Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Lewis Capaldi's Hot 100 Climb With 'Someone You Loved' 10/1/2019 by Billboard Staff
With all the turnover the past few months at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 -- Lil Nas X's once-seemingly endless reign being succeeded in rapid-fire fashion by Billie Eilish, Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, and finally Lizzo -- you might've missed a name creeping up the chart from underneath all of them: Lewis Capaldi.
The Scottish singer-songwriter has already emerged as a conquering hero in his home country, where breakout ballad "Someone You Loved" reigned for seven weeks on the Official UK Singles Chart, and where debut LP Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent has become the year's fastest-selling album. But now his dominance has extended across the Atlantic, as "Loved" climbs to a new peak of No. 3 on the Hot 100 this week.
Where did Capaldi (metaphorically) come from? And how much bigger can he get from here? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. So, it took 20 weeks, but Lewis Capaldi has himself a top three single. How did this song take so long to creep up on us, and why is it still growing?
Jason Lipshutz: “Someone You Loved” follows in the grand tradition of James Bay’s “Let It Go,” James Arthur’s “Say You Won’t Let Go” and George Ezra’s “Budapest” as a bleeding-heart sing-along from a male songwriter outside of the U.S. that slowly creeps onto a staggering number of American top 40 radio stations. They all possess exquisitely memorable choruses that burn themselves into your brain. None of those aforementioned songs climbed as high as the top 3 on the Hot 100, though; the next time this club of troubadours meets up for brunch, Capaldi is buying.
Kevin Rutherford: It feels like this is something that happens with most songs that first break overseas. “Someone You Loved” has been topping charts in Europe since the first quarter of 2019, but since no one Stateside knew who the hell Lewis Capaldi was before this spring or so, the song wasn’t going to cross over to America and be an inescapable hit right off the bat. Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team,” his first U.S. hit, had been popular in the United Kingdom for about a year before it made waves here. See also: “Say You Won’t Let Go.”
As for it still growing? It only just hit No. 1 on adult pop radio and still has mainstream pop radio to conquer, and radio’s still a definite player on the Hot 100. The fact that the official video only recently came out helps matters.
Andrew Unterberger: Overseas travel always takes longer than it seems like it should, doesn't it? But yeah, this was never going to be an immediate streaming hit -- think of it more in the vein of John Legend's "All of Me," another drumless piano ballad that took nearly a year to cross over in full, despite coming from an American artist who was already a fairly established hitmaker. Songs this slow (and slow-burning) rarely detonate on impact but they take a whole long while to fizzle out; don't be surprised if this song is still in or around the top 10 when the calendar turns over.
Taylor Weatherby: In most cases, a breakout song for a rising artist doesn't just shoot straight to the top of the chart -- unless, of course, you’re Lil Nas X. But since this isn’t a viral sensation like “Old Town Road,” it’s naturally going to be a slower progression. Capaldi's No. 3 position after 20 weeks goes to show that more and more people are discovering “Someone You Loved” and falling in love with it -- despite the fact that it’s a breakup song.
But that’s exactly it: There’s not really another heartbreaking ballad out there right now, and Capaldi’s raspy voice is so captivating that that combo makes for a Hot 100 win. I think it’s still growing because of the radio play it’s getting (“Someone You Loved” is at No. 3 on the Pop Songs chart), and the fact that Capaldi is getting Stateside celebrity endorsements from the likes of P!nk, the Jonas Brothers and Fletcher. Everyone loves a little heartbreak!
Xander Zellner: I truly wasn’t expecting it to climb this high, but here we are. To start with how it sounds, it’s a perfect Hot AC single (that will likely continue receiving airplay on those stations for months and months to come). But similar to “Old Town Road,” its success goes beyond how it sounds. Capaldi is a master of social media -- winning over younger audiences with goofy videos, viral tweets and feuds with legendary English musicians, all while simultaneously marketing the song. It’s clearly working.
2. Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent: Cleverly cheeky title, brutally apt descriptor, both or neither?
Jason Lipshutz: That album title and accompanying artwork -- Capaldi sitting on the floor, hellishly glum -- makes me want to give the young Scot an encouraging pat on the back. Cheer up, Lewis! You’ve got a hit single, a fine warble and more than one beguiling ballad to flaunt (previous single “Bruises” makes for another compelling heartache tune on the album).
Kevin Rutherford: Lord, is this a tough one. You wanna say the latter, but in the press release for the album, Capaldi himself calls it a “stupid” title, which lends credence to the former. Given his personality outside of his music, my final instinct is to not read too much into it at all (and, if anything, to call it self-deprecating at best).
Andrew Unterberger: Both. It's a cute little to wink to your critics to try to steal their thunder by slapping the sort of critique they're likely to use against your album on it as its title. But it'd be even better if the music -- which in this one writer's opinion is a tad monochromatic and overbearing -- avoided any sort of need for it in the first place.
Taylor Weatherby: Cleverly cheeky, fitting to the personality Capaldi reflects on Twitter. What’s ironic, though, is that the album is not cleverly cheeky. Like “Someone You Loved,” most of the LP hears Capaldi delivering lovelorn tales with impassioned vocals. Maybe that has something to do with the title in a not-so-cheeky way? Whatever the reason behind it, I appreciate that there was clearly some thought put into the title of his debut album and he didn’t just go for the cliché self-titled move.
Xander Zellner: Definitely file this under “cheeky U.K. humour.”
3. Capaldi has already proven himself fairly adept at social media (and just kinda playing the media game in general). What do you think his finest or most telling moment as a celebrity is thus far?
Jason Lipshutz: When young Lewis licked a bunch of Oreos, encased them, auctioned them off to charity and seemed perplexed by the entire ordeal… I was right there with him.
Kevin Rutherford: My first encounter with Capaldi outside of “Bruises” or “Someone You Loved” was when he clogged his Los Angeles hotel room’s toilet and found that there was no plunger in the bathroom, which sent him on a journey to the store to find one and unclog it himself. The zoom-in on his face as he plunges the toilet and says, “I’ve had a No. 1 song for five weeks in the U.K. Come to America and it all changes”? *chef’s kiss*
Honorable mention to his 2019 Glastonbury entrance, in which he came out to a loop of Noel Gallagher asking, “Who’s this Capaldi fella?” while wearing an Oasis-esque parka, later removing it to reveal a T-shirt containing Gallagher’s face within a large heart.
Andrew Unterberger: I love that the Noel feud has gone so far that Lewis has gotten the next generation involved. That's usually a Gallagher family move.
Taylor Weatherby: I love that he purchased his own fake merch from someone on the street. (Frankly, I hope every artist has done that at some point.) Capaldi is constantly joking about how he knows he’s made it, but you can also tell how genuinely excited he is for all of the success he’s having. Yet, he’s not taking anything too seriously, which makes it even more fun to watch a guy like him succeed -- especially thanks to his hilariously ridiculous sunglasses collection.
Honorary mention to one of his more recent posts about the bangers Camila Cabello and Post Malone are putting out and how they're going to stunt "Someone You Loved" from moving up the charts -- which show that he’s playing the game, but also loving the competition.
Xander Zellner: Gotta be his “feud” with Noel Gallagher, which ultimately resulted in him being labeled as “Chewbacca” and then changing his Twitter name to “Chewis Capaldi” and profile picture to… well, just look.
4. Let's take a second to give a shoutout to another special "Someone" -- any other favorite song you have with "someone" in the title.
Jason Lipshutz: My special Someone cannot be contained within one song — it’s Yourself Or Someone Like You, the mega-selling Matchbox Twenty debut album from 1996 that includes “3AM,” “Real World,” “Push” and, of course, the eternally underrated “Back 2 Good.” Did I just engineer a new way to champion Rob Thomas? I think I might have.
Kevin Rutherford: Any version of Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone,” though Rosanne Cash’s performance of the song at her dad’s CMT memorial tribute shortly after his death is a definite standout. No, I didn’t just watch Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary, what are you talking about?
Andrew Unterberger: Shouts to The Beatles' secret Rubber Soul highlight "If I Needed Someone": Gorgeous harmonies and chiming guitars, and one of George Harrison's most inscrutable and indelible lyrics: "Carve your number on my wall and maybe you will get a call from me/ If I needed someone."
Taylor Weatherby: Luke Bryan’s “Someone Else Calling You Baby.” It’s also a heartbreak song, but disguised by a country melody that’s way more fun than painful to sing along to. It’s pretty funny, actually -- in revisiting songs with “Someone” in the title, I realized a majority of the ones I’m familiar with, at least, are some form of a breakup song. At least it’s possible to belt out “Someone Else Calling You Baby” without bursting into tears.
Xander Zellner: The Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” is punk royalty and should be regarded as such.
5. Hard to ignore the precedent that the last time a largely unassuming-looking U.K. singer/songwriter had a breakout hit this big in the U.S., he ended up going on to be one of the biggest pop stars of the decade. On a scale from 1 to 10, how likely would you say it is that Capaldi ends up living up to his destiny as the next Ed Sheeran?
Jason Lipshutz: I’d say a solid 4. He’s got a terrific voice and at least one song with a chart-busting chorus, but even more difficult than pulling off the breakthrough singer-songwriter hit is transitioning into full-blown, uptempo pop stardom the way Sheeran did with his second album. Could Capaldi call up Pharrell Williams and Benny Blanco for his own “Sing” or “Don’t”? Absolutely. Only time will tell if he wants to, though.
Kevin Rutherford: See, there’s the Sheeran route, but there’s also the fate of James Arthur, whose “Say You Won’t Let Go” follow-ups haven’t made a dent in the U.S. One thing going for Lewis: Comparing Sheeran, Arthur and Capaldi, the latter is the only one whose first U.S.-charting single even hit the top 10 of the Hot 100, let alone the top five. But a good song, of course, is gonna find its way to the top of the charts – you gotta keep the momentum rolling.
What works in Capaldi’s favor is that he’s an easily likable, extremely funny (especially if you enjoy self-deprecation) person who seems to have the right attitude about fame and his career. I don’t know that I see him as Sheeran’s successor, partially from a musical perspective, but he’s gaining genuine fans in a way that looks to bode well for his career prospects. So let's say 4 in terms of following in Sheeran’s footsteps, 7 in terms of having a career in the U.S. going forward.
Andrew Unterberger: I'm gonna go pretty high on this and say a 7. I'm not quite sure he has the songwriting aptitude and versatility of Sheeran, and I guess I'd be a little surprised if he was ever quite as world-conqueringly huge as Ed. But when it comes to being the next sustainably gigantic international pop star singer-songwriter, he has the pipes, he has the likability, and most importantly, he has the breakthrough hit as the buy-in. Sometimes that's really all you need.
Taylor Weatherby: For now I say like a 3. I’d like to see what else he can do with his voice other than intense songs about losing love before I can really judge whether he’ll reach superstardom. At this point, I don’t think Capaldi has the versatility that Sheeran does, but maybe he’ll surprise us with his next release. On that note, if he does stick to the heartbroken stuff, I could see him becoming, like, the male Adele. But I don’t know, man, the guy clearly enjoys being funny -- how about we see that quirky personality in some of his music?!
Xander Zellner: About a 6 (despite what Noel thinks). Ed Sheeran is so unbelievably massive that it’s tough to imagine anyone reaching that level, but, hey, why not Lewis Capaldi? He’s only 22 years old, he has a goofy sense of humor that’s resonated with a wide demographic (like a Scottish Mac DeMarco) and he’s clearly cultivated a large international following. It's too soon to tell if he'll become the next Ed Sheeran, but he's certainly making all the right moves.
Post by Sailor Mars on Nov 26, 2019 16:17:36 GMT -5
Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Post Malone's First Solo No. 1 With 'Circles' 11/26/2019 by Billboard Staff
This week, Post Malone notches his fourth No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 -- a greater number than any other artist on the chart since the singer-rapper's 2017 breakout -- with his latest Hollywood's Bleeding single, "Circles."
But while it's in good company among his chart-toppers, "Circles" does represent a first for the Post-man in a couple different categories. First, it's got a more pop/rock-oriented groove than any of his other major hits to date, eschewing his usual trap beats and synth beds for sighing acoustic guitars and loping bass. Second, it's the lone representative among his quartet of No. 1s to be entirely solo, with no co-leads or guest features.
What, if anything, does the success of "Cirlces" mean for Post's musical output from here? And has the pop/rock/rap star now separated into a new class of stardom -- perhaps one entirely of his own? Billboard staffers debate this question and more below.
1. Sorta surprising that Post Malone has any new firsts to add to his resume at this point, but indeed, "Circles" is his first No. 1 with his name alone on the marquee. Does this mean something new for Post's stardom, or is it just a fluke that it hadn't happened until this point?
Josh Glicksman: I’m not sure that it adds anything earth-shatteringly notable to his résumé, but it’s applause-worthy nevertheless. Would it be doing a disservice to 21 Savage (“Rockstar”), Ty Dolla $ign (“Psycho”) and Swae Lee (“Sunflower”) to say that they didn’t play a role in each song’s respective success? Surely. But I don’t think any of the three possess the sheer starpower to boost a song to No. 1, and the main appeal for all of the chart toppers is the characteristically excellent Post chorus, anyway.
Bianca Gracie: I can't believe this is technically Post's first No. 1 single, given his massive star power ("Wow.," which only hit the runner-up slot, truly deserved). But I think it has to do with him recently tapping into a new level of impact. He's already proven he was capable of dominating the charts, especially with last year's Beerbongs & Bentleys and "Sunflower" sitting pretty in the Hot 100's top 10 for a staggering 33 weeks. At this point, snagging a chart-topping single just comes naturally for him.
Lyndsey Havens: Even though I have always loved solo-Posty deep cuts (I guess that's a flex?...), I'm well aware that he emerged primarily as an artist who knew who to ride out a stellar collaboration. The fact that he just now has his first solo No. 1 makes perfect sense, though. He's on his third album and seemingly more comfortable with leaning into pop-rock than ever before -- and at this point, why not? He's smart enough to know what sells/streams, and capable enough to deliver it.
Jason Lipshutz: Definitely the latter -- there have been massive Post Malone solo hits, from “Better Now” to “Wow.,” that were staples of the Hot 100’s top 10 for weeks but just never quite got that final push to the top spot. That doesn’t make Post Malone any less of a superstar, though, or an artist that anyone views as overly reliant on his collaborators. “Circles” hitting No. 1, and getting over a hump that those other songs could not, is a nice feather in his zebra-print cowboy hat, but nothing new for Posty as a whole.
Andrew Unterberger: I think it's mostly notable in that there was no real Thing helping goose "Circles" to the top spot. No big guests, no high-profile remixes, no obvious sonic gimmicks or wave-riding (unless you count sorta sounding like Rex Orange County), no particulalry viral video -- in fact, I'd consider the video to be downright atrocious. "Circles" is just a pop superstar having a good old-fashioned No. 1 hit essentially entirely on its own merits. As fun as it is for the top of the charts to be littered with exciting comebacks, movie soundtrack smashes and TikTok challenge favorites, it's good and healthy to have a couple of these more basic chart-toppers a year as well.
2. "Circles" has a pretty new sound for a Post Malone hit, one that's already begun finding its way over to rock/alternative and adult contemporary radio, among other places. How big a stretch was this for Post, and should we expect to hear him follow further down this path on future releases?
Josh Glicksman: I mentioned this in our last edition of Five Burning Questions about Post Malone, but I just don’t think “Circles” is that new of a sound for him. His production is undeniably leagues superior now, but an acoustic guitar-led, pop-folksy-encompassing track isn’t entirely foreign territory for him. His first full-length, Stoney, features “Feeling Whitney,” “I Fall Apart” and “Go Flex,” with the latter two released as singles. The lyrical content isn’t always analogous, but the sonic foundation is there -- “Circles” speaks more to an impressive maturation than anything else to me.
Bianca Gracie: As much as he clearly loves rap music, Posty has revealed in the past his admiration for country and rock. He often performs with his trusty guitar on stage and worked with Ozzy Osbourne for "Take What You Want," a.k.a. my favorite song on Hollywood's Bleeding. And before the fame, he shared his Bob Dylan fandom with his 2013 cover of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." (Our previous 5 Burning Questions taught me this!) And in a controversial moment, he told GQ last year that he prefers to blur genre lines and doesn't want to be referred to as a "rapper," so I'm sure "Circles" is just the beginning of him experimenting with different sounds.
Lyndsey Havens: If you listen back to tracks like the pop-inspired, Justin Bieber-featuring "Deja Vu" (off Stoney) or the acoustic "Stay" (off beerbongs & bentleys), it's really not much of a shock to hear Post on a track like "Circles" that finds a middle ground between the two. I both expect and hope there's more of this from him going forward. And -- let me get back up on my soapbox -- am still waiting for him to drop a folky pop project one day.
Jason Lisphutz: I’d expect Post to continue straddling the line between sounds, because he understands how much value there is in appealing to multiple formats. The beauty of Hollywood’s Bleeding is that it contains songs like “Circles” and “Take What You Want,” featuring Ozzy Osbourne and a blistering guitar solo, but also tracks with Young Thug and DaBaby that cater to his core hip-hop base. Will future albums feature more explicit nods to country, or R&B, or dance music? Maybe, maybe not. Genre lines don’t mean much to Post Malone, and while “Circles” is a resounding success from a sonic standpoint, I doubt it’s indicative of a sea change within his approach.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah as my co-writers have pointed out, if your'e familiar with his albums (or even just his non-chart smashes that everyone seems to know anyway), this is hardly brand new material for Post Malone. Still, it is pretty stark to me that he's never had an official single this cleanly divorced from trap and hip-hop before -- which may not ultimately mean much for his career evolution, but is certainly worth keeping an eye on regardless.
3. Across the last three years (2017-2019), no other artist has as many No. 1 hits to their credit as Post's four. As improbable as it may have once seemed, when we think back to the popular music of the late '10s a couple decades from now, will Post Malone be the first artist we think of?
Josh Glicksman: That’s a bit of a stretch, though the numbers certainly indicate there’s a case to be made. Post Malone has tallied more than his fair share of irresistible jams in the back half of the decade, but I still think the public will gravitate more toward names like Drake, Ariana Grande, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Even artists that haven’t released proper albums in many years (Rihanna, Adele, Justin Bieber) still live in the heads of many, and would likely impede Post from snagging that title.
Bianca Gracie: Drake will definitely be the artist who's at the tip of my tongue, but honestly, Post isn't too far behind. He's scored handfuls of multi-Platinum records with ease, is a streaming monster, has blossomed into a coveted touring artist and even broke a Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart record, swiping it from Michael Jackson. What he's been able to accomplish in such a short time span has been pretty impressive to witness.
Lyndsey Havens: I don't think he'll be the first, but I definitely think he'll be in the conversation. One of Post's most compelling qualities is that no matter how successful he becomes, he's still often looked at as a bit of an unexpected underdog and I don't imagine that will change -- nor do I think it works against him, clearly.
Jason Lipshutz: Maybe! It’ll probably take a few years of perspective to truly understand the impact of Post Malone on popular music, and whether or not he’s the defining artist of the past few years, as opposed to Drake, or Taylor Swift, or Ariana Grande, or Ed Sheeran, or someone else who’s not coming to mind. Who knows? Maybe we’ll first think of a musician whose artistry was not defined by radio hits, but who captured the general mood of the back half of this decade, like Lana Del Rey, Frank Ocean or Kacey Musgraves. But Post Malone being mentioned in the same breath as those names showcases how high and fast his ascent has been.
Andrew Unterberger: To me it kinda comes down to whether Drake is ultimately considered more of an early-'10s artist (when he first came to national prominence and played a major role in reshaping the sound of popular music) or a late-'10s artist (when he all but stamped "Property of Toronto" on the Billboard charts). If the former, then it's basically between Post, Cardi B and Ariana Grande for the late-decade honors, and I'm not sure anyone quite represents the face of the post-genre streaming age as well as Post's tatted, smiling mug.
4. "Circles" is the second song of its titular theme to hit No. 1 on the Hot 100, after Billy Preston's "Will It Go Round in Circles" in 1973. What's your favorite "Circle"-related song not to go to No. 1?
Josh Glicksman: Mac Miller’s “Perfect Circle / God Speed.” The decidedly cognizant, braggadocious front half gives way to unbarred perspective into a darker moment during Miller’s journey with drug abuse. Brooding with painstaking lyrics like, “Them pills that I’m popping, I need to man up, admit it’s a problem/ I need to wake up before one morning I don’t wake up,” the nearly eight-minute, two-part track from 2015 effort GO:OD AM is one of the most underrated cuts from the late rapper’s entire discography.
Bianca Gracie: I know Lady Gaga's "Dancin' in Circles" wasn't an official single but the 2016 Joanne deep cut is one of the more overlooked songs on the record -- especially given the fact that Gaga called upon Beck for help writing it. It's an unapologetic self-love anthem that has echoes of dubby reggae, and perfectly highlights the singer's seductive side.
Lyndsey Havens: Huh, this question.... definitely took me by surprise. But to the surprise of no one who knows me, I have to go with "Circle of Life" from The Lion King, of course -- the one performed by Carmen Twillie and Lebo M.
Jason Lipshutz: C’mon, it’s gotta be “Circle of Life” from The Lion King. Chills when Simba gets held up to the world!
Andrew Unterberger: Not a lot of reasons to talk about the Friends of Distinction on Billboard these days, but let me take the opportunity to give them their second shoutout of 2019 here, this time for the beautifully over-the-top, horn-led melodrama of their 1969 soul crossover hit "Going in Circles."
5. Simple yes or no question: Is "Circles" Post Malone's best single yet?
Josh Glicksman: Simple answer: yes. “Circles” is Post Malone’s most complete song -- succinct, poignant verses, stellar production and a chorus so sticky that it’s practically doused in a full bottle of maple syrup. It’s not the type of song that’s going to make you stop everything at once and dissect every ounce of the track on first listen, but good luck avoiding subconsciously humming the tune, from the moment the last “run away” rings out until the next time you get to glide on the song’s opening acoustic notes.
Bianca Gracie: Uh no! "Rockstar" would like a word.
Lyndsey Havens: The best is yet to come.
Jason Lipshutz: Yes. What a triumph “Circles” is, a total delight even for non-Post diehards. It’s going to endure as one of his signature hits when all is said and done, mark my words.
Andrew Unterberger: Man, "Rockstar" is close, and will likely endure as the song he's best remembered for. But yeah, Post-pop just gets no better than "Circles."
On this week’s Billboard 200 albums chart, the soundtrack to Frozen 2 climbs to the top spot, rising 3-1 with 80,000 equivalent album units, according to Nielsen Music. Of course, the Frozen 2 soundtrack follows the blockbuster album that accompanied the original Disney animated film in 2013; amazingly, the Frozen soundtrack, led by Idina Menzel’s top 10 hit “Let It Go,” spent 13 total weeks atop the Billboard 200 in early 2014 as the film became a phenomenon on its own.
The Frozen 2 soundtrack, which features more original songs performed by Menzel as well as cast members Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad, is now the first soundtrack to an animated film to hit No. 1 since... the original Frozen soundtrack, nearly six years ago. How does the sequel’s music compare to that of the original? And could we be in store for another extended run atop the Billboard 200 for the Frozen franchise? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. How surprised are you, on a scale of 1-10, that the Frozen 2 soundtrack was able to climb to the top spot of the Billboard 200 chart in its third week of release, against stiff competition from Post Malone?
Jason Lipshutz: I’d give it a 3. Even considering the phenomenon of the original Frozen, there was no guarantee that the Frozen 2 soundtrack would be another blockbuster -- it’s been six years since the original, and the first soundtrack was powered by “Let It Go,” the biggest Disney song in a generation. Still, this is Frozen we’re talking about; even if Disney couldn’t re-create the crossover success of “Let It Go,” the franchise is massive enough to propel the sequel’s soundtrack to the top spot, especially against quieter competition (the Post Malone album is three months old, after all).
Lyndsey Havens: Not at all surprised, so a 0. The first Frozen and its soundtrack were such massive successes, and the team behind Frozen 2 knew exactly how to release a worthy follow-up. The built-in, eager fanbase -- paired with more sing-alongs, performed by the likes of Idina Menzel -- was of course going to reach No. 1.
Stephen Daw: I'm at about a 2. As ubiquitous as Hollywood’s Bleeding has become since its debut in September, this is Frozen that we're talking about. The soundtrack of the original film (and, frankly, the original film itself) absolutely dominated not just the charts, but any and all pop culture discussions upon its release. With the sequel getting so much hype from fans, Frozen 2's soundtrack achieving No. 1 status was, to me, inevitable.
Kevin Rutherford: 2. Frozen 2 went the route of the pre-movie-release soundtrack drop, so chances were the album was always going to gain after release week; even some of the most diehard of fans probably didn’t stream the album off the bat thanks to spoiler concerns (full disclosure: I listened beforehand, and thankfully, nothing major was spoiled). As the film got its Thanksgiving week/weekend bumps at the box office, it was only natural the soundtrack’s sales and streams would leap, too. Only reason I rate my surprise a 2 instead of a 1 is because, I mean, shoot, you never really know for sure that a sequel is going to take off in the way its predecessor did. Not that that ended up being the case.
Colin Stutz: Let's say a 2. When the stiffest competition is an album that was released in September -- even if it is a very popular album -- it's not that hard to see how this happened. In a down week without stiff competition, it was able to ascend with what's a pretty soft number for a chart-topper of 80,000 equivalent album units. But also when you think about how soundtracks are consumed, Frozen 2's rise three weeks after its release also makes a lot of sense. Kids -- and parents like me -- are seeing this movie over the holiday, then bringing the songs home with them. This isn't the same all-at-once type of streaming frenzy that you get when a Post Malone or Taylor Swift releases an album -- it's a bit more grassroots, and swells in relation to the film's fandom.
