Pink And Estelle Have The Last Laugh

In this week of financial horrors, created largely by formerly cocksure men, it’s perhaps apropos that a couple of ladies post the most gloat-worthy performances in the upper reaches of Billboard‘s Hot 100.

That starts at the top, where Pink, a nearly decade-long veteran of the chart wars, scores her first solo No. 1 (and second overall), “So What.” And she does it with the largest one-week digital sales total we’ve seen since the beginning of summer.

A few rungs down, U.K. chanteuse and Atlantic Records guinea pig Estelle stages a massive comeback. Her return to iTunes fuels a 44-space move by her Kanye West–supported single “American Boy,” to a new peak of No. 9. Not a moment too soon: one week before the official start of fall in the United States, and a month after it appeared to have peaked at No. 11, our runner-up in the Idolator 2008 Summer Jam competition is finally an official U.S. Top 10 hit. Revenge is sweet.

Pink’s bratty rock/pop stomper has been an iTunes monster since its mid-August release, instantly ranking among the best-selling digital singles and growing each week since. In the latest tracking week, “So What” moved nearly 253,000 downloads, the biggest pulldown since Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” posted a couple of weeks at that sales level in mid-June.

The song was already a smash by Labor Day, but Pink’s pyrotechnic performance of it 12 days ago on MTV’s Video Music Awards—which affects this week’s charts—clearly didn’t hurt and probably explains the song’s 28% sales boost. With numbers like that, “So What” doesn’t need much airplay to command the Hot 100, and indeed it ranks only 30th among all airplay hits—but it’s rising fast: it ranked 45th the week before.

Pink’s ascension into the penthouse is either her debut there or a return, depending on how much you credit the verse she belted on 2001’s multi-diva pileup “Lady Marmalade” with Christina Aguilera, Mya and Lil’ Kim. More notably, her first solo appearance at No. 1 completes a gradual, two-year comeback made necessary by the epic flop of her 2003 album Try This, the aberration in her otherwise charmed pop career. Beginning with her defiantly titled 2006 album I’m Not Dead, Pink gradually returned to the winners’ circle with two leisurely-building 2007 singles, “U + Ur Hand” and “Who Knew.” It’s an old chart story when a followup to a slow-growing, modest hit (or two, in this case) reaps the benefit of enhanced audience awareness, and that appears to be exactly what’s going on here.

“So What” will likely have a decent stay on top, so long as its sales stay strong and its airplay keeps growing. Over on iTunes, as of this writing, it’s locked in a battle for No. 1 with another song performed at the VMAs, Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.” Even if West ends up prevailing—and that feels optimistic—it’ll take him at least a couple of weeks to do so on the big chart, since his sales for the next tracking week will only cover a couple of days. For now, I’d bet on the lady.

Speaking of which, what more can I say about Estelle’s chart comeback that we haven’t already covered thoroughly in the past few weeks? One week after Atlantic suspended its post–Kid Rock experiment and returned Shine and “American Boy” to iTunes, we see what folly the entire concept of pulling a developing act’s music from the nation’s largest music retailer really was.

Let’s just look at the data. With only half a week back on iTunes during Billboard’s most recent tracking period, Estelle sold more than 90,000 downloads, which as far I can tell is her best weekly total so far. True, if she’d been on iTunes these last three weeks, some of those sales might have been spread out a bit, over multiple chart weeks (although I remain convinced that in our instant-gratification economy, a lost iTunes sale a couple of weeks ago wouldn’t have “come back” later). In any case, “Boy” probably would’ve broken into the Hot 100’s Top 10 a week or two sooner than it did, thanks to airplay, which continues to grow: it’s now the 19th-most-played song nationwide, up from 25th the week Atlantic deleted the single.

Meanwhile, over on the album chart, sales of Shine actually increase this week, up 22% to 6,400 copies. It appears that most of the album-sales uptick is also attributable to iTunes, as Shine sold more than 1,900 digital albums last week–a roughly fourfold increase from the prior week, when Estelle sold fewer than 400 albums at digital retailers like Amazon.

