Limey Lass Vs. Gator Crass: Predicting The Year-End Hot 100

When Billboard closes out 2008 next week by charting the year’s biggest hits, you can expect several songs from late 2007 to loom large on the year-end Hot 100.

But I doubt any will surpass the song that made an unrecognizable Tom Cruise shake his groove thing this past summer.

If there’s any chance that something will upset Flo Rida’s pop-rap smash, it’ll be by another newcomer whose big hit proved tough to follow: Leona Lewis. But I wouldn’t count on it.

Because of its publishing deadlines, Billboard’s “chart year” runs from roughly Dec. 1 to Nov. 30, which—as we’ve discussed before—gives an outsize advantage to songs that crested in the previous year’s holiday season.

This is what makes Flo Rida’s “Low” a virtual lock as 2008’s top Hot 100 song. The winter-dominating track not only topped the big chart for 10 weeks starting last December, it set all-time records for digital sales in the process. Most notably, it racked up the biggest-ever one-week total (about 470,000) in the week just after last Christmas, when millions of Americans took to iTunes to fill up their new iPods and decided the third-rate Nelly jam was worth 99 cents.

At 4.4 million downloads, “Low” is also—if you don’t count the combined sales of two versions of “Apologize” by Timbaland and OneRepublic—the biggest all-time digital seller, period. And again, those sales were perfectly timed for chart-year purposes: about four million copes of “Low” sold after last November. Throw in more than nine months of constant pop and urban radio airplay, and Herr Rida is nigh unstoppable.

For fans of Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love,” this has to seem a little unfair. If Billboard were to tally the year via the calendar—in other words, lopping off last December—“Bleeding” would likely be 2008’s No. 1 song. Soundscan has already named it the calendar year’s top-selling digital single; it currently stands at 3.3 million downloads, all of which sold after January. (Flo Rida’s only sold about 2.9 million of “Low” since then.) And Lewis’ radio totals have been similarly massive; “Bleeding” dropped off the Hot 100 Airplay list only two weeks ago, after a run of more than eight months.

As for the rest of the year-end Hot 100, let’s quickly run down a few more predicted big finishers. Besides the two songs above, you can expect some permutation of the following eight songs to make up the rest of the year’s Top 10:

Timbaland and OneRepublic, “Apologize”: Huge at the end of ’07, wouldn’t die until ’08 was more than half over. If not for a run divided over two chart years, it would have taken the crown.

Alicia Keys, “No One”: Like “Low,” a perfect chart-year record, as it reached No. 1 just after Thanksgiving ’07. Sales were mostly done by last Christmas, but airplay continued deep into ’08.

Lil Wayne, “Lollipop”: The dominant song of last spring, with months of top-rated airplay and more than three million downloads sold. If his album hadn’t been so dominant starting in June, the single might have continued to pile up chart points.

Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, “No Air”: The dark horse—never made it past No. 3, but sold piles of singles (about 2.5 million) and racked up consistently strong airplay. Expect a surprising finish.

Colbie Caillat, “Bubbly” and Sara Bareilles, “Love Song”: Slow-blooming adult-contemporary favorites from ’07 that made the big chart’s Top Five and took their sweet time falling back down. Continued dominance at A/C radio into this year’s spring and summer padded their already-heavy pop airplay totals.

Usher, “Love in This Club”: Explosive chart-topper from early spring that hung around the Top 10 for months afterward. Looking back, the success of this single might well have killed the sales trajectory of Usher’s album.

Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl”: The year’s most hated smash was also the year’s undisputed summer song, with seven weeks at No. 1 fueled by strong airplay and dominant download sales. I’d be happy if it finished out of the money but also rather surprised—then again, the Grammys this week were less kind to her than we feared.

Finally, five predicted runners-up, which I expect to fall just shy of the winner’s circle: Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body” (huge for a hot minute, but surprisingly short-lived), Chris Brown’s “With You” (huge airplay totals and strong sales, but couldn’t close the deal), Rihanna’s “Take a Bow” (“Disturbia” was her best tune this year but materialized too late), Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” (a real chance to upset, thanks to its big, consistent sales, but airplay is its likely handicap), and T.I.’s “Whatever You Like” (the fall’s surprise outperformer, hampered by late timing but a monster in both sales and airplay).

One last prediction/warning:

I don’t normally cover albums in this column, but I feel it’s my duty to warn you guys about a year-end chart upset that’s way more disappointing than Leona Lewis’s single losing out to Flo Rida’s.

If you’ve been paying even a shred of attention to album sales this year—and who could blame you for not wanting to—you know that Lil Wayne dominated. With a first-week sales total last June of more than a million copies, by far the year’s biggest; and some 2.8 million discs sold altogether, Tha Carter III should by any sane reckoning be Billboard’s top album of 2008.

Except it won’t be, thanks again to the December–November chart year. I predict that Billboard’s top album of 2008 will be Josh Groban’s Noël.

