Strummin’ In The Girls’ Room: Jason Mraz’s Folksy Ditty Climbs The Charts

Last fall and winter, chart fans noted the return to the radio of a style that, until recently, was pretty unfashionable on Billboard‘s Hot 100: pure-pop female singer-songwriters.

Strummier and sunnier than their Lilith counterparts in the ’90s and closer in kinship to California’s post-Joni ladies of the ’70s, two gals with hard-to-spell names led this ’07 boomlet with a pair of Top Five smashes: Colbie Caillat, with “Bubbly,” and Sara Bareilles, with “Love Song.” The surprise success of American Idol‘s Brooke White, who seemed every week to be channeling Carole King, only fueled the theory.

Trouble is, neither Caillat nor Bareilles has had an easy time following up those easy-listening hits. Caillat has fared respectably, with a No. 20 followup (“Realize”), but not spectacularly. And Bareilles is completely stalled, with “Love Song” still leading the Adult Contemporary chart but no followup–on the Hot 100, or anywhere–all these months later.

So, new theory: maybe pop fans weren’t latching onto these ladies’ earthy-girl personas at all, but their sound.

Which brings us to Jason Mraz. He makes a big move into the Top 10 this week and, just in time for fall, proves the bedroom-girlypop sound can still hit big in 2008, even if the act in question possesses an extra Y chromosome.

With “I’m Yours,” which shoots 15 notches to No. 9, Mraz scores his first Top 10 hit, two weeks after it become only his second-ever Top 40 hit. Mraz’s previous high-water mark was his chart debut, 2003’s “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry),” which peaked at No. 14 in September 2003 and established Mraz as the new millennium’s jive-talking doofus. (Hey, G. Love, call your agent.)

It’s tempting to slag Mraz for switching to a mellower, midtempo-ballad sound, either to leap onto the girlypop bandwagon, or to tap John Mayer’s and Jack Johnson’s lucrative turf. But that would contradict the facts: “I’m Yours” is a three-year old song, dismissed by Mraz when he recorded it (not unlike Mayer’s originally dim view of his ultimately Grammy-winning “Daughters”) and first released by Elektra Records as a throwaway promotional track for a 2005 Mraz EP.

Resurrected on his spring 2008 album We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things, “I’m Yours” hovered around the lower reaches of the Hot 100 for nearly half a year until, in the last three weeks, it exploded into the Top 40 and finally the Top 10.

The song appears to be a genuine viral hit, having caught on with digital-song buyers despite minimal radio attention. “Yours” ranks fifth on Billboard‘s Digital Songs list, clearing 100,000 downloads for the first time. And it’s clearly on the way up– at iTunes it ranks second overall as of this writing, and it’s holding at fifth place at Amazonmp3. You have to imagine all this sales action will spur radio programmers to start spinning the track, but for now, Mraz is nowhere to be found on the Hot 100 Airplay list, and among pop stations, “Yours” only ranks 69th, up just four places from last week.

One radio format that will probably give “Yours” a boost is A/C. It’s only ranked 20th on Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks so far, but given this format’s glacial pace, you can expect the song to top the chart sometime around Christmas, or maybe even later. Think I’m kidding? The current No. 1 at A/C, now in its 14th week, is, no joke, “Love Song”–which, about five months ago, evicted “Bubbly” from the A/C top spot. Jason, behold your future!

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

• There’s one more tiny airplay format that’s been behind Mraz all year, long before his current pop crossover: adult album alternative, or triple-A, radio. “I’m Yours” has been a smash at that format for months. Just two months ago, after tracking the airplay of such stations for years, Billboard formally inaugurated a Triple-A chart. It’s listed on Billboard‘s website alongside the magazine’s Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts, rather than with the Adult Contemporary and Adult Top 40 lists.

But then, triple-A has always been a little-bit-of-this, little-bit-of-that format for semi-hip, semi-crunchy 30somethings who fancy themselves too cool for A/C but not quite ready for, say, Flobots. (Not that any of us is.) Al Shipley’s latest post evolved into an interesting discussion on the dividing line between modern rock and triple-A, viz. the likelihood of so-called “indie” acts succeeding at either format.

I don’t plan to cover the Triple-A chart extensively here in the future (stations reporting the format number in the dozens). But for those curious about what stations big enough to report to Billboard consider worthy of their air–and if you’re wondering if any stations out there play new material by Adam Duritz–here’s this week’s Top 10:

1. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 1, 14 weeks) 2. Counting Crows, “Come Around” (LW No. 2, 11 weeks) 3. O.A.R., “Shattered (Turn the Car Around)” (LW No. 4, 22 weeks) 4. Jack Johnson, “Hope” (LW No. 2, 16 weeks) 5. Matt Nathanson, “Come on Get Higher” (LW No. 5, 25 weeks) 6. My Morning Jacket, “I’m Amazed” (LW No. 6, 18 weeks) 7. The Raconteurs, “Old Enough” (LW No. 8, 14 weeks) 8. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 7, 27 weeks) 9. Beck, “Orphans” (LW No. 10, 8 weeks) 10. R.E.M., “Hollow Man” (LW No. 9, 15 weeks)

One obvious difference between Triple-A and A/C: women, or the lack thereof. You have to get down to No. 15 to spot one, fronting the Pretenders’ “Boots of Chinese Plastic.” Several solo females do appear on the list, but lower down: Bareilles (at No. 17 with “Bottle It Up)”; Lilith stalwarts Sheryl Crow (“Motivation,” No. 18) and Sarah McLachlan (“U Want Me To,” No. 20); New York singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson (“Be OK,” No. 21); and smart-people fetish object Aimee Mann (“Freeway,” No. 24).

Between this and the typical modern-rock playlist, it kind of makes you forgive any woman you know who falls back on her local A/C station. Deadly as that format might be, at least they can hear their distaff compatriots there in power rotation.