2. What’s the best overall song on the Frozen 2 soundtrack?
Jason Lipshutz: I’m tempted to say Jonathan Groff’s pitch-perfect ‘80s camp spectacular “Lost In The Woods,” which certainly gets the most playful treatment in the film, but lately I’ve been bumping Idina Menzel’s ballad “Show Yourself,” which is more emotionally resonant than the breakout single “Into The Unknown.” When the music drops out at the beginning of the first chorus? Chills!
Lyndsey Havens: Look, I'll be honest... I've played this soundtrack a lot. I keep going back to the most epic track of all, "Into the Unknown," but also the more tender "Show Yourself." Impossible to pick just one between the two. Also, Kacey Musgraves' end-sequence version of "All Is Found" is chilling (pun intended).
Stephen Daw: As much as "Into the Unknown" so desperately wants to be the sequel's "Let It Go," the real standout amongst this soundtrack set is "Show Yourself." It comes at the film's most emotional, critical moment, and sees Elsa coming to terms with the inner demons she bellowed about in "Let it Go.” While "Into the Unknown" puts Idina Menzel through her vocal paces in a way that can seem a little showy (that chorus is ridiculous), "Show Yourself" allows her to still have those shining vocal moments, while imbuing the song with deep and profound emotion.
Kevin Rutherford: The technically best song is “Show Yourself,” which is the “Let It Go” follow-up we actually needed; sorry, “Into the Unknown.” It’s more of a spiritual successor anyway, with its themes of self-discovery, and the buildup to Idina Menzel and Evan Rachel Wood’s final chorus harmonies is chill inducing. But my favorite is “All Is Found,” a lullaby that feels so timeless that it might as well have been written many centuries before the rest of the soundtrack. The moment its melody resurfaces within the bridge of “Show Yourself” is my favorite musical movement in the movie.
Colin Stutz: My 6-year-old daughter and her friends at school really love the lullaby "All Is Found," which is an odd choice to me because it's so subdued, minimalist and traditional without any characteristics of pop music. I can't really explain it, other than it's the crux of the film narrative and so it resonates. One of my personal favorites is Olaf's "When I Am Older," also because of how it relates to the film, and the snowman's existential crisis was my favorite comedic bit. Kristoff's "Lost in the Woods" is also great in its pure '80s power ballad beauty.
3. Is the music of Frozen 2 better than that of the original Frozen? Why or why not?
Jason Lipshutz: I’ve gotta give the edge to the original still. “Let It Go” remains transformative, and nothing on the sequel’s soundtrack comes close to its level of indispensability, but even so, “For the First Time in Forever,” “Love is an Open Door” and even the Olaf showcase “In Summer” are all more memorable than the enjoyable, yet not quite transcendent, songs of the sequel.
Lyndsey Havens: I was actually surprised at how evenly matched the songs on Frozen 2 are -- they really hold their own and deliver the same power and intention that the original songs did. Even so, it's hard for anything to rival the juggernaut that is "Let It Go," or the playful "Do You Want To Build a Snowman?,” so while I might actually prefer a small handful of songs on Frozen 2, as a whole the OG Frozen soundtrack comes out on top for me.
Stephen Daw: Simply, no. The soundtrack of Frozen was filled to the brim with undeniable earworms, and only a couple of songs you could maybe skip over. To me, the opposite is true of the sequel — there are a couple of tracks like "Show Yourself" and "Lost in the Woods" that I'll find myself going back to, but everything else feels skippable. Bobby Lopez & Kristen Anderson-Lopez's songwriting felt so fun and natural on the original soundtrack, while the sequel, unfortunately, feels weighed down by the burden of trying to live up to its overachieving older sister.
Kevin Rutherford: Overall, no, but here’s the thing: while Frozen 2 has no song better than Frozen’s best, it also has no song worse than Frozen’s worst. You’re not going to find a song that exceeds “Let It Go” or “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” (look, was anyone even expecting to?), but everything on Frozen 2 tops “Fixer Upper” and “Frozen Heart.” So perhaps it’s… more consistent?
Colin Stutz: Overall, no. I didn't and still don't care for "Let It Go" from the first soundtrack, but that was a full-on cultural phenomenon. "Into the Unknown" doesn't feel as impactful to me. Aside from those two tracks, it feels like they were sure to check some of the same boxes the second time around: Frozen 2's "Some Things Never Change" is to Frozen's "For the First Time in Forever" as "When I Am Older" is to "In Summer," and so on. But overall, there's a more melancholic turn that fits the film but doesn't translate to a fun soundtrack that I think will have the same kind of success as the original.
4. Just like Demi Lovato’s take on “Let It Go” from the original, a “pop version” of “Into The Unknown” by Panic! at the Disco plays over the Frozen 2 credits. Do you prefer Idina Menzel or Brendon Urie diving into “the Unknown”?
Jason Lipshutz: Idina, all day, every day. No offense to Mr. Urie, who does an admirable job tackling the high notes in “Into The Unknown,” but Menzel was born to sing songs like “Into The Unknown,” and turns the song into one of the musical highlights of the film. Side note: I’d love to hear Menzel try her hand at my favorite Panic! At the Disco, “Nine in the Afternoon.”
Lyndsey Havens: Idina, of course. I do applaud and enjoy Panic!'s take on this track, but it's way too hard to just "let go" of Idina's sky-high range. Just talking about it gives me goosebumps.
Stephen Daw: I am a sucker for Brendon Urie's gravity-defying vocal range, and getting to hear him hit those stratospheric notes in the song's chorus is a marvel. But ultimately, it feels like that spectacle is pretty much all the Panic! at the Disco version has to offer. Once I heard Brendon Urie hit those insane notes, the cover's novelty wore off, and I found myself going back to Idina's version. "Into the Unknown" serves as yet another classic "I Want" song from Disney, and translating that into a pop-rock context is hard when it was so clearly built to be sung by a princess (or in Elsa's case, a queen/elemental spirit?).
Kevin Rutherford: Just like Demi vs. Idina in Frozen, the movie versions trump the established artists’ recordings in every way. I’d say it’s because I’m a little Brendon Urie’d out (it’s been a big two years for Panic! at the Disco), but the same is true of the “Lost in the Woods” and “All Is Found” re-dos – and come on, who’s out here outperforming Idina Menzel?
Colin Stutz: These "pop versions" are a big no in our house, so here's a vote for Idina. For some reason my daughter just can't stand them, and show's over when they come on (always at the end of the soundtrack). That's fine by me, because while I can appreciate the concept behind these "reimaginings," here especially I find the maximalist production unnecessary.
5. The Frozen soundtrack stayed at the top of the Billboard 200 chart for 13 non-consecutive weeks. How many weeks do you think the Frozen 2 soundtrack will ultimately stay at No. 1, based on the reception to the sequel compared to the original?
Jason Lipshutz: With the film still going strong at the box office and a relatively sleepy album release schedule (as is the case in nearly every December), the Frozen 2 soundtrack could stay in the top spot for another 4 or 5 weeks when all is said and done. That’s not exactly on the level of the original Frozen soundtrack’s run, but then, few things are.
Lyndsey Havens: I wouldn't be surprised if it held on for another week, but I don't think it will get close to a double-digit streak. Especially with the untimely death of Juice WRLD, I would expect his album Death Race for Love to shoot to the top.
Stephen Daw: I'm calling it at 5 weeks total. Even though Frozen 2 and its soundtrack aren't able to live up to their predecessor (because how could they?), we cannot underestimate the importance of the Child Factor: there are children ages 2-12 across the world who will be demanding their parents to play this album on repeat for weeks on end, attempting to belt along to every song, regardless of whether or not it is as good as the original. With that alone, the album should perform very well, though still falling significantly short of the original's dominance on the chart.
Kevin Rutherford: What helped Frozen – and what will help Frozen 2 – is timing. Both were released at notoriously slow times for the music industry in terms of new releases, meaning there’s less competition at the top (see also: the Billboard Hot 100). That being said, Frozen was a phenomenon all its own, and its sequel will absolutely not stay on top for as long. But I am expecting more than one week at No. 1, perhaps at the end of December and into the beginning of January.
Colin Stutz: My guess is this is it for the soundtrack at No. 1. Camila Cabello will probably nab the top spot this week, then it's Harry Styles next week and then the Cats soundtrack could dominate the holiday soundtrack market, and there are rumors of a new Kanye West album coming up and maybe some other big names rolling into the new year. That said, there are a number of "ifs" there, and we know the film is outperforming its predecessor in the box office. So as long as kids -- and parents like me -- keep listening, the soundtrack could top the Billboard 200 again on a relatively slow week.
t only took a quarter century. A whopping 25 years and change after Mariah Carey first released the holiday perennial "All I Want For Christmas Is You" -- and a number of close-but-not-quite returns to the top tier of the Billboard Hot 100 in the years since -- the song at long last ascends to pole position on the chart this week.
With its climb to the No. 1 spot, "All I Want For Christmas Is You" also lays claim to a good deal of chart history. It's the first Christmas song in 61 years to top the Hot 100 -- and only the second total -- and Carey's own 19th No. 1, leaving her just one shy of The Beatles' all-time record of 20. It also gives Mariah her first No. 1 of the 2010s, making her one of a select handful of artists to conquer the chart in three consecutive decades -- with a fourth potentially on the way if the song can hold on for another couple weeks.
How much longer will the song's reign extend? And what could be the next holiday favorite to follow "All I Want" to No. 1? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Well, the day we've spent years talking about the possibility of is finally here: "All I Want For Christmas Is You" is now the No. 1 song in the country. On a scale from 1-10, how happy are you to see it at long last take the top spot 25 years on?
Hilary Hughes: I AM A 12. (It's a special occasion; I'm bending the rules!) Carey has the most formidable collection of No. 1s for any female solo artist in Billboard's history (a whopping 19 now), and that's one thing, but to get yet another No. 1 for a holiday hit? That's nearly unheard of -- which is pretty damn surprising considering the cultural footprint of "All I Want For Christmas Is You" and its omnipresence throughout the season. It's about time the numbers caught up with the what we already know about this particular track, which is that it's a perennial favorite and a classic that many turn to the second they need a dose of Christmas cheer.
Joe Lynch: I'm saying 9. I love, love seeing a new Mariah No. 1, and this is easily the best holiday original released in my lifetime (apologies to the chestnuts on Afroman's A Colt 45 Christmas). And it's especially meaningful because she genuinely seems to care(y) about this topping the Hot 100.
Gary Trust: 10. I bought the Merry Christmas album (on cassette!) in 1994 and have loved the song ever since. Every Hot 100 No. 1 is, of course, special, but most songs only have a few weeks, or even sometimes one week, from their release for fans to anticipate them possibly reaching that coveted top spot. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" takes that build-up and multiplies it by 25 years, so it's truly one of the most unique No. 1s in Hot 100 history. There's also such a fun time-travel element to it: it's like we've gone back and made this song a deserving No. 1 at last. Add in the holiday angle, and it's about as feel-good a chart story as it gets.
Andrew Unterberger: 8. Love the song and very happy that it finally got to No. 1, but doing so the week before Christmas feels maybe the slightest bit premature -- especially since it seems highly unlikely to abdicate the throne as we get deeper into December.
Denise Warner: A solid 8. It's pretty exciting, especially since Mariah release it 25 years ago. It's the best "new" Christmas song and definitely has been fun to watch it climb the charts every year for the past few years. It's interesting, too, because it shows that older songs can still have so much life in them, because of streaming and the potential virality of even decades-old hits.
2. In addition to being No. 1 on the overall Hot 100, the song also leads the Holiday 100 for the 38th week out of a total 43 possible frames. What's the one thing about "All I Want For Christmas Is You" that's helped make it easily the most successful holiday song of the modern era?
Hilary Hughes: I love how timeless it is and how seamlessly it blends into a mix with the rest of the holiday standards, from "Feliz Navidad" and "Jingle Bell Rock" to "White Christmas" and back again. Nothing about this song screams 1994, which is by design: the aesthetic is tried-and-true pop perfection with a doo-wop, girl group essence, and it lends itself beautifully to soundtracking a variety of holiday moments as a result. "All I Want For Christmas Is You" doesn't age, in that respect: it's buoyant, fun and as addictive as the tiny candy canes your grandma left out, and I have yet to meet a single person who doesn't sing along with the background vocals ("And IIIIIII....") a la the teacher's choir from Love, Actually when it comes on.
It's effervescent and it doesn't try too hard, like many, many Christmas songs that came before it -- but this gets stuck in your head and stays there with minimal negative side effects, and that's the secret of its longevity.
Joe Lynch: I don't know about "the one thing," but I will say an underrated aspect of it is how organic the recording is. Christmas music listeners don't want much in the line of experimentation or uber-contemporary, soon-to-sound-dated production. Even an accepted modern classic like Wham's "Last Christmas" is too synth-y for some, but from the jumpy ivory tickling to the subdued strings to the clanging bells at the top, AIWFCIY feels timeless in that distinctly holiday vein, with a propulsive forward motion that harks back to the big band era (think Bing Crosby & the Andrew Sisters' "Jingle Bells") and bright background harmonizing as on A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector.
Gary Trust: Sonically, every line just rolls into the next. Its melody has this propulsive momentum that's so addictive. Plus, it's a mix of '50s-'60s girl-group pop, combined with Mariah's evergreen (and red) vocals. As for outside forces, it was released at such a sweet spot in her career -- by Christmas 1994, she had established herself as a superstar, with a record five Hot 100 No. 1s out of the gate and 12 top 10s. But, her star was still rising, so it was partly good timing, tied to such a great song. Plus, relatively few artists were releasing original holiday songs at that point, so it really stood out for that, as well.
More recently, it's clear that holiday classics stream incredibly well, so the song's continued combination of streams, airplay and sales (it's the most-streamed and best-selling hit among all genres and eras this week) has given it the extra boost it needed this decade to top the Hot 100 at last.
Andrew Unterberger: Hardly the first to point this out, but I'll say that the song benefits strongly from understanding that what makes 90% of the best holiday songs so resonant is a jubilant performance and production belying a melancholy emotional core. "All I Want For Christmas Is You" is, ultimately, a love song about a love that's either delayed or altogether unrequited; no one sings this urgently about wanting a gift that they know for a fact they're actually going to receive. That inherent hesitation informs all elements of the song's structure, melody and delivery, without actually overwhelming any of them -- it's the happiest saddest holiday song of all time.
Denise Warner: "All I Want For Christmas" is a clear Holiday classic but still feels modern (despite the fact that -- again -- it came out 25 years ago). Add to that Mariah's enviable voice, the many artists who have re-recorded it, and its regular appearance in so many Christmas movies, you have a recipe for keeping it in everyone's consciousness. (That's more than one, but you get the drift!)
3. With her first No. 1 of the 2010s, Mariah becomes the fourth artist -- along with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Usher -- to have No. 1 hits in the '90s, '00s and '10s. Not counting the very real possibility of "All I Want" seeing its reign continue into the first weeks of next year (or beyond), which of those four artists do you think is most likely to extend their streak by scoring a new No. 1 in the 2020s?
Hilary Hughes: Given that Mariah just dropped Caution in 2019 we may be waiting a minute for new music, but I'm rooting for her to be the one to do this -- she's broken plenty of Billboard records, so what's another one? That said, I recently saw Christina in Vegas for her Xperience residency and fell back in love with her catalogue, so I'd love it if, say, "Reflection" saw a groundswell in the weeks leading up to the release of the live-action Mulan in 2020.
Joe Lynch: Mariah. Even discounting "AIWFCIY," I think you could out her chances of delivering a slow-burning ballad that radio can't get enough of (like "We Belong Together") at your peril. Plus, of all those four, I think her voice is easily the most malleable to new sounds and new generations.
Gary Trust: Justice for Britney's "My Only Wish (This Year)"! This year, we've seen a whopping 10 artists earn their first Hot 100 No. 1s, and while that includes acts as new to the charts as Lil Nas X, Jonas Brothers earned their first leader after essentially a decade away, so you can never count anyone out.
Among the three previously inducted members of the club, Christina Aguilera earned the most recent Hot 100 top five, "Say Something," with A Great Big World, after returning to No. 1 earlier this decade as featured on Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger" (aided by her run on The Voice), so perhaps that's a sign of her potential. Britney, meanwhile, has such passionate fans, so that support paired with the right song could be the key. As for Mariah, she now has 19 Hot 100 No. 1s, just one away from The Beatles' record 20. In one of the few chart honors that she's yet to capture, the possibility of her tying The Beatles for that mark is sure to capture the imagination of the Lambily next.
Andrew Unterberger: It's Ursher, baby. Not only was he blessed with the ultimate superstar treatment in one of the biggest movies of 2019, but he also made an overdue return to the Hot 100, with his appearance on rising R&B star Summer Walker's "Come Thru" (which also samples and interpolates his own late-'90s breakthrough "You Make Me Wanna"). It's clear that a full-scale Usher revival is -- or at least, should be -- right around the corner, and all it may take is one smartly chosen collab to get him back to the Hot 100's peak.
Denise Warner: On the strength of the holiday alone, Mariah is most likely to extend the streak with AIWFCIY. But a close second is Britney. Fans are still pulling for her, and with her canceled residency (plus her cryptic Instagrams), there'll certainly be a lot of interest if she drops new music.
4. Almost as stunning as the news of Mariah hitting No. 1 with "All I Want For Christmas" is the revelation that it's the first holiday song in 61 years -- since The Chipmunks' "The Chipmunk Song" in 1958, of all things -- to top the chart. Which holiday perennial would you most like to see become the third such No. 1 hit?
Hilary Hughes: It's insane to me that Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" wasn't a No. 1 back in the day, and I would be thrilled to see her get the accolades she deserves for this. (Mariah would agree, I bet -- she's covered it herself.)
Joe Lynch: The pressure is on for 2020 to get Fear's "F--k Christmas" on the Hot 100. It would be nice to see Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" take the (north) pole position – when I spoke with her recently for an upcoming interview, she was very excited about its chart progress, which is considerable: It hit the top 5 for the first time this week (No. 3). Crazy, considering it first hit the chart in 1960.
Gary Trust: As it's up to No. 3 on the Hot 100 this week, becoming the first song to take 59 years from its debut to climb that high, Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" feels deserving. It just has to somehow get past "All I Want for Christmas Is You" …
Among other favorites, Wham!'s "Last Christmas" is the "All I Want for Christmas Is You" of George Michael's catalog: a classic, even if it's only listened to for about a month every year. It's also interesting how both songs' lyrics are built upon unrequited love. Maybe that sense of yearning helps keep them timeless: every year, as we listen, we're still hoping that this is the year that our holiday wish comes true, such as giving your heart to someone special (special…)
Andrew Unterberger: "Last Christmas" would be my personal sentimental choice, but respect first to the OG that I still think nails the sublime longing of a great Christmas song better than any other: Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song," commonly known as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." I mean, the thing is literally titled "The Christmas Song"; imagine if there was a widely acclaimed movie in 2019 called Oscar Bait that got totally shut out come awards season.
Denise Warner: "Snoopy's Christmas" by The Royal Guardsman or Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." Both are fun and cheesy. Though If I'm making a real guess at what actually will or could hit no. 1 on the Hot 100, I'd say Brenda Lee's "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree." It trails Mariah on the Holiday Chart at no. 2. It's no. 3 on the Hot 100 now, and with a Home Alone remake coming in 2020 -- the original movie famously featured Lee's tune -- I predict a continued interest and growth.
5. Perhaps the hardest part to wrap your head around with "All I Want" hitting No. 1 is the possibility of how much longer its reign could extend -- not just this year, with Christmas still being over a week away, but possibly in future years, if upwards trends of holiday song success on the Hot 100 continue. If you had to make a guess, how many total weeks do you think it'll have spent atop the Hot 100 by the end of Christmas 2024?
Hilary Hughes: NOT ENOUGH. NEVER ENOUGH.
Joe Lynch: Three weeks. I don’t see the trend of holiday songs gaining new Hot 100 peaks abating, but I also don't think it's a guarantee that yuletide zeal will benefit Mariah exclusively, and there is a short window for these songs to snatch that No. 1 spot (even the first week of December is too early). But like the Three Kings, I'm going three weeks for Queen Mariah.
Gary Trust: If "All I Want for Christmas Is You" can return to No. 1 next year, it would join Chubby Checker's "The Twist" as the only songs ever to top the Hot 100 in multiple release cycles, and the latter just happens to be the Hot 100's all-time No. 1 hit, so that's pretty good company. While this year had the extra push of "All I Want for Christmas Is You" going to No. 1 for the first time (as well as the built-in peg of the song's 25th anniversary), listeners are certain to keep streaming and buying it, and radio will surely still be playing it in top rotation each holiday season. So, it probably comes down to elements beyond specific promotional control, including how dominant streaming continues to be on the Hot 100.
Can I go past 2024 and ponder how if "All I Want for Christmas Is You" gets, say, two weeks at No. 1 each holiday season, it might take less than a decade for it to pass "One Sweet Day" (with Boyz II Men) as Mariah's longest-leading No. 1 (16 weeks)? Or, even Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" (a record 19)? Twenty-five years in, the story of "All I Want for Christmas Is You" may be only just beginning.
Andrew Unterberger: I'm going big before going home this holiday season: I'll predict we're talking about Mariah Carey breaking Lil Nas X's all-time Hot 100-topping longevity record this time in 2024 with her 20th week on top.
Denise Warner: Since Christmas begins earlier and earlier each year, I think for the next few it will hit No. 1 by Thanksgiving, but then start to peter out year-over-year when there's a new, viral Christmas song -- so I'm going with 2 this season, 3 the next, 4 Christmas 2021, 3 weeks in 2022, 2 in 2023 and 0 in 2024, when a new, viral Christmas song makes waves. Let's say 11 weeks total.
With the holidays over and Mariah Carey and friends tumbling from the Hot 100's top tier, it's time to see once again how secular pop is stacking up on Billboard's marquee songs chart. And this week, while regular Hot 100-topper Post Malone returns to the top for the third week with his genre-blurring jam "Circles," another familiar chart presence climbs to a new peak of No. 2: Maroon 5, with their "Memories" ballad.
Though the song has been largely panned by critics, "Memories" continues Maroon 5's nearly two-decade-long winning streak on radio and the Billboard charts -- a chart run that now includes top 2 hits in three straight decades, an achievement that puts them in extremely exclusive historic company. How have they managed to keep up this level of popularity? And will the song make further chart history by climbing one spot higher? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. With the holiday songs finally vacated from this week's Hot 100, "Memories" has now climbed all the way to No. 2. On a scale from 1-10, how surprised are you that the song has proven to have legs like this?
Gab Ginsberg: Let’s go with a 6. It’s not particularly catchy, but I suppose the "Pachelbel's Canon” melody line has potential to stick in your brain. Mainly, if you’re the type to listen to the radio, you’ve probably been forced to listen to this song a lot, which means it may have grown on you. I would be more surprised if this song weren’t by Maroon 5 and it was doing this well.
Jason Lipshutz: I’m saying a 1, and if 0 was an option here, I’d give it one of those. This is Maroon 5! They just spent the entirety of the 2010s releasing pop songs that have proven to have legs like this; Adam Levine and co. consistently flirt with the summit of the Hot 100, and even their relative misses -- 2015’s “This Summer’s Gonna Hurt Like a Motherf--ker,” 2018’s “Wait” -- still reach the top 40 on the chart. “Memories” is more sonically sparse and thematically contemplative than their other recent hits, but pity the fool who doubts the commercial prospects of a Maroon 5 single in this current day and age.
Andrew Unterberger: Like a 7.5. I really thought this time Maroon 5 had went too far with the schmaltz -- even their sappiest radio hits in the past still had backing grooves! -- and that this would be quickly relegated to live-singalong-only status in the pop memory. But I guess you don't get to be a radio fixture for nearly 20 years without being smarter than your critics, and clearly M5 knew they were tapping into something here. Again.
Taylor Weatherby: 7. While I feel like I’ve heard it on the radio a ton in the past few months -- and I don’t listen to the radio often -- I didn’t think “Memories” had quite the excitement around it that a song like 2018 Hot 100-topper “Girls Like You” did. No one seemed to really be talking about it, and it just didn’t seem like a super strong song compared to others in Maroon 5’s catalog. Then again, their fans have continued to show up with every release no matter how much it feels like a hit, so seeing them at No. 2 (especially with the holiday tune drop-offs) isn’t insanely shocking.
Xander Zellner: About a 6. The lyrics aren’t particularly clever and they’re certainly cheesy. Plus, it’s a bit of a downer (Adam Levine said the song was inspired by the group’s late manager, Jordan Feldstein, and anyone who’s lost someone), vastly different from the upbeat and cheery hits that have become custom for Maroon 5 for over a decade. But, it’s Maroon 5, who consistently perform well at pop and AC radio, and who know how to push a song (did you notice they released three dance remixes, by Dillon Francis, Cut Copy and Devault, which all count towards its streaming totals?). And this is the group’s first follow-up single to “Girls Like You” -- the biggest hit of their career—and a Super Bowl headlining spot. Despite what you think of the song, it shouldn’t be wholly surprising that they’re still delivering hits.
2. "Memories" has drawn a lot of flak for its perceived cheesiness and brazenness, particularly relating to its "Pachelbel's Canon" melodic lift. How fair is the criticism, do you think?
Gab Ginsberg: Let’s be real, America loves cheese, especially when it’s a nostalgic-sounding, reimagined version of a classic tune. See also: Train’s “Play That Song,” which was inspired by "Heart and Soul" and peaked at No. 41 on the Hot 100.
Jason Lipshutz: Is it cheesy? Sure. Does it sound a whole lot like “Pachelbel’s Canon”? Definitely. I’d wager that Maroon 5 would cop to both of these charges, though. “Memories” is designed to be saccharine, and is effective in its wistfulness, seemingly grabbing the torch away from Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved” as the current song on Top 40 radio that will get you the most misty-eyed. As for its familiar melody, there’s a reason why “Memories” gets immediately lodged in your head -- Maroon 5 isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here, and like Johann Pachelbel’s late-17th-century wheel just fine, thank you very much.
