Note to my dear readers: Thanks to the dozens of you who sent good wishes my way last week, on Twitter and elsewhere, as I took “100 and Single” to my own blog. Also, apologies for the ongoing commenting glitches; I hope to have that fixed by the time I do my next full-length column. Below is a mini-column. For the past year on Idolator, the column has been biweekly, but now that I’m taking it back I’m hoping, as my work schedule permits, to produce something every Friday – a full-length piece one week followed by quicker, shorter rundowns the next. Please bear with me during this transitional period.
How he broke the curse: Completely contrary to my confident prediction last week, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys rise to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 with “Empire State of Mind,” making it the first song specifically about New York City to reach the penthouse. As if taunting me, Billboard’s own “Chart Beat” team does a better job than I did running down previous NYC-centric hits. (My biggest mistake: forgetting to search for hits with “Harlem” or “Broadway” in the title. Aretha Franklin’s “Spanish Harlem” peaked at No. 2, among several other Gotham-based tracks. Still, I was right about no NYC songs going to the top before.)
Incidentally, “Empire” is also the first-ever chart-topper for Jigga as a lead, not featured, act; he’s dropped rhymes over the bridge or lead-in of three prior chart-toppers, by Mariah Carey (“Heartbreaker,” 1999), future wife Beyoncé (“Crazy in Love,” 2003) and protégée Rihanna (“Umbrella,” 2007). Scoring his first No. 1 one month before his 40th birthday is sort of unbelievable. It’s doubly so when you consider his album-chart record: 11 chart-toppers as of two months ago, the most among solo acts and second place among all acts, behind the Beatles. (So much for that old rock-critic theory that hip-hop is a singles-based, not album-based, medium…)
I don’t mind admitting I was wrong on “Empire” going all the way, especially since it’s a win for my hometown; but how, exactly, did Jigga and Alicia pull it off? Data for this week’s charts came long after the Gotham-bred duo had their televised performance and days after the Yankee tickertape was swept away; I was convinced the end of the baseball season would send “Empire” lower. I was half-right: in terms of digital sales, the track is down – if only by a modest 6%.
It’s all about airplay: “Empire” is now the most-played song in the country. Even more shocking, on the all-radio list, Jay-Z is up from sixth place to first, which Billboard reports is the biggest such rise in radio ranking since Kanye West’s “Stronger” moved from seventh to the top of the radio list in the fall of 2007.
I checked in with my anonymous industry source, who tells me, simply: “Forget the New York bias, this is a national radio hit.” In one week, “Empire” grew by more than 20 million in audience, with multimillion gains at pop, urban and even Latin radio. Regionally, Los Angeles – yes, you read that right – donated the most new listeners last week, with big swings at KAMP, KIIS and Latin station KXOL. (And weirdly, overall New York radio play was actually down, given how heavily it’s been played here all fall.) In short, J-HOVA has pulled off something doubly improbable: scoring a national hit unabashedly about New York, with the biggest late-inning boost from West Coasters.
I’m so touched, I’m starting to think maybe the country can pass a healthcare bill, too.
Feels Like a Century Old: While I’m on the subject of New York–centric hits: For the second time this year, a band beloved by urban hipsters and slow to catch on with the rock-loving masses has somehow sneaked into the Alternative Top 10. MGMT did it with “Kids” back in the spring, and now Phoenix makes a big four-place move into the sleepy Alternative winners’ circle with “1901.”
MGMT appears to have earned its way onto radio playlists the old-fashioned way, one programming director at a time. But Phoenix, for the second time this year, benefits from massive TV exposure. Back in the spring, the little-known-in-America band won a performing slot on Saturday Night Live two months before their acclaimed Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix disc dropped, and their profile increased hugely. Now, half a year later, the use of “1901” in a high-rotation Cadillac commercial finally spurs radio to put the track into power rotation.
Making Nice: The biggest move into the Hot 100’s Top 10 this week comes from big CMA winners Lady Antebellum, who stole the Group award from perennial winners Rascal Flatts and won Single of the Year as well. Those wins send their current booty-call hit “Need You Now” to the top of the Hot Country list and, more surprisingly, the Top Five of the Hot 100.
Billboard notes, “Lady Antebellum is the first country group to reach the Hot 100’s top 10 since Dixie Chicks peaked at No. 4 with ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’ in March 2007.” The one thing they fail to mention is that, in both cases, the acts had awards shows to thank for their unusually high pop-chart berths. The Chicks vaulted into the Top Five for a single week, right after sweeping the 2006 Grammy Awards. In a way, Lady A’s hit is more “real” than the Chicks’ was. “Need You Now” is firing on both cylinders, airplay and sales; it leads country radio, which is factored into the Hot 100, and it makes a big leap sales (up a whopping 162%). “Not Ready” also enjoyed a massive one-week sales boost, but it was played minimally on the radio back in 2006–07; country stations were essentially still boycotting the Chicks, and pop radio never picked up on the song.
Divine Redemption: Mary Mary has now spent a full year on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart, and in their 52nd week they return to the Top 10. They’d already set a record for the slowest climb into the winners’ circle a couple of months ago, when “God in Me” featuring “KiKi” Sheard entered the upper decile in its 42nd week; they fell out a few weeks ago, but the song’s still gaining airplay. They’re still a few months away from setting a record for longest-lived R&B hit; current record-holders are at more than 70 weeks.
