Steady Chasin’ That Paper: T.I. Replaces Self, Settles In Atop Charts

Maybe the country has been a little too distracted to listen to the radio recently, but for whatever reason, there’s a paucity of big moves on Billboard‘s Hot 100 this week: no skyrocketing songs moving up on account of an iTunes surge, as we’ve seen continually all during the fall.

Amid the stasis, the steady performance of T.I.’s two simultaneous hits wins the day, as his Rihanna duet “Live Your Life” finally does something I’d been expecting for weeks now: it returns to No. 1, knocking out his other chart-topper, “Whatever You Like.” It’s the second time these songs have traded places; “Life” first replaced “Whatever” in the penthouse four weeks ago. Digital sales for “Life” are a model of consistency, as the song shifts another 184,000 downloads (up 2% from last week) more than a month after dropping on iTunes.

Take a good look at what’s in this week’s Top 10—we could be living with these songs for a while. It’s too soon to tell for sure, but I have a sense that as we head toward the holidays, the song charts are seizing up as they often do at year-end and through the early winter.

For some acts like T.I., this will be good news. For others who rely on certain radio formats, this could be a problem. Jason Mraz, we’re looking in your direction.

Last year, from about November through February, songs like Alicia Keys’s “No One,” Timbaland and OneRepublic’s “Apologize” and Flo Rida’s “Low” settled in for long runs in the Top Five. There will probably be a bit more movement in the Top 10 before year’s end, but it’s likely to be slow again, for a number of broad-based reasons.

You’d think that the tsunami of big CD releases about to hit retail in the next five weeks would mean lots of new song action. But the lead tracks from most of those albums—from the likes of Beyoncé, Nickelback, Kanye, Britney and American Idol’s two Davids—dropped weeks ago.

Layer on top of that the likely lock-in of radio playlists the closer we get to Santa Day. As our fearless leader reported yesterday, many stations’ flips to an all-Christmas format just get earlier, and more competitive, every year.

Many of the stations making this two-month-or-more switch are adult-contemporary, which means any song on the Hot 100 relying at least in part on A/C airplay is going to lose a major source of chart points. This year, that might not be too big a deal, because there are few songs near the top of the chart over-relying on the dentist’s-office format. (Last year at this time, Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” was clinging to A/C late in its run, and Carrie Underwood’s near-record run with “Before He Cheats” was almost entirely the result of A/C playing it to death.) Some songs belatedly catching on at A/C, like Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” and Daughtry’s “What About Now,” might suffer on the Hot 100, but those songs have already had healthy runs on the big chart.

But there’s got to be some concern over at Jason Mraz Central. “I’m Yours,” his chirpy acoustic ditty, is back in the Top 10 after knocking around the teens for a few weeks, largely because it’s finally caught on at radio. The song first broke into the Top 10 two months ago thanks to its placement in a TV ad and subsequent iTunes sales, but radio programmers were slow to adopt it. Now, it’s the 10th most-played current song at A/C stations, and it’s top-ranked at Adult Top 40 stations.

But Christmas formatting means bad timing for Mraz’s radio breakthrough. Its overall radio points will likely be considerably lower, even if the song continues to rise on the A/C chart, because Billboard removes non-current tracks, including Christmas oldies, from the list. (By next month, the most-played song at A/C nationwide might actually be “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” but you’ll never know that by looking at the chart.) To their credit, Mraz’s team at Atlantic has successfully pushed the song at regular Top 40 radio, which might keep it afloat once its A/C spins crater.

Other lite-FM favorites have likely gone as far as they’ll go—including Leona Lewis, who came tantalizingly close to a second U.S. Top 10 hit with “Better in Time.”

Lewis’ followup got stuck at No. 11 for two weeks. (It’s now down to No. 15.) It was damaged in part by her earlier success. “Bleeding Love” won’t die at A/C radio—it still ranks second in airplay there, more than seven months after its debut—and programmers are slow to play anything else by her. “Better” crawls up to No. 26 on the A/C list this week, with a bullet. But as with Mraz, even if the song keeps rising on the list, its actual airplay totals will shrink, and a Hot 100 comeback becomes near-impossible.

Anyone want to bet on whether Simon Cowell complains about our inability to fully appreciate his protégé when Idol returns next winter?

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

• Speaking of songs we’ll be stuck with for the rest of the year: In a week when an American-born descendant from Kenya rewrites history, I suppose it’s appropriate that the biggest mover in the Top 10 is from a Senegalese guy who’s made Africa-to-America crossover look easy for years now. Akon’s “Right Now (Na Na Na)” is rising up the Hot 100 the old-fashioned way, with steady increases in sales and airplay week after week. The song breaks six figures in digital sales for the first time this week, shifting 117,000 downloads, and it’s now the 15th most-played song at radio barely a month after it debuted.

• Akon’s hand is also behind the biggest leap in the top half of the Hot 100, by Lady GaGa’s über-catchy “Just Dance,” up 22 spaces to No. 27. Akon is uncredited but provides backup vocals on the track, alongside his more prominent protégé Colby O’Donis.

