Boy Least Likely: Jay Sean Sinks Black Eyed Peas’ Titanic Run

Remember Lost in Space? What a timeless film: William Hurt, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, and TV greats Lacey Chabert and Matt LeBlanc. Back in 1998, there was such excitement for this cinematic recreation of the classic ’60s CBS series.

What’s that? You say you don’t remember this bit of Clinton-era movie magic? Or…you do, vaguely — but you seem to recall that it kind of blew chunks? Well, how could that be? After all, Lost in Space was the movie that evicted Titanic, the highest-grossing and Oscar-winningest movie of all time, from the top of the U.S. box office after a record-setting, still unbeaten run.

This bit of throwaway trivia (regarding a movie that, all kidding aside, was a serious flop) leaps to mind as I consider the song that finally terminates the Black Eyed Peas’ half-year run atop the Billboard Hot 100. Jay Sean’s “Down,” to be fair, isn’t half as bad a song as Lost in Space was a movie. It’s a pleasant little ditty, a Chris Brown‒like midtempo jam with a not-embarrassing supporting rap from prodigal chart hero Lil Wayne. London native Sean — born Kamaljit Singh Jhooti — also earns the happy status as one of the few people of South Asian descent to top our singles chart, after a successful half-decade career hitting charts in the United Kingdom and India.

Still, there’s no question that the Hot 100 win by “Down,” over a very competitive field of songs-in-waiting, has less to do with love for the track than with the Peas at last letting go. Jay Sean should enjoy the victory he’s eked out, because it will likely be short-lived.

Before we discuss how the buff Jay Sean pulled this off, we have to reckon with what the Black Eyed Peas have set down in the record books: the longest unbroken stay at No. 1 in Hot 100 history, 26 weeks, spread across two singles, “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling.” Nearly two months ago, they surpassed the prior record — 19 weeks, held by Usher with the back-to-back 2004 chart-toppers “Yeah!” and “Burn.” The Peas’ mark of a full half-year of penthouse occupancy will probably stand for a long time (more on that later).

Neither “Boom Boom Pow” nor “I Gotta Feeling” set a record for longest stay by a single song, still held by the 1995 Mariah Carey‒Boyz II Men duet “One Sweet Day” at 16 weeks. But “Gotta,” with a 14-week stay, ties the record for longest run of the ’00s, shared with another Mariah single, 2005’s “We Belong Together.” Fourteen weeks must be some kind of ceiling for blockbuster singles — six songs are now tied at that second-place ranking. (The other four 14-week toppers, all from the ’90s, are Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You,” Los del Río’s “Macarena” and Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997.”)

Finally, following up an item I ran last June, the Peas are one of only four acts to spend 10 weeks or more atop the Hot 100 with more than one single, and one of only two to do it with consecutive singles, the other being Santana in 1999–2000 (with the 12-week “Smooth” followed by the 10-week “Maria Maria”). And unlike ol’ Carlos, the Peas’ two mega-toppers owned the top spot without interruption. Got all that? Phew…

We at Idolator have spent a big chunk of this week speculating about what it would take for the Peas to finally relinquish the No. 1 spot. With 20/20 hindsight, the answer to that particular question was simple: the Peas finally wilted. “I Gotta Feeling” doesn’t just slip from the No. 1 spot, it plummets four spots to No. 5 — the biggest drop from the top since Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” fell to No. 6 in June 2008. Digital sales for “Gotta” are down nearly 10% this week to just under 126,000 copies, the song’s smallest one-week sum since arriving at iTunes in June. This sales deflation is the main reason for “Gotta” succumbing, but radio (the other half of the Hot 100 formula) contributes, too. The Peas’ track had already slipped from the top of the airplay list about a month ago, and this week it falls further; after a couple of weeks as radio’s second-most-played song, “Gotta” is now ranked fourth in spins. All this leads to its fall from the Hot 100 throne.

But how exactly did Jay Sean and Lil Wayne take it? According to Billboard, “The battle for Hot 100 supremacy this week was extra fierce, as the chart’s top five titles are separated by the tightest point margin in more than six years.” Basically, the Peas’ vacating of the top slot was a jump ball that could’ve been grabbed by any of four tracks, each of which moves up one slot from Nos. 1–4 this week: Sean’s “Down,” Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the U.S.A.,” Jay-Z’s “Run This Town” and Jason DeRulo’s “Whatcha Say.” Out of that foursome, “Down” was arguably the least likely victor, given recent trends. In the speculative piece Maura and I ran on Monday, we almost forgot about “Down,” mentioning it in passing at the very end of our discussion. I was so convinced DeRulo’s “Whatcha Say” or Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” had momentum going for them, I kind of looked past Jay Sean.