Andrew Unterberger: I don't think it's a very good song -- Maroon 5 haven't had a single that I thought was since 2015's "Sugar" -- but it's hard to deny that it has its uses. Besides, Maroon 5 have become about as critic-proof as any band this century (if not in all of rock history); catch them on their stadium tour this summer and see how bothered they are by their latest round of negative reviews.
Taylor Weatherby: I mean, I get it. But that’s also what makes “Memories” so damn catchy: It’s simple, the lyrics are relatable (even if they’re ridiculously cheesy), and its melody is ultra familiar -- the formula for a hit song, really, whether you like it or not. I also think that’s kind of become Maroon 5’s shtick now. They don’t really seem like they take themselves too seriously, and they are pros at making melodies/hooks that stick in people’s heads. Lastly, they’ve had haters ever since their second album wasn't just More Songs About Jane. “Memories” is further proof of all of that.
Xander Zellner: Pretty fair. “Cheers to the wish you were here but you’re not / ‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories” is about as direct as you can get, and doesn’t leave much to the imagination.
3. With the ascent of "Memories," Maroon 5 now become just the second group in chart history -- following all-time rock legends The Rolling Stones -- to chart top two Hot 100 hits in three consecutive decades. What is it about the group that allows them to keep scoring such massive crossover hits two decades into their career, and which of their seven top two hits do you think will be the best-enduring?
Gab Ginsberg: Adam Levine alone is a huge celebrity and brand at this point; he’s also a consistently great pop songwriter and performer, and the band is always touring and releasing music. It also pays to be smart about your features -- Cardi B, Christina Aguilera and Kendrick Lamar have all helped them make it to the top 10. I think "Moves Like Jagger" and "Payphone" (the former is one of their catchiest songs ever, while the latter is one of their most gut-punching heartbreak tracks) will endure until the end of time.
Jason Lipshutz: Maroon 5 has become one of those rare acts to transcend the shifts within the sound of popular music and uncover persistent hooks in a variety of different styles; the group debuted nearly 20 years ago and sound nothing like they did back then, shedding their shaggy pop-rock skin to become something more amorphous and rhythmic, yet no less deniable. “Girls Like You” has become their biggest hit to date and has the best chance to endure (thanks in part to recency bias, too, since it was just huge in 2018), although don’t sleep on “Sugar,” a delectable pop track that will endure on wedding playlists for decades.
Andrew Unterberger: Maroon 5 are the rare band whose longevity was actually helped by the decline of rock music in the pop sphere; without enforced rock-based standards to check themselves against for cultural approval, they were free to shapeshift and collaborate and embrace being a pop group. They're also the century's ultimate example of success breeding more success -- in an era without a ton of artists for Top 40 radio to essentially default to, Maroon 5 have always been there with a new single to provide an agreeable playlist option, guaranteed not to alienate either younger or older listeners. Based on how often I still hear it at weddings, I'd bet "Moves Like Jagger" proves their most unkillable -- though if "Memories" does indeed become a sentimental favorite, it's got a shot at lasting forever.
Taylor Weatherby: I’m not going to lie, I think Adam Levine’s role on The Voice has definitely helped them endure, so I’ll be particularly interested to see how they do in this decade now that he’s done — though “Memories” is already proving that may have no impact on their success. But, like I said in my previous response, they’ve mastered the art of an unforgettable (and arguably, timeless) melody/hook. Even if some of their songs are a bit annoying, they’re easy to remember and generally pretty fun to sing along to. As for which of the songs will be best-enduring, I’d say it’s a toss up between “Moves Like Jagger” and “Sugar.” “Moves” will always feel like one of their biggest hits in my mind, and “Sugar” has that iconic wedding-crashing music video.
Xander Zellner: Adam Levine existing definitely helps. Levine has been a judge on The Voice since 2011, and also delved into other shows like Songland and Sugar (specifically named after a Maroon 5 song!), helping him become one of the most familiar faces in music today. The group has also never really left over the past decade -- while most artists disappear momentarily in-between album cycles, Levine is still on TV while Maroon 5 may be in the studio. That constant presence has helped them remain at the forefront, and “Moves Like Jagger” (with an assist from fellow original Voice coach Christina Aguilera) will unquestionably be their best-enduring song.
4. With its classical leanings, sentimental lyrics and slow pacing, "Memories" seems almost custom-designed to be a future graduation song. Of all the super-clichéd graduation songs to rise to omnipresence over the years, which one still kinda gets you a little misty?
Gab GInsberg: Vitamin C's "Graduation (Friends Forever)." And yes, I realize this is also basically "Pachelbel's Canon."
Jason Lipshutz: Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)” still towers over the field, even as it celebrates the 20th anniversary of its single release a few days from now. Those strings! Those vocal runs buried snugly in the background! That hook, perfect for swaying! Hard to imagine finishing this song without a lump in my throat, and impossible to foresee any other song coming for Vitamin C’s graduation belt anytime soon.
Andrew Unterberger: It's been long enough for me to come back around to the brilliant curveball that was Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," an acoustic ballad just powerful and sentimental enough for a generation of sentimental grade-schoolers to overlook its relatively bitter core. Still think it was a weird choice for Seinfeld, though.
Taylor Weatherby: Talk about a cliché… Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)” will always hit me in the feels. What’s hilarious is that I was eight when it actually was a popular graduation song, but maybe that’s just it -- it was relevant to me every time I “graduated,” from elementary school all the way through college graduation. The funniest thing about “Graduation” still enduring, though? It also interpolates "Pachelbel's Canon.”
Xander Zellner: Graduation songs are a weird sub-class of music because most sound like they’re eulogizing someone (Sarah McLachlan's “I Will Remember You,” Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again,” etc.). With that said, is there a more perfect (or iconic) graduation song than Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)”? It’s cheesy and clichéd, yes, but also nostalgic and unmistakably about graduating, and not dying. I remember hearing that at my middle and high school graduations, and even at bars before my college graduation. And yes, getting misty-eyed each time.
5. Simple final Q: Does "Memories" climb one spot higher, becoming the first new No. 1 of the 2020s and making Maroon 5 the first band to ever score No. 1s in three straight decades?
Gab Ginsberg: Sure, why not? “Girls Like You,” which I also found pretty boring, pulled it off.
Jason Lipshutz: I don’t see it, especially with a new Justin Bieber single to compete with and a few still-growing hits like Arizona Zervas’ “Roxanne” and Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” vying to climb higher, not to mention a current No. 1, Post Malone’s “Circles,” that’s still got juice. Maybe it will sneak into the top spot for a week or two, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Andrew Unterberger: Tough for me to feel confident going against it at this point, but if I had to wager I'd say it gets lapped next week and recedes from there. With Maroon 5, though, there's always the next single.
Taylor Weatherby: I think it will. With how much it’s on the radio, its insane streaming numbers (406 million on Spotify alone, 330 million on its official vid on YouTube), and the fact that it doesn’t really have much competition at the start of the year, “Memories” is pretty much poised to climb that one extra spot. Sure, it’s kind of insane to think that they would beat out The Rolling Stones and be the only band to ever have No. 1s in three straight decades. But at this point, the proof is in the pudding: Maroon 5 are hitmakers, even if they’re not quite rock icons. Haters can hate, but you can’t argue with success like theirs.
Xander Zellner: Nah, Justin Bieber and Roddy Ricch would like a word.
U.K. singer-songwriter Dua Lipa has become one of the biggest names in pop the past few years, scoring one of the most viral Top 40 hits of the late '10s with "New Rules," singing on dance hits by star producers Calvin Harris and Silk City (Mark Ronson and Diplo), even winning the Grammy for best new artist in 2019. Yet she ended the decade still with just one Top 10 hit on the Hot 100 to her name: "Rules," which peaked at No. 6 in early 2018.
She didn't take long to get back to the chart's top tier in the 2020s, though. "Don't Start Now," lead single off her upcoming sophomore album Future Nostalgia, had debuted on the Hot 100 at No. 31 in late November of 2019 -- and after an initial dip, began to scale the chart once again, finally climbing to a new peak of No. 9 on this week's listing.
What does the second smash mean for Lipa's stateside stardom? And is it even the most promising song she's released off her pending second LP? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. "Don't Start Now" has had kind of a sneaky journey to the top 10 since debuting just outside the Top 30 back in November and initially sliding from there. On a scale from 1 to 10, how surprised are you to see it become a top 10 hit this February?
Katie Atkinson: I've been obsessed with this song from the start and felt confident it would do big things, so I'm at a 1 on the surprise scale. My confidence in the song only grew when my two-year-old became fixated on it, quoting the lyrics at me and getting frustrated when his visiting grandma didn't comprehend his cries to "play Dua Lipa!" You always know a song will be a hit when children and older people come around to it.
Tatiana Cirisano: A solid four, as in, not crazy surprised. “Don’t Start Now” slowly grew on me in a way I would imagine it did for other people, too. When I first heard it, I found it pleasant though not super memorable, but the more I’m reminded of it -- in part thanks to a flurry of recent live performances from Dua, including on The Tonight Show and Ellen -- the more I can’t get its funky chorus out of my head. Her vocals are stronger than ever here, and the Eurodance-y disco vibe suits her. It probably helps that the song follows the same tried-and-true, banish-the-f--kboys brand of her breakthrough “New Rules” and similar hit “IDGAF.”
Eric Frankenberg: Very surprised – maybe an 8? As contemporary as Dua is, her brand of throwback dance-pop might have been more at home on the Hot 100 five or six years ago next to hits from 1989 and My Everything. And after the song’s mid-chart debut and slow slide, I figured that was it and that any momentum would wash away with the holidays and new year. But here we are! Long live Pop!
Jason Lipshutz: A solid 8! “Don’t Start Now” represents an outlier in modern popular music, a disco/house track with zero trace of hip-hop’s all-encompassing influence, and while Dua Lipa has found success with her danceable sound -- especially outside of the United States -- the song simply didn’t have the texture of an apparent hit. Then again, nobody thought “New Rules” was going to be Lipa’s breakthrough, and after months of climbing it reached the top 10 of the Hot 100 chart. Maybe the lesson here is to stop dismissing the possibility of a Dua Lipa slow-growing smash.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll go with a 7.5. "Dont't Start Now" is one of those songs where once you start hearing it on the radio with some regularity, it seems inconceivable that it could ever have not ended up a smash. But my first impression of it was a good-not-great single which, after a strong debut and some unexceptional live TV performances, we probably wouldn't hear a ton from again. The fact that this song is connecting is very good news for those who've wanted a radio return to the Big Pop of a decade ago since that sound largely fell out of favor in the mid-'10s.
2. Despite being one of the bigger names in pop since her 2017 stateside breakthrough, this is actually only Dua Lipa's second top 10 hit on the Hot 100. Does this help cement her as an A-lister for you, or do you think she still has something to prove there?
Katie Atkinson: She 100% still has a lot to prove. While she's making undeniably interesting pop music, I don't think she's reached the point yet where you hear a song and know instantly it's her. Also, when you look at her current pop-star competition -- Ariana, Selena, Demi -- they all started with a childhood fanbase obsessed with their every move since their Disney or Nickelodeon days. One song at a time, Dua Lipa is making sure people remember her name, but it's hard to compete with that sort of head-start.
Tatiana Cirisano: I don’t feel totally comfortable calling Dua an A-lister yet, but this definitely helps build her case for future pop stardom. Dua is already a remarkably consistent pop artist: She has yet to release a dud single, and always delivers the confidence-boosting club vibe that we’ve come to expect. The missing link, for me, is that I still don’t have a sense of who she is, both as an artist and as a person. But with Future Nostalgia, and the cohesiveness of its singles so far, I think she’s poised to change that.
Eric Frankenberg: I’ll start by saying that the A-list is a spectrum and that Beyoncé is not Demi Lovato is not Halsey. The release of Future Nostalgia will perhaps be more telling -- but I’ll say yes, for now, especially if we’re considering the A-list to be a global measure. Depending on the success of forthcoming singles and this album cycle at large, Dua could easily swing toward Ariana’s chart-topping dominance or a more internet-y/cult status, reminiscent of Carly Rae Jepsen or Charli XCX. But the slow-burning success of “Don’t Start Now” and very positive initial reaction to her new single "Physical" are great signs.
Jason Lipshutz: “New Rules” and now “Don’t Start Now” may be Lipa’s only two top 10 hits, but her profile has grown to such a degree -- thanks to the best new artist Grammy win, live shows, festival dates, magazine covers, modeling work and other singles that burned a little brighter overseas -- that, if she’s not a household name by this point, she’s darn close to it. If she keeps collecting hit singles, that’s a huge boost to her potential album sales and selling power as a live performer, but Lipa is established enough at this point that she can thrive even without them.
Andrew Unterberger: The musical resumé is getting close, but the connecting tissue is still a little lacking; she's a reliable hitmaker, but not quite an inherently compelling one at the moment, able to inspire fascination with even a middling song. We demand both messiness and transcendence from our greatest pop stars, on and off record -- and with the possible exception of the undeniably great "New Rules" and its classic music video, I'm not sure Dua has given us a ton of either just yet.
3. Of course, "Don't Start Now" hitting the top 10 also coincides with Dua debuting her latest song, the already acclaimed "Physical." Which song do you hope ends up the bigger hit, and which do you expect actually will?
Katie Atkinson: "Physical" is a very cool song (and it pairs well with The Weeknd also releasing A-ha-esque '80s-inspired tunes at the same moment), but the chorus doesn't stick with me the way the "Don't Start Now" hook instantly did. So I hope and expect that "Don't Start Now" will be the bigger deal in the end.
Tatiana Cirisano: I’m on team “Physical.” I’m a sucker for its brand of neon-lit, simmering electro-pop, and it’s cool to see Dua branch out a little from her usual “moving on from a break-up” lyrical formula. That said, I have a feeling that “Don’t Start Now” -- a great title, by the way -- will be the bigger hit. It’s fun and effortless to sing along to, and has an inner exuberance that’s hard to ignore.
Eric Frankenberg: I’m torn. I’ve had plenty of time to digest “Don’t Start Now” so I’m leaning that way, if only for the best pre-chorus of 2019 (but also for the verses and chorus). But the music video for “Physical” might help establish it as more of a signature moment in this album cycle and perhaps in her career. The gif-friendly, intricately choreographed clip sits well next to “IDGAF” and “New Rules” and helps cement her as one of contemporary pop’s best music video artists.
Jason Lipshutz: “Physical” is a monster of a pop single, frenetic in its energy and unabashed in its Olivia Newton-John worship; by the time the bridge ramps up into an explosive crescendo, the song has earned its place among Lipa’s best singles to date. Yet if “Don’t Start Now” doesn’t sound like contemporary pop at all, “Physical” really doesn’t -- it’s most akin to the electro-pop of the early 2010s, shimmying in an alternate universe in which LMFAO and Taio Cruz are still atop the charts. “Physical” won’t be a top 10 hit, most likely, but it’s already a cult classic.
Andrew Unterberger: "Don't Start Now" is the easier fit on Top 40, sure, but "Physical" feels a little... extra, maybe like 10% beyond tasteful, in the sense that we haven't really gotten a ton of from Dua Lipa yet. That's a good thing for Lipa's long-term prospects -- particularly on Pop Twitter, where the song (and video) has already essentially been crowned as one of the year's best -- but whether streaming and radio will be as amenable remains to be seen. Nonetheless, I imagine it's the one I'll be returning to more.
4. There've only been a couple notable "Don't Start" songs over the years, but there have been countless "Don't Stop"-related jams. Which is your favorite?
Katie Atkinson: This is actually one of the things that sort of works against the song: As an editor, I've fixed multiple writers calling the song "Don't Stop Now" in their copy, and I've heard a lot of people sing the lyrics as "Don't Stop Now" too. It's a hard thing to shake.
But to address the actual question, the first song that came into my head was Brazilian Girls' "Don't Stop," the effervescent second track from their 2005 self-titled debut album. And now I won't stop listening to it for days. And this album. God, it's good.
Tatiana Cirisano: There are so many choices, but I have to go with Rihanna, the first person who came to mind (and always a good answer). Similar to the Dua track, "Don't Stop The Music" is a pure dose of disco-pop elation -- and don’t even get me started on its perfectly 2000s music video, where Rih sneaks into a secret club in the back of a bodega and dances the night away.
Eric Frankenberg: I’ll go with “Don’t Stop The Music” by Rihanna. Throughout the many phases of her career, the different hair colors and genre-hopping, this song has its own kind of timeless charm, existing outside of whatever narrative was following her at the time.
Jason Lipshutz: Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”? Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”? Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”? All rightly considered classics, sure. Yet I shall use my allotted time to shout out 5 Seconds of Summer’s “Don’t Stop,” a delectable pop-rock track that follows “She Looks So Perfect” on the group’s self-titled debut and should have been just as ubiquitous.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, let me go completely off the board here and select the "Don't Stop" that graces the self-titled debut album of '80s U.K. rock greats The Stone Roses. It's basically just a backwards-running version of the LP's previous track, the lightly funky jangle-pop jam "Waterfall," with some semi-incomprehensible lyrics laid over it. Arrogant as all hell, but something about that confidence and the band's commitment to it is intoxicating -- and that groove just sounds great backwards, forwards, or any direction in between.
5. Dua Lipa spent time in between her first two albums working with a number of high-profile producers. Who would you most like to hear her work with on her upcoming Future Nostalgia set?
Katie Atkinson: I'm obsessed with her Grammy-winning team-up with Silk City "Electricity," but I would really love to see what Dua would do with just half of that dance production duo: Mark Ronson. I think they could make a really explosive pair and maybe take her to a yet-explored pop realm.
Tatiana Cirisano: The title Future Nostalgia alone screams Kevin Parker, and I’d love to hear Dua’s sugar-coated vocal laced with a little psychedelic funk. She’s voiced an interest in working with him before, and he says he wants to write pop songs for pop stars...universe, do your thing.
Eric Frankenberg: The first name that came to mind was MNEK but then I googled their names together and saw he has a credit on Dua Lipa. So on the back of a couple unexpected and low-profile collaborations last year, I’d love to see Empress Of get a pop glow-up via Future Nostalgia. Her excellent self-produced first album had some incredible hooks mixed with pretty out-there electronic production.
Jason Lipshutz: Maybe a Dua Lipa album executive produced by Jack Antonoff wouldn’t be the right move, but I’d be intrigued by hearing his approach to her sound for a track or two. Would Antonoff supply the candy-colored template of Taylor Swift’s Lover? Or the sun-kissed moodiness of Lana Del Rey’s Norman F--king Rockwell? Or something totally unexpected from both? Let’s get them both in a studio and let them loose!
Andrew Unterberger: Does Dua Lipa really want to be an A-list star? If so, why not get together with the guy who's produced -- and in many cases, helped establish -- more of those than any other collaborator of the last 25 years? Max Martin hasn't been so busy the past 12 months, and Lipa has likely more than passed her audition by now to prove herself worthy of getting in the booth with him. Let's make some true pop magic happen, folks.
With no advance singles and barely any advance notice, Lil Wayne has released a new album -- and now it's the No. 1 album in the country. This statement was true in late 2018 following the much-anticipated drop of his Tha Carter V album, and it's true once again this week after the debut of his Funeral atop the Billboard 200.
However, despite their similar paths to success, the momentum and excitement over the two albums isn't quite comparable -- as evidenced by the considerable drop in first-week numbers between the two sets. What's the difference in content or context between the two albums? And who could be the next veteran rapper to follow Wayne to No. 1? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Funeral debuts at No. 1 this week, with 139,000 first-week equivalent album units moved -- a formidable number, but less than 30% of the units moved by previous full-length Tha Carter V in 2018. To what do you attribute the dramatic dip?
Josh Glicksman: In general, Lil Wayne is an artist that benefits more from allowing a forthcoming album to build hype rather than a surprise release. Funeral isn’t quite the latter, but given its small window to gain some momentum -- including zero promotional singles ahead of its release -- there are likely many listeners that just missed the memo on a new Weezy full-length. It’s also an extremely tough point of comparison to put it directly up against Tha Carter V, perhaps the rapper’s most highly anticipated album throughout his illustrious career. I don’t think there was ever much of a chance for repeating those numbers on Funeral.
Carl Lamarre: For starters, though there was a dip in Wayne's opening week numbers from 2018, he still got a No. 1 album. I think the anticipation for Funeral fell flat in comparison to Tha Carter V because Wayne was the underdog last time around. Let's remember, Carter V was years in the making, marred by controversy and delays. We all wanted to see Wayne win, so people came in droves to push Weezy over the edge. With Funeral, there wasn't much momentum. Granted, he did some press this time around, which was an admirable attempt to get eyes on Funeral, but still, there wasn't a storyline for this release.
Jason Lipshutz: Throughout his entire career, Lil Wayne has experienced a startling disparity in the commercial performance between his Carter albums and his non-Carter albums, as if the full-lengths in the Carter franchise were essential and the other projects were for diehards only (which, if you’ve listened to the glory of Rebirth, is somewhat fair). The fact that Funeral’s numbers didn’t fall off a cliff when compared to Tha Carter V is actually pretty admirable. This album was never going to perform as outlandishly as its predecessor, and the fact that it scored another six-figure No. 1 debut is all Wayne really needs at this point.
Andrew Unterberger: Aside from it not having the Carter brand name, Funeral also just didn't really have time on its side -- it came not even 18 months following the release of Wayne's last official album, which came three years after his previous full-length and five years after his last widely released LP. The anticipation just isn't there in the same way, and the fact that there was no charming teaser video to reintroduce Weezy this time around couldn't have helped much.
Christine Werthman: Tha Carter V was meant to cap Lil Wayne's iconic Carter series waaaaay back in 2014. Showing up four years later in 2018, after everything from breakup tweets aimed at Birdman to leaks from Martin Shkreli (what a time), raised the bar sky-high and made even casual fans want to see what Wayne would do. This number gap between these albums is really a credit to the anticipation surrounding Carter V, while Funeral is a standalone that was officially announced only a week prior to its release. Maybe the nearly-a-surprise-drop method doesn't quite work for Weezy.
2. Though it wasn't the highest-charting Hot 100 hit upon the album's debut, "Uproar" ultimately turned into the breakout hit single from Tha Carter V. Do you see Funeral having another sneak hit buried in its tracklist somewhere?
Josh Glicksman: Not sure that the second song on an album qualifies as a “sneak hit,” but it wouldn’t surprise me much if “Mahogany” is ultimately the biggest hit from Funeral. “I Do It” nabbed the highest-charting debut thanks to it being the lead single, its New Music Friday placement and the sheer star power, but “Mahogany” has all of the tried-and-true components of a Lil Wayne standout. It has the bouncy, looping backing beat à la “A Milli” and “6 Foot 7 Foot”; long, word-packed verses that allow Weezy to put his lyrical prowess on full display; and a vibe perfectly suited for dance circles and TikTok challenges galore. This one is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.
Carl Lamarre: "I Do It" featuring Big Sean, and Lil Baby might be the money track. Big Sean is his signature ad-lib personified, slinging out some of his best lyrical work in a minute, *Big Sean Voice* boi. As for Baby, he has yet to miss and continues to be a fluid feature guest. To me, Weezy, Baby, and Sean are a winning trifecta geared for Billboard success.
Jason Lipshutz: The easy answer would be the Adam Levine collaboration “Trust Nobody” -- bet against Maroon 5’s commercial consistency at your own risk! -- but I could see a world in which “Mahogany,” which is just three minutes of Wayne spitting bars with vintage urgency, crosses over based on its hypnotic looped sample and Wayne’s ferociousness. “Mahogany” may not be a No. 1 hit, but there’s a chance it lingers in and around the top 40 for weeks.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll say "Mahogany," if for no other reason than it feels the closest in formula to "Uproar": A collab with a longtime producer (Swizz Beatz for "Uproar," Mannie Fresh for "Mahogany"), a hypnotic beat, a free-associative flow and no other features. It seems like the song with the best chance of outliving the Funeral release cycle, in fans' hearts and minds if not necessarily on Hot 97.
Christine Werthman: "I Do It" with Big Sean and Lil Baby. That's the one. It sounds the most contemporary, and the Sean chorus with the slide on "dooooo" is fun to sing. If I'm wrong and it's that Adam Levine one, I'm going to be pissed. Truly!
3. Between Lil Wayne and Eminem we've now had two No. 1 debuts in 2020 from rappers whose commercial breakthroughs came over 20 years ago. What other rapper of two decades' experience would you like to see join their ranks this year (who might actually have a semi-plausible chance of doing so)?
Josh Glicksman: Can you imagine if Nelly successfully adapted his massive early ‘00s sound into an album in 2020? Sure, there’s a chance that it’d be a swing and a miss, but if he made contact, it’s headed way out of the park. He’s responsible for some of the most infectious jams from the beginning of the millenium, racking up ten top five hits on the Hot 100 between 2001 and 2006. Throw your favorite cuts from Country Grammar or Nellyville on next time you have the aux cord and then try to tell me you’re not ready for it to get “Hot in Herre” again in 2020.
Carl Lamarre: Jay-Z is a cheat code because you can't argue against his gaudy stats. Not only does he have 13 solo No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 to his credit, but he continues to be a blockbuster name in music. His evolution on 2017's 4:44 gave him an extra life in the hip-hop game. Whether he was bulldozing MCs on "Bam" or tapdancing his way through the hate on "Moonlight," a spirited Hov flashed signs of greatness. Who wouldn't want to see a repeat from Jiggaman?