• Speaking of our man Al, as he half-predicted back in July, “Believe,” Staind’s “sluggish ballad,” ultimately proved irresistible to alt-rock programmers. The song takes over No. 1 on the Modern Rock list this week, evicting Coldplay.

• I need to stop shooting my mouth off about songs on the Hot 100 I don’t like, lest they chart higher to spite me. Last week in this space, I dissed Pink’s No. 9-debuting “So What,” calling it less memorable than her two previous, long-lived hits that earned their way up to the same chart position the hard way. One week later, “So What” shoots to No. 3, making a mockery of me just a few months after I sagely predicted that the Pussycat Dolls’ “When I Grow Up” would be a short-lived hit. Le sigh.

This leap makes “So What”–as Billboard chart columnist Fred Bronson points out–Pink’s highest-charting solo hit ever, instantly beating the peak positions of such radio gold as “Get the Party Started” and “Don’t Let Me Get Me.” The “solo” tag is essential, because Pink was credited on 2001’s “Lady Marmalade,” the No. 1 diva clusterfuck. But now it looks like the erstwhile Alecia Moore might score her very own No. 1: as of this writing, “So What” is No. 1 on iTunes, giving Pink the edge to oust T.I. from the Hot 100’s top spot next week.

• The fight between Atlantic Records’ two big summer hits and their cheap insta-covers continues on the Hot 100. Kid Rock regains the upper hand, as the Hit Masters’ cover of “All Summer Long” tumbles to No. 33 in its third week, and his original crawls up two spots to No. 23. (Just to give you an idea of how critical an iTunes release is to Hot 100 position these days, the Kid’s “Summer” is now the third-most-played song at radio nationwide, but no sales means it can’t even break into the Top 20.) As for “American Boy,” Estelle’s original and the dreadful Studio All-Stars cover are five spaces away from each other now, the original plummeting to No. 57, the cover soaring to No. 52. The only good news for Estelle this week: her album finally reverses course, selling 9% more than the week before (4,600 copies). But with cumulative sales of 104,000, that gold plaque is still a long, long way off.

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., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 1, 4 weeks) 2. Rihanna, “Disturbia” (LW No. 2, 11 weeks) 3. Pink, “So What” (LW No. 9, 2 weeks) 4. Chris Brown, “Forever” (LW No. 3, 19 weeks) 5. M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (LW No. 6, 7 weeks) 6. Kardinal Offishall feat. Akon, “Dangerous” (LW No. 5, 17 weeks) 7. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 7, 17 weeks) 8. Ne-Yo, “Closer” (LW No. 8, 20 weeks) 9. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 24, 20 weeks) 10. Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” (LW No. 4, 17 weeks)

Hot Digital Songs 1. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 1, 176,000 downloads) 2. Pink, “So What” (LW No. 4, 136,000 downloads) 3. Rihanna, “Disturbia” (LW No. 2, 119,000 downloads) 4. M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (LW No. 3, 107,000 downloads) 5. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 10, 112,000 downloads) 6. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 7, 79,000 downloads) 7. The Pussycat Dolls, “When I Grow Up” (LW No. 9, 78,000 downloads) 8. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 29, 75,000 downloads) 9. Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” (LW No. 8, 65,000 downloads) 10. Hit Masters, “All Summer Long” (LW No. 5, 61,000 downloads)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Jazmine Sullivan, “Need U Bad” (LW No. 1, 18 weeks) 2. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 8, 7 weeks) 3. Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West, “Put On” (LW No. 5, 17 weeks) 4. Rihanna, “Take a Bow” (LW No. 3, 19 weeks) 5. Keyshia Cole, “Heaven Sent” (LW No. 2, 23 weeks) 6. Lil Wayne, “A Milli” (LW No. 4, 19 weeks) 7. T-Pain feat. Lil Wayne, “Can’t Believe It,” (LW No. 13, 8 weeks) 8. Jennifer Hudson, “Spotlight” (LW No. 10, 16 weeks) 9. Yung Berg feat. Casha, “The Business” (LW No. 6, 15 weeks) 10. David Banner feat. Chris Brown, “Get Like Me” (LW No. 9, 27 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Jimmy Wayne, “Do You Believe Me Now” (LW No. 4, 23 weeks) 2. Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ on a Woman” (LW No. 3, 12 weeks) 3. Keith Urban, “You Look Good in My Shirt” (LW No. 1, 15 weeks) 4. Keith Anderson, “I Still Miss You” (LW No. 2, 31 weeks) 5. Darius Rucker, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” (LW No. 7, 20 weeks) 6. Kenny Chesney, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” (LW No. 6, 5 weeks) 7. Kid Rock, “All Summer Long” (LW No. 10, 16 weeks) 8. George Strait, “Troubadour” (LW No. 8, 14 weeks) 9. Toby Keith, “She Never Cried in Front of Me” (LW No. 9, 10 weeks) 10. The Lost Trailers, “Holler Back” (LW No. 11, 28 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Staind, “Believe” (LW No. 3, 10 weeks) 2. Foo Fighters, “Let It Die” (LW No. 2, 22 weeks) 3. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 1, 13 weeks) 4. Carolina Liar, “I’m Not Over” (LW No. 6, 18 weeks) 5. Weezer, “Pork & Beans” (LW No. 4, 20 weeks) 6. Disturbed, “Inside the Fire” (LW No. 5, 23 weeks) 7. Saving Abel, ” Addicted” (LW No. 7, 24 weeks) 8. Weezer, “Troublemaker” (LW No. 10, 8 weeks) 9. The Offspring, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” (LW No. 9, 6 weeks) 10. Metallica, “The Day That Never Comes” (LW No. 25, 2 weeks)

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