100 & Single: fun., Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen, And The Era Of The Snowball Smash


Ellie Goulding, "Lights"

So the difference between 2002 and 2012 is that the former was a sleepy year where radio dominated and played hits too long, whereas 2012 is a year that's had several exciting left-field moments by first-time artists—but these hits turn sleepy once latecoming buyers and radio join the party. A decade ago, we were at the nadir of the retail single. In 2012, we're at a new all-time peak for the single, but the chart result is the same: big hits dominate the field for long stretches and don't let anything else through. I haven't even touched on the stasis in the Top 10 this year, during which the aforementioned Maroon 5 hit set a record for most weeks in the Top Three without reaching No. 1 (15) and a Nicki Minaj hit, "Starships," didn't get past No. 5 but spent its first 21 chart weeks in the winner's circle, also a record. These songs are products of the same sales-and-radio stasis generating chart-toppers: hits get big, then sit stone.

What makes pop fandom and chart-watching fun is turnover. The fun., Gotye and Carly Rae Jepsen hits all have merits as pop phenomena—I am fond of all three—but each has become a mini-"Macarena," a faddish pop totem everyone feels compelled to own. Radio, eyeing the same digital-led fad, follows suit.

What will it take to juice up the charts and let a few more singles have a turn at No. 1 or in the Top 10? If digital sales and radio airplay are getting over-aligned, what could shake things up?

Generally, these sorts of things go in cycles—for all we know, in 2013 we could see a string of one- and two-week toppers again. The mid-'90s on the Hot 100 saw a string of long-lasting No. 1 megahits by the likes of Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey and Puff Daddy; but all of a sudden, when the hyper-competitive teen-pop boom took hold in the era of Backstreet and Britney, we enjoyed more rapid turnover again; 1998 and 1999 saw strings of one- and two-week hits.

One possible source of diversity on the charts could be Spotify and other the on-demand music services, which were added to the Hot 100 formula in March. But five months in, the addition of streaming music hasn't provided as much diversity on the Hot 100 as I initially hoped—at least in terms of chart-topping hits. Since March, the song on top of Billboard's On Demand Songs chart, which is factored into the Hot 100, has matched the No. 1 song on the big chart every week but two.

In one of those weeks, Maroon 5's "Payphone" topped the On-Demand chart—but then Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" went right back to the top; so much for diversity. Just last week, we finally saw the other song that topped the On-Demand chart that isn't a Hot 100 No. 1 (yet): Ellie Goulding's "Lights." That song is now at No. 2 on the Hot 100 after one of the longest, slowest climbs in chart history, and it may be about to take over the top slot this week.

Let's hope so, because we could use some fresh blood at the summit. It would make Goulding the fourth consecutive artist to top the Hot 100 with a first-time U.S. hit, and these new artists have brought some excitement to the charts in 2012. No one would have guessed at the start of the year that a post-emo rock band, a Sting-aping Belgian-Australian, or a teen-friendly Canadian not named Bieber would rule the U.S. charts. I just wish these kids would give a few more acts a turn at the top.

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2 comments
Josh84
Josh84

Chris, always enjoy reading your analysis.  Refreshing to read columns that help us make sense of the byzantine pop music world - instead of just quippy opinion pieces.  Also, I really felt you needed to know that I genuinely hate the brain cell-killing Call Me Maybe - hated it the first time I heard it and the 10,000th.  I think it's a Machurian Candidate conspiracy to further lower the IQ of voters in an election year...

dalatudalatu
dalatudalatu

@maura @cmolanphy Just wanted to say, that this was another great week for this column. Always a great read.

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