It’s Alright, ‘Na (She’s Only “Bleeding”): Leona Lewis Vaults Past Mariah

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

You thought Beyonce vs. Rihanna was an old school-new school catfight? We’ve got a better one.

British belter Leona Lewis hurtles 13 spots to No. 8 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 with “Bleeding Love.” Already dubbed “the next Mariah Carey” by multiple news outlets since winning British television’s The X Factor last fall, Lewis is now clearly making a fast break for No. 1 in America. And she’s doing it at the very moment her melismatic model is herself on the way up. Within two to three weeks, we could be witnessing an epic diva battle for the top slot.

Whitney and Mariah’s late ’80s-early ’90s rise was a little unsettling because of their respective record labels’ military efficiency in breaking them on the U.S. charts. Whitney endured just one single that fell short of No. 1 (“You Give Good Love,” No. 3, 1985) before laying waste to the last half of the decade with a string of chart-toppers. Mariah didn’t even have to suffer through one subpar hit, shooting to No. 1 with her debut “Vision of Love” in 1990 and never looking back.

Clive Davis’ protégé and Tommy Mottola’s discovery came to power in an era of easily bought-and-sold charts, thanks to radio programmers territorialized by “indie” payola and retailers who could be nudged by label pressure or enticed to sell 49-cent loss-leader cassingles. Two decades later, with payola less overt and retail rapidly dying, it’s hard to imagine another mass-appeal diva enjoying such a swift, coordinated march to U.S. chart dominance. (Even Celine Dion took longer to break and enjoyed far fewer U.S. hits.)

Well, imagine this: it is happening again. The campaign to break Lewis in America, coming on the heels of the swift dominance of her homeland, would put D-Day to shame. Labels might not be able to buy off radio and retail the way they used to, but they know how to deploy other influences.

Like Oprah Winfrey, Dion’s erstwhile secret weapon. In an appearance on Oprah earlier this week with her mentor Simon Cowell, Lewis received the queen of all media’s blessing (“a star is born,” saith The O). The March 17 appearance didn’t even directly affect this week’s charts, but the surrounding promotion no doubt goosed “Bleeding’s” numbers in the week leading up to it–radio plays shot up, and its sales doubled at iTunes. The setup for her album, dropping in America on April 8, couldn’t be better planned.

“Bleeding Love” has been on the Hot 100 for five weeks, exactly the same number as Carey’s “Touch My Body.” When the two singles materialized on the charts a month ago, Carey debuted at No. 57 and Lewis down at No. 85. Both have made impressive chart moves since, but in the last couple of weeks, Carey has reached a momentary ceiling while Lewis has been vaulting about 20 notches a week. This week, Carey crawls up two spots to No. 14; Lewis sneaks around her, moving from just outside the Top 20 to inside the Top 10 in a single week.

Of course, as we pointed out here a couple of weeks ago, Carey continues to chart with a major handicap: no iTunes sales. But that’ll change next Tuesday, when “Touch My Body” hits iTunes. Because of Billboard reporting delays, these sales won’t affect the Hot 100 for another two weeks, but you can expect Carey to storm instantly to No. 1 at Apple’s store. Which gives Lewis’ team a clear deadline: get “Bleeding Love” to No. 1 on the Hot 100 within two weeks, or get shut out by the original diva.

At the risk of reading too much industry drama into this imagined rivalry, there are some delicious ironies here. Carey, famously broken in the ’90s by Mottola’s Sony Music machine, is now on rival label Island Def Jam. And Lewis is on a version of Carey’s old label–specifically, the now-merged Sony BMG. That merger is doubly ironic: in the ’90s, Carey was Sony’s answer to the Arista-bred Houston, but now those labels (Arista is part of BMG) are united in breaking Lewis and, one imagines, defeating Carey.

“Bleeding” is iTunes’ top seller as we speak, and we can only imagine how well it’s selling this week, post-Oprah. Lewis’ performance on the next Hot 100 will likely be impressive. But the window to earn her very own “Vision of Love” is closing fast.

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

• If I seem a little overexcited to talk about the songs at Nos. 8 and 14, it’s because the very top of the chart is stuck in quicksand: Nos. 1 through 7 are all the same as last week, starting with three-week No. 1 champ Usher. His digital sales are down about 16%, but his airplay is up by the same amount, so he’s still on a roll and keeps his bullet. “Love in This Club” is now the third-most-played song in the country, after Chris Brown’s “With You” and Flo Rida’s “Low.”