But the bigger, clearer story is this: developing acts need singles, which means they need iTunes, full stop. Availability means publicity: it appears that Estelle’s presence on iTunes doesn’t so much “cannibalize” what would have been an album sale, as give the public the heads-up that she exists.

And it bears repeating that what works for a rock act nearing his 40s who’s singing over a sample of Lynyrd Skynyrd probably isn’t going to work with a London ingénue relying mostly on Top 40 radio. I know hindsight is 20/20 and all, but doesn’t that seem obvious?

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

• Because I covered a special topic in my previous column, I neglected a rare feat on last week’s Hot Country chart. (No, not the rise of Darius “Hootie” Rucker into the Top Three; if the twangy brother makes it all the way to No. 1 in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be talking about him plenty.)

The feat was by the unassuming Brad Paisley, who’s never had the media profile of a Garth Brooks or even a Kenny Chesney but did something two decades of hat acts haven’t done: pulled five No. 1 Country hits from a single album. With the rise last week of “Waitin’ on a Woman” (it’s back down to No. 2 this week), Paisley scored the fifth chart-topper from his latest album, the former Idolator Worst Cover Art quarter-finalist 5th Gear. The run started in June 2007, with his charming and actually pretty great hit “Ticks.” According to Billboard chart guru Fred Bronson, Paisley is the first to pull off this feat since the pre-Garth era, when Rodney Crowell pulled five bell-ringers from his 1989 disc Diamonds and Dust. Also, if you don’t count a few short-lived Christmas tracks Paisley released last December, this is his eighth straight No. 1, the longest stretch of chart-toppers since Dan Seals pulled nine between 1985 and 1989.

In part, Paisley achieves these feats because he isn’t a country superstar: he and his label, Arista, release one single to radio at a time, wait for it to climb the chart and peak, then release the next. By contrast, megastars like Brooks or Chesney or Tim McGraw, upon the release of an album, see country radio jump on multiple songs at once; while one of those is likely to top the charts, another two or three typically end up somewhere down below. Nonetheless, radio clearly loves Paisley, and at this point it’s fair to consider him, if not a country A-lister, then maybe an A-minuser.

• In this year of impressive chart feats by Lil Wayne, he enjoys another boomlet of Hot 100 success, as three singles featuring his name enter the Top 10 simultaneously.

The biggest bang comes from “Swagga Like Us,” the umpteenth comeback single by his former Island Def Jam boss, Jay-Z. “Swagga,” which sports guest rhyming by Weezy and fellow Universal employee Kanye West, debuts all the way up at No. 5, matching Jonas Brothers’ “Burnin’ Up” for the highest debut in 2008 by a non–American Idol finalist. (Under a blue moon on a Tuesday; kidding!) Weezy also supplies supporting lines to T-Pain, whose “Can’t Believe It,” the advance single from his forthcoming third album, rises to No. 8 in its seventh week. Sounds like a favor payback, because Pain supplied hooks to Wayne’s “Got Money” last spring—and that song finally breaks into the Top 10. That’s four months after “Got” debuted at No. 13 and then spent the summer knocking around the middle rungs of the Top 40.

Overall, Wayne continues his Hot 100 omnipresence, credited on nine currently charting hits, between featured appearances (four) and leads (five). On the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart, he’s even more dominant, popping up 11 times.

• Speaking of R&B crossover, it appears to be helping the act that sneaks up one spot to No. 4 on the Hot 100 this week: M.I.A., whose “Paper Planes” reaches a new peak, nearly two months after trailers for Pineapple Express made it a hit. “Planes” debuts on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop at No. 96, which is not earth-shattering but indicates that the song has gotten big enough to catch the ear of programmers at a different radio format. (While this might qualify as a reverse crossover, ironically, prior to this summer, the R&B chart was the only major U.S. song chart M.I.A. had ever appeared on, with a guest credit on Jamesy P’s No. 54 hit “Nookie” in 2005.)

One final note on M.I.A.’s unlikely multiformat appeal: the campaign to make her the first solo woman in the Modern Rock Top 10 since the late ’90s isn’t over yet. “Planes” creeps up two more notches to No. 12 at the Angry White Boy format. She’s just a puff away from the winner’s circle, if only dying singles from Weezer and Disturbed at Nos. 10 and 11 would stand aside.

