’t think just anyone with a couple Hot 100 hits could manage a No. 1 album of scrapped songs. But giving your fans something extra to grab onto, especially when it feels like a look inside the creative process, can’t hurt. More broadly, Drake’s mid-era release is another in a line of this generation’s biggest superstars tiding fans over between “official” albums. Lady Gaga’s A Star is Born soundtrack was a bigger hit than either of her two previous studio LPs and while it’s been years since Lemonade and DAMN., Beyoncé and Kendrick have both curated soundtrack-adjacent projects for blockbuster films (not to mention Everything is Love and Homecoming) to tremendous results. Moreover, Ed Sheeran’s passion project collaborations album is sitting directly behind Care Package on this week’s Billboard 200 after debuting at No. 1 last month. If anything, it’s the era of the chart-topping side-release.
Bianca Gracie: I’d just hope that Care Package inspires more artists to release easily accessed compilations of their rarities, because it’s honestly quite annoying when you have to thread your own playlist that’s ripped from YouTube, Soundcloud or even Zippyshare. Having your favorite selections in one place just eases that headache. I highly doubt it will cause a cultural shake-up as hard as Drake’s own, but I think the fan service should be the most important part.
Carl Lamarre: That's a tall order to ask, being that Care Package was more than just a compilation project for Drake; it was a chess move. Everything is strategical with him: Back in February, he knitted together So Far Gone for streaming services in time for the mixtape's 10th anniversary and then, earlier this month, pulled at our heartstrings again by allowing Care Package to fall out of the sky the weekend of OVO Fest. Anybody can drop a compilation project, but what bolsters its success is the rollout and strategy behind it.
Jason Lipshutz: The main reason why Care Package is effective is due to the timing of Drake’s ascendance: he started in the pre-streaming age, now he’s here. Because he blew up in an era where it wasn’t immediately expected for an artist to issue their entire catalog on streaming platforms, he was able to mine the non-album songs that had never made it onto his Spotify page for Care Package. It’d be possible for other pre-streaming artists to do the same, but Drake was the perfect case study for something like this, so Care Package will remain an exception based upon circumstance.
Andrew Unterberger: I do think there's something to be said for artists kinda taking stock of what material they have that's floating around the Internet in various forms that they could get a decent amount of attention (and potentially millions of streams) just by collecting in one accessible place. It doesn't even have to be entirely new to streaming services, either -- I think if you're an artist with a sizeable fanbase, you could probably get away with collecting your Spotify loosies with some other songs from YouTube and SoundCloud, throwing in a totally unreleased track or two, and calling it a new compilation. And perhaps most importantly, follow Drake's lead and don't overhype it: Release the news a day early, make a quick statement about it, and let your fans take care of building buzz from there.
3. Speaking of: Which other major artist should be next to release a compilation of catalog odds and ends to streaming services?
Eric Frankeberg: I’d be interested to hear the songs, and pieces of songs, that never saw the light of day for some of our more elusive chanteuses. What did D’Angelo do between 2000 and 2014? What scraps has Ms. Lauryn Hill thrown away this century? And while this is more So Far Gone than Care Package, I want to properly stream Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia, Ultra and Endless.
Bianca Gracie: I’d love to see Jay-Z release a compilation next. That would be extra special because he’s notoriously loyal to Tidal, and a lot of his fan favorites and unreleased joints aren’t available on other streaming services. He could even toss in beloved freestyles in there, like 2006’s “Grammy Family.” Another artists that I would kill for a compilation is Lana Del Rey. She has a crap ton of unreleased gems from her early Lizzy Grant days up until now, many of which are incredibly hard to find the originals that aren't distorted on YouTube. The amount of music she’s recorded is impressive, and that would definitely make us fans go wild.
Carl Lamarre: I'm gonna go with Kanye. Can you imagine if he brought his G.O.O.D. Friday tracks to streaming services? "Christian Dior Denim Flow"? "Christmas in Harlem"? Nostalgia, if tackled correctly, wins every time. For someone who is in dire need of a W, Ye's decision to tap back into that batch would do him some good on the music front.
Jason Lipshutz: The next logical artist to do this is Kanye West, right? Think of the possibilities, between some of the pre-College Dropout early recordings and all the ‘G.O.O.D. Friday’ tracks that still are off streaming services. Whichever move lets me add “Christian Dior Denim Flow” to all of my favorite playlists is a move I support.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll co-sign Frank Ocean, and also ask for a Taylor Swift rarities set to finally get her two most devestating ballads, "Christmases When You Were Mine" and "Ronan," to wide release. (Proceeds for the latter would go to Stand Up to Cancer, obviously.) Maybe we could get a Spotify version of her "White Blank Page" cover while we're at it? A reference track for "This Is What You Came For"? A full "Super Bass" cover? Let's get nuts.
4. Now that you've had a couple days to properly open Care Package, which song that you'd previously only been casually aware of -- or maybe never even been heard before -- is most connecting with you?
Eric Frankenberg: I was familiar with “5AM in Toronto” when it came out six years ago, but haven’t given it many listens since. The song is the biggest banger from Care Package and the centerpiece of the album. The “Drake featuring Drake” lyric had always defined the song, but now that line feels like it defines the decade in music. Drake was already a star at the top of 2013 but he’s entered the stratosphere since. His influence and general ubiquity since the song’s debut makes a listen in 2019 resonate in a deeper, bigger way.
Bianca Gracie: Nearly all of the songs on Care Package have a dear place in my heart, as they bring me back to unforgettable memories in college. Many are emotional (curse you, “The Motion” and “Days In the East”!), but I think Sad Aubrey would appreciate that. Though there is one that I didn’t pay attention to back then. It’s the opening track I mentioned earlier: “Dreams Money Can Buy.” It originally dropped as a teaser to 2011’s Take Care, and it reminded me of how hungry Drake was to be the best rapper alive. It’s the main reason I became a fan in the first place.
Carl Lamarre: Can I just say "Club Paradise" is probably a top-five Drake record EVER? Now, to answer the question, "How About Now" rings differently today than before, especially when you hear that bit about Ludacris being better than him. I think it hits harder now, just because I feel bad for the girl who doubted him and thought he wouldn't be successful. Now, he's racking up awards like infinity stones and because of that, is towering over his peers.
Jason Lipshutz: I never really paid much attention to “Draft Day” when it was released — call it pro-Embiid, anti-Wiggins bias as a Sixers fan — but as has been covered on this site, it’s now a delightfully dated jam with a Lauryn Hill sample that’s somehow as effective as the one Drake would use years later on “Nice For What.” “Trust Issues”? “Club Paradise”? They were already in heavy rotation on my old, long-dormant iPod. “Draft Day” is the new personal discovery.
Andrew Unterberger: I don't really remember what I thought about "Days in the East" upon its initial 2014 release -- I was probably still too busy jamming to the "We Made It" freestyle from a few months earlier -- but the beat's woozy undertow definitely pulled me under this time around. I'd also completley forgotten about how the beat all but gets dunked underwater midway through, and about the pitched-down Rihanna sample that cuts the song in half. Would love to hear how the conversations about that clearance went.
5. Drake's ninth No. 1 album ties him in sixth place -- with Madonna, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen and Eminem -- among all artists for total Billboard 200 chart-toppers, but still leaves him ten back of The Beatles' current record of 19. Prediction time: Does he break the all-time record, and if so, in what year?
Eric Frankenberg: With Care Package, Drake has had a No. 1 album in eight different years this decade (two in 2015). As much as I’ve underestimated his commercial prowess in the last ten years, that pace has to give way at some point. I think he’ll break the record, but I’ll say 2036 (assuming we, as a society, make it that far).
Bianca Gracie: At the rate he's going, Drake definitely has what it takes to break the record (sorry McCartney & co.). Like he said on Scorpion’s “Nonstop”: “I just flipped a switch / I don't know nobody else that's doing this.” This is going to make me sound like a super fangirl, but whether you want to believe it or not, no one is bum rushing the industry like he is. He’s been good with dropping a project each year, so I give him another 10 to do it. Let’s circle back to this conversation in 2029.
Carl Lamarre: Because of his crazy output over the last few years, I say he finishes with maybe 15-16, making him fall a few short of The Beatles' 19. I can't see Drake doing music forever. He will probably toss his sneakers on the wire and call it a career by 40.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s possible but unlikely. Drake would basically have to stay on top for another decade, based on his current album-release pace, and while he’s certainly been adept at adapting to popular music trends in a way that few other modern artists have been, betting on such historic dominance feels at least a little foolhardy. If he remains a superstar well into the end of the 2020s and surpasses the Beatles’ all-time record, Drake can personally find me and deliver a hard-earned noogie for doubting his power. Until then, I’m taking the under.
Andrew Unterberger: My instinct is to say no -- after all, Drake's been dominant for a full decade and he's not even halfway there yet -- but upon further consideration, I'm not going to underestimate Young Aubrey's determination to scientifically prove that he does indeed have more slaps than The Beatles. (And of course he even got a tattoo to that effect, just so you know it's real.)
Besides, Care Package demonstrates that Drake knows what it takes to really compete with a record like that: You don't get to 19 No. 1s by releasing enormously popular new albums forever, you get to 19 No. 1s by releasing enormously popular new albums for a finite period of time, then repackaging your classic catalogue for decades to come in various ways that keep your fans listening and spending. I'll say Drake nudges ahead in 2041, right after the fourth installment of his Anthology-like Drunk Dials and Missed Connections series is released straight to our cerebral cortexes.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Billie Eilish's 'Bad Guy' Replacing Lil Nas X's 'Old Town Road' at No. 1 8/20/2019 by Billboard Staff
It took four months and a whole lot of challengers, but after 19 weeks of having the Hot 100 under his thumb, the change has come for Lil Nas X: Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy," itself a nine-week No. 2 hit, has finally taken the top spot on the chart from his and Billy Ray Cyrus' "Old Town Road."