Blame iTunes for my blind spot. Digital sales have dominated the charts over the last four years, so it’s usually a safe bet that whatever’s selling big there has the edge on the Hot 100. Not this time: “Down” has had a charmed but not spectacular run at iTunes. Never Billboard’s top-selling download, and never shifting more than 157,000 copies per week, Sean’s hit has been the proverbial tortoise of digital tracks, outsold week after week by the Peas, Cyrus and Jay-Z. This week, believe it or not, “Down” is actually down in sales, off almost 5% to 128,000 downloads. I would lay good money that that’s the smallest digital sum rung up by any Hot 100 chart-topper in the last couple of years.

Instead, airplay is the secret to Jay Sean’s success; his radio-friendly hit is turning into a rotation blockbuster. This week, “Down” takes over the top of Billboard’s all-genre Radio Songs list (a.k.a. Hot 100 Airplay), increasing his audience by 6 million and edging out Taylor Swift’s smash “You Belong with Me.” It’s rare nowadays for radio dominance to bring about Hot 100 dominance. Just look at Swift — despite being the first country act in a quarter-century to have the most-played radio song in America, she never even came close to evicting the Peas. Yet, Jay Sean has — mainly because, for most of Sean’s Hot 100 competitors, radio is a serious handicap. Cyrus’s “U.S.A.” just entered the Radio Songs top 10 this week, as did DeRulo’s “Whatcha”; Sean’s hit has nearly double the audience of those two. Only Jay-Z’s “Town” is an airplay smash; it’s currently ranked third on Radio Songs, putting him in roughly the same airplay league as “Down.” But Jigga has a bit of a sales problem — “Town” was off more than 8% in downloads for the week. Basically, every other track competing with Jay Sean has just enough of a chink in its armor that “Down” was able to float to the top.

It’s all about timing and luck, like it was in 1998. Lost in Space accidentally picked the right week to hit the box office and take advantage of Titanic’s downfall, something that other, bigger 1998 films (from Good Will Hunting to The Man in the Iron Mask) mistimed. All summer long, songs with more sales and airplay than “Down” has now — from Drake’s “Best I Ever Had” to Keri Hilson’s “Knock You Down” — failed to unseat the Peas because they picked the wrong week to peak. Maybe Jay Sean will score a few followup hits that will make his U.S. debut seem like the start of something of big. And something tells me we’ll remember “Down” a little more fondly, years from now, than we do Lost in Space. Right now, though, at a moment when we’re just thankful not to have will-i-am and Fergie controlling the big chart anymore, Sean’s ascent looks like a Matt LeBlanc–worthy moment of dumb luck. Hey, we’ll take it.

Here’s a rundown of the rest of this week’s charts:

• So if “Down” is just barely clinging to No. 1 right now, who’s going to occupy the penthouse next week? Will Miley finally score that elusive U.S. chart-topper after coming so close? Will Maura and I prove correct with our prediction of Jason DeRulo’s Imogen Heap–sampling smash? What about Jay-Z — he’s got two tracks in the winners’ circle; surely one of them will lead the list eventually?

Heartbreakingly for that trio, there’s a chance they’ll all be swatted away next week by a song that’s not even on the Hot 100 right now. That would be Britney Spears’ “3,” which leads iTunes’ best-seller list as of this writing. Our commenters have been predicting all week that this PG-13 ode to ménages a trois would be the next No. 1 single, and depending on how explosively it sells this week, it could reach the top. Jive Records seems to be trying to repeat a pattern they set last fall, when Brit Brit scored her first chart-topper since the ’90s with “Womanizer”: lead off with Top 40 radio, then drop the single at iTunes to maximize pent-up demand. The thing is, radio is a little slower this time — “3” isn’t on the Radio Songs chart yet, despite it debuting on Sept. 29. (It’s currently No. 14 on the Hot 100 “Bubbling Under” chart, which tracks songs that haven’t cracked the singles-chart’s century mark.)