It’s been a pretty good year for the Queens-born O’Donis, who one could call Akon’s attempt to find his own Robin Thicke. The two teamed up on a Top 20 hit last spring with “What You Got,” released on Akon’s Interscope-distributed vanity label Kon Live, and Akon also executive-produced the 19-year-old’s debut album Colby O. That’s the not-so-good part of O’Donis’ year—the album debuted healthily with about 10,000 in sales, then plummeted off the album chart two weeks later. The GaGa track—which debuts on the Airplay chart at No. 61 and is currently receiving heavy spins on my local Top 40 station—will likely keep O’Donis’ profile alive until the label picks out a worthy followup single from his own album.

• At a time when modern-rock radio is fully embracing mainstream hard rock—from Rise Against to Guns N’ Roses—post-indie nerds Death Cab for Cutie are doing notably consistent business there. Narrow Stairs is their second album in a row to produce two Top 10 Modern Rock hits, as “Cath…” sneaks up one notch to No. 10, a few months after “I Will Possess Your Heart” peaked at No. 6. In 2005–06, Plans spun off the hits “Soul Meets Body” (No. 5) and “Crooked Teeth” (No. 10).

A correction: Last week I said that “If I Were a Boy” was the ninth Top 10 hit of Beyoncé’s solo career, but it’s actually her 10th. I forgot about the No. 3–peaking “Beautiful Liar,” her flashy but short-lived duet with Shakira. Honestly, can you blame me?

This means B has already tied Destiny’s Child’s U.S. track record for Top 10 hits, and if “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” makes a big leap into the winner’s circle following its expected digital release in a couple of weeks, she’ll surpass her former group. As of this week, “Ladies” continues to chart on airplay alone, up 12 spots to No. 44.

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. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 2, 6 weeks) 2. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 1, 13 weeks) 3. Pink, “So What” (LW No. 4, 11 weeks) 4. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 6, 14 weeks) 5. Beyoncé, “If I Were a Boy” (LW No. 3, 4 weeks) 6. Britney Spears, “Womanizer” (LW No. 5, 5 weeks) 7. Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil Wayne, “Let It Rock” (LW No. 7, 10 weeks) 8. Ne-Yo, “Miss Independent” (LW No. 8, 11 weeks) 9. Akon, “Right Now (Na Na Na)” (LW No. 14, 6 weeks) 10. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 10, 29 weeks)

Hot Digital Songs 1. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 3, 184,000 downloads) 2. Taylor Swift, “You’re Not Sorry” (CHART DEBUT) 3. Beyoncé, “If I Were a Boy” (LW No. 1) 4. Britney Spears, “Womanizer” (LW No. 2) 5. Pink, “So What” (LW No. 7) 6. Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil Wayne, “Let It Rock” (LW No. 4) 7. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 5) 8. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 6) 9. Akon, “Right Now (Na Na Na)” (LW No. 12, 117,000 downloads) 10. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 9)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Ne-Yo, “Miss Independent” (LW No. 1, 15 weeks) 2. Jennifer Hudson, “Spotlight” (LW No. 2, 25 weeks) 3. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 3, 16 weeks) 4. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 7, 8 weeks) 5. T-Pain feat. Lil Wayne, “Can’t Believe It,” (LW No. 4, 17 weeks) 6. Jazmine Sullivan, “Need U Bad” (LW No. 6, 27 weeks) 7. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (LW No. 8, 4 weeks) 8. Lil Wayne feat. Bobby Valentino, “Mrs. Officer” (LW No. 5, 18 weeks) 9. Jazmine Sullivan, “Bust Your Windows” (LW No. 9, 8 weeks) 10. Slim feat. Yung Joc, “So Fly” (LW No. 10, 22 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Carrie Underwood, “Just a Dream” (LW No. 1, 17 weeks) 2. Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (LW No. 3, 8 weeks) 3. Zac Brown Band, “Chicken Fried” (LW No. 6, 20 weeks) 4. Tim McGraw, “Let It Go” (LW No. 5, 16 weeks) 5. Toby Keith, “She Never Cried in Front of Me” (LW No. 2, 19 weeks) 6. Montgomery Gentry, “Roll with Me” (LW No. 8, 15 weeks) 7. Sugarland, “Already Gone” (LW No. 9, 10 weeks) 8. Kenny Chesney, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” (LW No. 4, 14 weeks) 9. Rascal Flatts, “Here” (LW No. 11, 9 weeks) 10. Brad Paisley with Keith Urban, “Start a Band” (LW No. 10, 8 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. The Offspring, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” (LW No. 1, 15 weeks) 2. Weezer, “Troublemaker” (LW No. 2, 17 weeks) 3. Kings of Leon, “Sex on Fire” (LW No. 5, 11 weeks) 4. Rise Against, “Re-Education (Through Labor)” (LW No. 3, 11 weeks) 5. Apocalyptica feat. Adam Gontier, “I Don’t Care” (LW No. 4, 18 weeks) 6. The Killers, “Human” (LW No. 6, 6 weeks) 7. Metallica, “The Day That Never Comes” (LW No. 7, 11 weeks) 8. Theory of a Deadman, “Bad Girlfriend” (LW No. 9, 20 weeks) 9. Staind, “Believe” (LW No. 8, 19 weeks) 10. Death Cab for Cutie, “Cath…” (LW No. 11, 10 weeks)

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