The turnover comes this week thanks in part to a new vertical video and cassette single release for "Bad Guy," which gives it just enough of a bump in metrics to rise past the sinking "Old Town Road." But was it the song we were hoping to see finally put an end to Lil Nas X's historic reign? And now that the streak is (at least temporarily) over, how long will it be until we see it topped? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. After practically an entire summer of debating, "What's the song that's gonna finally knock off 'Old Town Road'?" we finally have our answer. On a scale from 1 to 10, how satisfied are you in "Bad Guy" being the new sheriff in town? Jason Lipshutz: I’d say a 7 -- “Bad Guy” remains one of the better singles of 2019, and Billie Eilish more than deserves a No. 1 single based on the success she’s had this year. I’m also for any No. 1 single that’s slightly off-kilter in structure and generally weird in tone, which “Bad Guy” has in spades. It gets docked a few points for not feeling like a fresh chart-topper, having been released months ago, but still, kudos to “Bad Guy” for rising above its perpetual runner-up status. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride? Not anymore! Chris Payne: I’ll go with 9 -- the same number of weeks “Bad Guy” was stuck at No. 2 before supplanting Lil Nas X. After “Old Town Road,” the Billie Eilish phenomenon feels destined to be the most enduring marker of this year in music, so I’m glad she got the No. 1 to show for it. It’s a daring, weird-ass song that sounds unlike anything in Top 40 at the moment; we’re destined for years of Billie Eilish imitators, making the “Bad Guy” No. 1 even more deserved. Andrew Unterberger: 5. Great song, and a worthy No. 1, but call me old-fashioned (or maybe just weird) -- I had gotten used to the idea of "Bad Guy" as a No. 2. I like when our best and brightest pop stars get their first No. 2, and then have to spend a couple years chasing that No. 1, as Taylor Swift, Drake, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande all had to do before getting theirs. Not to say this is gonna result in Billie Eilish resting on her laurels, but that first Hot 100-topper would've meant just a little bit more if it hadn't come so early in her run as a pop star. (Just ask Shawn Mendes if he finally gets his first with "Señorita" in the next few weeks.) Taylor Weatherby: I'd say 9. Not only was it the song that was neck and neck with "Old Town Road" essentially all summer, but it's a pretty awesome tale for the new wave of pop stars. It's no secret that Billie Eilish is pop's newest queen, so it's pretty cool to see her top the Billboard Hot 100 anyway. But the fact that it became No. 1 by knocking off another young star like Lil Nas X is a really neat piece of history -- especially because, in the social media age, they can publicly root for each other instead of be pitted against each other (see Lil Nas X's tweet yesterday). Frankly I would've said 10, but the Shawn Mendes stan in me was really pulling for "Señorita" to be the victor. Xander Zellner: About a 9. Billie Eilish has been unbelievably dominant in 2019, and it's great to see yet another new artist notch their first No. 1 single. As we've touched on before, over his 19-week streak, Lil Nas X stopped mega-stars Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, Post Malone and Camila Cabello from hitting No. 1 -- all of whom had previously reached No. 1 with singles of their own -- so having another up-and-comer (the first born this century!) take over the reigns from LNX feels perfectly fitting, and evident of a changing-of-the-guard moment in pop music. 2. "Bad Guy" debuted on the Hot 100 the same week that "Old Town Road" hit No. 1. What about the song do you think gave it the kind of longevity to allow it to hang around the chart's top tier for long enough to seize the top spot when OTR finally started to lose its footing? Jason Lipshutz: “Bad Guy” possesses the type of layers that reveal themselves upon many, many listens. The first few times I heard it, my focus remained on the de-facto instrumental hook and the “duh” that precedes it; then, on the breakdown of the coda, which is a brilliant evaporation of the song’s main tenets; and now, months later, I’m drawn into the breathless verses, which are so melodically arresting that I find myself getting them stuck in my head the most. In short, I’m still not sick of “Bad Guy.” That type of multi-faceted appeal surely helps explain its remarkable longevity. Chris Payne: I’ll start with what didn't give “Bad Guy” the longevity, because I find that more telling. Remember when Billie dropped the Justin Bieber remix in what felt like an all-in, chips-to-the-center play for No. 1? That was in early July, and “Old Town Road” brushed it off easily. Instead, “Bad Guy” got to the top this week largely off the staying power of the original. The cultural phenomenon is about Billie’s whole persona -- not just “Bad Guy” -- and that rising tide boosted her biggest single immensely. Andrew Unterberger: Adaptability, maybe? "Bad Guy" had already proven a pretty big anomaly as a hit single by simultaneously topping Billboard's Pop Songs and Alternative Songs airplay listings -- two charts that should almost be antithetical to one another by definition -- while its opening pulse also gives it a kind of EDM energy, and its late beat switch turns it into a trap banger. You might raise some eyebrows slotting it into a country playlist, but otherwise, there's not really a format that couldn't try to claim "Bad Guy" as its own, as music fans of all stripes have slowly learned over this summer. Taylor Weatherby: I feel like "Bad Guy" has been just as ubiquitous as "Old Town Road" has this summer -- you can't really go anywhere without hearing it. If we're getting technical, the fact that it has more than 700 million streams on Spotify alone speaks to the volume of plays it was getting on a weekly basis since its Hot 100 debut, which also speaks to the power of Billie's relatively young fan base. All of this has contributed to "Bad Guy" also topping the Pop Songs and Alternative Songs charts, which both help its Hot 100 stance as well. And let's be honest, the second Billie released that Justin Bieber remix (and that amazing fan girl pic), there was no stopping it. Xander Zellner: The Justin Bieber remix certainly helped keep it afloat later on, but mostly I'd say it's a testament to the originality of the song and her style a music. Billie's sound is so different from everything else in pop right now, and it's been a source of fascination among listeners.
3. While "Bad Guy" becomes part of Billboard history by ending a record streak at No. 1, let's also take a moment to recognize the history it just fails to make -- coming one week away from tying the record of weeks spent at No. 2 without hitting No. 1, currently shared by Foreigner's "Waiting For a Girl Like You" and Missy Elliott's "Work It." Which feat would you rather have on your resume: spending one week at No. 1 on the Hot 100 or spending ten weeks at No. 2? Jason Lipshutz: Give me the No. 1 song any day of the week. Having the longest run at No. 2 (or sharing the runner-up record with a few others) is a cool bit of trivia and factoid appreciated by chart-lovers the world over, but having the top song in the country must be an astonishing feeling, a one-of-a-kind accomplishment that has helped the Billboard charts endure for decades. If I’m an old man bouncing a grandchild on my knee, I want to tell them about the time I topped the chart, not the time I stayed at No. 2 the longest amount of any artist ever. Imagine the blank-stare reaction! Chris Payne: When I was a little kid, I first learned the concept of a Billboard No. 1 though my dad’s Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits, by Fred Bronson. For every No. 1 song, there was a full page with a big photo and write-up of the artist. Down in the corner of each page, they mentioned what was No. 2 in tiny text, with no further details. About 18 different pictures of Mariah, just footnotes for all that came up short. Give me that full page (or the cover image of the YouTube video, the first entry in the Instagram story, whatever) over being the answer to some question that everyone gets wrong at bar trivia anyway. Andrew Unterberger: Showing my Hot 100 sentimentality here again, but gimme the 10 weeks at No. 2. There's something romantic about coming so close so long and never quite getting there -- it'll never drive the headlines the way Lil Nas X's historic run at No. 1 did, but it's the stuff true chartwatcher obsessiveness is made of. Plus, look at that company you're keeping! Putting yourself in the club of the 1,000-plus songs to spend a week at No. 1 means you're inevitably rubbing shoulders with a couple dated duds, but you couldn't ask for better neighbors in the history books than one of the best power ballads of the '80s and one of the best rap hits of the '00s. Taylor Weatherby: One week at No. 1. Obviously I'm not an artist myself, but judging by how artists respond to reaching No. 1 (on any chart, for that matter), it seems like one of the most meaningful feats of their career. Sure, holding any sort of record is cool, but why be No. 2 when you can be No. 1, am I right? Xander Zellner: I mean, everyone has their own personal degrees of competitiveness, but I would unquestionably rather spend one week at No. 1 on the Hot 100. A No. 1 hit is still a No. 1 hit, no matter how many weeks it ruled, and no one can take that away. No one wants a silver medal, especially one with distinction. The "No. 2" record feels a little dubious, no? Especially considering Missy Elliott never got her chance to shine at No. 1 ("Work It" was blocked by Eminem's "Lose Yourself"). Yes, the stakes are a little different for Billie--this is her first major single and she'll almost certainly return to the top 10, and perhaps No. 1 again as her career progresses. But there's no doubt that having a No. 1 single is superior to peaking at No. 2.
4. The last time a song besides "Old Town Road" was No. 1 was the week of April 6-12, 2019. What's something that was true about the world (or about your own life) back then that feels a million years away at this point? Jason Lipshutz: I feel like I saw Us in theaters -- talking about the ending, quivering at Lupita N'yongo's cracked voice -- approximately 80 years ago. The fact that it was still going strong at the box office when “Old Town Road” first hit No. 1 is truly staggering to me. Chris Payne: Thinking there was a solid 10% chance Woodstock 50 would actually happen. Andrew Unterberger: Man, just look at this five-day weather forecast from April 12 -- nothing but high 50s and low 60s temperatures to be found in the greater New York area. Was there really ever an era of weather so frigid in the five boroughs? Were buses allowed on the roads? Did they have to cancel school? Taylor Weatherby: That Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman college admissions scandal feels like it was at least a year ago, if not two. (Then again, I kind of stopped paying attention to what was happening, probably because the Full House fan in me wanted to keep Aunt Becky's memory sacred.) In my own life, April 6 was the day I spent with the Jonas Brothers for our cover story (shameless flex), which feels like it was years ago but also just yesterday depending on the day. Honestly I still have moments where I'm like "Wait, the Jonas Brothers really are back in 2019?" Xander Zellner: I'm an avid viewer of Game of Thrones, and the realization that the final (and, albeit, underwhelming) season had yet to begin when "Old Town Road" first hit No. 1 is staggering. That feels like a lifetime ago, right? Perhaps it was because the season was only seven weeks long, but, wow, the conversation around that show really came to a screeching halt after the finale.
