Hey, Let’s Write a Song Called “Steve Jobs Is Dreamy”

Ed. note: Chris “dennisobell” Molanphy, our resident chart guru, looks at the upward, downward, and lack of movement on this week’s Billboard charts:

“Is this Feist again?” my friends asked at the Super Bowl party I attended last Sunday, as Apple’s latest product-porn ad popped onto the plasma.

“No, no,” I said, confidently. “Apple doesn’t re-use acts in these ads. I think this is Regina Spektor.”


I pride myself on being able to nail a song in one or two listens, but I think I can be forgiven for botching that call. The fact is, no one in America had heard of Yael Naïm before her perky, warbly “New Soul” became the soundtrack to the first MacBook Air commercial. But that’s all changed, now that “New Soul” is the top-selling song on iTunes. In fact, in her first week on the Hot 100, the indie-label-backed Israeli native pulls off something that took Feist about a month: Reaching the chart’s Top 10.

When Feist’s “1234” appeared in Apple’s commercial for the video-capable iPod Nano last September, her album The Reminder had been out for nearly half a year and its song “My Moon My Man” had been worked to a few radio formats. The inevitably huge sales of “1234” did bring thousands of new consumers to Feist, but she had a small but sizable base of fans already; the album was already halfway to gold by that point. The rise of “1234” on the charts was staggeringly swift, but it did take three weeks for the song to achieve its peak position of No. 7.

Yael Naïm, on the other hand, enters the charts this week with no U.S. sales history whatsoever; her album is released globally by Tôt ou tard, a French label formerly affiliated with Warner Music but independent since 2002. This explains how “New Soul” is able to explode onto the Hot 100 at No. 9–there was no major-label battleship to turn around. Both Feist and Naïm have enjoyed brief periods where their Apple-fueled songs topped the iTunes sales list, and neither one has had much radio airplay to speak of (Billboard reports that “New Soul” was played last week exactly three times–three plays, total, nationwide–on monitored radio stations). But where Feist’s song had to attract different–read: non-indie/Amazon/Starbucks–fans who hadn’t discovered her already, Naïm is attracting everyone from scratch.

Over the five years that Apple has been shooting songs to stardom in TV commercials–starting in earnest with the company’s single-handed launch of Jet in 2003–there’s been no clear chart pattern. Some songs, like Jet’s, Feist’s and Naïm’s, become bonafide Top 20 Billboard hits. Others, like Caesars’ “Jerk It Out” (iPod Shuffle, 2005) or the Fratellis’ “Flathead” (iPod 5G, 2007) never fully cross over.

One thing is clear, however: as iTunes has increased its influence over the Hot 100, its biggest sellers have an increasingly outsized chart footprint. Two or three years ago, it would have been unthinkable for iTunes to produce a national Top 10 hit with no radio support whatsoever. In the last four months, it’s happened twice.

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

• One of the scary things about Flo Rida’s run on top of the Hot 100 is that, for all of the seven weeks he’s been there, he’s retained his bullet–Billboard‘s indicator of airplay and/or sales growth. This means that, even while we’re waiting for a new song to end his run, he keeps piling on points–there have been weeks where he’s been down in sales, but he’s compensated with steady airplay gains. This week, he’s still No. 1 in overall digital sales (179,000 downloads sold), and he’s on top of the Hot 100 Airplay chart for a second week.

• However, the challengers are closing in, with Chris Brown’s “With You” inching up to No. 2 and Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” leaping two notches to No. 3. Both are up strongly in airplay, but Rihanna’s gain is bigger, and on the digital side, “Don’t” is now outselling “With” by nearly 20,000 downloads. For Rihanna to upset Brown as the next No. 1, she’ll have to keep gaining in airplay–he’s still got her beat there by a big margin–and widen her sales advantage. One last thing working in her favor, not on next week’s charts but the week after: the post-Grammy bump. She’s got a showcase performing slot on the show, and while that will mostly affect sales for the nominated track “Umbrella,” anything with her name on it will probably sell more in the days after the show–as long as she doesn’t botch her performance.

• The biggest digital-sales gainer on the whole chart is Buckcherry’s “Sorry,” which fuels an 11-point rise on the Hot 100 to No. 11. The song’s radio gains have been slower–it’s up only one notch to No. 38 on the Hot 100 Airplay list–but the sales burst will probably make the crossover to Top 40 radio easier, and Finger Eleven’s recent chart success has probably warmed pop-radio PDs to frat-friendly rock.