Jason Lipshutz: I’m more than ready for a T.I. renaissance -- Tip was one of the most indispensable hip-hop artists of the second half of the 2000s, with 2008’s Paper Trail and its many hits serving as an exclamation point, but the 2010s were uneven at best for the King of the South. With the right project and some flashy cameos — maybe he and Rihanna link up for a “Live Your Life” sequel? -- T.I. could be back atop the Billboard 200 with a late-career triumph.
Andrew Unterberger: Obviously, endlessly-pined-for new albums from OutKast, Lauryn Hill and Dr. Dre would all be greeted like manna from heaven (and all but guaranteed No. 1 debuts) upon release, regardless of how good or timely they actually were. But in the interest of shooting for something a little more plausible at this point, let's say a new album from DMX, who's been almost entirely out of the game for the past decade and even spent a year in prison at the end of the last decade. Get him focused and in the studio with trusted partner Swizz Beatz, and see if they can't recapture the magic that sent his first five albums (!) to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 around the turn of the millennium.
Christine Werthman: Nelly! He's celebrating 20 years of Country Grammar by playing it in full at Bonnaroo, so maybe this will drum up lots of enthusiasm and we will either get another Nelly album -- one that's closer to Country Grammar -- or better still, the St. Lunatics will drop their long-awaited sophomore album, featuring more should-be classics like "Money Talks."
4. Wayne throws out a lot of looks over the course of 24 tracks on Funeral. Is there a particular direction, either displayed or suggested over the course of the album, you'd like to see him go further down with future releases?
Josh Glicksman: I’d like to see him throw out fewer looks, if anything. It seems unlikely that the established rap veteran is going to go through a sonic overhaul more than two decades into his career. That’s not to say that Wayne shouldn’t implement his sound in a way that plays to hip-hop’s ever-changing algorithm of success, but something like the emo rap-influenced, Adam Levine-assisted “Trust Nobody” simply doesn’t work. I’d much rather see him pursue what he knows will work over 12 tracks versus him throwing 24 tracks worth of spaghetti at the wall to see how much of it sticks.
Carl Lamarre: Unfortunately, the only times we were able to see Weezy and XXXTENTACION collaborate was when the young neophyte passed in 2018. Following his demise, XXX's estate gift wrapped Wayne two robust features in "Don't Cry" and "Get Outta My Head." I like the idea of Wayne teaming up with the youth, considering he's a revered face for kids who grew up in the 2000s. Seeing artists like Eminem and Wayne join forces with the Juice WRLDs and XXXs of the world bodes well for both the older and younger generations.
Jason Lipshutz: Lil Wayne has influenced an entire generation of rappers, and to hear him placed alongside some of them on a song like “I Do It” -- with Big Sean copping his wordplay, and Lil Baby adopting his helium-voiced flow -- was pretty compelling to hear. Weezy needs more mentor-protege opportunities, chances to nod to the new generation of MCs as well as occasionally run circles around them.
Andrew Unterberger: "Dreams" sounds the closest Wayne has gotten to the legions of skate-rap acolytes of decade-ago-Wayne who are having major streaming (and occasional FM) success these days. If we have to have one hitmaking rapper shrieking over punchy guitars on alternative radio, I'd rather it be Mr. Carter than Machine Gun Kelly.
Christine Werthman: The Mannie Fresh-produced "Mahogany" is a personal favorite. He's so cool in his delivery, matching the temperature of the smooth, jazzy sample from Eryn Allen Kane's 2015 track "Bass Song." He fluidly circles back to the word mahogany until it loses its meaning and begins functioning as a poetic three-syllable sound that's there more for rhythmic purposes than for color identification. And then when his voice melts into gloopy distortion at the end, it just makes the whole thing feel like a complete, intentional thought. More of that, please.
5. Pick an "F"-word (or phrase) that best describes Funeral to you.
Josh Glicksman: Weezy F. Baby, and the ‘F’ is for fine? I’m not sure that Funeral is going to have much of an impact on Wayne’s legacy one way or another. It has its standout moments, with reliably impressive metaphors serving as the main ingredient in his verse du jour, but he could’ve easily clipped the tracklist by one-third and delivered a more coherent, efficient album. It’s a reminder that Wayne has never lost his ability to rap with the best of them, but I don’t know how often listeners are going to return to Funeral over a different full-length or mixtape within his Hall of Fame discography.
Carl Lamarre: Future Hall of Famer. We have to acknowledge when we have a GOAT in our presence, and Wayne is undoubtedly one. After watching his career almost drown into oblivion, he resurrected it with CV. With Funeral, he continues to be a lyrical behemoth, proving why he can run laps around anybody of any age.
Jason Lipshutz: Let’s go with “Free” -- as in, he’s finally unshackled from his label drama and able to toss out 24-song albums whenever he pleases. I’ve missed uber-prolific Lil Wayne. Haven’t you?
Andrew Unterberger: Fair enough. It's not an album I'm gonna return to a ton, but it sounds like he's trying, it sounds like he's having fun, and it has a handful of tracks worth saving for future retrospectives. Can't complain, even at 24 tracks.
Christine Werthman: Far better than I expected! Also "forward," because this album shows Wayne is still keeping it moving and, contrary to what the title might imply, has more life in him.
Justin Bieber is at the top of this week’s Billboard 200 albums chart, as Changes bows with 231,000 equivalent album units, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. The R&B set marks Bieber’s seventh No. 1 album, making the 25-year-old the youngest solo artist ever to have that many Billboard 200 chart-toppers. Also contributing to Bieber’s major chart week: “Intentions,” the second single from Changes featuring Quavo, reaches No. 9 on the Hot 100 chart, becoming the album’s second top 10 hit following “Yummy.”
How significant of an achievement is the Changes debut for Bieber? And how much higher could “Intentions” climb? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Changes started with 231,000 equivalent album units in its first week of release. What’s your immediate reaction to that debut number — which is the third-biggest debut of 2020 so far, but less than half of equivalent album units of the debut week of 2015’s Purpose (649,000)?
Andrew Unterberger: My immediate reaction is that five years is a longer time than it used to be. Purpose was as big of a full-album win as any modern day pop star could ask for, and Bieber spent a good two years casually dominating top 40 -- both with his own hits and as guest on others' -- off that momentum. But the end of that run was about three years ago at this point, and over that ensuing period, Bieber's commercial prowess went from unassailable to… powerful, but vulnerable. Not having the strongest lead single or most commercial-friendly sound with Changes didn't help either, obviously, but if he'd released this album in 2018 I bet it still would've done 500k or so. Now he's in Man of the Woods first-week territory.
Bianca Gracie: While selling 231,000 units is an overall impressive feat in this current industry landscape, Bieber’s numbers being significantly lower for him this time around didn’t surprise me. He was at the height of his career when Purpose was released, and that loyal fan base has wavered a bit since then. This is Bieber’s first project in five years, and I think that excitement for a proper comeback slightly weakened as time went on. Also, leading with a non-pop song like "Yummy" caught many casual fans off-guard, which likely hindered the sales.
Jason Lipshutz: Five years is a long time in pop music, and there’s been a huge change in expectations for a major release’s debut numbers since 2015, which makes Changes’ significant drop-off from Bieber’s Purpose number not all that surprising. Does the fact that Changes has spawned fewer immediate hits than Purpose play a factor on its final number? Sure — there would undoubtedly be a few more first-week streams if the album contained a “What Do You Mean?” or “Sorry” on its track list. Yet even with surefire hits, 649,000 is a number that would have been incredibly difficult for Bieber to replicate in 2020.
Lyndsey Havens: That number seems spot-on to me — Purpose was a different album, from a different Bieber, released in a different time, more top 40-friendly from an artist still leaning heavily into pop. Plus, there was the added fun of thinking, “He could be singing to any girl." On Changes, he's matured, married and all-in on slinky R&B jams. I'm not surprised it sold well under what Purpose did, nor that it topped the Billboard 200 as the third-biggest debut of the year... at least for now (to name-check the title of track 16).
Taylor Weatherby: Although it is relatively surprising that Bieber couldn't beat out recent debut numbers by Eminem and Halsey, even some of pop's biggest stars like Billie Eilish and Post Malone haven't reached 500,000 equivalent album units in their most recent debut weeks, so Bieber's 231,000 doesn't really phase me. And while I personally love "Yummy," it just wasn't as big of an album kickoff as "What Do You Mean?” was for Purpose, so I figured the album wasn't going to perform quite as well. That was a very long-winded way to say: Bieber, forget the numbers, and you celebrate that No. 1.
2. Changes is Bieber’s seventh No. 1 album, following My World 2.0, Never Say Never: The Remixes EP, Under The Mistletoe, Believe, Believe: Acoustic and Purpose. Out of all of Bieber’s chart-topping albums, which one is the most underrated -- the one that most deserves a critical re-appraisal?
Andrew Unterberger: Not gonna go so far out on a limb to say that Believe: Acoustic is an essential listen, or even a compelling one all the way through -- but as one that most casual fans probably don't even have any frame of reference for, I do think it's interesting. Even pre-Journals, it was the intimate record that showed that Bieber was perhaps yearning for a deeper emotional connection through his music than his more pro forma dance-pop fare would suggest, and it contains one absolute gem in the gloomy "Yellow Raincoat," which today sounds like a cry for help that we probably should have paid more attention to in 2013.
Bianca Gracie: First off, #JusticeForJournals, but aside from that near-flawless compilation, Believe is the one that I’ve found myself revisiting the most lately. The record was Bieber’s first official foray into the contemporary R&B that he attempted to revisit on Changes. Lead single “Boyfriend” is reminiscent of *NSYNC’s R&B-driven Celebrity era, “Right Here” is the perfect in-my-feelings jam (and, of course, Drake is the guest artist), and deluxe track “Out of Town Girl” has so much swagger for someone who was only 18 at the time.
Jason Lipshutz: Nearly a decade after its release, Bieber’s lone holiday full-length, Under The Mistletoe, has aged… pretty well, actually! The single “Mistletoe” has endured as a new-school Christmas staple, an updated “All I Want For Christmas Is You” with Mariah Carey has remained an enjoyable duet, and “Drummer Boy,” featuring Busta Rhymes, is as weird and wonderful as it promises to be. Under The Mistletoe could have been a cold-weather cash-in, but Bieber’s take on the holiday season has been worth a yearly replay.
Lyndsey Havens: I might be skirting around the question here, but... Changes! I am overwhelmed by how underwhelmed many Bieber fans are by this album. I strongly believe that, in a couple years, people will admit they slept on this one, or at least misjudged its staying power at first.
Taylor Weatherby: I'm a big advocate for Believe. There are R&B flavors on it, so the album did feel a little more true to who Bieber wanted to be as an artist than his previously sugar-coated pop projects -- but without totally erasing his pop foundation, thanks to super-cute love songs like "Die in Your Arms" and "Fall." Plus, those features! Ludacris, Big Sean, Drake and Nicki Minaj all appear on Believe, and while they may have felt a little out of place with his still-not-quite-grown-up vocals, they make a whole lot of sense now.
3. Meanwhile, Bieber’s “Intentions” featuring Quavo enters the top 10 of the Hot 100 this week, climbing up to No. 9. How high do you see “Intentions” rising — could be it Bieber’s first No. 1 single as a lead artist since “Love Yourself” in 2016?
Andrew Unterberger: Nah on the No. 1. A top 10 placement is already respectable for "Intentions," and it'll probably end up as the biggest (and best-remembered) pop hit from this album, but it's not gonna put up the streaming numbers to unseat "The Box" anytime soon, and it's already at risk of getting lapped by multiple new songs from countryman The Weeknd. Top five isn't out of the question, but if I were a betting man I'd say No. 9 is about as good as it's getting.
Bianca Gracie: I don’t think “Intentions,” one of the weaker songs on the album, is going to move further than the top 5. Plus, Quavo’s solo guest features (aside from DJ Khaled’s multi-artist collaborations) haven’t moved past the No. 8 position since Post Malone’s “Congratulations” in 2017. And while the, er, intentions of the music video were very heartwarming, it mirrored Drake’s “God’s Plan” in a way that was less than monumental.
Jason Lipshutz: I remain a staunch defender of “Intentions”: snicker at the “Heart full of equity, you're an asset” line all you want, just give me three-and-a-half minutes of Bieber and Quavo amiably gliding over icy R&B rhythms, please and thank you. “Intentions” may not be able to climb way up to No. 1, but a top 5 stay appears realistic, considering that its structure and hook sound more ready-made for top 40 radio than its predecessor, “Yummy.”
Lyndsey Havens: I can definitely see it entering the top 5... and it does seem like a strong contender to dethrone Roddy Ricch's "The Box" after 11 weeks and counting. I hear it in heavy rotation on top 40 radio, the music video has well over 32 million views and the message is so well-intentioned — for lack of a better word — that I can see people gravitating toward this one for a while.
Taylor Weatherby: I don't think it'll make it to No. 1 (Roddy Ricch seems to have a pretty strong hold on that for now), but I could see it going top 5. While I love "Intentions," I'm not sure if it's bigger than any of its chart predecessors — but if I keep up my daily "Intentions" binges, maybe I'll help Bieber prove me wrong.
4. Following “Yummy” and “Intentions,” which Changes track do you hope becomes a future single for Bieber?
Andrew Unterberger: In terms of what I hope, it'd have to be "That's What Love Is," the guitar-only ode in which Domestic Bieb traces his definition for the big L in ways typically heartfelt and awkwardly phrased ("My hands can't hold enough of your greatness"). But that'd be commercial poison even by Changes standards, so I'll keep things slightly more realistic and say "Habitual," an R&B ballad with the same glowing aura and hooky melody as "Yummy" without the truly unforgivable chorus.
Bianca Gracie: The first two singles are more upbeat, so I’d like for Bieber to slow things down and head into mid-tempo ballad territory for the next one. “Take It Out On Me,” a.k.a. my favorite song on Changes, would be the perfect choice. It samples DVSN’s bedroom-ready "Too Deep" (which, in turn, interpolates Ginuwine’s 1999 classic “So Anxious). “Get Me,” the sultry duet with Kehlani, would also be a dope alternative.
Jason Lipshutz: My vote goes for “Come Around Me,” one of the more legitimately sexy tracks on the album which finds Bieber reaching deep into his bag and pulling out an achingly pure falsetto. If “Yummy” is getting picked up at rhythmic radio, “Come Around Me” should be able to find a home at the format, too.
Lyndsey Havens: Oooh boy, where do I start... I'm a big "Habitual" fan, but an even bigger fan of the Bieber and Posty combo that we get on "Forever," also featuring Clever. In addition to chart-topping star power, the plinking production is catchy, and as one of the few tracks that strays from more traditional-sounding R&B, this seems to be an ideal third single.
Taylor Weatherby: I can't stop playing "Forever”: it has an insanely catchy chorus, and I could totally hear that melody on the radio. And though Bieber's latest single is a collaboration, there's not a bad time for a Post Malone collaboration these days. I could also see Justin wanting to go with another solo track for his next single, and if that's the case, I hope it's "That's What Love Is." Radio needs a Bieber ballad!
5. From 2012’s Believe to 2015’s Purpose to 2020’s Changes, Bieber favors one-word album titles. Look into your crystal ball: the title of Justin Bieber’s next album will be ___________.
Andrew Unterberger: Acceptance. Regardless of your feelings about Changes, you have to give it up to the young man for really seeming to be getting comfortable with who he is as an artist and a person. Maybe he goes back to chasing hits from here, but I think more likely, he contents himself with his still-considerable remaining fan base and enjoys this phase of his career and life as a happily married adult R&B crooner.
Bianca Gracie: Based on his personal journey over the past few years, I’ll say Freedom.
Jason Lipshutz: Let’s go with an ode to new parenthood, with some religious overtones, titled… Father.
Lyndsey Havens: Bieber... or Justin. But definitely not Justin Bieber.
Taylor Weatherby: My initial thought is Hailey, because of how much Bieber gushes over his wife on Changes, but I'm not sure he'd go that far. I almost wonder if he'd go the self-titled route, since he hasn't yet, and just do Justin or Bieber? I have no real idea. What Changes has proven, though, is that no matter the album title, Bieber's going to continue to bring the jams.
Nearly three years on from the release of his much-anticipated debut single "Sign of the Times," Harry Styles is bigger than ever.
His sophomore album Fine Line -- released just under the wire at the turn of the decade -- drew better sales and stronger reviews than his self-titled debut LP. His Love on Tour trek is set to take him to arenas all around the world this summer (assuming live music is a thing that's happening again at that point). And now, he was one of the ten biggest songs in the country, as Fine Line's "Adore You" leaps 16-7 on this week's Hot 100.
Is Harry now officially part of pop's most elite tier? And do we wish he was able to share the wealth with some of his less-recently successful One Direction bandmates? Billboard answers these questions and more below.
1. It took a little over three months, but "Adore You" has finally climbed into the Hot 100's top ten -- Harry Styles' first-ever true solo radio smash. How do you feel about this being the song to put him over the top at top 40?
Stephen Daw: "Adore You" certainly isn't the song I thought would send Harry into the top 10 — when "Watermelon Sugar" was first released, upon seeing the massive hype it was receiving, I thought it stood the best chance of cracking the upper echelons of the list. But that being said, I'm so glad "Adore You" is moving on up, because plainly, it is Styles' best single to date -- and probably the best song from Fine Line, which was already an absolutely stunning album.
Lyndsey Havens: I feel fantastic about it. It's a pretty no-brainer recipe, really: catchy riff, gorgeous harmonies and the fact that Harry Styles is singing to men and women around the world "let me adore you." This track is incredibly easy to both dance and fantasize to; as any great hit does, it offers a perfect escape. Whether or not that's to Eroda is up to the listener.
Jason Lipshutz: I’m less surprised by the slick, romantic “Adore You” being the song that brought Styles over the hump than Styles getting over the hump in general, at least in terms of his current stylistic approach. Styles is making large-hearted, ‘70s-indebted pop-rock, which is decidedly not what has been working at top 40 radio over the past several years. Whether the success of “Adore You” can be chalked up to a growing trend of throwback pop (see also: Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” Doja Cat’s “Say So”), the continued appeal of Styles as a mainstream celebrity, or a combination of the two, the song marks a key moment in his ascent.
Kevin Rutherford: I’m conflicted! My personal taste tends toward all three singles from Styles’ debut album, all of which were not the radio hits “Adore You” has become, despite “Sign of the Times” peaking higher on the Hot 100 so far. So, like, justice for those songs! At the same time, both of Styles’ solo albums have been incredibly strong artistic statements from someone who deserves to have a fruitful career under his own name. So having any song of his find success on radio is fine by me.
Andrew Unterberger: I think it's basically as it should be. When I first heard "Adore You," I had the same reaction that a lot of radio programmers probably did: finally. While Styles had been releasing advance tracks off Fine Line that were alluring and intriguing, this was the first one that felt like him really announcing his presence with authority: as Harry Styles, pop star, not to be denied. My only grievance is that "Sign of the Times," his jaw-dropping solo breakout -- which ultimately proved a bit too deliberately paced for 2017 radio -- didn't get there first.
2. The ascent of "Adore You" caps a hell of a peak for Styles over the past few months, as he also scored one of the best first-week performances of recent years with sophomore LP Fine Line in late 2019, announced a massive arena tour, and delivered a number of high-profile live performances. Is he now officially an A-list pop star, or does he still have something left to prove?
Stephen Daw: Having attended one of his shows at Madison Square Garden in 2018, I can tell you that Harry Styles was already an A-list pop star based on the earth-shattering screams from his fans that left my ears ringing for two days after. Even though "Adore You" is his first top 10 hit since "Sign of the Times" -- which debuted in the top five and slid pretty quickly from there -- those sales numbers, tours and performances all came because of his already white-hot star power, both from his time in One Direction and his two excellent solo projects. I don't even know what else Harry would have to do to earn that A-list status; maybe if he hopped on a song with Billie Eilish, then he could be deemed an A+-lister.
Lyndsey Havens: Uh, once Stevie Nicks tells the entire internet that she is inspired by your album, there is nothing left to prove. Similar to the way in which so many are hesitant to call Billie Eilish a "pop star," because she feels and sounds like so much more, I believe the same applies here. Styles is capable of being so incredibly vulnerable when delivering a ballad like "Falling," and a bonafide rockstar with explosive energy on a track like "Kiwi" (off his self-titled debut). With just two solo albums, he has shown so many sides of himself and made clear that his artistic expression is incredibly wide-ranging. So no, I don't think he has anything left to prove -- but plenty more to show us.
Jason Lipshutz: Styles entered the One Direction hiatus with a ton of solo promise, and “Adore You” becoming a legitimate radio hit ticks off one of the boxes he had remaining on his way to superstardom. He already had the name recognition, the stage presence, the arena-ready ticket sales, the No. 1 album debuts, the critical approval and the cross-platform appeal like his SNL hosting gig. Now he has a crossover hit to his name. He still has to win the awards -- zero Grammy nominations so far -- but that might be coming in 2021.
Kevin Rutherford: He has something to prove still, but he’s also an A-lister for all of the reasons outlined. That’s especially true with regards to his live shows; those are some hefty touring numbers he’s pulling two albums in, proving his solo career was no one-album wonder. But I don’t know that he’s yet at the level where a brand-new single, whenever it’s released, will challenge for a No. 1 debut on the Hot 100, which is sort of the gold standard in my eyes. So call him A-list, but there’s still room for growth.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, he's basically there at this point. A major festival headlining slot or iconic award show performance would help cement his case, perhaps, and one lone radio hit might not be much of a buy-in to sit at the table with the likes of Drake and Taylor Swift. But at any given point in pop history, there's ten stars who anyone even slightly familiar with popular music can recognize by one name only, and right now Harry's one of them.
3. How far can "Adore You" still climb on the Hot 100 from here? Does it have a chance of becoming Styles' first-ever No. 1 single, with or without One Direction?
Stephen Daw: If Harry's able to keep up the momentum that "Adore You" saw this week, then I think he could be well on his way to a No. 1 single. I'm somewhat doubtful that it will actually be able to cross the threshold, if only because of the song's genre-fluidity (and the monster hit that is "The Box"), but I think that with some good timing, Harry might be sitting atop the Hot 100 in the next few weeks.
Lyndsey Havens: I'm almost always wrong, but I don't think it will climb to the chart's summit. Dua Lipa is about to release her album, and my bet would be on "Don't Start Now" getting to replace "The Box" at No. 1 before anything else. That being said, though, Lewis Capaldi's tender "Someone You Loved" made it to the top, and "Adore You" does have a bit more energy to it... and Stevie Nicks did just endorse the entire album... so, maybe?
Jason Lipshutz: It’s got an outside shot, but there are other songs ahead of it in the top 10 that could more feasibly climb up to the top spot and stay there for a bit, from the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” to Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now.” A few things would have to break right for young Harry, but having “Adore You” become his first career chart-topper would be quite the story for the 1D gent.
Kevin Rutherford: Its entrance into the top 10 of the Hot 100 is concurrent with a new peak of No. 3 on Pop Songs and a new weekly spins high on Adult Pop Songs, retaining his peak of No. 7. As long as “Adore You” still has a ceiling at radio to which it can ascend (see: No. 1 on either), it can – and will – climb the Hot 100. A No. 1, though, isn’t likely in the cards, barring some sort of viral moment; the streams just aren’t there right now and probably won’t be in the way he’d need to top the chart.
Andrew Unterberger: I wouldn't bet on it, but radio is kind of an X factor here. "Adore You" is currently No. 4 on Radio Songs and still picking up steam -- and anecdotally, it's seemed like streaming numbers have dipped a little across the board for the country's biggest songs post-quarantine. That could leave the No. 1 spot a little more open than usual for an old-fashioned FM smash, which "Adore You" is certainly well on its way to being.
4. Harry's pop/rock fairy godmother Stevie Nicks made waves on the Internet yesterday by congratulating her protégé on Fine Line, referring to the album as his Rumours. (Well, technically his "Runours," but close enough.) On a scale from 1-10, how accurate do you find her assessment?
Stephen Daw: I'm gonna give Stevie's statement a solid 7. Yes, Fine Line is an excellent album, and easily Harry's best work to date, much like Rumours was for the band. But it's important to remember that Rumours, along with being Fleetwood Mac's eleventh studio album (Fine Line is just Styles' second solo album), was the band's peak moment. Despite having a massively successful career after Rumours, the group never replicated that record-breaking kind of success again. To me, Fine Line is just the beginning of Harry's success, not his peak.
Lyndsey Havens: Look, I would never disagree with Stevie Nicks, but... it's hard to compare any modern day release, especially one that still feels so very new, with a true classic. Rumours captured so much tension and turmoil (and pain for all those involved, I am sure), and that all pours out with every listen; and while Fine Line is an incredible record front to back, I think we should revisit this question in 40+ years. For now I'll say a 6.5.
Jason Lipshutz: I mean... I love Fine Line, but I give this comparison a 3, because Rumours is one of the most eternal albums ever created. Fine Line is front-to-back impressive and heavily indebted by the melodic brilliance of Fleetwood Mac, but I personally hope that Styles has even greater mountains to climb, and comes up with something as monumental as Rumours over the course of his career.
Kevin Rutherford: Who am I to say something is less Rumours than the person who helped make the original Rumours? If Nicks says it’s his Rumours, I believe her. 10/10. Excited for his experimental (by Styles standards) Tusk-esque follow-up.
Andrew Unterberger: I give it a one, because all comparisons of quality aside, Rumours was an album defined by the singularly spectacular behind-the-scenes drama, heartbreak and bitterness that underlined, informed and ultimately defined its creation. No shade to Fine Line, an excellent album, but whatever LP the 21st century Rumours ends up being will not have a song called "Treat People With Kindness" on it.
5. While Styles' career seems to be trending relentlessly upwards, his four mates in One Direction have all practically disappeared from the Hot 100. If you could portion out Harry's career momentum to any or all of the other four 1Ders, what percentage would you give each of them -- or would you just keep it all for Harry?