5. Let's set the over-under for the new record 19-week streak of "Old Town Road" being broken in August 2034, 15 years from now. Which are you taking? Jason Lipshutz: Oh, definitely the under. Just look at how two of the last three summers birthed an all-time Hot 100 smash, in 2017’s “Despacito” and this year’s “Old Town Road,” respectively. Granted, 20 weeks is an incredibly long time to stay in the top spot, but given how streaming has made the dominance of the top 10 songs of the Hot 100 generally more glacial, it’s going to happen sooner than later. Chris Payne: Under. A few weeks ago, it seemed totally plausible -- perhaps likely -- that “Old Town Road” mania would be enough to carry it past 20. With the way streaming allows one super-song to tower over everything else these days, I’d bet on “Old Town Road” losing its title within that 15-year period. Maybe much sooner. Andrew Unterberger: I'll say over. I think due to its proximity to "Despacito" a couple years ago, we may underrate just how extraordinary and anomalous the "Old Town Road" run was, and just how big a difference there is even between 16 weeks and 19 weeks at No. 1. There'll be cultural phenoms this big again over the next 15 years, but not many, and maybe not any that both have a sense of marketing and pacing as brilliant as LIl Nas X's, and a lack of significant competition from any other runaway hits in the meantime. Taylor Weatherby: I'm thinking under. If streaming keeps up its domination -- or hell, if there's a new form of music consumption created in the next 15 years that takes over streaming -- I have a feeling we'll see another song hold at No. 1 for 20 weeks soon enough. As we saw with "Old Town Road," the combination of streaming and social media is insanely powerful, and I only see those two things impacting how songs perform on charts like the Hot 100 even more in coming years. And something tells me Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men are already plotting on how to take their Hot 100 record back... Xander Zellner: Under. I don't think it'll take nearly that long for the record to be broken. With the way we've incorporated streaming into our charts, it's become a little easier for songs to make big runs atop our chart, as opposed to just relying on airplay and sales data (just goes to show how impressive the 16-week run was for "One Sweet Day"). And there's certainly going to be another song within the next few years that becomes a cultural phenomenon and takes the world by storm, just like "Old Town Road." My guess is that Lil Nas' record will hold for about five years.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello's New No. 1 'Senorita'
8/27/2019 by Billboard Staff
It'd been well over four months of "Old Town Road" at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, before that song's historic reign was finally interrupted by Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy." But in case anyone wondered if Eilish's run on top would be similarly unending, here come Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, unseating "Bad Guy" this week with their smash duet "Señorita."
The collab -- which debuted at No. 2 on the Hot 100 back in June -- marks the second No. 1 for Cabello (after "Havana" in early 2018) but the first for Mendes, who celebrated his crowning on Monday night (Aug. 26) with a double-performance at MTV's Video Music Awards, playing both his own smash "If I Can't Have You" and then "Señorita" with Camila. Will the steamy VMAs performance benefit "Señorita" even more from here? And now that Mendes has his first No. 1, who's the biggest pop star still without one? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. After 19 weeks of the same No. 1, we now have two new No. 1s in the space of two weeks. Are you glad to see "Señorita" adding to the pool of 2019 No. 1s, or would you rather have seen Billie Eilish get a longer run of her own?
Eric Frankenberg: While I’m a big “Bad Guy” fan, it’s nice to see quick movement atop the Hot 100 after the reign of “Old Town Road.” Billie will have one of the year’s biggest hits regardless after all this time she has spent in the top 5 and “Senorita” certainly feels like enough of a moment for Shawn and Camila to warrant a week on top.
Gab Ginsberg: Eh, the more the merrier. I love Billie, but that song has personally been big for me all year -- even before it reached crowning glory -- so I’m not devastated that its run at No. 1 was a short one. Plus, Billie is the queen of many things, including but not limited to Coachella, touring and lots of other charts.
Jason Lipshutz: Out with the old, in with the new, as they say -- after literal months of the same No. 1, who wouldn’t want a little variation? I was glad to see Billie Eilish score a deserved chart-topper, but “Bad Guy” has been around for such a long time that I’m fine if its run is not one of the multi-week variety. And Shawn Mendes has surely earned his first No. 1 Hot 100 single by now, right? With the way this shook out, everybody wins.
Andrew Unterberger: One week is already one week longer than Billie Eilish expected to have on top with "Bad Guy" at this point. Let Shawn have his long-awaited turn, Billie'll be back soon enough.
Taylor Weartherby: I'm happy to see Shawn get his No. 1. Like Billie, he probably would've had a No. 1 with "If I Can't Have You" (as well as "Señorita") if it hadn't been for "Old Town Road," so it's cool that the two of them got there once Lil Nas X finally lost steam. And judging by the way Billie's career is going, she'll have a No. 1 streak of her own soon enough. I could even see "Bad Guy" going back to the top next week -- or maybe the week after, considering Shawn and Camila burned up the VMAs last night -- and holding for at least two weeks. Needless to say, I don't think this is going to be Shawn or Billie's only shot at a long No. 1 run.
2. Now that Shawn Mendes has officially removed his name from the list, who do you think is currently the biggest pop star without a No. 1 hit?
Eric Frankenberg: Definitely Nicki Minaj. She had a top 5 solo hit from three different albums, an endless list of quotable features, and still hasn’t been honored with the chart-topping distinction that she deserves. Better yet, make it a Nicki-Missy collaboration to cross them both off the list.
Gab Ginsberg: Khalid is up there -- he's gotten close but no cigar, peaking at No. 3 twice -- but the truly wild one is Nicki Minaj. It’s incredible that Mariah Carey’s shade towards the rapper circa 2013 still holds up.
Jason Lipshutz: For as big of a star as she is, for as many hits as she’d released, Selena Gomez still has yet to reach the summit of the Hot 100. While songs like “Come & Get It,” “Good for You” and “It Ain’t Me” all hit the top 10, none made it higher than No. 5; and “Bad Liar,” her best single, should have been No. 1 for two months (at least!) in 2017, yet sadly peaked at No. 20 on the chart. Gomez remains a household name, arena headliner and generally massive pop figure; hopefully she will come out with new music soon, and add a first No. 1 single to her resume.
Andrew Unterberger: Looking at the whole decade, it's Nicki Minaj, but looking at the last couple years, it's Khalid -- he's been as inescapable as any artist in pop since 2017, and he keeps leveling up as a solo star, most recently with the No. 3-peaking "Talk." That distance between No. 3 and No. 1 can be a long and lonely one for certain artists, but Khalid should find has way there soon enough, on his own or with a traveling companion (or two).
Taylor Weatherby: It's crazy that Selena Gomez hasn't had one yet. Her fan base is equally as powerful as Shawn's and Billie's, and she's made some serious bops (the fact that "Bad Liar" only peaked at No. 20 is a travesty). Something tells me she may remove her name from the list upon dropping the highly anticipated new music she's been endlessly teasing, though.
3. "Señorita" is now the second male/female duet to hit No. 1 this year, following Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's "Shallow." If you had to engineer another split-gendered collab that would have the best chance of being the third such chart-topper this year, who would it be? (And let's follow in the pattern of the first two duets and say that only one of your two artist picks can already have a No. 1 to their credit.)
Eric Frankenberg: Lady Gaga and…Timothee Chalamet? In all seriousness, it feels like we’re headed toward a major moment for Rosalia. She’s gaining exposure, VMA in hand, and has shown her adaptability across genres and moods. The Weeknd, a former mysterious indie sensation himself, has an album coming soon and could provide an interesting crossover partner for the flamenco-pop enigma.
Gab Ginsberg: Travis Scott and Rosalia would be all kinds of awesome, and the pair has already sparked collaboration rumors due to a meeting in July. Otherwise, the biggest female stars that we haven’t heard from in 2019 are Rihanna and Adele, and if they so decided to uplift an emerging artist, that could work. Maybe Rihanna and DaBaby? Adele and Lewis Capaldi? You never know.
Jason Lipshutz: Let's go with one that already exists. We’re in the waning weeks of Hot Girl Summer, and she’s already moved on to a new single that’s literally called “Hot Girl Summer,” but getting Megan Thee Stallion to the top of the Hot 100 with “Cash s**t,” her electric single with DaBaby, would be a triumph for the Houston rap star, and for our nation as a whole. “Cash s**t” allows Megan and DaBaby to bounce their respective swaggers off of each other, with ad-libs and quotable lyrics for days; it’s one of the best singles of 2019, and a worthy successor to “Shallow” and “Señorita” atop the chart.
Andrew Unterberger: Let's say Rihanna and Tame Impala (or just frontman/sole constant Kevin Parker, if he feels like using his own name for once). Like Shawn and Camila, they've had success together before -- Rihanna covered Tame's "New Person, Same Old Mistakes" on her classic ANTI album, essentially a karaoke rendering of the Currents original -- and they have two of the most highly anticipated comeback albums of the year supposedly on the way between them. Psych maestro Parker might not have 1/100th the chart history that Rihanna does, but that's fine, it's not like Calvin Harris was a Hot 100 regular before "We Found Love," either.
Taylor Weatherby: Demi Lovato and Justin Bieber. Not sure that's a super-realistic combo, but they are now both under the vise of Scooter Braun, so it's not completely unfathomable. Their fan bases are (not so) patiently waiting for new music, so both of them have a good chance at a No. 1 debut if and when they finally put something out. And if they do it together, they double the fan power. Plus, they both have comeback-like stories to tell, so I think they could join forces for a pretty meaningful track -- which, in today's times, definitely helps with No. 1 contention.
4. While Shawn and Camila's "Señorita" has now reached the Hot 100's penthouse, Justin Timberlake's Justified banger "Señorita" somehow topped out at No. 27 back in 2003. On a scale from one to 10, how great a miscarriage of chart justice do you consider this to be?
Eric Frankenberg: 1? I’m surprised to hear that Timberlake’s version didn’t go higher but it’s among my least favorite of his singles. The “Guys sing! / lay-dazz” coda always got on my nerves.
Jason Lipshutz: I mean… a 4? It’s the fourth-best single on Justified, and was still a top 40 hit! The real tears need to be cried for “Like I Love You,” still one of the Neptunes’ best heaters (with a searing Clipse guest spot to boot!),, topping out at No. 11 — so close to being Timberlake’s first solo top 10 on the chart, which came one single with “Cry Me a River.”
Gab Ginsberg: I’ve never heard this song.
Update: I took a listen. I’ll give it a 5/10 -- my rating both on the chart justice scale, and of the song itself.
