Mama-say, Mama-sa, Ma-Ma-Hard-Sell: Rihanna Throws Michael Jackson A Lifeline

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

Imagine, for a moment, you’re in promotions at Sony/BMG, and you’re trying to stoke interest in the 25th-anniversary edition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. This isn’t the first time you guys have rereleased the record, and with Michael coming up on his 50th birthday, you’ve got your work cut out to make him look relevant.

Sure, the obvious move is lining up some current acts to help Jacko remix those classic tracks–like bringing in Akon to rethink “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” While you’re at it, try convincing the Grammy people to let Michael perform on the show (what the hell, they need ratings and hey, you can’t guarantee that Michael won’t have a Britney-in-Vegas-style meltdown…). But then you think:

You know what would really seal it? If we could get a current act…somebody really hot…to sample something from Thriller and have a big, fat hit with it. Like, Justin biting “Billie Jean”…or Jigga rapping over “Thriller”…or something. I mean, Kanye sampling “P.Y.T.” was helpful, but that record peaked months ago. We need something hot right now, just as we’re dropping the disc…

And then, like a table-dancing angel from above, Rihanna answers your prayers.

Right at the start of February, and less than two weeks before the heavy sell for Thriller ’08 begins, Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music”–“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” sample and all–elbows into the Top Five on Billboard‘s Hot 100. And in the same week, the Sony-sanctioned remix of “Wanna,” featuring Akon, pops onto the Hot 100 at No. 81.

You’d call this “synergy” if it weren’t just an amazing coincidence. Rihanna is on Island/Def Jam, whose übermachers aren’t exactly interested in assisting Sony-BMG with its promotional priorities. Jackson’s label just got incredibly lucky.

Add to that the fact that “Don’t” probably should’ve been a hit months ago. Originally slated as the third single from Good Girl Gone Bad–the video debuted on BET last July, and it topped charts across Europe last fall–“Don’t” was bumped at the last minute in the U.S. for the Ne-Yo ballad “Hate That I Love You.” Frankly, “Don’t” is so mind-bogglingly catchy, it probably should’ve been the second single, following up the monster “Umbrella”; it has already out-charted both “Hate” (peak: No. 7) and second single “Shut Up and Drive” (peak: No. 15). Weirdly, it’s as if the album’s second-largest hit was held back to benefit Michael.

Which it wasn’t. But if Mr. Jackson knows what’s good for him, he’ll pay a respectful visit to Rihanna’s row at the Grammys and follow up with a crater-load of fruit baskets.

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

• No, you’re not imagining it–Flo Rida’s “Low” really is following you everywhere. After six weeks at No. 1 and more than 2.2 million digital downloads, the song’s had one small handicap: radio. Alicia Keys’ “No One” wouldn’t budge from the top of the Hot 100 Airplay chart, but after 14 weeks, her inescapable ballad finally cedes the top spot. Now, “Low” is officially the most-played song in America–like you didn’t already suspect that.

• It took more than three months, but Britney Spears’ “Piece of Me” is finally a Top 20 single: up three spots to No. 18. And that’s based on sales and airplay that came before the latest law enforcement-assisted hospitalization. Next week: Top 10?

• Lupe Fiasco has his first Top 40 hit with “Superstar” (feat. Matthew Santos), up a whopping 24 spots to No. 36. First blogger to cry “sellout” wins…

• Foo Fighters kinda-sorta defeat Linkin Park on this week’s Modern Rock chart. It looked like last week’s No. 2, LP’s U2 homage “Shadow of the Day,” would be the song to evict Seether’s “Fake It” from No. 1, but instead the Foos’ “Long Road to Ruin” sneaks up to No. 2 and is poised to take the top rung. Seether has been No. 1 on Modern Rock for six weeks and on Mainstream Rock for (no joke) 13.

• Speaking of Modern Rock, in case you’ve got any remaining doubts about just how sleepy this format has become, last week Rise Against set a new record for slowest climb into the Top 10. “The Good Left Undone” reached the… um, winners’ circle in its 30th chart week. It creamed the previous record-holder: 2006’s “All the Same” by Sick Puppies took a mere 25 weeks to make the Top 10.

