Heavy Lies the Crown: Clarkson Still Tops, But Slim Shady Is Poised to Pounce

Maura and I have already taken a victory lap about our fulfilled prediction that Kelly Clarkson would vault to the top of Billboard‘s Hot 100. Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You” dominates the list again this week, thanks to commanding sales and fast-rising radio airplay.

How long will she stay there? Nothing in the Top 10 looks like a threat. The few songs that are on the rise, including Kanye West’s “Heartless” and All-American Rejects’ “Gives You Hell,” appear to be losing momentum. The Fray’s “You Found Me” will likely get a boost from the release of their album this week, but probably not enough to take over the penthouse.

If anything’s going to dethrone Clarkson, it will come from outside the winners’ circle. “Prom Queen,” the ill-advised rock single from Lil Wayne, makes an impressive debut at No. 17, the highest start so far this year. You’d think that would give him the edge.

But the more likely scenario involves someone doing to Kelly what Kelly did to Lady GaGa two weeks ago: an outside ambush that vaults from the bottom to the top in one fell swoop. And the probable ambusher is making an even bigger chart comeback this year than Clarkson.

Eminem was the dominant pop star of the first half of the ’00s. If Idolator had existed in 2002 or 2004, we probably would have spent more than half our days writing about the troublemaking Marshall Mathers; because this site launched in 2006, we’ve had relatively little to say about him, as he’s largely avoided the public eye—and the charts—for the last three years. The self-described Slim Shady has been missing from the Hot 100 since 2006, and we’re about to find out how much people missed him.

Two weeks ago, “Crack a Bottle,” Eminem’s comeback track with mentor Dr. Dre and protégé 50 Cent, made its Hot 100 debut. It was the week’s highest debut at No. 78—and there it has stayed for three straight frames, even as other songs that debuted lower down that week—Clarkson’s “Suck” (No. 1), Katy Perry’s “Thinking of You” (No. 35) and Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It” (No. 37)—have reached the Top 40.

Ah, but here’s the difference: those songs have sales points, Em’s doesn’t. (Yes, that old trick again.) Interscope waited until this week to drop the song digitally, and they’re about to be rewarded: “Bottle” is already the top-seller at iTunes. So, like Clarkson two weeks ago, the Em/Dre/50 triumvirate is going to pole-vault into the upper reaches of the Hot 100 next week, and the only question is whether they will amass enough sales points take over No. 1.

Forgive me, I’m about to start talking like a Vegas bookie. Those of you placing bets between Kelly and Em will have to make a calculated guess about two things-sales spread, and airplay.

First, sales spread: Eminem’s “Bottle” will almost certainly be the week’s top-seller over Clarkson’s “Suck,” but we don’t know yet how much better it’s going to sell. When “Suck” trounced Lady GaGa’s “Just Dance” last week, it was a brand-new song besting a months-old song that was on the wane; Kelly in her first sales week outsold GaGa in her 30th by a nearly two-to-one margin (280,000 downloads versus 150,000, respectively). But Clarkson’s song is still fresh. I doubt Eminem’s first sales week will so totally dominate Clarkson’s third; this week, she’s down only 23% to a still-sizeable 216,000 downloads, and her sales total next week will probably be in the same ballpark.

Then there’s airplay: Clarkson’s single is a huge radio hit, while Eminem’s is still growing. Each song is three weeks old at radio, but “Suck” already ranks 19th among all airplay hits, while “Bottle” ranks 46th. That’s a big gap, and it won’t be erased next week. On the other hand, “Bottle” has multiple formats going for it, including urban radio; it’s already in its fourth week on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Clarkson, as we’ve said here before, has to rely on Top 40 radio alone, especially on a non-ballad like “Suck” that’s never going to pick up adult-contemporary airplay. So, longer-term, Em’s single stands a chance to score more ubiquitous airplay than Clarkson’s. But we’re not betting on the long term right now. We’re only trying to guess what happens next week.

So, my prediction? No idea—it could be a photo finish. If pent-up demand for Eminem is truly massive, “Bottle” could sell 300,000 or more downloads, giving him a sales gap so large no amount of airplay will save Clarkson. But something tells me a new generation of kids unfamiliar with Slim Shady’s oeuvre won’t be quite so rabid, leaving him with a first-week sales total somewhere in the 200,000s-not enough to overcome Kelly’s radio edge.

Stay tuned. I think it’s anybody’s game.