Andrew Unterberger: Gotta be at least a 7, maybe an 8. "Señorita" wasn't Justified's finest, but it's about as solid a pop fourth single as I can remember, that electric piano riff remains scorching, and the call-and-response section... OK, it's aged terribly, but it was fun at the time, and where else are you gonna hear a mid-song call-and-response section these days? Whatever, it's early '00s Neptunes and JT -- trust me, there wasn't so much else going on at the time that there was any excuse for holding this out of the top 10, at a minimum.
Taylor Weatherby: Wow, that's like finding out that Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" only hit No. 23. I wonder where both of those songs would've landed had streaming been a thing back then. Anyway... I think I have to say 10. I love Shawn and Camila's take on a "Señorita" song, but JT's is simply iconic. The rattling shakers, the jazzy horns, the funky keyboard melody, the call-and-response bridge -- and all topped off with Justin's sultry voice? I seriously don't understand how it wasn't at least a top 20 hit. At least JT has gotten plenty of chart redemption (including a handful of No. 1s) since then.
5. Several recent hits were performed on the VMAs last night, including Shawn and Camila live TV debut performance of "Señorita." Which song do you think stands to benefit the most on the Hot 100 from its VMAs performance in the week(s) to come?
Eric Frankenberg: Next week could (and should) be Lizzo’s for the taking. “Truth Hurts” got a fresh remix on Friday and its mash-up with “Good As Hell” was last night’s stand-out performance so if it’s going to hit No. 1, the time is now. If we’re considering it a “2019 single,” it’s the best of the year, and it would be quite the Cinderella story to finally see the 2017 track rule the Hot 100 two years later. (I’m also hoping for a boost for 2020 Video of the Year frontrunner Normani.)
Gab Ginsberg: I know everyone is going to say Lizzo, but I believe in the power of the JoBros, and “Only Human” is such a jam. Their Asbury Park medley performance was one of the most dynamic of the evening, and I loved seeing the guys take over a historic venue -- The Stone Pony -- in their home state. While it's been hovering around the bottom half of the Hot 100 for weeks now, “Only Human” jumped seven spots last week, and I’m hoping this performance ensures it’ll keep climbing.
Jason Lipshutz: Jonas Brothers’ “Only Human” has been more of a slow-grower than its predecessor, “Sucker,” which shot out of a cannon straight to the top of the Hot 100. Yet that boardwalk performance of the ska-adjacent pop track felt like a long-overdue arrival for one of the standouts on Happiness Begins. The track has only reached No. 46 on the Hot 100, but I’d guess that changes in the coming weeks.
Andrew Unterberger: While Lizzo's ecstatically received performance might be enough to put "Truth Hurts" over the top to No. 1, I'm a little more interested if it can finally make good on the chart potential of "Good as Hell" -- a song that deserved to be a smash when it was released off the Barbershop: The Next Cut soundtrack three years ago, and has slowly grown into a major 2019 streaming success. The "Good as Hell" portion of her performance felt like the real triumph last night, and I wouldn't be surprised if it resulted in the song making its long-overdue Hot 100 debut in the weeks to come.
Taylor Weatherby: Shawn and Camila masterfully teased fans just enough to spark even more of a frenzy over their romance and "Señorita," which I think will help them stay at No. 1 at least for next week. But Lizzo absolutely killed it, so I'm hoping that means "Truth Hurts" will finally creep it's way up to the top. And as the resident Jonas Brothers stan at Billboard, here is me putting it into the universe that "Only Human" will get a boost from their Stone Pony performance too -- superfan or not, it's hard to deny that they were incredible.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Taylor Swift's Big 'Lover' Debut Week 9/4/2019 by Billboard Staff
The final numbers are in: It's 867,000 equivalent album units moved by Taylor Swift in the first week of release for her sixth album, Lover, with 679,000 of those coming in straight sales.
Those numbers are both down from the first week of her fifth album, 2017's Reputation, but are dramatically superior to any other album released in the interim. They also correspond with Swift charting all 18 of the album's tracks on the Hot 100 this week, allowing Swift to easily break the record of most simultaneous Hot 100 artists for a female artist. (One of those, "Lover," also hits the top 10 for the first time, becoming her Elvis-tying 25th hit to reach the chart's top tier.)
How should Taylor be feeling about her historic week? And how are we feeling about Lover after a week and a half with it in our lives? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below. 1. OK, 879,000 units first week -- that's 361,000 less than Reputation did in its first frame (almost entirely in straight sales), but still significantly more than any other artist has done since. On a scale from 1-10, how happy are you with that number if you're Taylor Swift?
Trevor Anderson: So many factors changed for Lover’s rollout – it was on a new label, Republic, was her first album to receive a full-fledged streaming release upon its debut, and even showed up in late August, eschewing her usual late October/November strategy that played well into the hands of holiday buyers. The streams likely ate a noticeable chunk of potential sales, but even then, the more than 675,000 sales still dwarf every album in the past 18 months. This too, comes without a solid, overarching hit in the moment. All in all, ME(!)-as-Taylor-Swift settles around an 8 on the satisfaction scale -- it’ll be hard to let that million-seller week record go, but when will your fav get 875,000 units in a week, period?
Jason Lipshutz: I’d give it an 8, simply based on the fact that it’s the biggest album debut since Taylor Swift’s previous album — an astonishing feat that speaks to Swift’s commercial power as a top-level superstar. Although her million-selling streak has been snapped, at this point in our streaming-dominant culture, it’s hard to really get upset that not enough people are buying or downloading your album, right? Lover just scored the biggest bow in nearly two years; the details remain just that.
Joe Lynch: I'd say 9. Just being realistic, this is as good as it gets in 2019 unless you're Adele – and it's sure as hell more than any A-list pop, rock or rap star is going to see on their next release. Honestly, anything over 500,000 is a miracle these days. But Taylor being a straight A student, it has to smart a little bit, which is why I'm not saying it's a perfect 10 for her.
Andrew Unterberger: 7. The numbers are better than many initially projected (feared?), and again, not only better than literally anyone else since the last time Swift was around, but twice as good as the previous best week of 2019, for the Jonas Brothers' Happiness Begins. But a million is a million, and 879k is not. The success is still tremendous, but it is no longer gravity-defying.
Christine Werthman: 6. Meh, fine, but I wanted a million. That was me channeling Taylor Swift. Though I'd say that Lover accounting for 27% of all album sales in the country in that week is a solid consolation prize. That was me channeling myself.
2. One of the primary points of discussion around Lover is whether or not Swift chose the right tracks as singles leading up to the album's release. If you were on her team, which would've been the first three tracks you'd have pulled as singles, and in what order?
Trevor Anderson: “The Man” - “Cruel Summer” - “Paper Rings.” On the lead single choice: “The Man” is a strong introduction and even knowing the title alone -- maybe some clever pre-release teasing? -- would likely make a statement. While most would think of a title like “The Man” previewing a romance-centered track, for better or worse, bam -- hit 'em with a no-frills commentary on gender expectations. Whew.
Jason Lipshutz: My first single would have been “Cruel Summer,” an entrancing pop song with an enormous chorus and a 100 percent approval rating -- seriously, I have not yet heard from a Taylor Swift fan that is not into this song. From there I think you go with the title track, a slow burn with piercing songwriting that captures the heart of the new project. And then? “You Need To Calm Down,” which has gradually exposed itself to be a killer single choice -- especially when considering its pro-LGBTQ message and star-studded music video.
Joe Lynch: "ME!," which I do like and is insanely catchy, is one of my two least favorite songs on Lover -- the other being "The Archer," which she ALSO released before the album. I wish "Me" could've been a song in an animated film served to radio around the time of the album, but not the lead single -- it doesn't really give a true impression of what the album sounds like (though certainly you could say the same of "Shake It Off" on 1989). I would've done "Cruel Summer," "You Need to Calm Down" and "Lover" in that order.
Andrew Unterberger: Taylor not choosing "Cruel Summer" as the first Lover single -- rather than electing to clear the decks with the perplexing, misleading "ME!" -- will go down as one of the great what-ifs of her career. After that, I think "You Need to Calm Down" and "Lover" are perfectly fine second and third single choices; it's only because of the ground they still had to make up from "ME!" that they ever felt in any way less than such.
Christine Werthman: "You Need to Calm Down," "Cruel Summer" and then "The Archer," so you go from fun, quirky first taste (a la "Shake It Off") to best song on the album (facts) to emotional track 5. A perfect sampler platter. 3. "Lover," the set's title track, marks Swift's 25th top 10 hit on the Hot 100, tying her with Elvis for 10th most in the chart's history. Which one of those 25 do you think has become the most underappreciated, or would you just hope that people eventually remember a little better than they maybe do currently?
Trevor Anderson: The difficulty of this question! I’ll ride for an underserved 2010 classic, “Back to December.” An apparent mea culpa to Taylor Lautner, “December” finds her pouring out regret over a relationship she let go. It was both a great sonic move from her, one of her first big, piano-ready ballads, and explored a theme we’d seen little of in her music to date, where she’s the bad guy and must put the pieces together from a mistake of her own doing. Maybe “All Too Well” gets the shine as the big, piano-ready ballad in Swift’s catalog, but let’s not overlook this key precedessor. Also: This clip of a “December” medley with OneRepublic’s “Apologize” from the 2010 American Music Awards stands as one of her best award show offerings.
Jason Lipshutz: “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” a No. 2 hit on the Hot 100, holds a strange position in Swift’s catalog, as a soundtrack single (shout-out to Fifty Shades Darker, the Empire Strikes Back of the Fifty Shades film franchise!), a duet with Zayn (a year removed from his solo breakthrough, a year before his string of commercial missteps), and a song that Swift only played at one date on her Reputation stadium tour the year after it became a pretty sizable hit. It likely will not persist as one of Swift’s most memorable hits, but still: that shout-along chorus, that ghostly “oh-WHOA-oh” refrain and Swift’s contemplative verse all make “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” worth revisiting.
Joe Lynch: "Today Was a Fairytale" suffers historically for two reasons -- it's not on a proper Taylor album, and it was included in the widely dismissed 2010 film Valentine's Day (ostensibly a rom-com but truly just a non-com). But it's a gorgeous, sweet strummer that speaks to the tendency of youth to treat any romance like it's the most special thing that's ever happened on planet earth in the history of the human race -- and Taylor's lyrics slyly tip to an awareness of that rose-tinted lens without cracking it.