Stephen Daw: Call me brutal, but I don't really care about the other members of the band. None of their solo music has had the same kind of impact on me as Harry's has. So if I'm getting to decide what to do with Harry's momentum, I say he can have all of it!
Lyndsey Havens: I'll never forget the day my journalism professor told us we would still need math in this profession. I'd say: 45% to Harry, 25% to Niall and then 10% to Zayn, Louis and Liam. Did I do that right?
Jason Lipshutz: Let Harry keep it all. While Niall, Liam, Louis and Zayn will all have solo career highlights and don’t necessarily require outside assistance to do so, Styles has the chance to be a once-in-a-generation talent based on his current trajectory. Why mess with something so special?
Kevin Rutherford: Styles can keep all of his, 100%. The others are grown-ass men, they can fend for themselves.
Andrew Unterberger: Harry clearly has the highest upside of the bunch, so I'm fine with letting him keep half of it. I'd also give 25% to Louis, who has some very fun Britpop instincts that I think are a little missing in U.K. pop at the moment and which I'd love to see him follow down. Then maybe 15% to Zayn, who kinda got a raw deal after a promising start and could use a nudge back in the right direction. And 10% to Niall just so we can maybe wring one more "Slow Hands" out of him. Liam... well, he had a good run.
While other artists have pushed their album release dates back to a (hopefully) less turbulent time in the cultural landscape, pop star Dua Lipa instead pushed up Future Nostalgia to last week -- and was rewarded with her best week yet on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
Future Nostalgia debuts at No. 4 on the chart (with 66,000 in first-week album equivalent units) this week -- which might not quite match the level of enthusiasm the album has generated among pop fans, but still easily represents her highest ranking to date, following the No. 27 peak of her 2017 self-titled debut. In addition to that top 5 debut, the set's newest official single "Break My Heart" debuts at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100, while lead single "Don't Start Now" holds at No. 3 on the chart, having previously climbed to No. 2.
Will "Break My Heart" follow "Don't Start Now" to ubiquity? And what kind of Future Nostalgia do we anticipate for Spring 2020? Billboard staffers debate this questions and more below.
1. So No. 4, 66K first week -- given the anticipation for Future Nostalgia and the success of lead single "Don't Start Now," how happy should Dua Lipa be about those numbers on a scale from 1-10?
Gab Ginsberg: At least an 8. Back in 2017, her debut album debuted at No. 86 with 8,000 equivalent album units sold, so this is a development that speaks to her massive career growth. She also beat Pearl Jam -- a band that’s been around for over three decades -- by 3,000 units. I will say that I’d reserve a 10 on the happiness scale for a No. 1 debut, and on a quieter week, Lipa may have even gotten that coveted spot -- but never say never, especially with a deluxe edition on the way!
Lyndsey Havens: I mean, she should be 10/10 happy -- she released an incredible, funk-filled, dance-ready album full of heartbreak bangers. Though I personally thought and wished for Future Nostalgia to nab a No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200, I'll settle for top 5. It's also important to remember the climate and surrounding factors in which Dua released her sophomore project; she moved its drop date up a week instead of delaying due to the coronavirus, but meanwhile, overall album consumption units were down 12.3% the week ending March 19. We'll never know how high Future Nostalgia may have debuted had life been "normal" right now, but fortunately for us Dua isn't going anywhere -- and will surely debut atop the chart later in her career.
Jason Lipshutz: I’d say about a 4. A No. 4 debut on the Billboard 200 chart is a big boost from a No. 27 debut -- yet with all the hype surrounding the album and the huge success of “Don’t Start Now,” Lipa could have reasonably expected a stronger start, and even eyed the six-figure range. Chalk this final number up to Lipa not quite being known as an “album artist” yet, even though she just made an excellent one. The further she progresses in her career, the more fans will want to peruse her full-length statements instead of just soak in what’s on the radio or on playlists.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll say 6. For a pop artist on her second album that hasn't historically been a streaming powerhouse, 66k and No. 4 is a pretty respectable showing -- especially compared to other highly anticipated full-length releases from the acclaimed pop likes of Carly Rae Jepsen and Charli XCX that debuted outside the top 10. Dua's squarely in the mainstream now, and if her momentum continues trending in the right direction, she should contend for No. 1 with her next album.
Xander Zellner: About an 8. To put this week’s debut in perspective, her first album never logged a week with more than 15k, so this is an enormous leap from that, and a sure sign of brighter things to come. But coming off the massive success of “Don’t Start Now” and her pair of wins at the 2019 Grammys (including best new artist!) it’s hard to not have hoped for a No. 1, especially when the album is as strong as it is. In order to have achieved that, though, Future Nostalgia would’ve had to double its units (and then some, as After Hours earned 138k this week), so perhaps that’s asking for a little too much. But she certainly has the pop prowess and the fandom that warrants a No. 1, so it’s only a matter of time.
2. Future Nostalgia's "Break My Heart" debuts at No. 21 on the Hot 100 this week -- what kind of chance do you think it has of following "Don't Start Now" to the top 10?
Gab Ginsberg: I think it’s got a good shot. "Break My Heart" is up 37-21 on Pop Songs as the chart's Greatest Gainer, and it’ll only continue to win over radio listeners who are starved for something to dance to during these trying times. Actually, that describes the whole Future Nostalgia album.
Lyndsey Havens: If I keep streaming it as often as I have been (which I will), I can see it landing in the top 10, if not the top 5. I believe we're officially in the waiting period where most of the major anticipated releases that were supposed to arrive in the coming weeks are not. If that means it allows Dua an opening to climb as high as she can on the Hot 100, that's quite the silver lining in my book.
Jason Lipshutz: As I’ve played Future Nostalgia in its entirety while at home over the past week-and-a-half, I’ve noticed that, even though there are songs I personally enjoy more than “Break My Heart” (shout-out to “Hallucinate” and “Levitating”), that INXS-interpolating hook is one of the most immediate on the project and gives the album a back-half highlight. I could see “Break My Heart” burrowing into our brains and slowly climbing into the top 10.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, I'm optimistic. Considering no other song from the album (besides previous singles "Don't Start Now" and "Physical") even made the Hot 100 this week, and considering the song doesn't even show up on Future Nostalgia until track nine, No. 21 is a pretty resounding start for "Break My Heart" -- a combination, no doubt, of New Music Friday playlist placement and early radio excitement. The streams may dip in the short-term, but will likely rebound as radio picks up. I wouldn't be surprised if it ultimately becomes one of the biggest pop hits of the social distancing era.
Xander Zellner: Not out of the question -- it’s a great song! -- although I’m partial to “Levitating” and “Love Again.” “Break My Heart” gets a nice start at pop radio this week though, jumping from No. 37 to No. 21, which should help kick it into high-gear. Plus, with the near-universal acclaim Future Nostalgia has received so far, it can only help it climb higher.
3. Dua Lipa's bop credentials are fairly well established at this point, but was there anything she does well on Future Nostalgia that you found surprising?
Gab Ginsberg: It’s all killer, no filler -- a beautifully comprehensive album where every chorus is as big as possible, and sometimes the post-chorus is even more spectacular. I love most of Lipa’s debut album, but a few songs drag for me, whereas she’s batting a thousand here.
Lyndsey Havens: Can you do confidence well? Well, Dua does. I'm not entirely surprised by it, but incredibly pleased by the result. She brings the vocals on tracks like "Cool" and "Hallucinate," and elsewhere is entirely comfortable being vulnerable -- which is, of course, easier when that vulnerability is veiled by bright disco-pop production, best heard on singles "Don't Start Now" and "Break My Heart."
Jason Lipshutz: “Good In Bed” is the type of wink-heavy sex song that could have been cringeworthy if it had been less fully developed, but Lipa treats the track as the bit of devilish fun that had been previously missing from her discography. I’m not surprised that Lipa could pull off the cheeky delivery of that “good pipe in the moonlight” line, but flirting with an R rating can be a tricky needle for a mainstream pop star to thread, and she does so admirably.
Andrew Unterberger: At some point I will get used to Dua Lipa referencing "good pipe." That point has yet to come.
Xander Zellner: I love that she leans strictly into upbeat disco-pop throughout the album: no real lulls or slow songs. Whereas Dua Lipa felt a little crowded, with Lipa introducing us to her pop-singing chops, Nostalgia feels much more organized -- almost as if everything about the album was planned out in advance. Also the White Town sample on “Love Again” was a pleasant surprise that worked seamlessly.
4. Future Nostalgia has received virtually unanimous critical acclaim, easily the year's highest-rated pop release on Metacritic thusfar. Do you think it's actually the best pop album we've received in 2020 so far -- and if not, who else you got?
Gab Ginsberg: Whoa, we can’t forget about Selena Gomez’s Rare, which is one of my favorites so far this year. It maybe even takes the gold, which means the silver medal goes to Lipa (though she’s forever in first place for those vocals). But there’s room for all of the pop greats! Keep ‘em coming!
Lyndsey Havens: Honestly, it's hard to remember what 2020 was before this pandemic. Did Halsey, Selena Gomez, Meghan Trainor and Kesha all really release albums this year?! While I still love the Kesha album, as well as a handful of Halsey and Meghan singles, I think Selena and Dua are pretty tied in terms of "best" pop album so far this year. Dua's definitely goes harder overall, but Selena's power pop ballad ("Lose You To Love Me") will always hold a place in my heart.
Jason Lipshutz: Despite some stiff competition from Selena Gomez and 5 Seconds of Summer, Lipa has the pop project to beat in 2020 so far, as Future Nostalgia benefits from its crisp, 37-minute run time an doesn’t really have any missteps across its 11 songs. There have been multiple pop projects with exhilarating highs released this year, yet Future Nostalgia comes out on top for its lack of lows.
Andrew Unterberger: Another huge honorable mention to 5 Seconds of Summer here, as the opening run to Calm beats out any other pop album of the year so far for me. The Weeknd also released maybe the best album of his pop era just a week ago with After Hours, so that's certainly in the mix as well. And gotta give a shoutout to Georgia's Seeking Thrills, which isn't playing at the commercial level of these other names mentioned, but certainly has the singles to contend with any of 'em. But Future Nostalgia maintains a little better throughout than any of these other sets, so I've got it as the leader in the clubhouse four months into the 2020 pop schedule.
Xander Zellner: In terms of purely pop albums, Future Nostalgia is unquestionably the best so far. After Hours, Beach Bunny’s Honeymoon and even Soccer Mommy’s Color Theory are some of the year’s best pop-leaning albums, but in terms of textbook pop music, nothing has come close to Future Nostalgia so far.
5. Three-plus months into the 2020s, separating the music from the context of our current real-world situation -- if indeed, such a thing is even possible -- do you think we'll be feeling future nostalgia for this mini-period of pop music history?
Gab Ginsberg: Welllll, nostalgia requires a longing for the past, right? Personally, I’ll still be in the depths of Spotify’s “Fans Also Like” feature, searching for pop gems to keep me going long after the Top 10 resets.
Lyndsey Havens: It's just not possible to separate the music from our reality. I think the two always go hand-in-hand, and right now is no exception. To me, that's precisely why Future Nostalgia is such a high point for so many right now, among other reasons (mainly that is f*$%!ng rules). That being said, I can't really see anyone looking back at this mini-period of pop music history fondly... I think, like Dua, there will be a few moments we remember celebrating as a source of release. But beyond that, nah I don't think so.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s hard to say, since some of the trends we’re seeing play out in 2020 so far -- like the disco-pop revival, or the dance challenges aimed at TikTok -- are just getting started, and feel far away from cresting. But in a more specific sense? I love Roddy Ricch’s 11-week Hot 100 champ “The Box,” and will eventually be nostalgic for the days of hearing that “eeh-er” sound at every major gathering (if major gatherings do, in fact, exist in the future).
Andrew Unterberger: I'll certainly remember the music fondly, if not necessarily the associated experiences. Not exactly one of the biggest tragedies of this moment in time, but it is kind of a shame that pop music is in such a fun, upbeat place right now, and we're only able to enjoy it while sequestered in the privacy of our own homes. Maybe let's just agree to pause pop for the next 2-3-however-many months and jump back into it like nothing happened when and if the world re-opens? We all good with that?
Xander Zellner: I’ll always remember listening to this album for the first time while wearing a facemask.
If ever a single was set up to debut at No. 1, it was Drake's "Toosie Slide": A new pop single from the most dominant hitmaker of the last half-decade, with a built-in dance craze, launched on the current day's most viral-friendly platform.
And sure enough, "Toosie" didn't disappoint, bowing at No. 1 on this week's Hot 100. It's Drake's third No. 1 to begin on top -- following "God's Plan" and "Nice For What" in 2018 -- and his seventh No. 1 overall, tying him with frequent co-star Rihanna as the artist with the most leaders on the chart since he notched his first in Nov. 2010.
What kind of legs does the "Toosie Slide" have? And what do we even think about a dance crazy song released when the whole world is on lockdown? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. Another new single, another No. 1 debut for Drake -- his third since early 2018. Does "Toosie Slide" bowing on top say more to the credit of the song, or more to Drake's status as a bulletproof hitmaker?
Josh Glicksman: As my colleague Trevor Anderson noted a few weeks ago in a prior edition of Five Burning Questions, "a fully conscious Drake and TikTok combo will be the most fearsome fusion since Goku [and] Vegeta.” I’m not sure that I’m ready to go there yet, but it’s hard to argue that Drake nabbing a massive debut for “Toosie Slide” was anything short of an inevitability. I’d still push back on the idea that he’s got more slaps than The Beatles, but he has the most Hot 100 entries in chart history for a reason. To be fair, I think “Toosie Slide” is better than it’s getting credit for, but I doubt a run-of-the-mill artist would be shooting straight to the top with a similar effort.
Carl Lamarre: The second one. Drake is what I call a Bad Boy Supreme. For over a decade, he's solidified himself as a perennial hitmaker. He's proven to be Chef Curry with the pot because he's a marksman in the arena of bangers. "God's Plan," "Nice For What," and "Toosie Slide" are sonically distinct with different topics, but each debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100. That's pretty impressive.
Jason Lipshutz: No offense to “Toosie Slide,” but Drake could have dropped a three-minute telephone book reading and guided it to the top of the Hot 100. That’s how singular Drake’s power currently is as a popular artist: whenever he deems it time to drop an official new single, that single has a good shot at immediately becoming the biggest song in the country. That won’t always be a case, but as has been the case for years, that Drizzy reign just won’t let up.
Andrew Unterberger: It's probably more about Drake, but it's telling that he hedged his bets this much with the viral-baiting "Toosie Slide": Lest we forget, when the man first debuted on top (with "God's Plan" a couple years ago), it was with a song with no real chorus or hook that a lot of us thought was a glorified album cut on first listen. After a year-plus of loosies, one-offs and features not really getting Drake the chart buzz he's accustomed to -- with radio-conquering Chris Brown collab "No Guidance" a historic exception -- it's not surprising that he's not screwing around with his big comeback.
2. How do you feel about the timiling and logistics about releasing a dance single while the outside world is essentially closed for business? Wise, unwise, or TBD?
Josh Glicksman: TBD, I guess? I don’t feel particularly strong one way or another about it. If the song has legs, there will be no shortage of people ready to “right foot up, left foot slide” when the time calls for it. And if we’re going to talk about dance singles released at an unfortunate time, let’s talk about Dua Lipa instead. I’ve spent countless hours staring out the window wondering when I’ll be able to give Future Nostalgia the praise it deserves out on the dance floor. In the meantime, I suppose the socially isolated dance parties will have to suffice.
Carl Lamarre: Wise. We legit don't have anything else to do, so why not learn a new dance during quarantine? If anything, we've witnessed the resurgence of Wiz Khalifa's grossly underrated "Something New," courtesy of an original dance, and active stay-at-home order. We've also watched Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage" rocket 70 spots last month because her Savage Challenge dominated social media. Dance challenges are ubiquitous inside or outside the crib, but it's thriving now because we're looking for ways to stay engaged. So why not dance?
Jason Lipshutz: Maybe it’s actually smarter to release a dance single that you can perform by yourself now, instead of a song that begs to be played in a group setting or club? TikTok is thriving because the movements it popularizes can be performed by teens in living rooms and bedrooms, and “Toosie Slide” is essentially a mash note to the platform. Kudos to Drake for knowing whatthe world needs now: a slightly moody dance smash that discourages any sort of gathering.
Andrew Unterberger: Wise. Mostly, it seems to be confirmation that the days of the primary forum for dance crazes actually being the dance floor are now firmly in the past -- and probably have been for years, if not decades, already.
3. Not like Drake is gonna be competing for any choreography awards anytime soon, but on a scale from 1-10, how do you rate the Toosie Slide itself as a dance craze?
Josh Glicksman: 4. My main gripe with the Toosie Slide is that it apparently ultimately doesn’t matter what you do. Right foot up, left foot slide is always a solid starting spot. Then left foot up, right foot slide. Sure, balance is good, too. But if you’re going to say afterward “basically, I’m saying either way we ‘bout to slide,” then what’s the point? I’m sliding either way? Give me a little say in the matter, Drizzy. That said, I’d absolutely be lying if I said I won’t be hitting those two steps in stride the first time I hear it while out -- and you would be, too. I just wish there were a few more instructions to lead us into a freestyle space. That’s where the real stars shine.
Carl Lamarre: I'll say 4, because he used MJ's dance moves as the framework for "Toosie." Also, we have to remember what Shiggy spawned with the In My Feelings Challenge. That was a game-changer in terms of dance challenges and virality, and in contrast to "Toosie's" flimsy four, "IMF" stands high and mighty with a perfect 10 in my books.
Jason Lipshutz: I give it an admirable 7! A common misconception about dance crazes -- if there are even common conceptions about dance crazes? -- is that they have to be challenging, or even unique. The Toosie Slide’s kick-slide motion is easy and instantly memorable, as it should be for mass consumption. I knock a few points off because I’d prefer a dance craze that can be performed throughout the entirety of a song, not just during its chorus. But hey, maybe this is a learning experience for Drake, and he goes full-on “Cha Cha Slide” with his next effort.
Andrew Unterberger: I also say 7. I like a dance that has a simple framework, but also allows a little room for individual freestyling -- as the "basically I'm saying" part permits, even if it does still sound a little like a Lyric TK note. Compared to his old foe Soulja Boy's signature dance, it's a lot less captivating, but a lot more accessible.
4. On his last album cycle, Drake had three separate No. 1s that reigned for at least eight weeks. Do you see "Toosie Slide" having similar legs, or do you think it'll fall once the viral excitement over it starts to fade?
Josh Glicksman: Eight weeks feels like a stretch to me, but maybe that’s just because I have no concept of time anymore. Every day is just “today” now. Eight weeks from now (also known as 56 todays) is the middle of June, which feels like a lifetime away. For comparison, eight weeks ago was just after Valentine’s Day weekend. If you told me that Valentine’s Day was a full year ago, I’d absolutely believe you. Maybe I just have this backward and “Toosie Slide” will be the song that propels us into the summer months, but I don’t have faith in any song having that kind of staying power at the moment.
Carl Lamarre: It depends. I mean, it is Drake. Because the top 10 hasn't experienced any significant shuffles, especially with Roddy running the table for 11 weeks earlier this year, Drake isn't competing with anyone except The Weeknd and Dua Lipa. I can see this stampeding the competition for at least another four weeks.
Jason Lipshutz: Toosie Slide” may not exist on the same plane as “Nice For What” or “In My Feelings” as a fully formed marriage of kinetic production and effortless Drake hooks, but it does have the meme-able quality of “God’s Plan” that could help it settle into an extended run at No. 1 once the initial excitement wears off. Eight weeks is a long time to stay at the chart peak, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it rule for four or five frames.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll take the over. It's not like "One Dance" was a culture-conquering force in its day, but it was just the right song at the right time by the right guy, and it essentially ran unopposed for No. 1 for double-digit weeks in 2016. We'll see, but I'd predict general pop intertia ends up working in Drake's favor on this one.
5. While we're talking dance crazes -- give a shoutout to one from years past whose accompanying song you think has held up a little better than you might have expected.
Josh Glicksman: Let’s go with “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. It’s not overly complicated -- and certainly has less rigid structure than some of the dance crazes that have come after it -- but it gives the dancer a ton of wiggle room to add some personal flair to it. Plus, you get to repeatedly throw up that huge “S” during the chorus, which I think stands for “safety,” though I’m not entirely sure. Either way, it’s a perfect step-and-clap type dance craze, and the song more than holds up decades later.
Carl Lamarre: Weezy reviving the Harlem Shake for "Uproar." That song is still an absolute heater to this day! Nothing will ever replace "Special Delivery," but I thought it was a dope attempt from Weezy and Shiggy to restore this 2000s dance craze in 2018.
Jason Lipshutz: I was eight years old in the summer of 1996, and when the Bayside Boys remix of Los Del Rio’s “Macarena” became an international smash, 8-year-old me thought that popular music would never be the same. So many mornings bellowing out the song to wake my family up, butchering the Spanish lyrics all the while! So many afternoons performing the dance with friends at outdoor birthday parties! And so many laughs at the booty-shaking finale of the Macarena dance routine, which triggered the glorious sequence to start all over again.
Andrew Unterberger: When was the last time you actually listened to Marcia Griffiths' "Electric Boogie" -- better known to the world as the song behind the Electric Slide? Sure, the lyrics are a little goofy, but the groove is undeniable, the melody is infectious, the backing vocals and ad libs are irresistible, and the entire thing... well, it's electric.
Five Burning Questions: Twenty One Pilots' Top 25 Hot 100 Debut With 'Level of Concern' 4/21/2020 by Billboard Staff
Twenty One Pilots spent most of 2016 being unavoidable in the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100. They scored three top five hits that year -- "Stressed Out" (No. 2), "Ride" (No. 5) and "Heathens" (No. 2) -- and became the first rock band since The Beatles to notch two of them in the top 5 simultaneously.
But since then, they'd been absent altogether from the chart's top 40, with the highest-charting single off 2018's Trench being the No. 50-peaking "Jumpsuit." That changes this week with the debut of their disco-tinged new single "Level of Concern" -- a song explicitly written during and about this period of American life under quarantine -- which debuts at No. 23 on the Hot 100 this week, the chart's highest new entry. What does this bow mean for Twenty One Pilots? And will this lead to a flood of new quarantine-themed pop songs on the top 40? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.
1, A No. 23 debut for "Level of Concern" already marks a significantly higher peak than any of the hits off TØP's Trench album ever reached. Do you think that the song is just that much more accessible than the singles pulled from the duo's last album, or is their timing just right for this one?
Katie Atkinson: Both. While they've obviously had hits since, I would say this is Twenty One Pilots' most accessible single since "Ride." Their other biggest songs ("Stressed Out," "Heathens") were weirder and took a minute to digest before they really struck a chord with pop radio, whereas "Level of Concern" can be dropped into a top 40 lineup today without anyone batting an eye. And then there's the song's theme of being comforted during a very anxious time that instantly drew in listeners, for obvious reasons -- whereas the Trench rollout seemed purposefully esoteric, delivering hidden messages to the duo's die-hard fans as opposed to speaking to a broader audience.
Anna Chan: I think it's the timing. Granted, it hasn't been that long since Trench dropped, but with the coronavirus pandemic keeping us all at home and eager for something fresh and different, well, hey, look! Here's a catchy new tune that's also very timely in its subject matter. (Maybe a little too timely for some? I, personally, need an escape from all the virus and quarantine talk.) Stephen Daw: "Level of Concern" definitely hits on a much more pop-focused sound for TØP, but I don't know that it's such a huge departure from their Trench sonics. Look at songs like "My Blood" or "Legend" off of their last record -- both definitely dabble in this more disco-infused sound. I think that the duo is seeing a lot bigger gains with this thanks to the way they really capitalized on the moment that we're all currently living in. The lyrics are instantly relatable, and the music is the kind of escapist pop that a lot of people are turning to during a crisis.
Jason Lipshutz: “Level of Concern” has been knowingly positioned as a return to the mainstream after Twenty One Pilots made a hard pivot toward a heavier guitar sound, but the funny thing about Trench was that it did possess a pretty great radio single in “The Hype,” which soared to the top of the Hot Rock Songs and Alternative Songs chart but curiously never cracked the Hot 100. The duo’s new single lends itself even more to the dance floor (or it will, someday), but it’s not like the guys turned into Tool on their previous full-length.
Andrew Unterberger: Compared with the exhilarating but pummeling "Jumpsuit," it's certainly a 180 -- though subsequent Trench singles "My Blood" and "The Hype" might've had more chart success if they were released first off the album. For that reason, it seemed like the duo's pivot away from the pop world was purposeful. But they're certainly back now with "Level of Concern," and the timing is undoubtedly right, both in terms of the song's topicality and the (somewhat ironically) upbeat sound of pop radio in 2020. It's the best of all worlds for TØP, basically.
2. This is arguably the first true hit single to come out since the days of self-quarantining started that was both created during and designed for this cultural moment. Do you see it being the first of many such hits, or do you think they'll still be much more the exception than the rule?