If “3” is going to triumph on next week’s chart, it’ll have to debut all the way up at No. 1. In the late ’90s, No. 1 debuts were fairly common on the Hot 100, but changes to the charts in the last decade have made that much harder to pull off, and the only songs that have successfully debuted at No. 1 have all been in a specific category of hit that doesn’t rely on radio much at all: American Idol coronation songs. For Britney to top the Hot 100 with minimal airplay, she’d have to sell somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 to 300,000 singles, not an impossible feat.

One last, fun item: If “3” goes all the way, Spears will set an obscure chart record that’s obsessed the geekiest of us chart geeks for decades now: shortest title for a U.S. No. 1. The record is still three letters, held in a five seven-way tie by Frankie Avalon’s “Why,” the Jackson 5’s “ABC,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” Michael Jackson’s “Ben” and “Bad,” Rihanna’s “SOS” and Flo Rida’s “Low.” Chart geeks got excited in the spring of 2005, when it looked like Ciara’s “Oh” was going all the way, but it stalled at No. 2.

ADDENDUM (Saturday, October 10): (Sorry, I meant to include this yesterday but simply ran out of time; adding it now for posterity.) As one of my commenters notes below, this week doesn’t just see the Black Eyed Peas’ No. 1 run terminated. It’s also the week Jason Mraz’s epic chart run with “I’m Yours” ends. The all-time record for Hot 100 occupancy is now set in stone, as the perky ditty spent its 76th and final week on the list last week. That beats, by a staggering two months, prior record-holder LeAnn Rimes, whose “How Do I Live” rode the chart for 69 weeks from 1997 through 1999.

Like the Peas — who as discussed above pulled off such an absurd number of feats all at once (two smashes spending more than three months each at No. 1 back-to-back) that their record will probably hold for years — Mraz’s new mark should be bulletproof for a good long while. After all, Rimes held the record for more than a decade, despite repeated threats (most recently by Carrie Underwood’s 64-week smash “Before He Cheats”).

Personally? I’m no Mraz fan, but on the list of songs that could hold the chart longevity record, “I’m Yours” is one of the less offensive. And hey, at least I’m a little less likely to hear it at a wedding than “How Do I Live.”

• Maxwell’s “Pretty Wings” spends its 10th week atop the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs list, marking the third time this year a track has spent a double-digit number of weeks atop this list. The dominance by three songs — Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” (12 weeks) and Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It” (14 weeks), plus Maxwell — has given us the smallest number of chart-toppers in a calendar year in R&B-chart history: only five, and six if you count Beyoncé’s hit, which was a holdover from 2008. Among those whom Maxwell is hurting with his monopolization of No. 1 is Mario, who’s spent two solid months at No. 2 with his Gucci Mane– and Sean Garrett–backed “Break Up.” Even Maxwell himself is tired of waiting for his old hit to wane: the second single from his current album, “Bad Habits,” has already reached the Top 10.

• On this week’s Country chart, Dave Matthews pulls off something he’s never achieved on the Hot 100: a Top 10 hit. His duet with Kenny Chesney, “I’m Alive,” moves into the winners’ circle at No. 9. Matthews’ titular band has never gone higher on the big pop chart than the short-lived 2005 track “American Baby,” which spent a week at No. 16. Given how hospitable country radio has been recently not only to Matthews’ former ’90s mellow-rock peer Darius Rucker, but also to another guy who doesn’t score big pop hits but sells out arenas nationwide, I can’t help but wonder if Matthews is glimpsing his future this week.

• While this column was off last week, Alice in Chains pulled off a feat it never achieved while late lead singer Layne Staley fronted the band: scoring a No. 1 Alternative/Modern Rock hit. For one week, “Check My Brain” evicted Muse’s “Uprising,” which returns to the penthouse this week. All this back-and-forth between Muse and AIC at No. 1 might become moot within a week or two. The unstoppable Foo Fighters — currently competing with Linkin Park for the title of biggest modern rock act of the decade — are on their way up fast with a near-inevitable chart-topper, “Wheels,” which vaults to No. 5 in only its second week on the list. Don’t be surprised if, by the time this column’s back in a fortnight, Dave Grohl has sent the competition packing.