Andrew Unterberger: How many artists in pop history have been big enough to launch TWO largely forgotten No. 2 soundtrack singles? "Live Forever" was fine, but give me "Today Was a Fairytale" -- which essentially put the capper on Swift's first era as a wide-eyed young romantic, before the love songs got realer, the breakup songs got nastier and everything just got a little more adult. There's a reason the song is delivered in the past tense, but it's still magic while it lasts.
Christine Werthman: "Jump Then Fall" from the 2009 Fearless re-issue, because I had never heard that song. It's quite nice! Listen, I don't always listen to deluxe (or in this case, Platinum) editions. Sue me.
4. Let's also take a second to acknowledge Lizzo, who scores her first No. 1 on the Hot 100 this week with "Truth Hurts." If you had to plot a collab between Lizzo and Taylor, what would it be called and what would it generally sound like/consist of?
Trevor Anderson: apologize for violating the Bechdel test, but let’s get an “Oh Boy” duet out soon. Taylor and Lizzo have repeatedly expressed their disdain for those with XY chromosomes who don’t measure up, and I bet the pair could have a lot of fun trading verses about horror stories of potential romances gone wrong. In that patented Taylor Swift mold, sprinkle in with enough detail to make you wonder if it’s fact or fiction and never miss a chance to remind men that, if you’re going to date two of music’s hottest superstars, you better come correct.
Jason Lipshutz: Easy: get Lizzo on a remix of Swift’s “The Man” pronto, letting her replace the bridge with some rhymes about how she already does it better than any of the boys ever could. Just imagine what she could do to expand upon that “Leo in Saint Tropez” line!
Joe Lynch: The mood: The excitement of a middle school sleepover, but things are getting a little crazy -- Lizzo spilled some of the light funk of "Juice" over Taylor's sparkling synth-pop bed a la "London Boy," and the result is a new addition to the Cats soundtrack called "I'm Feline Fine." Lizzo has a suggestive but not too bawdy rap about being a kitty who's thirsty for milk, and Swift purrs about an itch that only her rambunctious alley cat knows how to scratch.
Andrew Unterberger: It'd be called "All My Exes Live in Textses," and it'd be a twangy trap banger centered around Lizzo doing an "88 Lines About 44 Women"-style recounting of the various dudes who keep blowing up her phone for months/years after they break up. Taylor would hang around to provide support on the irresistible hook, which would include some reference to there being "not enough emojis for all the eye-rolling I'm doing."
Christine Werthman: I'd have Lizzo hop on a remix of "The Man." Lizzo has said that she's in a different, more positive place in her life now than she was when she wrote the uproarious "Truth Hurts," but if she could channel some of that "Why men great till they gotta be great?" energy into Swift's song about gender double standards, it would take "The Man" to a whole other level. Imagine the jokes. Imagine the potshots. Imagine the chart position.
5. You've had a week and change to live with Lover now. With the understanding that it's still early and all rankings are subject to change, about where would you personally currently place it within her catalog?
Trevor Anderson: Without revealing my exact personal Taylor Swift rankings, I’d say Lover settles in the upper middle class. At 18 songs, it could have been trimmed into a tighter package, but I like the multiple selves that Swift explores here: a woman in a stable, secure relationship, a caring daughter, a celebrity yet reconciling with the trials of fame and a megastar cheerleading new causes and blooming into her public political identity. For a while, the simplest take – however true -- distills Swift into one of two moods: her love life and people who bully her. Lover doesn’t let people get away that easy -- here we have a revealing, 3D portrait of a woman that everyone swears they know, and yet everyone can gleam something new.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s probably her second- or third-best album to date, and perhaps her most consistent yet; my main takeaway after listening over a dozen times straight through is that there are truly no bad songs out of the 18 provided. My personal favorite, 2010’s Speak Now, contains more high moments (in my heart, at least), but Lover is the sound of Swift without an ounce of filler -- considering the length and the amount of ideas on display, it’s been something to marvel at over the past couple of weeks.
Joe Lynch: It's top three for me, right alongside Red and Reputation. I went into it a little uncertain, but soon realized this is one of her most emotionally mature musically accomplished sets – and it's a pleasure to hear her sounding so comfortable again.
Andrew Unterberger: Somewhere in the middle. Speak Now and Reputation are the pace-setters for me, but I'd rank Lover alongside Red and Fearless -- lower highs perhaps, but more consistent throughout, even if it does go on a track or two too long. (FTR: If the album kept up the pace from its first six tracks throughout, it'd be in very strong contention for No. 1.)
Christine Werthman: 7. Taylor Swift 6. Reputation 5. Fearless 4. 1989 3. Lover 2. Speak Now 1. Red
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Tool's Huge Debut With 'Fear Inoculum' Comeback Album 9/10/2019 by Billboard Staff
In the midst of a number of iconic, paradigmatic '10s artists releasing much-discussed new albums -- Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, Post Malone -- the No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 this week belongs to a band whose prior full-length came in 2006.
Yes, prog-metal favorites Tool have topped the album charts this week, moving 270,000 in first-week units, mostly from straight sales (with no attached ticket or merchandise bundles, a rarity among best-selling late-'10s sets). Not only does their set finish ahead of both Del Rey's Norman f**king Rockwell in its first week (No. 3, 104,000) and Taylor Swift's Lover in its second (No. 2, 178,000), it posts the best single week for a rock album since Dave Matthews Band's Come Tomorrow, over a year ago.
How were Tool able to stroll back onto the top of the charts after a 13-year absence with such impressive numbers? And what other long-idle rock bands could be following their example? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below. 1. Tool operates so far outside of the music mainstream -- little promotion, streaming-unfriendly releases, few concessions made to modern pop -- that it might be surprising to some to still see them succeed at this level in 2019. What is it about Tool and Fear Inoculum that still allows them to put up such impressive numbers?
Pamela Bustios: It's been over a decade, and the entire package of the album is more than even the rabid fanbase was expecting. From a music standpoint, the set's harmony and balance -- alternating between the complex and the hypnotic -- is the culmination of everything Tool has done to date. Their reconciliation with digital platforms -- a month before Fear Inoculum was released -- was audacious marketing on their part. Plus, the elaborate CD (a limited-edition CD, physically packaged with a 4” HD screen and exclusive video footage, a speaker and a 36-page booklet and its digital download format) is as close as fans would get to a garage band tour, sans the exclusive package paraphernalia. It's impossible not to rejoice about it.
Jason Lipshutz: That Tool possesses one of the most dedicated fan bases in all of popular music is just a fact of life at this point, and was confirmed long before Fear Inoculum’s release, thanks to past album sales and headlining festival slots a decade removed from the band’s last release. No matter how long the gap is between albums, how long the songs themselves run or how many unpronounceable track titles they toss out, Tool has enough diehard fans to support them, and make a No. 1 debut a foregone conclusion.
Chris Payne: The Tool fans, man. I heard the stories of course, but I witnessed the devotion firsthand at Governors Ball 2017, when I saw the legion of diehards come out to the famously-inaccessible Randall's Island to see Tool headline a pop- and hip-hop-dominated festival whose typical attendee is normally a 19-year old college bro in white shorts and a '90s NBA jersey. Let's just say their crowd was a lot larger than Wiz Khalifa's. Not only is the Toolfanbase vast, it's willing to go to the ends of the earth. Or spend $50 on a CD in 2019.
Kevin Rutherford: First things first: let’s take a gander at the top-selling albums in terms of single-week numbers in 2006, the last time Tool put out an album. Tool not only had the best first-week sales of any rock band that year, but the four-piece also ranked among the top 10 biggest weeks of the year as a whole (564,000 copies, according to Nielsen Music), beating out debut weeks from Beyonce, Dixie Chicks, T.I., Red Hot Chili Peppers and many more.
Point is, this is a band that did killer album sales numbers back when it actually, you know, put out new music. It’s well established that rock fans are still the types to buy albums. Tool took 13 years to put out an album that had become almost mythical in terms of whether or not it would ever actually exist. Of course this was gonna be huge.
Andrew Unterberger: Tool has always just been exceptional at being Tool. In the years before all rock bands also had to double as branding experts just to survive, they understood how to use their art, their videos, their live show, and their public image -- or lack thereof -- to build Tool into a comprehensive, immersive universe that exists totally outside of whatever else is going on in music or culture. Ask 100 random rock fans for their opinion of Tool, and 50 of them might shrug, but at least 5-10 of them will probably call them their favorite band. Those fans don't go away, and on weeks like this, they certainly add up.
2. In an age where hit songs are getting shorter and shorter, Tool is thriving with an album mostly consisting of songs over 10 minutes. Is there any kind of lesson that artists can take from this, or is Tool the exception that proves the rule?
Pamela Bustios: It's both -- an exception to the rule so far, and a perfect model to follow. Fear Inoculum could be absorbed as a book with each song living as its own chapter. There is no one song that mirrors the next, yet each one bonds in a clash of time and space pivoting from one point in time, through melody and narrative, to the subsequent stage, without any kind of disconnection.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s the latter. There’s nothing really about Fear Inoculum that screams “new trend alert!" -- just a top-line rock act returning after 13 years away and scoring a gigantic debut, regardless of how long or short the songs are. Their success is, in a weird way, reminiscent of Adele’s 25 breaking the record for the biggest album debut sales week in 2015, which was less of an indication that album sales were on the way up, and a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence thanks to the commercial might of a singular star. Does that make “Pneuma” Tool’s version of “Hello”? Maybe the eye-popping album debuts are where this comparison ends.
Chris Payne: Well, the reason for the two-and-a-half-minute singles has a lot to do with playlist placement, winning over casual fans, and racking up play counts -- three things Tool is largely unconcerned with. In fact, the two 10-minute-plus songs on Fear Inoculum's Side A -- "Pneuma" and "Invincible" -- both have over 5 million Spotify streams right now, while the much shorter interlude-type tracks adjacent to them have just over 3 million each. So Tool listeners are actually seeking out the longer songs.
I don't think this will cause Lil Nas X or Post Malone to write longer songs any time soon, but it speaks to trusting your fanbase once you've got their undivided attention. Lana Del Rey released a massive new album the same week as Tool and it's got a nine-minute song at track three. With 32 million Spotify plays.