Katie Atkinson: It feels like there will be plenty more hits born in quarantine, given the now-abundant free time of our biggest pop stars, but maybe not ones that speak quite so literally to this moment. The fact that the words "quarantine" and "bunker" are right there in the lyrics means we'll be able to pinpoint this song to April 2020 for decades to come, which could also mean that It will feel dated more quickly once we're out of lockdown. But given the song's bouncy energy and catchy chorus, it feels like this one has a shelf life -- I just don't think "coronacore" is going to be a trendy genre anyone is jumping on just to climb the Hot 100. Anna Chan: I'd wager there are more quarantine-themed hits to come. Artists write about what they know, what they're experiencing, and everyone is experiencing the stress, anxiety and depression of self-quarantine right now. It's a topic that's top of mind and everyone can relate to, so has a good chance of connecting with listeners -- especially with a solid hook. Look at 9/11 and the songs it inspired across genres, and even years after: Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"; Paul McCartney's "Freedom"; Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising"; Beastie Boys' "Open Letter to NYC"; and Evanescence's "My Last Breath," for example. Stephen Daw: The truth definitely lies in the middle here. Artists like Troye Sivan and Charli XCX have been working on new music from quarantine and keeping their fans updated on the process, which is definitely working for both of them. However, I don't know how many songs written during quarantine and about quarantine are actually going to break through to become massive hits — people love being able to relate to music, but are also likely looking for music that takes them out of the self-isolated mindset.
Jason Lipshutz: My guess is that we’ll see more artists release songs that reference this moment in world history if not dwell upon it. Aside from the line “Would you be my little quarantine,” “Level of Concern” could mostly be about any panicked moment and quest for reassurance amidst personal anxiety. Twenty One Pilots didn’t put the coronavirus pandemic in the foreground here, and I think that’ll be how this moment is treated in popular music, and maybe popular culture in general.
Andrew Unterberger: I think we'll see a number of artists at least try -- the SEO possibilities are too potentially lucrative, if nothing else -- though many more of them will fail than succeed, I'd imagine. Those that do manage to actually impact the top 40 world (and I imagine we'll see a handful more do so) will likely be strong enough songs apart from their quarantine connections to be popular on their own merits.
3. We've seen songs with a disco pulse and energy enjoy a staggering comeback in 2020, from Dua Lipa to Lady Gaga to Doja Cat and now to Twenty One Pilots. Are you starting to get sick of it yet, or do you want the disco ball to just keep spinning?
Katie Atkinson: Keep. It. Spinning. I have no explanation as to why 2020 ushered in a new era of disco, but I'm very here for it. It makes sense that people would gravitate to more upbeat music in this exact moment, to escape the realities of lockdown life, but Dua's "Don't Start Now" was released in November and peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100 in early March, so it's not just a response to a darker climate. Whatever the reason, I want more, and anyone who predicted that Twenty One Pilots would be the next act to jump on the sound deserves some sort of cash prize.
Anna Chan: Count me in the tired-of-it camp. But to be fair, disco beats aren't usually my jam either. But if we're talking Twenty One Pilots -- which, obviously, we are -- I much prefer the harder stuff: "Jumpsuit" from Trench, for example. Then they've got the groovier stuff I dig, like "Heathens" from the Suicide Squad soundtrack, or "Nico and the Niners," again from Trench. Stephen Daw: I've got my platform shoes, my bell bottoms and my spandex ready to go, because I am here for the disco revolution, honey. There's something so sleek and simultaneously uncool about disco that makes it irresistible to listen to. Especially as I'm trapped in my apartment, I am going to be getting my boogie on without a doubt.
Jason Lipshutz: More quarantined dance music, please! While it’s frustrating to not yet experience these uptempo tracks in a live setting yet, a lot of them have had a sort of effervescent effect on my psyche in lockdown, be it through spontaneous dance breaks to jump-start a workday or providing a kicky soundtrack for weekend house cleaning. We’ve got at least a dozen more of these disco-influenced singles to go before I’m going to feel any fatigue.
Andrew Unterberger: If the disco isn't still thumping by the time we're able to rejoin the real world in any meaningful way, I'll be furious.
4. "Would you be my little quarantine" -- cute or cringe?
Katie Atkinson: I'm going cute, just given the sweetness of the rest of the lyrics about leaning on a partner for comfort in a very disconcerting time. But does it make sense? Like, is Tyler Joseph asking his intended to be his safe place, or is it supposed to be a cheeky play on words, like quaran-teen? Maybe it's best to just let it stand and not dissect it. (Also, speaking of the lyrics, I have to call out the song's very first line: "Panic on the brain." I know this is about the current state of our world, but can we at Billboard just pretend that Tyler and Josh knew they were going to put a stop to Panic! at the Disco's seemingly ceaseless 76-week run at No. 1 on the Hot Rock Songs chart with this track?)
Anna Chan: It's a bit cringe for me, especially right now, when one: It's not February and this feels a little bit like a forced rhyme/reference with "valentines" (which I despise); and two: Finding someone to quarantine with doesn't seem like it should be high on the list of concerns, considering everything else that's happening. (My two cats are fine quarantine mates, thanks!) That said, "Level of Concern" is a full-on earworm. After listening to it twice, I found myself humming it while making dinner -- and then could not stop muttering the lyrics to myself. So there you go: Cringe or not, it's stuck in my head. Stephen Daw: This absolutely made me cringe. I appreciate that they went for the light-hearted approach, which is what we all need right now, but that line in particular felt so forced and strange to me that it immediately took me out of the groove I was getting into.
Jason Lipshutz: Cute! At the very least, we will likely exit this devastating pandemic with “quarantine” as a popular new pet name for a significant other. I’m choosing to believe that this is okay. Andrew Unterberger: Criiiiiiiiinge. It's a credit to the strength of the song's melody and groove that some of its lyrical clunkers are as forgivable as they are, but this one in particular was a pretty major stumbling block for me. To be fair, though, it could very well be one of those pop lyrics that just needs to hit a certain level of overexposure to be properly accepted into our hearts and minds, and then it'll seem ridiculous that it ever seemed ridiculous.
5. Getting a little real for a second: On a scale from 1-10 (with 1 being a state of complete chill and 10 a ceaseless state of total panic), how would you assess your own level of concern about the state of the world at this moment? Katie Atkinson: Oh my. I guess I'll go 6, because I'm definitely leaning more toward the panic than the chill, but just barely. The phrase "this too shall pass" definitely pops into my brain on a daily basis. Anna Chan: Not gonna lie, I'm pretty concerned, especially with people now protesting shelter-in-place orders and various states considering re-opening soon. I'm probably around a 7, depending on whether I'm watching Trump's briefings. If I am, make it eleventy billion, because we are doomed.
Stephen Daw: It depends on the day for me, because being sealed up in my apartment has definitely begun to take its toll on my mental well-being. As of today, I'd say my level of concern is at a strong 7: things are really bad right now, and they're going to continue to be bad for a longer time than I think any of us are actually willing to accept. But I refuse to let myself go higher than an 8, because eventually we are going to come out of this pandemic and start moving forward. Hope is an important tool right now, and we should all be trying to use it as often as we can. Jason Lipshutz: 8. I believe that we will collectively get through this and that there are a countless amount of selfless, helpful acts happening daily around the globe, but it’s hard not to look at that growing death toll and not constantly hyperventilate or break down in perpetual mourning. Music, and talking about it, has been invaluable in this time, and is one of the things -- also including family, FaceTime, Parks & Recreation and my dog -- that’s prevented me from answering this with a 10.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll say 6.5 -- though I'm inching closer to a 7 or higher every time I see a photo of social-distancing protestors fighting for their right to get haircuts or what have you. Generally speaking, though, the health trends appear to be moving in the right direction (in my home state anyway), giving me faith that we're at least headed in the right direction, even if the road there is gonna be longer and more winding than any of us would hope for.
Hard to believe it's barely been a year since DaBaby first graced the Billboard Hot 100 with breakout hit "Suge," eventually peaking at No. 9 on the chart. Since then, he's become a commercial juggernaut, topping the Billboard 200 albums chart for the first time in October 2019 with sophomore album Kirk -- charting all 13 tracks on the Hot 100 in the process.
Half a year later, he returns this week to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with third album Blame It on Baby -- again blanketing the Hot 100 with 12 of its 13 tracks. Though the numbers remain impressive, the album's 124k in first-week equivalent album units is a bit of a downturn from the 145k moved by Kirk, and critical enthusiasm for the set has also been a little more muted.
Where does DaBaby's momentum seem to be currently trending? Is his unusually prolific release schedule sustainable? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Blame it on Baby arrives with 124k in first-week equivalent album units -- more than enough for an easy No. 1, but short of initial projects, and a little over 20k under his first-week number for last year's Kirk. How would you describe DaBaby's current heat level: Jacuzzi, heated indoor pool, moonlit creek or ice bath?
Josh Glicksman: Heated indoor pool, but that’s only because it’s very unsafe to be sitting in the jacuzzi for such a long period. Elapsed time in the music industry is somewhat analogous to the human years vs. dog years scale at this point — Kirk’s release last September, while only seven months ago in reality, practically feels years ago. It’s unrealistic to expect him to retain bubbling jet status for such a duration. He can crank up the temperature at a moment’s notice, too, and to say he hasn’t done so already this year is simply wrong. Besides, given more than a few recent legal troubles, it’s not the worst idea to take a minor step out of the spotlight
Carl Lamarre: Heated indoor pool. It's still an incredible feat to pull anything over 100,000 units in this climate. Despite selling 20K less than Kirk, Baby still had 10-plus records land on the Hot 100 its opening week, with his Roddy Ricch-assisted "ROCKSTAR" leading the pack, debuting at No. 9. Men lie, women lie, numbers don't, even if the Baby hate-train is loading up on passengers.
Jason Lipshutz: Give him a heated indoor pool with one eye on the adjacent jacuzzi: even if Blame It on Baby’s debut is a slight step down from that of Kirk, it’s still a six-figure No. 1 bow, and that’s never something to sneeze at. Kirk arrived when DaBaby demand (DaMand?) was at a fever pitch, coming off of the recent top 10 hit “Suge” and the explosive “Intro”; given that, and the fact that Blame It on Baby is arriving barely six months later, it’s not surprising at all that there were slightly diminishing commercial returns this time.
Andrew Unterberger: If you just listen to Twitter, it'd be moonlit creek at the warmest. In reality, it's probably still heated indoor pool: the numbers are still fairly undeniable, and the album is stronger than many give it credit for. But for a guy who spent all of 2019 trending up, up and away, the new decade may be bringing a gradual downturn for DaBaby if he's not careful.
Christine Werthman: Heated indoor pool. I know lots of people aren't too stoked about DaBaby's stylistic repetition on his third album in just over a year, and it's definitely the weakest of the trio, but we're still listening. Hate listens count! In my own little echo chamber of the internet, Fiona Apple's Fetch the Bolt Cutters was making people lose their minds, and that debuted at No. 4. If the Billboard 200 strictly measured fan enthusiasm -- or only physical album sales, for that matter -- Fetch would've whooped Blame it on Baby. But again, the numbers don't lie. People still care about DaBaby right now, and a No. 1 is a No. 1 is a No. 1. Now hand me my floaties.
2. The album's "ROCKSTAR," featuring Roddy Ricch, is the highest of DaBaby's 14 Hot 100 entries this week, debuting at No. 9. Does it feel more like an enduring hit to you, or a piling up of first-week stats from two of streaming's most popular newer artists?
Josh Glicksman: I don’t know that it’ll have an extended stay in the top 10, but to chalk up its high debut to little other than both artists’ streaming prowess doesn’t seem like a fair assessment, either. I’d be pretty surprised if the song doesn’t at least hang around the middle of the chart for a bit. DaBaby knows how to plant a chorus in his listeners’ heads and “ROCKSTAR” is no exception — here’s to hoping this kicks off a wave of harp (I think?) rap. And if I recall correctly, previous songs titled “Rockstar” have fared pretty well on the Hot 100.
Carl Lamarre: It's tough to say. For me, "ROCKSTAR" along with "DROP" ranks as the top two records on the album. You get a healthy mixture of swagger, star-power, and edge on the former. Plus, Roddy is only a couple weeks removed from his huge 11-week run as the King of the Hot 100 charts after holding down the fort with "The Box." The song is insanely good, and I'm curious to see if it can stiff-arm the opposition to land Baby his first top-five record.
Jason Lipshutz: For a rapper best known for endlessly piling up bars with little deviation or fatigue, “Rockstar” finds DaBaby expanding his range a bit by adding some melody into the chorus -- he does this on “Find My Way” too, but the Roddy Ricch team-up is the stronger overall track. There’s also a ton of commercial interest in Ricch post-“The Box,” so consider “Rockstar” a layup for heavy hip-hop radio rotation and high placement on playlists.
Andrew Unterberger: I'm not super-sold on "ROCKSTAR" yet beyond its star power, though the latter alone is certainly going to get it every opportunity it could ask for in 2020. Still, the outline for a smash is so obvious here that maybe it doesn't really matter that the definition within the lines isn't as sharp as it could be -- I certainly wouldn't feel secure betting the under here. I do wish folks would stop spelling "rock star" like it's actually a single compound word, though.
Christine Werthman: SethInTheKitchen produced this one, and as we saw on Kirk track "iPHONE," he's good at laying those thumping, moody R&B foundations. He brings those to "ROCKSTAR" but adds a memorable, daintily picked guitar loop that almost sounds like a harp, giving it some real "Lucid Dreams" vibes. Similarly, DaBaby acts as the subdued foundation here, while Roddy Ricch is the more animated, higher-pitched, Young Thug-ish addition you'll remember. This is one of the strongest songs on the album, but without a massive hook, a takeaway line or any one-two-punch rhymes, all signs point to the collaboration itself driving those early streams.
3. The most frequently posed question of DaBaby -- sometimes on his own hits -- is when he's going to start expanding his flows a little. Is it time for him to make a concerted move away from his signature flow, or is there no need to fix something that isn't broken?
Josh Glicksman: If it’s his signature flow, why would he move away from it? Given the constant claims of rappers biting one another’s styles, I don’t see any reason why he’d look to pivot. Clearly, it’s been a winning formula for DaBaby over the past year-plus, so I’d honestly push back on the idea that the flow isn’t even a little bit broken, let alone demonstrably broken. And just because he’s sticking to the familiar style, that doesn’t mean that Blame It on Baby fails to branch out sonically: outside of the title track’s frequent beat switches, throughout the album, he’s playing with different sounds in the chorus more than ever before.
Carl Lamarre: Well, after speaking to Baby last week, his philosophy leans on the latter part of your question: "if ain't broke, why fix it?" I think Baby can easily change the flow up, as proven on "FIND MY WAY." It was a smooth attempt to soften his haters' stance, but at times on the album, he swerves back to his comfort zone. Judging off the criticism, what's plaguing Baby right now is the case of "listener's fatigue." Not only is he pushing out his own releases, but he's also on every feature imaginable. As searing as his voice and flow are, the key to longevity will be his willingness to one day evolve and take the next step to rap immortality.
Jason Lipshutz: What songs like “Rockstar” and “Find My Way” demonstrate is a willingness from DaBaby to add some pop know-how to his songwriting, as if he’s graduated from just being the guy who can rap circles around the competition and now wants to collect crossover hits (see also: his guest spot on the Camila Cabello hit “My Oh My”). The early returns are positive, and I’d expect DaBaby to persist as a mainstream artist thanks to this subtle flexibility.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, I don't think it's so much that the flow needs switching up as just... three albums in barely a year's time is a lot of DaBaby. He actually branches out impressively on a handful of BIOB's tracks, and we saw on Kirk's "INTRO" that there's depths still to be plumbed with the rapper's lyrics and performance. His material feels more repetitious than it actually is, just because we're getting so much of it at once. Not a huge problem, but one that could lead to diminishing returns.
Christine Werthman: In the name of artistic growth, sure, give us something new. But is it a requirement? Of course not. He's got a No. 1 album, and in this time of pandemic, aren't people gravitating toward the familiar anyway? That said, if he puts out a fourth album and doesn't switch it up, the jig may be up. Or it will do exactly what this album did and go to No. 1.
4. While DaBaby enjoys his second No. 1 album for his third full-length release in 14 months, YoungBoy Never Broke Again appears poised to succeed him atop the chart with his third project in just over six months. Is it possible for any rapper to sustain momentum consistently over this high-volume a release schedule?
Josh Glicksman: Only to a certain extent. If he keeps up this output, I wouldn’t expect every effort to go No. 1, but as DaBaby himself has shown, a rapper -- or any artist (hi, Ariana Grande!) -- can put out multiple hugely successful albums in a short time span. Here’s the thing, though: while Blame It on Baby is a studio album, it feels a lot more like a mixtape to me. And not every mixtape needs to be a massive success for the artist to still be huge! Look at Lil Wayne during his peak Tha Carter phase. Just because every single one of those 2004-2008 mixtapes didn’t explode, that doesn’t mean he didn’t have the massive momentum behind him when he wanted it most.
Carl Lamarre: Ever heard of Future? Let's revisit the time he dropped two No. 1 albums in back-to-back weeks in 2017 with Future & Hndrxx. Nobody complained because Super provided two completely different projects for people to soak in and appreciate. On Future, we got the bombastic trap lord who thrived on running up the scoreboard with street anthems while Hndrxx highlighted a scorned player trying to decode the meaning of love. We can even journey back to when he released his trio of headbanging mixtapes starting from 2014: That run consisted of Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights in a year. The end result? He revitalized his career and legacy because of his prodigious output. If the music is undeniably good, the fans are going to keep coming back.
Jason Lipshutz: DaBaby and YoungBoy are both hyper-prolific stars who have been able to rack up chart achievements by working quickly during what appears to be their period of greatest commercial success; it’s the same sort of thinking that causes boy bands to release albums in quick succession before their younger fans age out of being die-hard supporters. It’s easier than ever for an artist to collect a worthy group of songs and upload it for mass consumption, and artists like DaBaby are going to rightly take advantage of that supply-and-demand tactic, while others like Drake and Migos will thrive by sticking to a more traditional release timeline.
Andrew Unterberger: Future, already an icon, is certainly the closest thing to an exception here -- and an artist like YoungBoy (whose fanbase is so rabid without necessarily crossing over much to the larger pop world) might also be able to sustain such a pace for a while. For DaBaby, though, who seems to have a higher superstar ceiling that he's still yet to reach, I might advise him to get out of the fast lane for a little bit at this point, and figure out what really makes sense for his next career step.
Christine Werthman: Yes, if the rapper in question keeps things interesting by, perhaps, maybe, hypothetically changing up his flow. Look, it's fun when your favorite rappers of the moment release a bunch of stuff in a short period of time, creating a battle-like atmosphere to see who will top whom. But it gets old if the artists aren't giving you anything new and the competition transitions from a spirited battle to a war of attrition. I don't think DaBaby -- or anyone, for that matter -- can uphold this rate of releases, and the only way he could be cleared to slow down right now is if he puts out an album that really knocks people out, so that they'll be more excited (and willing to wait) for his varied flows than impressed by his frequency.
5. The surgical mask on the Blame It on Baby cover: timely or in poor taste?
Josh Glicksman: Well, it’s certainly timely. I probably wouldn’t have advised him to wear it, but it’s not like he’s going to be the last person trying to get a self-quarantine fit off while stay-at-home orders are in effect. And at the very least, I’d prefer him to wear it around more than required as opposed to not at all.
Carl Lamarre: Ehhh. I get why people would say poor taste because so many lives were lost in this pandemic, but it's what makes Baby who he is. It's not to say he doesn't care, but I believe his aim was to provide a timestamp. Looking back years from now, his hope is for people to know that this was the album that went No. 1 during a global crisis.
Jason Lipshutz: A little of both. The image of DaBaby sporting a mask on an album cover certainly contains a level of shock value, but it does also anchor Blame It on Baby to the time period in which it was unveiled. If he’s the only artist who does this, I’m very fine with that, though.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll just say "kinda unnecessary."
Christine Werthman: I'm going to lean positive and say he's leading by example. Well done. Wear your masks!
Five Burning Questions: Travis Scott and Kid Cudi's Hot 100 No. 1 Debut as 'THE SCOTTS' 5/5/2020 by Billboard Staff
Billboard Hot 100, meet THE SCOTTS: the super-duo of genre-warping hip-hop stars Kid Cudi (birth name: Scott Mescudi) and Travis Scott. This week, the pair lands at No. 1 with their first teaming: a loose-fitting sub-three-minute jam also titled "THE SCOTTS."
The bow atop the chart is nothing new for Travis Scott, who also landed immediately at No. 1 on the Hot 100 with 2019's "HIGHEST IN THE ROOM," and who'd previously topped the listing in 2018 with "SICKO MODE." But it's the first appearance at pole position for Kid Cudi, whose prior best showing on the chart had been the No. 3 peak of breakthrough single "Day 'N' Nite," way back in 2009.
How has Travis become such a reliable chart-topper? What Cudi songs deserved better? And how badly do we want to see the two team up for a full project? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.
1. Between Travis Scott and Kid Cudi, whose musical personality or sonic signature do you think is dominant on the song -- or is it a pretty even split?
Tatiana Cirisano: It’s pretty even to me. Cudi and Travis share more than a “Scott”: It was Cudi who helped popularize the kind of hazy, melancholy sing-rapping that has become Travis’ signature, and in this menacing team-up, their styles blend almost effortlessly together.
Josh Glicksman: Yeah, I know there are semblances of the almighty Kid Cudi hum in the first verse, but I’m going with Travis Scott on this. Of course, you could quickly fall down a rabbit hole saying that, as the latter has a well-documented history of proclaiming how influential that Cudder was throughout his formative years. Nevertheless, combine a production that lands in slightly more familiar territory for Travis with the fact that Cudi is running with his counterpart’s adlibs during his own verse -- though we sadly don’t hear him let loose with Travis' signature “it’s lit!” -- it has to skew toward the younger Scott here. Carl Lamarre: I’m going to lean more towards Travis, but by a hair. They both thrive in spacey, galactic productions, but over the years, La Flame has taken over that lane and dominated it. “The Scotts” is also perfect because it’s ad-libs galore for those who love Travis and Cudi’s zany hums.
Jason Lipshutz: This is absolutely Travis Scott’s song -- the flows, ad-libs, pacing and interaction with the spaced-out production are all squarely in his zone, and doesn’t sound that dissimilar from his last No. 1 single, “Highest in the Room.” Kid Cudi undoubtedly influenced Scott’s overall approach to hip-hop, but what we hear on “The Scotts” is the iteration that has made Travis Scott one of the biggest names in popular music. Andrew Unterberger: I'd say it's probably even until the final minute, where the stuttering, bellowing organ hook -- seemingly an interstitial beamed in straight from Astroworld -- probably edges things lightly in Travis' direction. Still, definitely worth noting a lot of what we consider Travis Scott benchmarks in 2020 would've seemed perfectly natural coming from Cudi 8-10 years ago.
2. The song is Travis' third No. 1, following "SICKO MODE" and "Highest in the Room" -- none of which are exactly common chart fodder. What do you think is the most important common element in all three being such big hits?
Tatiana Cirisano: All three come with an instantly-memorable beat (or in “SICKO MODE”’s case, several), at least one coveted feature (in the case of "Highest," via its Rosalia- and Lil Baby-featuring remix) and Instagram caption-ready lyrics about rap star living.
But I’d argue that it’s not just the songs doing the work here, but Travis’ (and his team’s) promotional genius. The sprawling “SICKO MODE,” arguably the best of the bunch, is the highlight of Astroworld, an album promoted with a coveted merch line, giant sculptures of Scott’s head and a festival of the same name. “Highest in the Room” was released on multiple formats, including a collectible 7-inch vinyl and cassette, and that remix with two of 2019’s buzziest stars didn’t hurt.
But Travis reached his promotional prime with “The Scotts,” which he premiered to 12.3 million players during a virtual concert on Fortnite, an all-time record for an in-game event on the platform. Further bolstered by its own line of exclusive merch (which swiftly sold out), three different visuals, and three versions of album art by cult graffiti artist and designer KAWS, “The Scotts” was bound to get attention.
Josh Glicksman: The vast majority of artists only fit certain moods and environments. Even the ones that are able to throw several looks at listeners usually aren’t able to blend them into a single song. Travis Scott excels for a number of reasons -- the intergalactic beats, the gauzy, Auto-Tuned vocals, the well-timed adlibs -- but his ability to craft a hit that thrives seamlessly in a multitude of situations puts him in a particularly advantageous position. All three of these No. 1s function as Fortnite fodder just as spectacularly as they do as the hazy hit that you absolutely need to hear at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday night.
Carl Lamarre: At this point, expect the unexpected with Travis. “Sicko Mode” was not only a three-layered cake of decadence, courtesy of the seamless beat switches, but also features two hearty (but uncredited) Drake verses. Following that No. 1, Scott came out of the woodwork the last two times to announce a new single days before the songs’ releases. This time around, all we knew was that Travis was dropping a song to accompany his Astronomical concert with Fortnite, but best believe, no one expected a feature from Cudder to come along with it.
Jason Lipshutz: Simply put, the common thread is that they are all Travis Scott songs. One thing “The Scotts” demonstrates with its No. 1 debut is that Scott currently exists in Midas-touch territory, where he can put out something that’s not immediately arresting and still hit the top of the chart anyway. That’s not a knock against him -- “SICKO MODE,” his mainstream breakthrough, remains one of the very best hip-hop singles over the past five years -- but at this point he’s such a brand name that he can release “The Scotts,” a solid track that doesn’t try to become spectacular, and make it a Very Big Deal anyway.
Andrew Unterberger: Consider Travis a master of texture over songcraft. Not to say that his hits are totally lacking the latter -- "SICKO MODE" in particular was masterful both in its preponderance of brain-sticking mini-hooks and in its highly unconventional but brilliantly coherent overall structuring -- but just to say they're not reliant on any classic tricks of the trade to make them land with mainstream audiences. Rather, Travis puts up major numbers with productions so vivid it feels like you can reach out and touch them. He's not one of the era's great writers, but he is one of its great directors.
3. It's been a long decade-plus in between "Day n Nite" and "THE SCOTTS" for Kid Cudi. What's one song, album or other project of his from the interim period do you think deserved more attention than it got? Tatiana Cirisano: I haven’t loved any of Cudi's interim projects, to be honest, but 2014's KiD CuDi presents SATELLITE FLIGHT: The journey to Mother Moon was more cohesive and easily digestible than its title suggests -- a 10-track odyssey of serene, ambient, cosmic sounds that could serve as a balm during these crazy times.