• On the R&B/Hip-Hop chart, there’s a race of divas raring to evict Alicia Keys from No. 1, and Keyshia Cole has the edge, up one to No. 2. (You can tell both it and Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine” are hot on R&B radio, because they knock J. Holiday’s “Suffocate” down to No. 4 from No. 2, even though the latter is gaining in strength and has a bullet.)

• The R&B/Hip-Hop song that won’t die is Justin Timberlake’s “Until the End of Time.” It just fell out of the Top 10 last week after 20 weeks in there (it debuted last April and peaked at No. 3 back in October), and this week it’s back up one notch to No. 13. Never underestimate urban radio programmers’ love for an old-school slow jam.

• Finally, the top Ringtone is Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther Theme.” It retakes No. 1 from Soulja Boy’s “Crank That,” after about five months of kids letting their phones Superman that ho.

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

Hot 100 1. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (LW No. 1, 14 weeks) 2. Alicia Keys, “No One” (LW No. 2, 21 weeks) 3. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 4, 9 weeks) 4. Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, “Apologize” (LW No. 3, 26 weeks) 5. Rihanna, “Don’t Stop the Music” (LW No. 7, 10 weeks) 6. Fergie, “Clumsy” (LW No. 5, 16 weeks) 7. Sean Kingston, “Take You There” (LW No. 8, 13 weeks) 8. Snoop Dogg, “Sensual Seduction” (LW No. 11, 9 weeks) 9. Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” (LW No. 10, 13 weeks) 10. Chris Brown feat. T-Pain, “Kiss Kiss” (LW No. 6, 20 weeks)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Alicia Keys, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” (LW No. 1, 14 weeks) 2. Keyshia Cole, “I Remember” (LW No. 3, 13 weeks) 3. Mary J. Blige, “Just Fine” (LW No. 4, 18 weeks) 4. J. Holiday, “Suffocate” (LW No. 2, 17 weeks) 5. Trey Songz, “Can’t Help But Wait” (LW No. 6, 25 weeks) 6. Snoop Dogg, “Sensual Seduction” (LW No. 5, 12 weeks) 7. Webbie, Lil’ Phat & Lil’ Boosie, “Independent” (LW No. 7, 15 weeks) 8. Mario, “Cryin’ Out for Me” (LW No. 11, 22 weeks) 9. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 9, 9 weeks) 10. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (LW No. 10, 19 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Brad Paisley, “Letter to Me” (LW No. 1, 16 weeks) 2. Rascal Flatts, “Winner at a Losing Game” (LW No. 2, 16 weeks) 3. Gary Allan, “Watching Airplanes” (LW No. 7, 28 weeks) 4. Billy Ray Cyrus with Miley Cyrus, “Ready, Set, Don’t Go” (LW No. 8, 27 weeks) 5. Montgomery Gentry, “What Do Ya Think About That” (LW No. 3, 28 weeks) 6. Taylor Swift, “Our Song” (LW No. 5, 24 weeks) 7. Rodney Atkins, “Cleaning This Gun (Come on in Boy)” (LW No. 10, 19 weeks) 8. Keith Urban, “Everybody” (LW No. 6, 23 weeks) 9. Kenny Chesney with George Strait, “Shiftwork” (LW No. 9, 15 weeks) 10. Sugarland, “Stay” (LW No. 4, 20 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Seether, “Fake It” (LW No. 1, 22 weeks) 2. Foo Fighters, “Winner at a Losing Game” (LW No. 3, 14 weeks) 3. Linkin Park, “Shadow of the Day” (LW No. 2, 17 weeks) 4. Foo Fighters, “The Pretender” (LW No. 4, 26 weeks) 5. Paramore, “crushcrushcrush” (LW No. 8, 11 weeks) 6. Serj Tankian, “Empty Walls” (LW No. 5, 20 weeks) 7. Avenged Sevenfold, “Almost Easy” (LW No. 7, 17 weeks) 8. Chevelle, “I Get It” (LW No. 6, 28 weeks) 9. Finger Eleven, “Paralyzer” (LW No. 9, 50 [yes, 50!] weeks) 10. Rise Against, “The Good Left Undone” (LW No. 10, 31 weeks)

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