Kevin Rutherford: Totally ready for the Lil Pump album of 10-minute songs coming in 2020. Nah, this is an anomaly; Fear Inoculum isn’t selling albums because people are looking at it and being like, wow, look at all those long-ass songs, let me get in on that. I guess if anything, it proves that Tool fans won’t look at a Tool album and be turned off by crazy song lengths across the board -- which, yeah, we’ve known. This album was going to do well whether Tool had six 10-minute songs or six one-minute songs, and it isn’t going to spur some new era of acts going prog metal.
Andrew Unterberger: I think you can generally take away that there's still value in doing the thing that no one else on your level is currently doing. No, it wouldn't have much made sense for Tool to chase big-name producers and features and make their production trappier and cut their songs to Spotify playlist length -- but that hasn't stopped a lot of other big '90s and '00s rock bands from doing that. Even if that's what a lot of people want in 2019, that's not what everyone wants, and it can be beneficial to find ways to cater to those folks that modern trends tend to leave behind.
3. Tool returned to the mainstream after well over a decade without an album, and have been greeted as if they had never left. What other band who's gone more than a decade since their last album do you think could post a similarly impactful sales week if they returned in 2020?
Pamela Bustios: Oasis. Although the cloying situation of brothers Gallagher and their constant public feuds has become somewhat discouraging for that ever actually happening.
Jason Lipshtuz: It’s time for some new Guns N’ Roses! Chinese Democracy finally came out in 2008 after years of delays, and while Axl Rose has been active, and even reunited part of the band’s original lineup for a mammoth tour, there hasn’t been a whiff of a proper follow-up. Even without Slash and co. backing him up, hearing what Rose has to sing about as we enter the 2020s would at least be… intriguing, right? (P.S. Chinese Democracy sort of holds up!)
Chris Payne: System of a Down is the pick for me. They've been performing here and there over the past few years, and though they seem miles away from making a new album, a new System LP would be a major event. Their last releases were their pair of 2005 albums, Mesmerize and Hypnotize, which were both certified Platinum by the RIAA, respectively, before the year was out. That's comparable to what Tool's 10,000 Days pulled in 2006, and System was always more of a household name. That's a much stronger case for me than say, Guns N' Roses, whose last album, 2008's Chinese Democracy, sold a fraction of that and was just seen as a massive punchline.
Kevin Rutherford: Does Outkast count? Is Outkast a band or a group? Outkast’s the answer if they count. In the rock world specifically, Rage Against the Machine, no doubt. We’re going on nearly two decades without a Rage album, and Tom Morello’s probably gotten more influential over the years as a guitarist, let alone the fact that the band’s songs are still a staple on many alternative and mainstream rock radio stations (and both formats are flirting with rap-rock again). C’mon, Zack, please come back.
Andrew Unterberger: Gonna go a little off the board here and say Talking Heads. The new wave quartet has only grown in relevance in the near three decades that they've been broken up, and though a reunion remains unlikely, a new album would instantly become a must-hear for generations of alt-rock fans. The album might not put up Tool numbers in straight sales, but attach a ticket bundle with an ensuing tour, and the sky's the limit -- David Byrne just posted his best-ever first-week numbers in 2018 doing just that, with his American Utopia solo album.
4. Do you hear anything in Fear Inoculum that reflects how 13 years have indeed passed since the last Tool album -- anything that makes it seem like this album is, in fact, coming out in 2019? Or is the album's appeal that it sounds like it's transported from a generation ago?
Pamela Bustios: There is definitely freedom of experimentation -- with alluring and eerie musical progressions in “Litanie le Peur,” “Legion Inoculant” and “Mockingbeat" -- yet the band's unshakable well-rooted prog-metal pulsations dominate the ambience skillfully.
Jason Lipshutz: While the production on Fear Inoculum sounds a bit more streamlined, Tool wisely returned without forcibly giving their style a modern facelift. And that’s what the Tool fans who love the new record presumably love the most: the comeback of the band without compromise, unblemished by expectations for how a rock record should operate in 2019.
Chris Payne: Oh god no. Aside from some vaguely more retrospective lyrics from Maynard, there's very little suggesting Fear Inoculum came out in 2019 and not 365 days after 10,000 Days.
Kevin Rutherford: The arrangements and production of Fear Inoculum feel more meticulous than ever before, and that’s probably a product of age to some extent; something something wisdom as you get older etc. etc. You can tell the goal was to avoid filler as much as humanly possible (whether they succeeded is a different story), and while that’s not to say that wasn’t an important facet of earlier Tool records, the earlier albums occasionally have songs that slip through the cracks as outliers more so than this album does, unless we’re counting the interludes.
I also come back to the song “Invincible,” in which Keenan’s lyrics paint the portrait of an aging warrior “struggling to remain consequential,” and can’t help but wonder if some of that reflects the anxieties of a nearly three-decade-old band that hadn’t put out a new album in 13 years. Otherwise, this thing totally could’ve come out in 2007.
Andrew Unterberger: There are some drum machine claps that get briefly triggered in a couple tracks, which I don't remember hearing from Tool before, at least. That's about it.
5. Of course, a lot of Taylor Swift fans are finding out about Tool for the first time this week. What song from the Tool catalog would you recommend for a Taylor Swift fan interested in learning more about Swift's successors atop the Billboard 200?
Pamela Bustios: Put on headphones and hit play on “Invincible,” easily digestible in terms of its arrangement. The guitar and drums pair well, and its lyrical narrative takes you through a tale from beginning to end -- which can effortlessly become the opening of another song, as the synthesized keyboards kick in giving it a shadowy finish. If you can add 3:09 to the listening session, continue with “Legion Inoculant,” a bizarre trip (but nice break) that seems to be sandwiched in the middle of the track listing on purpose.
Jason Lipshutz: “Schism” still rules, so let’s go with that.
Chris Payne: The most crowd-pleasing Tool moment I can remember didn't involve the actual members, but a DJ at Bonnaroo yelling "Who here f**ks with some Tool?" during the middle of a fairly tame daytime set and playing a dance remix of "Ænima." So either transport them back into that moment or I dunno, "Schism" and "Parabola" are pretty catchy.
Kevin Rutherford: My gateway as a middle-schooler introduced to rock radio in the early-to-mid-2000s wasn’t so much “Schism" -- which some older friends talked up as this monolith of hard rock but I thought was about twice as long as it needed to be -- as it was “Sober.” To this day, “Sober” is the most accessible of the bunch, coming at a time when Tool might actually (gasp!) release a radio single that wasn’t six-plus minutes song, and featuring a more standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure. Honorable mention to “The Pot,” which actually got me to purchase 10,000 Days in stores after “Vicarious” sort of underwhelmed me; it’s lengthy, but it’s got one of the band’s catchier melodies and grooves.
Andrew Unterberger: I could maybe see Taylor banging out the chrous to "Stinkfist" when she's in a hair-tossing performance rage.
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Post Malone's Massive First Week For 'Hollywood's Bleeding' 9/17/2019 by Billboard Staff
Post Malone performs on stage during Leeds Festival 2019 at Bramham Park on Aug. 25, 2019 in Leeds, England. After last week's flashback to a previous generation atop the albums chart, this week we're square back to late-'10s territory: Post Malone, millennial pop and hip-hop superstar, debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with his new set Hollywood's Bleeding.
Post's third official LP begins with 489,000 equivalent album units moved -- the second-biggest overall week of the year (behind Taylor Swift's Lover bow). It's also his second straight No. 1 set, following 2018's beerbongs & bentleys, and the largest single-week numbers of his career to date.
How did Post Malone get this consistently successful, and how long can the good times keep rolling for him? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below. 1. Another Post Malone album, another first week near half a million. What's something he doesn't get enough credit for doing that allows him to put up such consistently massive numbers?
Gab Ginsberg: His streaming prowess. With 365.4 million on-demand audio streams, Posty takes the prize for 2019's biggest streaming week for a single album. And he’s done it before; that’s actually 65.9 million fewer streams than those garnered by his previous effort Beerbongs & Bentleys, which at the time set the record for the biggest streaming week ever.
Josh Glicksman: Since J. Cole’s famous “platinum with no features” mantra has seemingly gone out the window, the tides have turned back to favor projects that squeeze massive amounts of collaborators on more limited runtimes. There have been many instances where features have felt label-manipulated or forced, but especially on Hollywood’s Bleeding, Post does a good job of picking the right spots -- and collaborators -- to use guest work. Ozzy Osbourne fits in perfectly on the hazy, haunting vibe on “Take What You Want,” SZA and Post crush their joint choruses on the bouncy “Staring at the Sun,” and DaBaby, a can’t-miss feature right now, turns in another powerhouse verse on the flexing “Enemies.”
Lyndsey Havens: His talent! I still think people underestimate the fact that he.... has any. In a lot of ways, I think it's fair to compare his output to that of Drake's -- consistent, catchy, chart-topping and at times, Instagram caption worthy. And with this album in particular, it's easy to liken it to Ed Sheeran's recent collaborations project. The main difference is that Post's features feel more fluid and part of a whole.
That, to me is also where he's overlooked: Post is an albums artist with a knack for burying hidden gems like "Feeling Whitney" (Stoney) or "Stay" (Beerbongs & Bentleys) throughout -- they're not singles nor made for radio, but instead could slide onto an indie playlist nearly unnoticed. Exposure across genre-specific playlists is another area in which he likely reaps the benefits.
Carl Lamarre: I think Posty thrives in collaboration. Run through his Hot 100 hits, and you'll see why Mr. Malone is so adept at aligning himself with marquee talents. Whether he's colliding with 21 Savage on "Rockstar" or shining bright with Swae Lee on the effervescent "Sunflower," Post's ability to mesh with his features and their skill sets, is one of the many reasons why he continues to bully the competition with such ease.
Andrew Unterberger: It's all about those choruses. Jayson Greene did an excellent job illustrating this in his Hollywood's Bleeding review for Pitchfork, but Post is an absolute savant when it comes to creating brain-sticking refrains that sound like they've already existed on radio forever the very first time you hear them. (Regular collaboration with several of Top 40's greatest current behind-the-scenes hitmakers -- Louis Bell, Frank Dukes and Andrew Watt among them -- no doubt helps with that as well.)