• Other debuts, on the chart’s bottom rungs: Jack Johnson’s “If I Had Eyes” (No. 71), Ray J & Yung Berg’s “Sexy Can I” (No. 77), Panic at the Disco’s “Nine in the Afternoon” (No. 79–a notably slow start by a returning TRL-beloved act), Hannah Montana’s “Rock Star” (No. 81), Missy Elliott’s “Ching-A-Ling” (No. 83), Soulja Boy’s “YAHHH!” (No. 86), Trace Adkins’s “You’re Gonna Miss This” (No. 95), Lil’ Wayne’s “I’m Me” (No. 97) and… ugh: Puddle of Mudd’s “Psycho” (No. 100).

Billboard‘s Country chart is an all-airplay list, which makes it very regimented; country is one of radio’s most carefully managed and conservative formats, and songs on the list generally march up and down in slow, steady patterns. That’s what makes the four debuts in this week’s Country Top 10 so unusual. As Billboard’s Fred Bronson reports, that’s the largest turnover in the winners’ circle in nearly 10 years. Two of the debutantes are superstars, one old–Alan Jackson, with his 47th Top 10 hit–and one new–Carrie Underwood, with her sixth Top 10 in just over two years. To give a sense of how fast that is, she’s now got one more Top 10 hit than another guy entering the list: Craig Morgan, who’s been releasing records since 2000.

• How many Top 10 hits do you think Radiohead has had on the Modern Rock chart? No, lower. Try three, total, over 15 years–and they’ve come at roughly seven-year intervals. After scoring with “Creep” (No. 2, 1993), they had to wait until 2000 for the second one–“Optimistic,” from Kid A (No. 10)–and only now, seven years and three months later, do they earn their third, as “Bodysnatchers” moves to No. 9.

Top 10s Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses:

Hot 100 1. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (LW No. 1, 15 weeks) 2. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 3, 10 weeks) 3. Rihanna, “Don’t Stop the Music” (LW No. 5, 11 weeks) 4. Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, “Apologize” (LW No. 4, 27 weeks) 5. Alicia Keys, “No One” (LW No. 2, 22 weeks) 6. Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” (LW No. 9, 14 weeks) 7. Fergie, “Clumsy” (LW No. 6, 17 weeks) 8. Snoop Dogg, “Sensual Seduction” (LW No. 8, 10 weeks) 9. Yael Naim, “New Soul” (CHART DEBUT, 1 week) 10. Sean Kingston, “Take You There” (LW No. 7, 14 weeks)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Alicia Keys, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” (LW No. 1, 15 weeks) 2. Keyshia Cole, “I Remember” (LW No. 2, 14 weeks) 3. Mary J. Blige, “Just Fine” (LW No. 3, 19 weeks) 4. J. Holiday, “Suffocate” (LW No. 4, 18 weeks) 5. Webbie, Lil’ Phat & Lil’ Boosie, “Independent” (LW No. 7, 16 weeks) 6. Snoop Dogg, “Sensual Seduction” (LW No. 6, 13 weeks) 7. Trey Songz, “Can’t Help But Wait” (LW No. 5, 26 weeks) 8. Mario, “Cryin’ Out for Me” (LW No. 8, 23 weeks) 9. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (LW No. 10, 20 weeks) 10. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 9, 10 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Brad Paisley, “Letter to Me” (LW No. 1, 17 weeks) 2. Rascal Flatts, “Winner at a Losing Game” (LW No. 2, 17 weeks) 3. Gary Allan, “Watching Airplanes” (LW No. 3, 29 weeks) 4. Rodney Atkins, “Cleaning This Gun (Come on in Boy)” (LW No. 7, 20 weeks) 5. Kenny Chesney with George Strait, “Shiftwork” (LW No. 9, 16 weeks) 6. Billy Ray Cyrus with Miley Cyrus, “Ready, Set, Don’t Go” (LW No. 4, 28 weeks) 7. Alan Jackson, “Small Town Southern Man” (LW No. 11, 13 weeks) 8. Carrie Underwood, “All-American Girl” (LW No. 12, 10 weeks) 9. Chuck Wicks, “Stealing Cinderella” (LW No. 13, 24 weeks) 10. Craig Morgan, “International Harvester” (LW No. 15, 21 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Seether, “Fake It” (LW No. 1, 23 weeks) 2. Foo Fighters, “Winner at a Losing Game” (LW No. 2, 15 weeks) 3. Linkin Park, “Shadow of the Day” (LW No. 3, 18 weeks) 4. Paramore, “crushcrushcrush” (LW No. 5, 12 weeks) 5. Foo Fighters, “The Pretender” (LW No. 4, 27 weeks) 6. Avenged Sevenfold, “Almost Easy” (LW No. 7, 18 weeks) 7. Serj Tankian, “Empty Walls” (LW No. 6, 21 weeks) 8. Rise Against, “The Good Left Undone” (LW No. 10, 32 weeks) 9. Radiohead, “Bodysnatchers” (LW No. 12, 15 weeks) 10. Chevelle, “I Get It” (LW No. 8, 29 weeks)

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