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

• Mike Barthel and I recently debated whether M.I.A.’s Pazz and Jop–topping “Paper Planes” qualified as a 2007 or 2008 single. Well, we might be having a similar debate a year from now about another acclaimed double-year hit. “That’s Not My Name,” the second U.S. single by the Ting Tings after last spring’s “Shut Up and Let Me Go,” reenters the Hot 100 this week at a fairly lofty No. 64, a month after numerous critics named it one of their favorite pop songs of 2008.

“Name” was a No. 1 hit in England and a Top 10 around the world more than six months ago. But Columbia Records officially released it as a radio single here last week, probably because the song just started catching on with digital-song buyers a few weeks ago. “Name” was selling about 20,000–30,000 downloads a week at iTunes just before Christmas. Those sales prompted a quiet debut for “Name” on the Hot 100 in mid-December, and now radio is catching on, too: “Name” debuts at the bottom of Billboard‘s Pop 100 Airplay list, indicating that a few dozen Top 40 stations are giving it a spin. That airplay, plus continued strong download sales (another 36,000 this week), are what spurred the song’s Hot 100 reentry this week, at its highest position yet.

Let me just declare this now: if the awesome “Name” reaches the U.S. Top 10 later this year, I reserve the right to put it in my Top 10 for 2009, and none of you can stop me.

• U2 is all about fast starts. By debuting on last week’s Hot 100 at No. 37, “Get on Your Boots” instantly became the unsinkable Irish foursome’s 16th U.S. Top 40 hit, their first since “Vertigo” in 2004. (The song debuted largely because of first-week iTunes sales and this week is down a whopping 59 spots to No. 96.)

And, by debuting at No. 8 on the Modern Rock list last week, “Boots” pulled U2 further into the lead with the most Top 10s in this list’s history, with 23. It’s kind of unfair, because U2 had a huge head start on the competition-they scored their first Modern Rock Top 10 less than a month after the chart launched in September 1988. (That first Modern hit? It should’ve been the megasmash “Desire,” but that was beaten by just a couple of weeks by U2’s odd cover of “Jesus Christ” from a Woody Guthrie tribute album.) In second on the all-time list, with 20 Top 10s, remains the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who had to wait until the fall of 1989 to make their Modern debut with “Knock Me Down.”

• We talk all the time here about how the Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts are morphing into each other, but what about Modern and Adult Contemporary? Okay, that’s not really happening, but Coldplay did top the A/C chart last week with “Viva La Vida,” 23 weeks after it did the same on the Modern Rock list and about eight months after it topped the Hot 100. Billboard noted that, over its nine-month history, “Viva” has now topped the Hot 100, Digital Songs, Adult Top 40, Triple A, Modern Rock and Adult Contemporary-the first song in history to top this odd combination of charts.

But let’s ignore some of those smaller lists and focus on the three most recognizable: how unusual is it for a song to top the Hot 100, Modern and A/C charts? Or even just two of those lists?

A song topping both Hot 100 and A/C is a less common phenomenon than you’d think—most pop No. 1’s are too uptempo for A/C—but it happens enough. In just the last three years, songs like “You’re Beautiful,” “Bad Day,” “Hey There Delilah,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Bleeding Love” have rung the bell on both lists. (The all-time list of songs that have topped both charts would be long and not all that interesting; the A/C chart has been around in some form since the early ’60s, almost as long as the Hot 100 itself, and lots of drippy ballads have topped both lists over the years.)

The Hot 100 and Modern Rock sharing a No. 1 is much more unusual. “Viva” is only the fifth song in Modern Rock chart history to top both lists. The other four make for a truly weird bunch: Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2U” in 1990, Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” in 1998, Crazy Town’s “Butterfly” in 2001, and Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me,” also in 2001.

But the rarest double–No. 1 of all is between Modern Rock and Adult Contemporary. It’s especially bizarre for a song to be propulsive enough to dominate rock radio and light enough to succeed at A/C, which makes “Viva” rather exceptional. Prior to “Viva,” no song had pulled off this feat. Numerous midtempo and slow songs have topped the Modern Rock list—U2’s “One,” Blind Melon’s “No Rain,” Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic,” the Wallflowers’ “One Headlight,” Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris,” Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning”—but while all of these songs are now considered elevator-music gold and did make the A/C chart, none charted very high in their heyday.