2. Every song off Hollywood's Bleeding charts on the Hot 100 this week. Outside of "Sunflower," which has already gotten there, which song do you think has the best chance of becoming Post's fourth No. 1 hit?
Gab Ginsberg: “Circles” is is just getting started. It seems to be drawing in listeners who weren’t necessarily fans previously, and its elaborate (read: expensive) music video has been lauded as “better than Game of Thrones' Season 8.” There’s also "Wow.," which peaked at No. 2 in April, and might be able to get there with the right push -- a TikTok challenge? A fan campaign?
Josh Gliscksman: I’d like to say “Circles” because that song has been, well, circling in my head since its release, but given that Post already dropped a music video for it, I’ll go with “Take What You Want” instead. Making its debut on the Hot 100 at No. 8 this week, it boasts no shortage of star power, featuring fellow charts mainstay Travis Scott and the long-awaited return of Ozzy Osbourne. It’s got the genre-blending vibe that fits perfectly into 2019, and with the right promotion and a well-timed music video, the song could make the ultimate jump. Plus, how cool would it be to get Andrew Watt’s shredding guitar solo atop the Hot 100?
Lyndsey Havens: It seems most likely for "Goodbyes" or "Circles," simply because they were pre-release singles and, as such, already have more of a trajectory than the rest. Plus, the fact that they are Nos. 3 and 4 already means they don't have much more to climb before they hit the top.
Carl Lamarre: If we're looking at the Hot 100 charts, as of today, "Goodbyes" and "Circles" have the best chances due to their current standings at No. 3 and No. 4, respectively. I would love to see a record like "Die For Me" skate its way to the top because the song screams pain and heartbreak. The starry triad of Future, Post, and Halsey pose a threat to any potential Hot 100 contenders. When it comes to dark love tales, these guys know how to seriously make a song cry.
Andrew Unterberger: "Circles" would certainly seem to be the obvious choice, though the song's sound is so alt-based compared to his previous biggest hits that I'm not ready to pencil it in for a No. 1 just yet. I'm a little surprised we didn't see a higher first week debut for "Staring at the Sun" (No. 34 this week) -- a collab with an artist in SZA that folks are hungry for new music from, which almost sounds like a spiritual sequel to "Sunflower" in its bright pop-readiness. It should still have some chart life from here, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was the song that got pushed to pop radio, at the very least.
3. Welcome back to the top 10, Ozzy Osbourne! What's your favorite example of an older rock star being brought back to the mainstream by an unexpected hip-hop cameo?
Gab Ginsberg: Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney's "FourFiveSeconds," of course. (Not that McCartney has ever really fallen off, but 2015 was really his year of hip-hop dream team-dom.) The collab peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100 that year, earning all sorts of accolades for the trio.
Josh Glicksman: Paul McCartney, thanks to his work with Kanye West (though perhaps Ye should get some credit for discovering the famed Beatles rocker in the first place). McCartney wasn’t exactly struggling before his collaborations with the Chicago rapper on “Only One” and “FourFiveSeconds” -- his 2013 effort, New, hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200. But it certainly boasted a fresh look for the 77-year-old, who went on to notch his first No. 1 album in 36 years on his next album, 2018’s Egypt Station.
Lyndsey Havens: At one point in my life, when I took dance classes as a kid, I had a routine to "Walk This Way" -- the Run-D.M.C with Aerosmith version. It was definitely the first time I heard the song, but that riff has stayed with me to this day. It's a total classic, and much like Post and Ozzy, a pretty seamless collaboration that had massive cross-genre appeal; while the original hit No. 10 on the Hot 100, the revamp peaked at No. 4.
Carl Lamarre: It's hard to ever neglect U2's contributions because they're music immortals, but I do believe Kendrick's decision to tap them on DAMN. for "XXX" was a unique collaboration for in today's time. I bet my bottom dollar that not a lot of people from Compton or even this music generation can name you a U2 song, but after watching K. Dot inject the group into this world, more eyes were placed on the group and served as a reminder to why they're musical savants in the studio no matter what year it is.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll admit to having a soft spot in my heart for Puff Daddy's "Come With Me," his Jimmy Page-featuring monstrosity off the soundtrack to 1998's Godzilla blockbuster. Hasn't aged brilliantly, but 11-year-old me was totally familiar with the song whose riff the 40-something guitarist was enlisted to recreate: "Kashmir," from Page's most famous band, Led Zeppelin, which would end up being high school me's favorite song for at least a year or two. Plus, the video remains peak Puffy MTV largesse, when no idea was too big or too gaudy for the Bad Boy mogul. 4. Post goes in a couple new-ish directions and works with a couple new folks on Hollywood's Bleeding. Are there any sounds or collabs on the album you'd like to see him explore further in his work to come?
Gab Ginsberg: More ladies! Bringing on SZA and Halsey is a great start, and I’d love to see Post continue to progress in that department. How about a joint tour with Halsey, or the inevitable Taylor Swift collaboration? It could happen.
Josh Glicksman: It doesn’t feel so much to me as Post heading in new-ish directions as it does him maturing as an artist. The foundation for a home run track like “Circles” is present on “Feeling Whitney,” a standout from his 2016 debut album, Stoney. He’s simply turned raw potential into next-level success. Sure, the collaborations fit cleaner and Post has more tools and players at his disposable to create a stronger overall product, but Hollywood’s Bleeding is an example of a 2019 pop star honing his craft and adapting with the landscape of the genre.
Lyndsey Havens: I have been saying this for as long as I can remember, and I'd scream it from the top of a mountain: all I want is for one day, Post Malone to release a rootsier, folk-leaning album under his birth name, Austin Post. (His cover of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," which has 8.5 million views, gets me every time). The beginning of the album's title track alludes to Posty's softer, more stripped down side -- before going hard. But in the absence of anything in the vein of "Feeling Whitney" or "Stay" ("Internet" comes closest), I'm personally enjoying how Post has leaned into bouncier, more pop inspired production. It's best heard on "Allergic," "Circles" and his SZA collab "Staring at the Sun."
Carl Lamarre: The pairing of Post and DaBaby was dope to see. They're polar opposites, but that didn't stop them from cooking up a banger with "Enemies." I think their chemistry would also shine on-camera, since they're both goofballs and know how to make their personalities shine visually.
Andrew Unterberger: "Allergic" brings us ever closer to that dirtbag punk rock record Post Malone seems destined to make at some point in his career -- probably bad news for his record label, but very fun news for the rest of us. 5. How much longer can Post Malone's winning streak last? Do you think, say, in 2024 we'll still be talking about him as one of pop's most consistently successful hitmakers?
Gab Ginsberg: As long as everyone keeps converting him from "guilty pleasure" to "unironic main pop girl," I see no end in sight.
Josh Glicksman: It’s hard to predict anything five years away given the current landscape of popular music, but why not? He’s safe for roughly the next 18 months thanks to Hollywood’s Bleeding. One underratedly big thing that Post has going for him: he’s already gone through a public skepticism phase. It’s incredibly rare for an artist to avoid one -- think Taylor Swift’s reputation, Drake’s Views, Chance the Rapper’s The Big Day -- and Post is no exception. The consensus toward the 24-year-old rapper-rockstar appears to be ever-turning in his favor though, and that’s a mighty powerful thing.
Lyndsey Havens: By 2024, he won't even be 30. I think Post has a long career ahead of him (hopefully one that delivers a folk album!), but despite how long his winning streak lasts, over these past few years he has so successfully cemented his place in popular music. For that alone, I think we will be discussing his work for a long time -- at least I will.
Carl Lamarre: The scariest thing about Post's success is that his 2016 debut album Stoney still resides on the Billboard 200 -- in fact, it's still in the top 30 after 144 weeks. I think his longevity is going to heavily rely on him not running himself ragged and thin with constant album drops. If he can spread out his releases by returning onto the scene every other year, there's no reason why Posty can't be a perennial hitmaker well into his 30s.
Andrew Unterberger: I don't think it'll be a sudden thing necessarily, but I think there will come a time when pop music kinda drifts away from Post Malone for a while, and we look back and realize all of a sudden that it's kinda been a while since he had a real hit. Will that moment come in the next five years? The evidence doesn't seem to suggest as much, but pop music moves quickly these days, and Posty hasn't proven himself trend-proof yet. Still, can't say he's not making the most of his time in the spotlight: seven top 5 hits on the Hot 100 in a span of under two years is just incredible production: enough to ensure that even if he won't be at pop's center forever, he'll never be totally forgotten, either.
Five Burning Questions: All-Star 'Don't Call Me Angel' Debuts at No. 13 on the Hot 100
9/24/2019 by Billboard Staff
After months of anticipation, the All-Star team up "Don't Call Me Angel" -- with vocals split between Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande and Lana Del Rey -- arrived two Fridays ago (Sept. 13) as the lead single off the soundtrack to the latest Charlie's Angels film reboot, due out this November.
Given the star power of the artists involved, as well as the guiding hands of proven hitmakers Max Martin, Ilya Salmanzadeh and Savan Kotecha as co-writers/producers, commercial expectations for the single were high. This week, the song debuted at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 -- becoming the 20th top 20 hit on the chart for Grande, the 14th for Cyrus and the third for Del Rey, but perhaps falling short of fan hopes for the song's initial bow.
What does the No. 13 landing mean for the soundtrack single? And how might we have tweaked the song's formula? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Given the expectations and hype around it, how do you think the three stars should be feeling about a No. 13 debut for "Don't Call Me Angel"?
Stephen Daw: With all of the star power on this track, I was sure that the track would at least crack the top 10, so I would understand if these three leading ladies are feeling relatively underwhelmed by their debut. That being said, when you look at the songs ahead of them, with monster tracks like "Truth Hurts," "Señorita" and "Bad Guy" still holding strong in their top three positions, it's also understandable why this song didn't break through in the way I thought it would.
Eric Frankenberg: There are two ways to look at the No. 13 debut. On one hand, it marks Lana’s highest-charting single in six years and it’s the best of Miley’s four 2019 debuts. On the other, it’s a sequel of sorts to Destiny’s Child’s 10-week run at No. 1 with “Independent Women, Pt. I,” and follows four top 10 debuts for Grande in the last twelve months, two of which were No. 1 entries. I’m leaning toward the latter perspective, disappointed that the biggest voice in pop couldn’t make a bigger splash with a posse cut for a name-brand blockbuster movie.