Top 10s

(Billboard issue date October 17, 2009; based on data collected September 28-October 4) Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads in parentheses):

Hot 100

1. Jay Sean feat. Lil Wayne, “Down” (LW No. 2, 14 weeks)

2. Miley Cyrus, “Party in the U.S.A.” (LW No. 3, 8 weeks)

3. Jay-Z feat. Rihanna & Kanye West, “Run This Town” (LW No. 4, 10 weeks)

4. Jason DeRulo, “Whatcha Say” (LW No. 5, 8 weeks)

5. The Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling” (LW No. 1, 17 weeks)

6. Lady Gaga, “Paparazzi” (LW No. 7, 6 weeks)

7. Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me” (LW No. 6, 24 weeks)

8. Mariah Carey, “Obsessed” (LW No. 9, 13 weeks)

9. Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody” (LW No. 8, 36 weeks)

10. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” (LW No. 10, 4 weeks)

Hot Digital Songs

1. Miley Cyrus, “Party in the U.S.A.” (LW No. 1, 176,000 downloads)

2. Jason DeRulo, “Whatcha Say” (LW No. 2, 162,000 downloads)

3. Jay Sean feat. Lil Wayne, “Down” (LW No. 5, 134,000 downloads)

4. The Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling” (LW No. 3, 126,000 downloads)

5. Owl City, “Fireflies” (LW No. 13, 125,000 downloads)

6. Lady Gaga, “Paparazzi” (LW No. 4, 124,000 downloads)

7. Jay-Z feat. Rihanna & Kanye West, “Run This Town” (LW No. 6, 120,000 downloads)

8. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” (LW No. 7, 108,000 downloads)

9. Mariah Carey, “Obsessed” (LW No. 9, 83,000 downloads)

10. Glee Cast, “Somebody to Love” (LW No. 49, 78,000 downloads)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs

1. Maxwell, “Pretty Wings” (LW No. 1, 23 weeks)

2. Mario feat. Gucci Mane & Sean Garrett, “Break Up” (LW No. 2, 22 weeks)

3. Drake feat. Trey Songz, “Successful” (LW No. 3, 17 weeks)

4. Jay-Z feat. Rihanna & Kanye West, “Run This Town” (LW No. 4, 11 weeks)

5. Gucci Mane feat. Plies, “Wasted” (LW No. 6, 17 weeks)

6. Pleasure P, “Under” (LW No. 7, 15 weeks)

7. Mary Mary feat. Kierra “KiKi” Sheard, “God in Me” (LW No. 5, 46 weeks)

8. R. Kelly feat. Keri Hilson, “Number One” (LW No. 10, 12 weeks)

9. Drake feat. Kanye West, Lil Wayne & Eminem, “Forever” (LW No. 16, 6 weeks)

10. Maxwell, “Bad Habits” (LW No. 9, 17 weeks)

Hot Country Songs

1. Toby Keith, “American Ride” (LW No. 1, 14 weeks)

2. Chris Young, “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song)” (LW No. 3, 34 weeks)

3. Keith Urban, “Only You Can Love Me This Way” (LW No. 4, 14 weeks)

4. Zac Brown Band, “Toes” (LW No. 7, 15 weeks)

5. Justin Moore, “Small Town U.S.A.” (LW No. 2, 35 weeks)

6. Brad Paisley, “Welcome to the Future” (LW No. 6, 15 weeks)

7. Jason Aldean, “Big Green Tractor” (LW No. 5, 21 weeks)

8. Carrie Underwood, “Cowboy Casanova” (LW No. 11, 5 weeks)

9. Kenny Chesney feat. Dave Matthews, “I’m Alive” (LW No. 13, 11 weeks)

10. Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” (LW No. 15, 8 weeks)

Hot Alternative Tracks

1. Muse, “Uprising” (LW No. 2, 9 weeks)

2. Alice in Chains, “Check My Brain” (LW No. 1, 8 weeks)

3. Weezer, “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To,” (LW No. 3, 7 weeks)

4. Rise Against, “Savior” (LW No. 4, 16 weeks)

5. Foo Fighters, “Wheels” (LW No. 18, 2 weeks)

6. Chevelle, “Jars” (LW No. 6, 15 weeks)

7. AFI, “Medicate” (LW No. 10, 6 weeks)

8. Kings of Leon, “Notion” (LW No. 5, 19 weeks)

9. Paramore, “Ignorance” (LW No. 7, 13 weeks)

10. Breaking Benjamin, “I Will Not Bow” (LW No. 9, 8 weeks)

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