Letting Go: Are you as sick of 2009 as I am? (Between the leg brace on my knee and the loss of various employment opportunities, I’m ready to kiss this year goodbye.) As far as Billboard’s concerned, we’re already into 2010. Their “chart year” ends as of the last week of November – and because of the front-loaded way the magazine dates its charts, this week’s lists (stamped “For the week ending November 28, 2009”) mark the end of the year. I’ve complained about this antiquated system many times in this column, but as long as Billboard produces a paper magazine – and, more specifically, a fat year-end issue that has to hit newsstands a couple of weeks before Christmas – this mismatch between chart year and actual year will continue.
Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I’ll do what I’ve done in years past and try to make some predictions about the top-ranked singles of the year. (Predicting the top albums is almost too easy.) Feel free to tweet me if you have guesses of your own.
(Billboard issue date November 28, 2009; based on data collected November 9–15)
Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads in parentheses):
1. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” (LW No. 2, 10 weeks)
2. Owl City, “Fireflies” (LW No. 1, 13 weeks)
3. Jason DeRulo, “Whatcha Say” (LW No. 3, 14 weeks)
4. Iyaz, “Replay” (LW No. 4, 13 weeks)
5. Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” (LW No. 22, 14 weeks)
6. Britney Spears, “3″ (LW No. 8, 6 weeks)
7. Jay Sean feat. Lil Wayne, “Down” (LW No. 5, 20 weeks)
8. Miley Cyrus, “Party in the U.S.A.” (LW No. 6, 14 weeks)
9. Lady Gaga, “Paparazzi” (LW No. 7, 12 weeks)
10. Ke$ha, “TiK ToK” (LW No. 14, 6 weeks)
Hot Digital Songs
1. Owl City, “Fireflies” (LW No. 1, 181,000 downloads)
2. Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” (LW No. 20, 155,000 downloads)
3. Iyaz, “Replay” (LW No. 2, 149,000 downloads)
4. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” (LW No. 3, 142,000 downloads)
5. Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance” (LW No. 9, 140,000 downloads)
6. Ke$ha, “TiK ToK” (LW No. 7, 138,000 downloads)
7. Britney Spears, “3″ (LW No. 8, 120,000 downloads)
8. Miley Cyrus, “Party in the U.S.A.” (LW No. 6, 115,000 downloads)
9. Jason DeRulo, “Whatcha Say” (LW No. 5, 112,000 downloads)
10. Rihanna, “Russian Roulette” (LW No. 4, 100,000 downloads)
Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs
1. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” (LW No. 1, 11 weeks)
2. Usher, “Papers” (LW No. 2, 7 weeks)
3. Trey Songz feat. Drake, “I Invented Sex” (LW No. 4, 14 weeks)
4. Maxwell, “Bad Habits” (LW No. 7, 23 weeks)
5. Maxwell, “Pretty Wings” (LW No. 3, 29 weeks)
6. Drake feat. Kanye West, Lil Wayne & Eminem, “Forever” (LW No. 5, 12 weeks)
7. Gucci Mane feat. Plies, “Wasted” (LW No. 6, 23 weeks)
8. Birdman feat. Lil Wayne & Drake, “Money to Blow” (LW No. 9, 10 weeks)
9. LeToya feat. Ludacris, “Regret” (LW No. 8, 15 weeks)
10. Mary Mary feat. Kierra “KiKi” Sheard, “God in Me” (LW No. 11, 52 weeks)
Hot Country Songs
1. Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” (LW No. 2, 14 weeks)
2. Carrie Underwood, “Cowboy Casanova” (LW No. 1, 11 weeks)
3. Luke Bryan, “Do I” (LW No. 3, 30 weeks)
4. Reba McEntire, “Consider Me Gone” (LW No. 5, 15 weeks)
5. Zac Brown Band, “Toes” (LW No. 4, 21 weeks)
6. Craig Morgan, “Bonfire” (LW No. 10, 26 weeks)
7. Kenny Chesney feat. Dave Matthews, “I’m Alive” (LW No. 7, 17 weeks)
8. Taylor Swift, “Fifteen” (LW No. 9, 12 weeks)
9. Dierks Bentley, “I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes” (LW No. 11, 17 weeks)
10. David Nail, “Red Light” (LW No. 12, 38 weeks)
Hot Alternative Tracks
1. Muse, “Uprising” (LW No. 1, 15 weeks)
2. Weezer, “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To,” (LW No. 2, 13 weeks)
3. Rise Against, “Savior” (LW No. 4, 22 weeks)
4. Foo Fighters, “Wheels” (LW No. 3, 8 weeks)
5. 30 Seconds to Mars, “Kings and Queens” (LW No. 5, 6 weeks)
6. Breaking Benjamin, “I Will Not Bow” (LW No. 6, 14 weeks)
7. Three Days Grace, “Break” (LW No. 7, 11 weeks)
8. Death Cab for Cutie, “Meet Me on the Equinox” (LW No. 10, 9 weeks)
9. Phoenix, “1901″ (LW No. 13, 19 weeks)
10. Chevelle, “Jars” (LW No. 11, 15 weeks)