BUT, the film doesn’t come out for almost two months and will likely have a ton of promotion and hype around it, soundtracked by “Don’t Call Me Angel.” So despite the track’s relatively tepid debut, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it sprout some legs and stick around, even if it doesn’t become a chart-dominating force.
Jason Lipshutz: Fine, if not thrilled. Lana Del Rey and Miley Cyrus have not spent 2019 regularly sending singles into the top 10 of the Hot 100 chart, but Grande has, and the superstar summit’s connection to the Charlie’s Angels franchise -- as a spiritual sequel to Destiny’s Child’s No. 1 hit “Independent Women Pt. 1” -- undoubtedly made commercials expectations for “Don’t Call Me Angel” pretty high. A top 20 bow is nothing to sneeze at, but to have a song with Ariana, Miley and Lana out-debuted by Grande’s own “Boyfriend,” her Social House collaboration that started at No. 8 in August, probably smarts at least a little.
Andrew Unterberger: Hardly tragic, but it has to be a little disappointing for Cyrus and Del Rey, who could both use an easy top 10 hit in 2019 for the resumé -- not like it really matters for either, but fair or not, pop star credibility is still largely built off hit singles -- and aren't likely to have as simple a path to one again anytime soon. For Grande, it should be pretty easy to shrug off (as she basically already has), though it does mean that she's ending the year with her golden touch looking the slightest bit duller than it did at its blinding beginning.
Taylor Weatherby: Before the song arrived, I would bet the ladies -- and frankly, the fans who were stoked about them coming together -- were thinking the song would debut in the top 10 of the Hot 100. But just about everyone I've talked to about the song felt it was lackluster compared to its potential, so I'm not really too shocked that it didn't crack the the top 10 in its first week. Plus, Ariana, Miley and Lana have each had a top 10 hit themselves (Miley and Ariana several times), so I doubt any of them were banking on "Don't Call Me Angel" becoming their defining big-time smash. And there's still a chance it could move higher than No. 13, so I'd think the gals are perfectly content with where their song debuted.
2. Miley, Ariana and Lana have all had fairly productive years already. Which of the three do you think is most likely to see "Angel" actually stick as a notable part of their catalogue, if any?
Stephen Daw: This one's tough. Ariana, in the last year, has released arguably the two most definitive albums of her career with Sweetener and Thank U, Next. Lana, meanwhile, has seen Norman f**king Rockwell gain near-universal critical acclaim, even if it hasn't quite spun off any major hit singles on the Hot 100. And Miley seems to be in the midst of another artistic shift with She Is Coming, with songs like "Slide Away" and "Mother's Daughter" at the very least turning heads. So, the short answer is, with a stacked group like this one, I'm not sure "Angel" is going to be as significant of an entry in any of their catalogues.
Eric Frankenberg: Miley? Ariana’s setlist has ballooned over the last year-plus, so adding in another single, especially if it isn’t a smash, would be tough. And it doesn’t really fit with anything from Lana’s catalogue, even the hit turbo-remix of “Summertime Sadness.” It does however, mesh with some the empowering aggressive pop that Miley has settled into this year.
Jason Lipshutz: Lana Del Rey simply doesn’t have a lot of songs in her catalogue that sound like “Don’t Call Me Angel,” historically more comfortable operating at a slower, more melancholy tempo than pop radio typically demands (case in point: the lone top 10 hit of her career remains a dance remix of one of her wooziest songs). Even as she receives the greatest accolades of her career with her recently released Norman f**king Rockwell!, “Don’t Call Me Angel” marks a notable -- and enjoyable! -- swerve in Del Rey’s well-established sound.
Andrew Unterberger: Cyrus might have the first verse (and have been the first one to perform it live), but at the end of the day, it still mostly feels like an Ariana Grande song. It's written and produced with some of her most frequent collaborators of late, its video is directed by her regular partner Hannah Lux Davis, and it just sounds like her kind of breathy pop banger. Not to say that it'll become a permanent Grande setlist fixture or anything, but I think most fans will mentally slot it into her back catalog, likely as the closing blast from one of the most fruitful periods any pop star has enjoyed this decade.
Taylor Weatherby: f I had to choose, I'd say Ariana, mostly because she sings the chorus. Its melody and racing beat also feel the most like an Ariana song. But honestly, I don't feel like any of them made such an impact with their "Don't Call Me Angel" part that it'll become an iconic part of their discography.
3. What's one thing about "Don't Call Me Angel" that you would have tweaked or reimagined to maybe make it a little more potent?
Stephen Daw: The thing, in my mind, that made "Independent Women Pt. I" such a smash hit for Destiny's Child was that it made strong statements oozing with bossed-up confidence, and that was represented both in the music and lyrics. "Don't Call Me Angel" has both of those things, until it doesn't -- Miley's verse is the template I would have worked off of. She nailed the balance of confidence and ferocity needed to sell this song, and then as the song continued, it just seemed to take a dip in mood.
Eric Frankenberg: A rap verse. The switch-up gave some extra texture to “Lady Marmalade” and “Bang Bang,” and Lizzo, pre-retirement Nicki Minaj, Cardi B or Megan Thee Stallion (or, to accent the weird that is Lana Del Rey on this song and video, throw in Rico Nasty) would have juiced this song up.
After writing that sentence, a female rap collaboration would have been amazing. “Independent Women” meets “Ladies Night” featuring the aforementioned rappers? Together? Get Ariana, Miley, or Lana to sing a hook.
Jason Lipshutz: As much as I love hearing Del Rey’s smoky voice drop into view in the final third of the song for a chopped-up bridge, I do wonder whether “Don’t Call Me Angel” would have worked slightly better with a high-octane rap verse in its place. Imagine what Cardi B could have done with the “Don’t Call Me Angel” concept, or Megan Thee Stallion feeding off Grande and Cyrus’ combined energy with a rapid-fire verse! Or maybe Nicki Minaj links back up with Grande for the “Bang Bang” sequel we never knew we needed.
Andrew Unterberger: I think everyone involved needed to lean in a little harder. Wheter it's "Eye of the Tiger," "My Heart Will Go On" or indeed, "Independent Women Pt. I," the key to a great soundtrack single is always over-commitment. It's no accident that the most memorable (non-chorus) part of "Independent Women" is the DC ladies calling off a Charlie's Angels roll call -- a terrible, cheesy idea on paper that works just because when else are you ever going to hear Destiny's Child name-checking Drew Barrymore? Over-the-top fun and ridiculousness should've been the name of the game here, but no one involved quite sounds invested enough for that.
Taylor Weatherby: Though I'm aware I'm no lyricist, I felt like the message "Don't Call Me Angel" delivers feels a little clichéd instead of empowered. Also, I know Lana's part is very Lana, but I think it feels kind of out of place in an otherwise adrenaline-pumping track. I would've loved to hear her take on a verse as in-your-face as Miley's -- something tells me she'd pleasantly surprise.
4. "Don't Call Me Angel" is, in many ways, the spiritual sequel to "Independent Women, Pt. I" But we shouldn't forget that there already was an actual sequel to that song -- titled, naturally, "Independent Women Pt. II." Which one of the two is more likely to make an appearance on any future playlists of yours?
Stephen Daw: As a tried-and-true Beyoncé stan, I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I didn't pick "Independent Women Pt. II". The song is so weird and has that very strange flair with those horns and xylophones throughout the track, but it's still so good and adds this almost sinister vibe to the track that kind of gives me the chills. "Angel" is still a really good song, but "Pt. II" is just one of those under-appreciated gems that I will always find myself going back to.
Eric Frankenberg: “Independent Women, Pt. II” works well enough as a remix of its mega-hit predecessor but can I avoid the question and just pick one of the many, many empowerment bangers from Beyoncé’s catalogue? Right now, I’d choose either “Flawless” or the wonderfully dated “Bug a Boo.”
Jason Lipshutz: I give the edge to “Don’t Call Me Angel” for placing Grande, Cyrus and Del Rey on the same track, a comet-like phenomenon that we’re likely never going to see again. Destiny’s Child has many tracks that are superior to “Independent Women Pt. II”; where else are you going to hear Grande’s breathy delivery immediately followed by Del Rey’s even breathier delivery? Points scored for existing as a unique, if imperfect, pop occurrence.
Andrew Unterberger: "Pt. II." What can I say, I love a good sequel song playlist.
Taylor Weatherby: "Don't Call Me Angel." Love Destiny's Child, but "Independent Women, Pt. II" was a bad case of a sequel fail. "Independent Women, Pt. I" was so iconic it didn't need any sort of upgrade -- and Destiny's Child's attempt at a follow-up hardly even sounds like it belongs with the original (and those clattering background sounds are AWFUL). Can I just take "Pt. I" for my playlists instead of either of these?
5. It's 2026, and they're rebooting Charlie's Angels yet again. Build your ideal female future-pop dream team for the new version's theme song.
Stephen Daw: No. 1: Daya. She's already proven that she knows how to put together an amazing empowerment anthem with "Sit Still, Look Pretty," so she will absolutely be making the cut.
No. 2: King Princess would make for a wonderfully weird addition to this track.
No. 3: Willow Smith could bring some amazing bars to this. You're welcome Charlie's Angels.
Eric Frankenberg: I don’t know if it’s too on-the-nose to include Charli XCX but Charlie’s Angels meets future-pop screams Charli, baby. In the spirit of Ms. XCX, hopefully other borderline-mainstream pop stars will have taken over by then and we can throw in Rosalia, Tierra Whack, and frequent collaborator Kim Petras.
Jason Lipshutz: How about Beyonce, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, a quarter-century after “Independent Women Pt. 1” became a chart-topper? Destiny’s Child reuniting for a new Charlie’s Angels anthem is the best-case scenario, regardless of how the actual song turns out. Let’s just hope that President Beyoncé can carve out some time in her busy schedule at that point.
Andrew Unterberger: Normani to be the song's vocal anchor and most dedicated live performer. Billie Eilish to make a bunch of self-referential "Bad Guy" references and wear something absolutely batshit in the video. And Bhad Bhabie to come in from out of nowhere on the bridge and blister through 12 bars where she describes the plot of the new movie in exceptionally profane detail.
Taylor Weatherby: Rihanna, Lizzo and Cardi B. Do I need to say more?