Only one other song in history, besides “Viva,” has even come close to pulling off the three-chart hat trick: O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2U.” In the spring of 1990, it topped the Hot 100 and Modern Rock lists, but it stalled at No. 2 on the A/C list. So “Viva” stands alone with that record.

Top 10s Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads/percentage change in parentheses):

Hot 100 1. Kelly Clarkson, “My Life Would Suck Without You” (LW No. 1, 3 weeks) 2. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (LW No. 3, 16 weeks) 3. Kanye West, “Heartless” (LW No. 4, 13 weeks) 4. Lady GaGa feat. Colby O’Donis, “Just Dance” (LW No. 2, 26 weeks) 5. Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (LW No. 5, 21 weeks) 6. All-American Rejects, “Gives You Hell” (LW No. 6, 12 weeks) 7. The Fray, “You Found Me” (LW No. 8, 11 weeks) 8. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 7, 19 weeks) 9. Britney Spears, “Circus” (LW No. 9, 9 weeks) 10. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 10, 42 weeks)

Hot Digital Songs 1. Kelly Clarkson, “My Life Would Suck Without You” (LW No. 1, 216,000 downloads) 2. All-American Rejects, “Gives You Hell” (LW No. 2, 152,000 downloads) 3. Lady GaGa feat. Colby O’Donis, “Just Dance” (LW No. 3, 127,000 downloads) 4. The Fray, “You Found Me” (LW No. 4, 123,000 downloads) 5. Kanye West, “Heartless” (LW No. 5, 121,000 downloads) 6. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (LW No. 8, 109,000 downloads) 7. Lil Wayne, “Prom Queen” (CHART DEBUT, 107,000 downloads) 8. Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (LW No. 6, 101,000 downloads) 9. Pussycat Dolls, “I Hate This Part” (LW No. 7, 98,000 downloads) 10. Britney Spears, “Circus” (LW No. 9, 96,000 downloads)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (LW No. 1, 17 weeks) 2. Ne-Yo feat. Jamie Foxx & Fabolous, “She Got Her Own” (LW No. 2, 12 weeks) 3. Beyoncé, “Diva” (LW No. 5, 12 weeks) 4. Kanye West, “Heartless” (LW No. 6, 16 weeks) 5. Jim Jones & Ron Browz feat. Juelz Santana, “Pop Champagne” (LW No. 3, 20 weeks) 6. Jamie Foxx feat. T-Pain, “Blame It” (LW No. 18, 8 weeks) 7. Keri Hilson feat. Lil Wayne, “Turnin’ Me On” (LW No. 12, 11 weeks) 8. Jamie Foxx feat. T.I., “Just Like Me,” (LW No. 11, 14 weeks) 9. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 4, 21 weeks) 10. The-Dream, “Rockin’ That Thang” (LW No. 13, 9 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Blake Shelton, “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” (LW No. 1, 26 weeks) 2. Dierks Bentley, “Feel That Fire” (LW No. 4, 20 weeks) 3. Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally, “Down the Road” (LW No. 6, 15 weeks) 4. Keith Urban, “Sweet Thing” (LW No. 7, 13 weeks) 5. Toby Keith, “God Love Her” (LW No. 5, 15 weeks) 6. Billy Currington, “Don’t” (LW No. 2, 29 weeks) 7. Brooks & Dunn feat. Reba McEntire, “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” (LW No. 8, 17 weeks) 8. Alan Jackson, “Country Boy” (LW No. 3, 19 weeks) 9. George Strait, “River of Love” (LW No. 10, 13 weeks) 10. Taylor Swift, “White Horse” (LW No. 11, 10 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Shinedown, “Second Chance” (LW No. 3, 20 weeks) 2. Incubus, “Love Hurts” (LW No. 2, 16 weeks) 3. Kings of Leon, “Sex on Fire” (LW No. 1, 24 weeks) 4. Seether, “Breakdown” (LW No. 4, 20 weeks) 5. Paramore, “Decode” (LW No. 5, 17 weeks) 6. U2, “Get Your Boots On” (LW No. 8, 2 weeks) 7. Apocalyptica feat. Adam Gontier, “I Don’t Care” (LW No. 6, 31 weeks) 8. The Airborne Toxic Event, “Sometime Around Midnight” (LW No. 9, 26 weeks) 9. The Offspring, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” (LW No. 7, 28 weeks) 10. Anberlin, “Feel Good Drag” (LW No. 10, 18 weeks)

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