Josh Glicksman: “love,” a SoundCloud one-off from 2015. I have absolutely no clue how this one didn’t end up on an album. Hell, this is lead single worthy! Sampled from Ratatat’s “Sunblocks,” Cudi reportedly recorded the track while creating SATELLITE FLIGHT, and it was later rumored to be appearing on the still-elusive Man on the Moon III. It’s vintage Cudi: words that stretch out the last syllable for miles, layered and inspirational vocals, warped rap-rock production that just doesn’t work the same way for anyone else and a chorus that makes you want to exuberantly take off sprinting. Not only is this one of his most slept on songs; it’s one of his very best.
Carl Lamarre: This is probably a left field pick for my mainstream heads, but Cudi fans will appreciate my answer of 2009 Man on the Moon deep cut “Soundtrack 2 My Life.” It’s probably one of Cudi’s most candid deep cuts, and should be heralded as the gold standard for emo-rap songs. The track serves as a truth serum for Cudi as he untangles the webs of his dreadful reality -- and by doing so, he makes us realize that even breakout rappers go through some s--t on the regular, too.
Jason Lipshutz: The middle portion of his 2010 album Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager still goes, from the quiet psychedelia of “Marijuana” to the bombastic rap-rock “Erase Me” with Kanye West, to the strangely hypnotic “Mr. Rager.” Good album, and perhaps the project that best showcases Cudi’s range. Andrew Unterberger: Cudi! Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven! I liked it!
4. On a scale from 1-10, how excited would you be for a full-length project from The Scotts? Tatiana Cirisano: A solid six. Their styles line up perfectly, and Scott’s tight artistic vision could help focus Cudi’s sometimes meandering, distracted approach to albums. While some rapper team-ups feel engineered simply to pull in streams, this one -- the younger Scott joining forces with one of his early inspirations -- feels destined. Even so, I’d need a tad more variety to really be pulled into a full album from the two. The lyrics to "THE SCOTTS" felt a little lazy to me (“We see the hype outside / right from the house”), and the melody never quite reaches the riot those words describe.
Josh Glicksman: Nine, but then again, I’m going to be pretty excited for most full-length projects from Kid Cudi. Who doesn’t want to see him win at this point in his career? Throw in the heartwarming mentor/mentee aspect to this hypothetical collaboration album, and it merely adds to the fun of it all. The potential for it would be immense: a revisited, fresh take on a Cudi classic here (maybe this one, for example!), a Kanye West-produced track there. And not to get too carried away with the imaginary scenarios, but if they favored the route of Cudi’s early-career production style, it’d be *chef’s kiss*.
Carl Lamarre: Nine, because I would feel confident in Travis not fumbling the bag a la Kanye with Kids See Ghosts. Since day one, Travis’ fandom and adoration for Cudi has proven to be the worst-kept secret in rap. The respect factor is there from both sides. Cudi carried a lyrically-hobbled Ye to the finish-line on KSG, as they wasted a prime opportunity for an all-time great hip-hop collab album. I can guarantee you that if given the chance, Travis will lock in and do what his G.O.O.D. Music mentor couldn’t do with Cudi: make a classic.
Jason Lipshutz: Eight, because “The Scotts” sounds like an appetizer, intriguing but frustratingly clipped. I love the sonic dynamic at play on the track -- Travis Scott floats above the beat, Kid Cudi goes low and pummels it into place -- and want to hear what it would be like on fuller arrangements. Maybe the duo was on the fence about launching an actual project, and this No. 1 debut pushed them over the edge to start working on it!
Andrew Unterberger: Seven. Travis is certainly in the zone at the moment, and Cudi certainly deserves to have another blockbuster LP to his credit for all the best-selling artists of the last decade he's helped inspire, including his partner here. But... when was the last time you actually listened to (the admittedly underrated) Kids See Ghosts? How about Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho? The math with these collabs isn't always as simple as it seems like it should be. 5. If you could pick a third Scott to join Travis and Cudi for at least one single, which would it be? Tatiana Cirisano: It couldn’t be too much trouble to fit a virtual Scott Pilgrim -- the fictional, bass-playing title character from Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic series, played by Michael Cera in the 2010 Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World film adaptation (which already got a shout-out on Cudi’s 2010 track “Scott Mescudi Vs. The World”) -- into Travis’ next Fortnite special. Josh Glicksman: Tons of good options here, but I feel optimistic about tapping Joey Bada$$, né Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott, for a single. He already proved that he can hold his own on a star-studded single; he knows how to make an infectious chorus; and when you let him loose, the man knows how to rap his face off. Let Kid Cudi handle the chorus, give Travis more of a straightforward hip-hop angle and hand the mic off to Joey Bada$$ for some guest spotlight.
Carl Lamarre: The timing on this might be super duper terrible, so my apologies in advance -- but why not get the lord of all lords, Scott Disick! I would love Scott on some skits talking his talk. Plus, they would be able to keep it all in the family with his addition to the mix.
Jason Lipshutz: Scott Stapp, 100 percent. Part of me hoped that, when Travis and Cudi announced “The Scotts,” we’d be getting a Creed hook to go with the two rap verses -- scoff if you want, but the “What If” hook would knock pretty hard if interpolated in a Travis Scott song. He’s dominating 2020, Kid Cudi became a full-fledged star in 2010 -- time to recruit a 2000 superstar, and get Stapp in on the fun. Andrew Unterberger: Let's go with British art-rock legend Scott Walker, another one-time pop star with a major, continually expanding experimental streak -- bet you at least one of these dudes is a big Tilt fan. True, Walker died at age 76 last year, but that hasn't stopped Cudi before: Kids See Ghosts offered a feature credit to late jazz singer Louis Prima for the sample of his "What Will Santa Claus Say" on "4th Dimension" -- giving Prima the all-time record for longest break between Hot 100 hits in the process.
This week, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande put themselves in some pretty historic chart company with the debut of their new duet "Stuck With U" -- a quarantine-ready ballad whose proceeds will be donated to the First Responders Children's Foundation -- at the top of this week's Billboard Hot 100.
With the No. 1 debut, it marks the third time each that Bieber ("What Do You Mean?," "I'm the One") and Ariana Grande ("Thank U Next," "7 Rings") have bowed atop the Hot 100. The only two artists who had scored that many No. 1 debuts previously had been Mariah Carey ("Fantasy," "One Sweet Day," "Honey") and Drake ("God's Plan," "Nice For What," "Toosie Slide").
Which artist does the waltzing ballad feel like it belongs to more? Why have we had so much turnover at the top of the charts lately? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. So, we asked about a month ago about whether we were due for an onslaught of quarantine-themed pop songs -- now we appear to have our first chart-topping love song on the topic. On a scale of Vinegar, Sweet'N Low, Honey Nut Cheerios and Watermelon Sugar, (i.e. least to most) how genuinely sweet do you find the song to be?
Lyndsey Havens: Honestly, I'm resisting every urge to select Watermelon Sugar only because that music video is top of mind right now, but I have to go with Sweet'N Low. This song is 10/10 cute, and definitely has some sweet lines (particularly these two in Bieber's verse: "I'ma get to know you better/ Kinda hope we're here forever") but personally, I'm a sucker for hyper-specific lyrics in a love song. Mentioning a specific oversized shirt someone has been wearing for a week straight, or finding a way to rhyme something affectionate with sourdough, or whatever baking trend is happening right now... that would do it for me.
Jason Lipshutz: Let’s give it that Honey Nut Cheerios level of sweetness -- “Stuck With U” has pretty quickly grown on me, and I now hear the interplay between Justin and Ariana on the track as soothing after initially finding it sleepy. Two pop superstars joining forces to capture a unique historical moment while raising money for charity? Sign me up, even if the chemistry on display here takes a few listens to be fully absorbed.
Joe Lynch: I'd put it at Honey Nut Cheerios, as the sweetness is certainly akin to Saturday morning breakfast with cartoons: kid-friendly, libido-free, comforting and just a little sluggish, but in a pleasant sort of way.
Mia Nazareno: It is definitely on the sweeter, Honey Nut Cheerios side if you are quarantining with your significant other. Though if you’re in a LDR or single, then it’s more of a skippable song for me (I’m not bitter, you are). I imagine that if I were stuck with my bae, I’d play the song on loop as I gently coerce him into doing TikTok challenges with me in true Justin and Hailey style. In short, the sweetness-level of this song is definitely tied to who you’re currently stuck with.
Andrew Unterberger: In between Sweet'N Low and Honey Nut Cheerios. It's a solid and logical pairing, artistically and vocally, but the song isn't all the way there for me. ("Baby, run your mouth" is almost as strange a love song lyric as John Legend's "What would I do without your smart mouth" -- maybe just stay away from mouths altogether, dudes.) The timeliness and charitable aims make it hard to be too sour on this one, but I can't imagine it being a jam I return to if/when the world re-opens.
2. Between Bieber and Grande, which artist's next album would you imagine "Stuck With U" to be a more natural fit on -- or do you think both will leave it as a one-off?
Lyndsey Havens: Definitely a one-off. Unless... either comes out of quarantine with a fresh album on their hands. Which, yes is highly possible. But this song is so anchored to this time that it's hard to imagine it fitting elsewhere; plus, with the charity component, I imagine that could introduce some hurdles in terms of including it on an album and rerouting funds from one track. All that being said, Ari and Bieber, if either of you are one record away from completing a new project, by all means toss this on there.
Jason Lipshutz: “Stuck With U” most specifically sounds like it could have belonged on the back half of Grande’s Sweetener album, amidst the more pillowy moments of introspection like “Goodnight n Go” and “Get Well Soon.” I don’t expect Grande to return to that type of sonic approach on her next full-length, and “Stuck With U” doesn’t really fit within Bieber’s current future-R&B vibe, so I’d guess that this remains a special one-off for both.
Joe Lynch: It's almost impossible for me to imagine Ari putting this on a proper LP since she's lately been such an "album artist" delivering cohesive statements. The Biebs has never been shy about tossing randos on various deluxe editions, so if anything, it might be an iTunes/Target/Mega Deluxe Edition bonus track available on the Finnish edition.
Mia Nazareno: I think they’ll leave it as a one-off, like a time capsule of our collective experience in the time of coronavirus. The single is a cute response to current events while also being a novel way to stay in the loop with their fans I don’t see “Stuck With U” as being a thematic fit in a future album produced in the post-quarantine world.
Andrew Unterberger: It certainly feels like a one-off, but here's a crazy thought -- maybe Justin Bieber should go further down this direction? He's obviously into R&B and love-song balladry, but Changes tried to fit those predilections into a more explicitly modern sonic framework, with mixed results. Going full-on '50s/'60s soul-pop with it (with the occasional modern detour) could be an interesting look for Bieb -- who would really say no to his Yours Truly?
3. After "The Box" ruled the Hot 100 for 11 weeks, "Stuck With You" is now our fifth new No. 1 single in eight weeks. Do you think the world's general instability at the moment is contributing to the top of the charts being erratic, or have there just been a lot of high-profile releases that would be taking turns at No. 1 even during a "normal" spring?
Lyndsey Havens: Lol, I think the world's general instability at the moment is contributing to a whole lot of things — and sure, the top of the charts could be one of them. But also, I do think that there have been a handful of worthy chart toppers arriving lately, with even more high-profile releases set to arrive next month. But of course, some only exist because of the world we're living in right now; specifically, this track. At the same time, without pre-games and parties and packed clubs/bars playing a current hit-in-the-making over and over again, I imagine that's also aiding in the quick turnover atop the Hot 100.
Jason Lipshutz: I’d guess that the recent fluctuations at the top of the Hot 100 have more to do with coincidence than anything, as artists like Bieber and Grande join forces, Travis Scott and Kid Cudi do the same, and Nicki Minaj hops on an already-huge pop hit in Doja Cat’s “Say So” to push it over the top. In hindsight, we should have given more credit to Roddy Ricch for staying atop the chart for a whopping 11 weeks -- not many songs have reigned that long, and “The Box” blocked its fair share of heavy hitters, from Drake and Future’s “Life is Good” to Bieber’s own “Yummy.”
Joe Lynch: It's tempting to draw some sort of sociological conclusion about this, but maybe not backed up by the facts. By this point in 2019, seven separate songs had gone No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. This year so far, eight separate songs have gone No. 1 on the Hot 100. In 2018, five songs by this point. So yeah, that's a gradual increase, but I would hardly call that unstable comparatively speaking.
Mia Nazareno: As we’re all glued to the headlines and CDC guidelines, it’s clear that the only constant is change, and I don’t think the charts are immune to today’s unpredictability. I think the national stay-at-home orders have forced artists and their teams to be more creative in maintaining relevance in the public eye. With the loss of touring income, artists have to rethink their strategy as the pressure mounts to find other revenue streams. Also, audiences are probably wanting to listen to songs that reflect the current climate. It makes sense that musical tastes have shifted a bit, and I think the race to the top of the charts has reflected that.
Andrew Unterberger: More than anything, I think we're seeing what last spring might've looked like if "Old Town Road" hadn't happened: Big artists coming out of the woodwork week after week to take turns parading to No. 1. Without a Lil Nas X to block them -- or at least give them a real undeniable challenge on a weekly basis -- the Biebers, Ed Sheerans, Taylor Swifts and Shawn Mendeses can sure find their way to immediate chart-toppers a lot more easily.
4. "Stuck With U" isn't exactly the first meshing of Bieber and Grande, but it is their first time together on an official new single. What other combination of pop megastars who've never done a single together would you like to see get together next?
Lyndsey Havens: Harry Styles and Lizzo would of course be a fun treat, though probably wouldn't be as vocally seamless as this Justin and Ariana ballad. But hey, that's part of the fun, right? Also, for what it's worth, I'm still loving the Sam Smith and Demi Lovato collab "I'm Ready."
Jason Lipshutz: I’d be fascinated by a collaboration between The Weeknd and Miley Cyrus -- two unique pop talents who boast singular voices, complicated relationships with fame, hip-hop flirtations and their fair share of hedonistic lyrical tendencies. Let’s make it for Cyrus’ next project!
Joe Lynch: How 'bout something totally random like, I don't know Lil Nas X and… Billy Ray Cyrus? Oh, wait. Hmm. Let's say Lizzo and Post Malone.
Mia Nazareno: I would love to see Lizzo and Adele join forces to give us the next independent woman anthem to sweep the nation. Like “Truth Hurts,” but with a British, soulful twist. Adele recently surfaced on our feeds, so I have hope that this isn’t an impossible dream. Fingers crossed!
Andrew Unterberger: I'm sticking with Ariana Grande, but I want to see her paired with avowed acolyte Billie Eilish -- and a full album please, not just a one-off single. Pop's waited too long for its true Watch the Throne equivalent.
5. Which Hot 100-topper would you rather be quarantined with: Bieber and Grande's "Stuck With U," or Huey Lewis & the News' 1986 No. 1 "Stuck With You"?
Lyndsey Havens: Oof. Now, if we were asking which artists we would rather be stuck with in quarantine, that would be easy. But... I have to go with Huey Lewis' "Stuck With You" in this case. The production is ever so slightly more uplifting, and it fits in a bit better with the sonic vibe I've had going on in quarantine. (Plus, it's less of a direct reminder that the only person I've been "stuck with" this whole time has been my roommate!)
Jason Lipshutz: Sorry, Justin and Ariana -- it’d be hard for anyone to topple Huey Lewis & the News in my book, particularly the No. 1 hit “Stuck With You,” which has somehow become underrated because it’s not quite as eternal as their Back to the Future classics. Still, quarantine me with Lewis and/or any member of the News, please.
Joe Lynch: Big soft spot in my heart for Huey Lewis & the News in no small part because of Back to the Future, not to mention a fairly unimpeachable catalog of chart hits overall. "Stuck With You" is jaunty and easy-going enough that I'd rather listen to this on repeat in the background that something with a slam-bang, go-for-broke finale.
Mia Nazareno: I’m a shameless Ariana fan, so 2020’s “Stuck With U” is the one I’d rather be stuck with. The single is also a more soothing background tune as I bake banana bread for the nth time at home.
Andrew Unterberger: Yes, it's true: I'd be so much happier to be stuck with Huey Lewis & the News' "Stuck With You."
Joe Lynch: It's almost impossible for me to imagine Ari putting this on a proper LP since she's lately been such an "album artist" delivering cohesive statements. The Biebs has never been shy about tossing randos on various deluxe editions, so if anything, it might be an iTunes/Target/Mega Deluxe Edition bonus track available on the Finnish edition.
I love this shade towards random bonus tracks and deluxe editions though
You may have heard by now that Taylor Swift released a new album two Fridays ago (July 24) -- the stripped-down singer/songwriter set Folklore -- with less than a full day's notice. This week, the early commercial returns for the acclaimed set are in, and if Swift's new set suffered from any lack of promotion, the numbers certainly don't show it.
Folklore debuts atop the Billboard 200 albums chart this week with 846,000 equivalent album units moved -- the most first-week units for any album since her own Lover posted 867,000 in Sept. 2019. And with lead single "Cardigan," Taylor notches her first Hot 100 No. 1 single since "Look What You Made Me Do" in 2017, as well as her first to debut at the chart's apex since "Shake It Off" in 2014.
How was Taylor able to achieve such resounding first-week results? And what does it say for the future of pop album promotion? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.
1. Obviously 846,000 is a stratospheric number for first-week units in 2020. Do you think the resounding commercial reception for Folklore says more about the album itself, about the set's surprise-release strategy, or about Taylor Swift's sheer commercial indomitability?
Jason Lipshutz: I think it’s a perfect storm of all three. Obviously Taylor Swift still has gigantic commercial appeal that will guarantee a sizable first-week number regardless of circumstances, but I don’t think this album approaches 846,000 equivalent album units if it had sounded like Lover Pt. 2, or even if it had been given a traditional rollout. The surprise drop and sonic change-up of Folklore, combined with Swift’s superstardom, resulted in piqued curiosity from casual fans, while providing an unexpected treat for the diehards.
Joseph Lynch: It's not the album, per se: I don't think that sky-high number indicates there's an underserved audience champing at the bit for more folk-flavored music. I think it's a sign of Swift's rock-solid, if not necessarily growing, fanbase, coupled with the fact that in lockdown, there's not a whole hell of a lot else to get excited about. A surprise album from an A-lister is gonna get attention.
Mia Nazareno: Is it cheating to say all three? Also, if I may add a fourth reason: She capitalized on the timing of the pandemic, when everyone is at home trying to mimic real life on the Internet. One of the few remaining activities that hasn’t been cancelled is listening to music -- Taylor was attuned to that, and it paid off for her.
Andrew Unterberger: I think it shows most of all that a surprise and/or rollout-less release really does give veteran best-selling artists a certain degree of safety in terms of their opening numbers. Think Eminem's Kamikaze or Kanye West's Jesus Is King -- neither exactly ranks among their respective artists' most acclaimed or fan-beloved albums, but both had blockbuster first weeks largely because listeners of all kinds just kinda had to know what the deal with them was. Folklore also has the benefit of near-universal critical and fan approval, which certainly helped it maintain listenership throughout its first week, but if the set had the same type of advance rollout that Lover did, I'd bet its numbers would be noticeably lower.
Denise Warner: Can it be all three? It's a great album that drummed up a ton of excitement immediately and she is still the biggest pop star in the world.
2. The downbeat, understated "Cardigan" is obviously pretty unusual for a Hot 100 No. 1. Given that Taylor Swift has taken some criticism on her past few albums for lead singles that weren't necessarily representative of the albums they advanced, how effective do you think "Cardigan" is either as a lead single or as a reflection of Folklore on the whole?
Jason Lipshutz: “Cardigan” sneaks up on you, beginning as this understated, imagery-soaked indie-rock track but then swelling into one of the bigger and more emotionally bare moments on Folklore. The fact that it’s way more muted than previous lead singles like “ME!,” “Look What You Made Me Do” and “Shake It Off” isn’t surprising given the more subtle shades Swift uses on the new album, but “Cardigan” works as a focus track because it represents the tone of the album while containing some of its most effective hooks. It’s not traditional pop radio fare, but it gets stuck in your head anyway.
Joseph Lynch: "Cardigan" is a surprisingly accurate representation of the album as a whole. I think the album's sonic cohesiveness speaks to the fact that this feels like an album released for the love of the craft, with few commercial expectations (despite its huge early success). There's no song that feels crafted to be the "pop hit," because that's clearly not the aim with this album. Which is ironic, since "ME!" -- which was clearly aimed at topping the Hot 100 -- hit No. 2, and now this quiet meditation soars to No. 1 easily. Never underestimate the power of a good sweater.
Mia Nazareno: I actually think “Cardigan” is a great teaser for the rest of the tracks on the album. Judging from how many of my non-Swifty friends have shared it on their Insta stories, the lead single does a great job at piquing the interests of listeners beyond her loyal fanbase.
Andrew Unterberger: I don't expect "Cardigan" to really provide much of a late push for Song of the Summer honors or anything, and I wouldn't be surprised if a month from now it was out of the Hot 100's top 10 altogether. But I do think it's a good choice of lead single, just because the singles from this project clearly aren't as load-bearing as they were on previous releases, and because "Cardigan" does demonstrate what the album does well: vivid-yet-mysterious songwriting with delicate production and piercing performance.
Denise Warner: I want to defend her lead single choices here. "Tim McGraw" is certainly representative of Taylor Swift as a whole -- the album itself and her artistic ethos. The same goes for "Love Story" and "Mine." Now, once you hit "We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together" and "Shake It Off," I won't disagree that you wouldn't understand the tenor of those albums from their lead singles. But they are smashes for a reason. Now, we come to what may have been missteps. "Look What You Made Me Do" and "ME!" There were certainly better songs from Reputation and Lover, but we can't all be perfect all of the time.
As for "Cardigan," it sets a lovely tone for Folklore that certainly fits with the rest of the offerings, but it's hard to categorize it as a lead single that would set expectations -- because it wasn't the first song I listened to. (That would be "The 1" since it was ... first on the album.)
3. Every Taylor Swift album has its deeper fan favorites. Which Folklore album cut is the one you think you'll end up cherishing the most?
Jason Lipshutz: Give me “Invisible String,” the best song on Folklore and a legitimate lump-in-your-throat love song constructed upon an intricate Aaron Dessner arrangement and some of the most evocative songwriting of Swift’s career. If I hadn’t gotten married five years ago, this song would have played during our wedding. It’s that good!
Joe Lynch: "August" is my favorite on the album; I love the bouncy up-down thing she does with her vocals on the chorus. But I'm also gagging over "Betty" and "This Is Me Trying," the latter of which demonstrates she could have just as easily been an acclaimed moody indie singer-songwriter, had that been the goal of this inordinately talented artist.
Mia Nazareno: Ah, that’s a hard one! But, I think future me will keep revisiting “Invisible String.” As someone who’s been a self-proclaimed Swiftie for nearly 15 years now, I first got hooked on her songs about boys, which has evolved from “Fifteen,” to “You Belong With Me,” and finally, to “Invisible String.” It almost feels like each song connects to each other with one song only existing because of the previous one -- almost like, well, an invisible string! Her latest love song feels a lot like growth. As I’m closer to 30, it’s pretty amazing that she can still put out a butterflies-inducing love song.
Andrew Unterberger: I'll take just about anything from the mid-album run of "Mirrorball" to "This Is Me Trying," particularly those two poles. It showcases a Taylor I'd never even considered as a possibility: gauzy '90s alternative Taylor, a half-step from dreampop and as alluring as that possibility would suggest.
Denise Warner: You'll have to ask me in a few years for a definitive answer. But right now, it's between "Betty," "Invisible String," and "The Last Great American Dynasty" -- all for different reasons. "Betty" because it harkens back to her country roots; "Invisible String" almost purely for the line "cold was the steel of my axe to grind, for the boys who broke my heart"; and "Dynasty" because she does in one song what she (mostly) successfully did with the entirety of Reputation -- taking back the "bitch pack" narrative and making it her own.
4. While the wintry "Cardigan" certainly has an appropriate sound for its title, it's not exactly the most appropriate fit for early-August listening. Recommend another song that's named after (or prominently features) an article of clothing that you think might make for a better summer soundtrack.
Jason Lipshutz: I mean... does Migos’ “T-Shirt,” an incredible song that’s less about summertime fashion and more about cocaine pricing, count here?
Joe Lynch: I'm going with the Royal Teens' 1958 smash hit "Short Shorts" -- because in quarantine, there's been nothing to stop me from wearing my treasured cut-off jean shorts as often as I want.
Mia Nazareno: It would be too easy to suggest a certain song that references "Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top." Forgoing the traditional answers, I’m going with the wildcard that is Taeyang’s (of Big Bang fame) “Wedding Dress.” But real talk though, the K-pop track is the first song I recommend to peeps who wanna dip their toe into the Asian pop scene. It’s catchy, ages well, and the music video featuring Taeyang’s leading lady marrying someone else hurts so good. And there’s something about summer and weddings that just makes sense.
Andrew Unterberger: Let's go semi-literal here with Animal Collective's art-pop mini-masterpiece "Summertime Clothes," whose lyrics nail the heat-and-sleeplessness-induced mania of the middle months better than any other song I've ever heard ("A voice from the clock says, 'You're not gonna get tired'/ My bed is a pool and the walls are on fire").
Denise Warner: The first song that comes to mind is "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" by Bryan Hyland. It's certainly a better uniform for this East Coast heat. But perhaps a more contemporary option would be 5 Seconds of Summer's "She Looks So Perfect" since the chorus goes "She looks so perfect standing there in my American Apparel underwear." Then there's the Kenny Chesney standby "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem." Although maybe for these times, Iggy Pop's "Mask" is the best choice.