Groban’s Christmas album came out in October 2007, but by Thanksgiving of last year, it had scanned only a few hundred thousand copies. Of the cumulative 3.8 million copies that Noël has sold to date, more than three million sold from last December to now. And what is especially lame is that most of that three million sold in the last five weeks of 2007; if you were to lop that month off Billboard’s chart year, Groban would have, at best, the 50th-biggest seller of 2008.

This could become a bit of an embarrassment for Billboard, because unlike with the Hot 100, the chart-year discrepancy between the magazine and Soundscan for album sales is more glaring—there’s no complexity to the formula that determines the year’s best-selling album. By the first week of January, Soundscan will run its own stories in the press naming the year’s top sellers, and Lil Wayne will no doubt take the title.

This will be the third time this decade alone that the Billboard album-of-the-year winner and the actual biggest seller have diverged. In 2001, Billboard crowned the Beatles’ compilation 1, but the real Soundscan winner was Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory. And last year, Billboard gave the title to Daughtry, but by year-end two other albums had outsold it: High School Musical 2 and, ironically, Groban’s Noël.

In short, Groban got robbed last year, but it’s rather shameful to give him the prize this year and steal it from Weezy.

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. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (LW No. 2, 7 weeks) 2. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 1, 10 weeks) 3. Beyoncé, “If I Were a Boy” (LW No. 3, 8 weeks) 4. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 4, 17 weeks) 5. Lady GaGa feat. Colby O’Donis, “Just Dance” (LW No. 7, 17 weeks) 6. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 5, 18 weeks) 7. Ne-Yo, “Miss Independent” (LW No. 9, 15 weeks) 8. Pink, “So What” (LW No. 8, 15 weeks) 9. Britney Spears, “Womanizer” (LW No. 12, 9 weeks) 10. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 13, 33 weeks)

Hot Digital Songs 1. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (LW No. 1, 228,000 downloads) 2. Lady GaGa feat. Colby O’Donis, “Just Dance” (LW No. 4) 3. Beyoncé, “If I Were a Boy” (LW No. 2) 4. The Fray, “You Found Me” (LW No. 14, 145,000 downloads) 5. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 3) 6. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 7) 7. Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (LW No. 10) 8. Kanye West feat. Lil Wayne, “See You in My Nightmares” (CHART DEBUT) 9. Britney Spears, “Womanizer” (LW No. 9) 10. Akon, “Right Now (Na Na Na)” (LW No. 8)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (LW No. 1, 8 weeks) 2. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 2, 12 weeks) 3. Ne-Yo, “Miss Independent” (LW No. 3, 19 weeks) 4. Jazmine Sullivan, “Bust Your Windows” (LW No. 4, 12 weeks) 5. T-Pain feat. Ludacris, “Chopped ‘N’ Skrewed” (LW No. 9, 11 weeks) 6. Lil Wayne feat. Bobby Valentino, “Mrs. Officer” (LW No. 7, 22 weeks) 7. Jennifer Hudson, “Spotlight” (LW No. 5, 29 weeks) 8. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 6, 20 weeks) 9. John Legend feat. Andre 3000, “Green Light” (LW No. 10, 15 weeks) 10. Usher, “Trading Places,” (LW No. 12, 16 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Zac Brown Band, “Chicken Fried” (LW No. 1, 24 weeks) 2. Tim McGraw, “Let It Go” (LW No. 2, 20 weeks) 3. Montgomery Gentry, “Roll with Me” (LW No. 4, 19 weeks) 4. Rascal Flatts, “Here” (LW No. 5, 13 weeks) 5. Sugarland, “Already Gone” (LW No. 6, 14 weeks) 6. Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (LW No. 3, 12 weeks) 7. Brad Paisley with Keith Urban, “Start a Band” (LW No. 7, 12 weeks) 8. Billy Currington, “Don’t” (LW No. 11, 20 weeks) 9. Craig Morgan, “Love Remembers” (LW No. 9, 30 weeks) 10. Alan Jackson, “Country Boy” (LW No. 12, 10 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. The Offspring, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” (LW No. 1, 19 weeks) 2. Kings of Leon, “Sex on Fire” (LW No. 2, 15 weeks) 3. Apocalyptica feat. Adam Gontier, “I Don’t Care” (LW No. 3, 22 weeks) 4. Rise Against, “Re-Education (Through Labor)” (LW No. 4, 15 weeks) 5. Shinedown, “Second Chance” (LW No. 5, 11 weeks) 6. Incubus, “Love Hurts” (LW No. 6, 7 weeks) 7. Paramore, “Decode” (LW No. 9, 8 weeks) 8. Weezer, “Troublemaker” (LW No. 7, 21 weeks) 9. Seether, “Breakdown” (LW No. 10, 11 weeks) 10. The Killers, “Human” (LW No. 8, 10 weeks)

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