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. Pink, “So What” (LW No. 2, 4 weeks) 2. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 1, 6 weeks) 3. Rihanna, “Disturbia” (LW No. 3, 13 weeks) 4. M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (LW No. 5, 9 weeks) 5. Jay-Z & T.I. feat. Kanye West & Lil Wayne, “Swagga Like Us” (CHART DEBUT) 6. Chris Brown, “Forever” (LW No. 4, 21 weeks) 7. Ne-Yo, “Closer” (LW No. 8, 22 weeks) 8. T-Pain feat. Lil Wayne, “Can’t Believe It” (LW No. 12, 7 weeks) 9. Estelle feat. Kanye West, “American Boy” (LW No. 53, 22 weeks) 10. Lil Wayne feat. T-Pain, “Got Money” (LW No. 15, 16 weeks)

Hot Digital Songs 1. Pink, “So What” (LW No. 1, 253,000 downloads) 2. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 2, 177,000 downloads) 3. Rihanna, “Disturbia” (LW No. 4, 138,000 downloads) 4. Jay-Z & T.I. feat. Kanye West & Lil Wayne, “Swagga Like Us” (CHART DEBUT, 132,000 downloads) 5. M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (LW No. 5, 107,000 downloads) 6. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 8, 102,000 downloads) 7. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 3, 102,000 downloads) 8. Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (CHART DEBUT, 97,000 downloads) 9. Estelle feat. Kanye West, “American Boy” (RE-ENTRY, 90,000 downloads) 10. Fall Out Boy, “I Don’t Care” (CHART DEBUT, 89,000 downloads)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Jazmine Sullivan, “Need U Bad” (LW No. 1, 20 weeks) 2. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 2, 9 weeks) 3. Jennifer Hudson, “Spotlight” (LW No. 3, 18 weeks) 4. T-Pain feat. Lil Wayne, “Can’t Believe It,” (LW No. 4, 10 weeks) 5. Ne-Yo, “Miss Independent” (LW No. 9, 8 weeks) 6. Lil Wayne feat. Bobby Valentino, “Mrs. Officer” (LW No. 6, 11 weeks) 7. Robin Thicke, “Magic” (LW No. 8, 17 weeks) 8. Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West, “Put On” (LW No. 5, 19 weeks) 9. Keyshia Cole, “Heaven Sent” (LW No. 10, 25 weeks) 10. Yung Berg feat. Casha, “The Business” (LW No. 11, 17 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Jimmy Wayne, “Do You Believe Me Now” (LW No. 2, 25 weeks) 2. Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ on a Woman” (LW No. 1, 14 weeks) 3. Darius Rucker, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” (LW No. 3, 22 weeks) 4. Kenny Chesney, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” (LW No. 5, 7 weeks) 5. Kid Rock, “All Summer Long” (LW No. 6, 18 weeks) 6. Toby Keith, “She Never Cried in Front of Me” (LW No. 8, 12 weeks) 7. George Strait, “Troubadour” (LW No. 9, 16 weeks) 8. Carrie Underwood, “Just a Dream” (LW No. 11, 10 weeks) 9. Keith Urban, “You Look Good in My Shirt” (LW No. 4, 17 weeks) 10. The Lost Trailers, “Holler Back” (LW No. 10, 30 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Staind, “Believe” (LW No. 1, 12 weeks) 2. The Offspring, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” (LW No. 6, 8 weeks) 3. Foo Fighters, “Let It Die” (LW No. 2, 24 weeks) 4. Weezer, “Troublemaker” (LW No. 5, 10 weeks) 5. Carolina Liar, “I’m Not Over” (LW No. 3, 20 weeks) 6. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 4, 15 weeks) 7. Metallica, “The Day That Never Comes” (LW No. 7, 4 weeks) 8. Rise Against, “Re-Education (Through Labor)” (LW No. 13, 4 weeks) 9. Apocalyptica feat. Adam Gontier, “I Don’t Care” (LW No. 12, 11 weeks) 10. Weezer, “Pork & Beans” (LW No. 8, 22 weeks)

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