5. Before Folklore, Taylor Swift had long been a proponent of the traditional album release model, with plenty of advance singles, promotional appearances, and retail partnerships. Does the fact that she's now found such success and acclaim with Folklore signal the death knell for the extended album rollout -- either in Swift's own career, or for pop stars in general?
Jason Lipshutz: Think of it less as a “death knell” and more of a natural progression of the surprise album drop that dates back years -- to Beyonce’s self-titled album release in 2013, or way back to 2007, when Radiohead debuted the pay-what-you-want digital model. The large majority of artists still abide by the traditional rollout format, and will likely continue to do so, but with Swift’s mega-successful surprise release, more A-listers will likely continue down that path as well.
Joe Lynch: It's tough to take this album's rollout and success as a signal of anything. Swift is such an anomaly; most pop stars of her caliber have had their commercial ups and downs in a way she really hasn't, so I'd say it's risky to see the success of folklore as a model for anyone without her track record. And, goes without saying, we're in a pandemic – a surprise album is likely to get more attention when people are stuck at home vs. running around living their lives.
Mia Nazareno: I think she’ll still dabble in the extended album rollout model to some degree. As we’ve seen in the wake of Folklore’s success, she doesn’t need all the bells and whistles to sell almost a million units, but I think there’s something special about counting the days until her album release -- almost like counting the days until Christmas! Lots of her memorable Internet performances immortalized on YouTube (like this one!) have been in preparation for an upcoming album, so I think she’s in on the fun, too.
Andrew Unterberger: I don't think long pop rollouts will disappear overnight, but I do think it'll mark an important pivot point in pop star promo history. When an album wins as much as Folklore is winning this week -- and some more literal wins may very well be in the cards for the set come awards season -- everyone pays attention. And when it comes from an artist like Taylor Swift, who's spent so much of her career setting the standard for the pre-release album campaign, it's hard not to notice the sea change at work.
Denise Warner: Ever since Beyoncé released Beyoncé in 2013, the game changed for the traditional album rollout. But despite that success, even she has mostly backed off the complete surprise drop. We had some inkling Lemonade was coming. There were rumors swirling for months before Everything Is Love appeared -- though that could have come from her propensity for surprises in the first place. And with her latest visual project, she gave us full warning.
I imagine Taylor will experiment going forward, especially after the praise Folklore has earned her -- but I don't think she'll completely forgo some traditional parts in the future. Besides, these unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. Who knows what will happen in the coming years?
At the top, near the bottom, and just about everywhere in between, you can see the impact of TikTok on the Billboard charts this week.
Both the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 (24kGoldn feat. iann dior's "Mood") and the No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 albums chart (Pop Smoke's Shoot For the Stars, Aim For the Moon) were aided by massive popularity on the video-sharing service. Meanwhile, several artists debuting or rising on the charts have received similar bumps -- including Fleetwood Mac's enduring "Dreams," which continues to scale the Hot 100 weeks after first going re-viral.
Will one of these hits eventually follow "Mood" to No. 1? And which artist might be next to benefit from a TikTok boost? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.
24kGoldn & Iann Dior's 'Mood' Hits No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100
1. 24kGoldn and iann dior's TikTok-boosted "Mood" ends a long run of No. 1 hits from one or multiple previously established pop stars atop the Hot 100. Does it feel significant to you that we have two much newer artists back on the top of the charts with "Mood"?
Rania Aniftos: Yes, yes, yes! I love seeing new artists switch up the same old lineup and dominate the charts. Especially my fellow USC Trojan Goldn, who is really using TikTok to his advantage and making the most of his wildly catchy hits like “Valentino,” “City of Angels” and obviously “Mood.” Fight on!
Josh Glicksman: Sure, but I still think it’s worth noting that even just since September, there have been three other acts that have scored their first career No. 1 hit (BTS, M.I.A and Jawsh 685 for “Dynamite,” “Franchise” and “Savage Love (Laxed - Siren Beat),” respectively). That said, it’s great to see two artists with just one combined Hot 100 entry prior to “Mood” land a chart-topping hit. Hopefully, it sets the precedent for many other young artists to scale the charts and shake up what has been, at times, a rather stale top 10.
Jason Lipshutz: I guess I could toss out a snarky joke about how previous No. 1 champ Jawsh 685 is still a little short of household-name status in the States, but it is true that most of the relative newcomers making their first trips to the top of the Hot 100 this year -- Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, the aforementioned Jawsh -- have done so while collaborating with A-listers like Nicki Minaj, Beyonce and BTS. “Mood” is absolutely everywhere on radio and sports one of the catchiest hooks of the year, so the smaller profile of its two creators isn’t too significant to me.
Mia Nazareno: As much as all of my favorite artists got No. 1s this year (Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, BTS, and Lady Gaga to name a few), I love that two young, emerging artists get to play this time around! The success behind “Mood” also shows how Gen Z-ers mean business, and how TikTok remains a viable route to a top song. On top of that, it seems almost democratic that teenagers on the app picked one of their own in Goldn to cross over into mainstream hitmakers.
Andrew Unterberger: I think the most significant part of it is that pop radio has been picking up the song -- it's No. 3 on Billboard's Pop Songs chart this week, which is pretty darn high for a song by two new rappers. Of course, this isn't a traditional rap song by any means, and the fact that it naturally crosses into alt and pop territory makes it an easier sell for pop radio than probably any hit by new rappers since Juice WRLD's "Lucid Dreams." Still, such streaming-to-radio hits have been rare in recent years, and even Juice's own "Come & Go" has barely scratched that chart's top 10. The fact that "Mood" has proven top 40 catnip could become a door-opening moment for a radio format that's been fairly closed off to all but the Harrys, Duas and Weeknds this year.
2. Fleetwood Mac's TikTok-revived "Dreams" jumps to No. 12 on the Hot 100, but its momentum may finally be sagging. What's one more thing the band or TikTok could do to give it a final push to the top 10?
Rania Aniftos: Unless a top TikTok creator made a “Renegade”-esque dance or a new trend to the song, I think we might be seeing the end of the “Dreams” resurgence. Social media hype is so fleeting, and there are only so many videos one can make drinking cran-raspberry juice.
Josh Glicksman: How about a TikTok duet post featuring Nathan Apodaca (better known as @420doggface208), Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks? With three viral solo posts on the app between them, there has to be some way that they can make something together, right? In a perfect world, they would be able to create a clip together in-person -- and maybe there is some safe, socially distant way to pull this off! -- but for the time being, really squeezing every last bit of juice out of the moment with a joint effort could push it to the top 10.
Jason Lipshutz: The apotheosis of the “Dreams” revival has to be a performance by Fleetwood Mac alongside viral star Nathan Apodaca -- a bit tricky to pull off in pandemic times, so maybe he can longboard around them during a socially distanced performance, with Stevie Nicks taking swigs of cran-raspberry juice during instrumental passages. Honestly, watching Apodaca and Nicks sing “Dreams” together over Zoom would probably be enough to dominate headlines for a day or two.
Mia Nazareno: The song can be placed in an upcoming, hyped up rom-com on Netflix that stars the nerdy girl getting with the guy she thinks is out of her league! Think To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before or Never Have I Ever. Yeah, that kind of vibe. That’ll get ‘em.
Andrew Unterberger: Three words: Post Malone remix. He's already rapped over it once before!
3. Pop Smoke's Shoot For the Stars, Aim For the Moon is back at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 several months after its original debut in large part due to multiple songs taking off on TikTok -- "For the Night," "Mood Swings," and now "What You Know Bout Love." Do you think we'll see more albums in the future that essentially extend their album cycle / shelf life through multiple consecutive TikTok hits, or is this a one-album fluke?
Rania Aniftos: TikTok is starting to really prove how influential it is in music discovery and music trends -- no matter the time frame -- and Pop Smoke’s case is something we’re going to see a lot more of in the future. Look at Doja Cat: Almost every song on Hot Pink was a TikTok hit, long before and long after the album’s release date.
Josh Glicksman: I wouldn’t bank on late TikTok hits regularly pushing an album all the way to No. 1, but this is going to be far from the only time an album gets a rejuvenation because of the app. You don’t need to look any further than the last question to realize that this isn’t a one-off -- thanks to the resurgence of “Dreams,” Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is back in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 for the first time in more than four decades. At this point, it seems pretty difficult to understate the impact that TikTok currently has in what defines popular music. It stopped being a fluke a long time ago.
Jason Lipshutz: The large majority of popular artists are more prolific now than they were a decade ago -- waiting a few years between albums now feels like punishment for super-fans -- and more music to consume means more album cuts that are glossed over before a new project swiftly arrives. Even if TikTok doesn’t repurpose a ton of non-singles as bonafide hits in the coming years, I expect to see more instances like this Pop Smoke album, in which compelling album tracks are democratically positioned to succeed and naturally rise on the charts.
Mia Nazareno: Yes, I think more albums will be revived thanks to TikTok. To start off, making dance challenges on the app isn’t slowing down, and I think there’ll be an album out there that teenagers will unearth and create an enviable dance that’ll sweep their FYP. Doja Cat -- who catapulted into the charts with the help of “Say So" -- already has multiple dance challenges to her name, including ones for “Like That” and “Juicy.” Pop Smoke’s album had all the right ingredients for a chart topper. His death earlier this year, the takeoff of TikTok, and the trendiness of hip-hop helped the album get to the top, and I think in time, there’ll be another album that’ll have the right combination of ingredients to follow suit.
Andrew Unterberger: I think this is a somewhat unusual circumstance, in that fans of the late Pop Smoke might have more reason than most to try to keep the viral flame burning for the posthumous album and its many singles and deep cuts. But no, it probably won't be the last, and as labels and artists figure out how better to position their singles for proper TikTok consumption, I think we could definitely see albums with four or five singles showing up on the service almost one at a time, like they would have as music videos on MTV 20-30 years earlier.
4. "Lemonade," another TikTok-assisted hit by Internet Money and Gunna feat. NAV and Don Toliver, climbs into the top 10 this week, in its ninth week on the chart. Do you think it will follow "Mood" to No. 1 by the end of the year?
Rania Aniftos: Definitely! That song is everywhere. I can’t scroll through TikTok without hearing the hook at least five or six times. Internet Money has also already put together a great remix for the song with Roddy Ricch, so I think another feature from a buzz-worthy star will help launch it into that No. 1 spot.
Josh Glicksman: Look, I’ve been wrong before -- just check out the previous edition of Five Burning Questions that focused on “Mood” -- but I think it ultimately falls a bit short of claiming the top spot. Normally, I’d point to a potential star-studded remix that may be able to get it over the hump, but Internet Money already released one with Roddy Ricch on Sept. 30. So, unless there’s another remix in the works or an additional creative marketing push to get it over the hump, I don’t see it happening. That said, betting against NAV is always a dangerous game.
Jason Lipshutz: “Lemonade” has certainly grown on me over the past few weeks and its top 10 success is not a shock, but its hook isn’t as immediate as that of “Mood,” and that might handicap its shot at No. 1. It’s a crowded moment at the top of the Hot 100 as well, with “Mood,” “WAP,” “Dynamite” and “Savage Love” all within range of spending more weeks in the penthouse, so “Lemonade” would really have to make a big push to reach No. 1 in the near future.
Mia Nazareno: Personally, I don’t think so -- unless some crazy TikTok alchemy happens and someone makes a viral video out of the track. “Mood” is catchier, more danceable, and more fun to listen to. In other words, I get the hype around this week’s No. 1. Not so much with “Lemonade.”
Andrew Unterberger: I think it's in play, but it depends a lot about some of these bigger debuts we might have coming late in October -- including the (likely) solo return of Ariana Grande, and perhaps an even-more-anticipated rumored comeback from another A-named pop star. If one of those drops with maximum impact and spends the next 5-6 weeks putting up stratospheric numbers, "Lemonade" will almost certainly be iced out of the top spot.
5. Acclaimed singer-songwriter Clairo makes her first appearance on the Hot 100 this week with her 2019 track "Sofia," in large part due to the song getting a second life on TikTok. Who's another alt/indie artist you think could be crossing over to the Hot 100 soon with a TikTok boost?
Rania Aniftos: Tai Verdes. He only has one song out, “Stuck in the Middle,” and it’s already a TikTok smash, so I believe he’ll be making his way onto the charts soon enough. On the other hand, I could also see some more established alt stars head back up the Hot 100. I’ve noticed Arctic Monkeys’ “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” has been picking up steam thanks to Miley Cyrus’ 2018 cover.
Josh Glicksman: It may not be before the end of the year, but if I were a betting man, I’d chalk up a Hot 100 hit for Gracie Abrams at some point in 2021. Her debut EP, minor, released in July, is chock full of the bedroom pop vibes that have sent plenty of artists, including Clairo, into the public eye. She’s only posted twice so far on TikTok, but both posts have compiled more than 100,000 streams. With a well-crafted marketing effort from Interscope -- and maybe even a little push from her dad, famous filmmaker J.J. Abrams -- it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to imagine one of her songs getting the TikTok boost.
Jason Lipshutz: I’ve been playing Kississippi’s new single “Around Your Room” nonstop since it came out a few weeks ago, and everyone I’ve shown this piece of escalating pop euphoria to seems to love it as much as I do. Take this one to the next level, TikTok Youth!
Mia Nazareno: You know that the only answer I have for this is beabadoobee! With one TikTok- famous track already under her belt (Powfu’s “Death Bed” samples her “Coffee.”), Bea’s just getting started. To recap my lecture on why she’s the (bedroom) pop star we need right now, the Filipino-British singer’s recent magazines covers, newspaper features, and billboard in Times Square show that BIPOC indie stars do exist, and that means so much to her fans -- many of whom are kids of immigrants. With her bleached blonde hair and outfits borrowed from the '90s, Bea’s sound is influenced by Smashing Pumpkins and Pavement with a dash of OPM (Original Pinoy Music). Besides releasing music that has graduated from my seasonal playlist to my permanent library (“If You Want To,” “Art Class,” etc.), beabadoobee is mad cool, and as a fellow BIPOC, she’s the kind of artist I wanna see on our screens and hear on the charts.
Andrew Unterberger: Norway's girl in red is a bedroom pop SoundCloud favorite who's already got one perennially viral hit to her name and feels one undeniable crossover away from being a generational-type phenom. maybe there's a way to get her "rue" trending along with the recently announced return of HBO's Euphoria?
For just the third time in Billboard Hot 100 history, there were debuts in both of the top two spots of the chart this week.
Ariana Grande landed at No. 1 with "Positions," lead single and title track from her sixth studio album, released last Friday (Oct. 30). The song is her fifth single to top the Hot 100 (dating back to "Thank U, Next" at the end of 2018) -- as well as her third in 2020 alone -- and remarkably, all five of those launched atop the chart in their first week, the most No. 1 debuts of any artist.
Just behind her this week is Luke Combs, whose "Forever After All" becomes his highest-peaking entry to date (and first top 10 hit) on the chart. The debut is the highest ever for a solo male country artist on the Hot 100, and the highest of any artist since Carrie Underwood's post-American Idol debut single "Inside Your Heaven" debuted atop the chart in 2005.
What do the recent successes mean for both artists? And which song will still be hanging around a couple months from now? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.
1. "Positions" makes for Ariana Grande's third No. 1 debut in 2020 alone -- and her fifth overall, most of any artist. Is she pop's most reliable performer on the Hot 100 right now?
Lyndsey Havens: Well she's surely pop's most constant performer right now. She's released three full-length albums in just over two years, and despite the criticism that Positions feels thrown together, it still debuted atop the Billboard 200 and produced a No. 1 hit, so... in short, Ari is absolutely pop's most reliable performer simply because of her speedy output.
Jason Lipshutz: If you count Travis Scott as a pop star, I’d say it’s a toss-up between the two -- but regardless of the semantics, Ariana Grande has become a dominant force on both streaming platforms and top 40 radio stations. Even before she began amassing a collection of Hot 100 No. 1s, Grande was already a steady presence in the chart’s top 10; the Thank U, Next era has leveled her up as a chart-topper, though, and “Positions” has impressively continued the winning streak.
Joe Lynch: If we’re talking pop’s most reliable performer, I don’t know how you could say otherwise. It’s no secret that a number of A-list pop singers have struggled to find a place on radio in the last five or so years, yet the ease with which Ariana Grande drops a song (without a big promotional campaign) and sees it top the Hot 100 makes her one of the few exceptions to the rule.
Andrew Unterberger: Well, with Post Malone essentially taking the year off and Drake finally pulling up short with his latest, it's down to her and Travis Scott for artists who more or less seem guaranteed a No. 1 with each new release. "Positions" doesn't even seem to be one of Ari's best-loved or quickest-performing lead singles, but it still sailed to the top spot with ease. Most won't remember 2020 as a year dominated by Ariana Grande, but she's been on three singles to hit the Hot 100 this season, and all three entered immediately at No. 1. If that's not reliability, I don't know what is.
Christine Werthman: Yes. Ariana Grande could release a recording of herself gargling mouthwash while singing the alphabet and it would chart. But what's cool about — and boosts the staying power of — Grande is that everything she puts out has well-thought-out lyrics and glossy production. I have no idea if she actually records in her bedroom ever, but she doesn't make lo-fi bedroom pop, not even during a pandemic. That intentionality and consistency serve her and her fans well.
2. Though Ariana Grande has scored six No. 1 hits on the Pop Songs chart in her career, neither of her previous Hot 100-topping hits this year ("Rain on Me" with Lady Gaga or "Stuck With U" with Justin Bieber) climbed higher than No. 10 on the chart. Will "Positions" bring Ariana back to pop radio's heaviest rotation, or is she just at a different stage of her career at this point?
Lyndsey Havens: If you look at the Pop Songs chart right now, I actually think it's less about the stage that Ariana is at in her career and more about the blurry genre lines of "pop" music. It's an old idea, but the chart is proving its lasting importance as an alternative hip-hop song ("Mood") sits at No. 1 with a country-pop song ("I Hope") at No. 5. That all being said, I do think the R&B-pop fusion of "Positions" could bring Ariana back into pop radio's heaviest rotation; it's more uptempo than "Stuck With U" and less aggressively pop than "Rain on Me," and for that, it may just hit that sweet spot.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s only been a year and change since “Thank U, Next,” “7 Rings” and “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” were ubiquitous at pop radio, so proclaiming any slippage from Grande at this point feels premature. Let’s see how “Positions” and “34+35” do over the next few months -- the former is still streaming extremely well and has a chorus tailor-made for top 40, so I’d expect a prolonged run.
Joe Lynch: I think this will return her to the Pop Songs top 10: both of those aforementioned songs were collaborations that found her leaning toward the sonic stylings of her duet partner, neither of which are entirely in line with what radio is favoring these days. “Positions” is unmistakably Ari: a laid-back R&B jam that melds ‘classy’ pop production and a gently grinding groove. This is the kind of song programmers can play over and over without risking listener fatigue, and that helps its shelf life.
Andrew Unterberger: I think "Positions" will go top 10 on pop radio, but probably not top five -- it seems like the perfect song for top 40 to give its fair due, but never quite fully embrace. And to be fair, pop radio is giving that full embrace to fewer and fewer songs to begin with these days: Even by the time "Positions" starts to peak, it may have to contend with slots still being reserved for now-ancient-feeling chestnuts like "Blinding Lights" and "Watermelon Sugar," let alone (relatively) newer sensations like "Mood" and "I Hope." But the upshot of that is: If radio does fully throw its arms around "Positions," it might remain omnipresent through the holidays and well into the new year.
Christine Werthman: "Positions" will bring her back up, not only because it's a stronger song than the other two, but also because it matches the mood better. "Rain on Me" could've been a club hit, if clubbing were a thing this year, and the sappy celebration of being trapped with your significant other that is "Stuck With U" seemed ill-timed, considering the spike in divorces that pandemic quarantining has caused — allegedly!
3. Luke Combs' "Forever After All" marks not only his highest-peaking hit to date on the Hot 100, but the highest debut for any country song ever by a male solo artist. What do you think is the biggest reason behind the song's unprecedented early success?
Lyndsey Havens: It's a pop-leaning country song with lyrics that are incredibly relatable right now. Though Combs wrote it a few years ago (it was the first song he ever wrote in his and his wife's home), the majority of people right now are thinking about those forever connections in their lives -- the people who will be by their side, loving and supporting them, always. Plus, we also can't ignore the strategy behind the hit: Combs teased "Forever After All" on TikTok in late August at a time when country music's capitalization on the app is reaching an all-time high.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s taken a few years for the mainstream to fully grasp how popular Luke Combs has become, but at this point, his singles are guaranteed to hit the top 40 of the Hot 100, and are likely to flirt with the top 10. “Forever After All” is a solid new entry in his singles discography, but the No. 2 debut can be chalked up more to Combs’ overall momentum than to anything unusual or striking about the song itself.
Joe Lynch: The pandemic goosed country listeners’ gradual adoption of streaming, and we’re starting to see it pay off for artists on the Hot 100. Yes, country songs about an undying love to a woman delivered with minimal pretense tend to cross over easily, certainly more than anything that smacks of bro country, a gauche genre as far as fair-weather fans are concerned. But I think Combs’ accessibility and earnestness help to position him as the kind of singer people of wildly different demos can root for. Give him the right song and subject matter, he’ll deliver a hit.
Andrew Unterberger: As with seemingly 85% of chart-related "Why is..." questions this year, the answer is TikTok. Combs' team no doubt noticed the major debut that Morgan Wallen had earlier this year with a song whose early-teased snippet got popular on the video sharing service ahead of its official release, and they decided to cut out the middleman by teasing the song directly on TikTok. Plus, Combs has reposted or appeared in a number of sentimental TikTok videos with "Forever After All" as the soundtrack -- all increasing the public appetite for the song ahead of its release and priming it for a gigantic streaming and sales debut. Luke Combs knows how to write and perform a hit in 2020, but just as importantly, he knows how to play the game.
Christine Werthman: I know I just said you shouldn't release a cutesy song about being in a relationship right now and expect success, but this Combs song is a forceful, forever-yours kind of classic, an "I got you, brother" bearhug that feels reassuring at a time when anxieties are high (because of the pandemic, the election, the holidays — pick your poison). Combs is an artist whose appeal stretches beyond country, kind of like Chris Stapleton, whose Traveller spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 2015. It's no surprise that What You See Is What You Get (with help from its recent deluxe reissue) is the first country album since then to match that achievement.
4. We talked last week about country's surge in 2020 popularity on the Hot 100 -- what, if anything, does it tell you about where the genre is right now that Luke Combs appears to be the artist at the forefront of its crossover charge?
Lyndsey Havens: In my opinion, country music is exploring every lane right now — from the electrified rock riff in "I Hope" to the R&B leaning "Be Like That" and many other examples -- in a way that's not too dissimilar to what's happening in hip-hop. You can surely point to "Old Town Road" as the straw that broke this camel's back, but now, after some time and as a result of the ongoing democratization of genre -- which pop and hip-hop have already reaped the benefits of -- the full impact may finally be hitting country music.
Jason Lipshutz: Country music is slowly unlocking new fans at streaming, and as a result, songs that were performing well at radio and in digital sales are also being strengthened on platforms that has proven more difficult for the genre to crack. Because of this, a song like “Forever After All” is able to streak to a No. 2 debut on the Hot 100, while Gabby Barrett’s “I Hope” can move from a country radio smash that would have hung around the top 40 of the Hot 100 to a top 10 hit that makes her a star.
Joe Lynch: Luke Combs boasts an impassioned, hoke-free musical authenticity that helps him appeal to ears that would never come within a country mile of country radio, and yet there’s enough accessible melodicism -- not the mention extremely familiar lyrical matter on a song like “Forever After All” -- that helps Combs cross over while satisfying dyed-in-the-flannel fans. I think that’s the kind of country artist we’ll see more and more of on the Hot 100 moving forward.
Andrew Unterberger: It seems to me that mainstream country kinda found its best-of-both-worlds artist in Luke Combs, who suggests the sort of throwback ruggedness of a Chris Stapleton, but with 2020 radio-ready singles that can easily compete with the likes of Dan + Shay and Thomas Rhett. You might expect the streaming king of modern country to be a little more hip hop-influenced (like Sam Hunt) or pop-accessible (like Maren Morris), but Luke Combs puts up the best numbers just by being the perfect 2020 country star, able to rule both live and on the airwaves, while also taking advantage of the genre's ever-growing presence on more modern platforms like Apple Music and TikTok.
Christine Werthman: Combs isn't crossing over with a brand-new sound. He is way more classic, rock-leaning country than some of his crossover peers like Maren Morris, Gabby Barrett and Morgan Wallen. If it says anything, it's that those country fans who were late to the party on streaming are down to embrace poppier country, but will always come back to music that sits closer to the genre's roots.
5. Which song do you think will be higher on the Hot 100 at the end of the year, "Positions" or "Forever After All"?
Lyndsey Havens: *closes eyes and winces* "Forever After All."
Jason Lipshutz: “Positions” has really grown on me, and I hesitate to discount Grande’s staying power as a pop superstar. I’d expect a nice run into 2021.
Joe Lynch: This is a tough question. I expect “Forever After All” to have long legs, but I don’t think “Positions” is going to slink away soon either. That being said, Ariana will undoubtedly move on to promoting another single quicker than Luke; country singers tend to let hits that resonate with fans marinate longer. So if it’s a “Positions” vs. “Forever After All” contest, I might expect “Forever” to stick around longer.
Andrew Unterberger: I think in ten weeks it'll be "Positions," but in 20 weeks -- as country radio finally catches up to Luke's latest -- it'll be "Forever After All."
Christine Werthman: "Forever After All." Pop fans are fickle, and I'm going to be hearing "Forever After All" at weddings until, as Combs would say, "The good Lord calls [me] home."