• I suspect Maura will be thrilled to hear that the much-loved, oft-delayed Lil Mama has made a comeback, with the biggest leap on the Hot 100 so far this year. It’s just too bad she had to go to the same well every other charting R&B act is using to get a hit. “Shawty Get Loose” features support from Chris Brown (him again) and… no shit, T-Pain (him again). Thanks to a solid debut week on iTunes (72,000 downloads), the song shoots 73 spaces to No. 19. Last year, “Lip Gloss” (still her best hit) reached No. 10.

• Speaking of our favorite Lil’s: the R&B/Hip-Hop chart continues to be a snooze-fest up top, but the top debut at No. 57 is the latest from Lil Wayne (featuring Static Major), “Lollipop.” Amazingly, despite its heavily vocoder-like effects, it does not feature T-Pain.

• Following up our discussion earlier this week on Vampire Weekend post-Saturday Night Live, their hit “A-Punk” is catching on at rock radio, albeit gradually. It’s up three notches to No. 30 on Modern Rock Tracks this week. Given how slowly everything on that chart moves, three spots is really not bad. But I wouldn’t look for that album to go gold anytime soon.

• For you club-dwellers, Billboard chart columnist Fred Bronson offers an update on veteran Kristine W this week. She possesses one of the strongest hit streaks on any chart in history: all but one of her 12 hits on the Hot Club Play chart since 1994 have gone to No. 1 (the spoiler, 2006’s “I’ll Be Your Light,” peaked at No. 2). She scores the 11th of those club hits this week, as her cover of Diana Ross’ “The Boss” rises to No. 1.

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

Hot 100 1. Usher Featuring Young Jeezy, “Love In This Club” (LW No. 1, 5 weeks) 2. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 2, 16 weeks) 3. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (LW No. 3, 21 weeks) 4. Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” (LW No. 4, 20 weeks) 5. Rihanna, “Don’t Stop the Music” (LW No. 5, 17 weeks) 6. Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, “No Air” (LW No. 6, 11 weeks) 7. Ray J & Yung Berg, “Sexy Can I” (LW No. 7, 7 weeks) 8. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (LW No. 21, 5 weeks) 9. Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, “Apologize” (LW No. 8, 33 weeks) 10. Lupe Fiasco feat. Matthew Santos, “Superstar” (LW No. 10, 14 weeks)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Keyshia Cole, “I Remember” (LW No. 1, 20 weeks) 2. Alicia Keys, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” (LW No. 2, 21 weeks) 3. The-Dream, “Falsetto” (LW No. 3, 15 weeks) 4. J. Holiday, “Suffocate” (LW No. 4, 24 weeks) 5. Mary J. Blige, “Just Fine” (LW No. 5, 25 weeks) 6. Usher Featuring Young Jeezy, “Love In This Club” (LW No. 9, 6 weeks) 7. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 6, 16 weeks) 8. Shawty Lo, “Dey Know” (LW No. 8, 24 weeks) 9. Mario, “Crying Out for Me” (LW No. 7, 29 weeks) 10. Mariah Carey, “Touch My Body” (LW No. 11, 6 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Alan Jackson, “Small Town Southern Man” (LW No. 2, 19 weeks) 2. Carrie Underwood, “All-American Girl” (LW No. 1, 16 weeks) 3. Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This” (LW No. 5, 15 weeks) 4. Rodney Atkins, “Cleaning This Gun (Come on in Boy)” (LW No. 4, 26 weeks) 5. Kenny Chesney with George Strait, “Shiftwork” (LW No. 3, 22 weeks) 6. Chris Cagle, “What Kinda Gone” (LW No. 7, 35 weeks) 7. George Strait, “I Saw God Today” (LW No. 8, 6 weeks) 8. Chuck Wicks, “Stealing Cinderella” (LW No. 6, 30 weeks) 9. James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” (LW No. 10, 22 weeks) 10. Jason Aldean, “Laughed Until We Cried” (LW No. 9, 32 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Foo Fighters, “Long Road to Ruin” (LW No. 1, 21 weeks) 2. Puddle of Mudd, “Psycho” (LW No. 3, 20 weeks) 3. Linkin Park, “Shadow of the Day” (LW No. 2, 24 weeks) 4. Seether, “Fake It” (LW No. 4, 29 weeks) 5. Paramore, “crushcrushcrush” (LW No. 5, 18 weeks) 6. Foo Fighters, “The Pretender” (LW No. 6, 33 weeks) 7. The Bravery, “Believe” (LW No. 9, 24 weeks) 8. Jack Johnson, “If I Had Eyes” (LW No. 7, 15 weeks) 9. Atreyu, “Falling Down” (LW No. 11, 8 weeks) 10. Rise Against, “The Good Left Undone” (LW No. 8, 38 weeks)

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