Sweeter Than Apple Pie: Weezy Licks His Way To The No. 1 Spot

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

As predicted last week, Lil Wayne, supported by the late Static Major, has hit the top of Billboard‘s Hot 100 with “Lollipop.” For longtime Weezy fans, it’s a bit of a Pyrrhic victory–the first great rapper of the Web 2.0 era hemming in his flow to score a big hit. But nine years after his emergence on the Juvenile classic “Back That Azz Up,” it’s still a bit of a thrill to see Wayne’s name gracing the top of the charts.

It’s not only Weezy’s first No. 1 but also his first Top 10 as a lead artist and, amazingly, his first trip to the top slot in 20 chart entries (21 if you include the Hot Boys’ 2000 single “I Need a Hot Girl”). Prior to this, he’d never ascended any higher than No. 3 with his supporting performance on Destiny’s Child’s “Soldier.”

How long he stays at No. 1 will depend on whether “Lollipop” settles in as a viral hit a la “Crank That” or “Low”–and on the competition percolating below him. The Top 10 is as fluid as it’s been since last summer, which makes things fun for your humble chart columnist.

Weezy is the second act in the past month to evict “Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis from the top slot, and he might not be the last. After Wednesday’s well-received American Idol performance, digital sales of “Bleeding” have exploded again; it’s the top-seller on iTunes as of this writing, meaning it could hit No. 1 for the third time next week. (After her initial week at No. 1 in March, Lewis gave way to Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body” for two weeks; that song currently holds on at No. 5.)

In a one-on-one contest between Wayne and Lewis next week, it’s hard to say who would prevail. “Lollipop” continues to grow in airplay, but so does “Bleeding”; those are now the fifth and sixth most-played songs on U.S. radio, respectively. The bottom-line question is, is his airplay far enough ahead of hers that next week, when she outsells him on iTunes, he can overcome her download advantage?

One other observation: I mentioned last week that, among upwardly mobile hits, only Wayne’s and Mariah’s are enjoying airplay–and, hence, a chart boost–from both Top 40 and R&B/hip-hop radio. (Actually, I spoke too soon: Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown are getting a boost from R&B radio too. “No Air” moves into the R&B chart’s Top 10 this week.)

The interesting question is, Why isn’t Leona Lewis getting R&B radio airplay, too? This might sound like a stupid question–“Bleeding Love” is an adult-contemporary ballad sung by a British gal and written by two lily-white teen heartthrobs.

But being British didn’t hold back Lisa Stansfield and her lily-white production team back in 1990. And speaking of 1990, let’s ask another question: Is Lewis the new Mariah, or isn’t she? Carey’s crossover to black radio isn’t a recent phenomenon–starting with “Vision of Love,” Sony Music’s major coup was selling Carey as biracial (which, ahem, she is) and getting her on R&B radio right away. Moving back to 2008, “Bleeding Love” is nowhere to be found on the entire 100-position, airplay-dominated Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. For her part, Lewis is the child of a Guyanese-Caribbean father and an Anglo-Welsh mother, which gives her arguably as much claim to a biracial heritage as the half-Venezuelan, half-Irish Carey.

Just saying: If I were on the Sony/BMG team breaking Lewis in America, I’d be a little worried about the total lack of crossover exposure she’s getting. Once these industry pigeonholes are established, they’re usually molded in concrete, and no matter how “soulful” Lewis’s future projects are, she might face an uphill battle to be accepted on R&B radio.

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

• I keep talking about Madonna’s latest single, even while it muddles around the middle of the Top 10–it crawls back up to No. 6 this week–because its chart performance has been an interesting case of the sales-vs.-airplay paradox.

Madge’s “4 Minutes” returns to the top of the Digital Songs chart, selling another 186,000 copies; since its first full week of sales, it has never placed lower than second on the list of buck-a-song downloads. But its radio numbers are still huffing and puffing to catch up. It’s now ranked 16th in airplay, up from 27th last week–one of its best weeks of radio growth, but that still leaves her at a handicap to the five records above her on the Hot 100. It’s a reminder that even now, in these iTunes-centric times, radio still matters.

It’s also an interesting sign of how the mighty have fallen. In the ’80s and ’90s, Madonna was what Top 40 programmers used to call an “instant add,” with each new single a no-brainer for playlist rotation. Now, Madge has to prove herself track by track like everyone else, and programmers are still warming to the ditty even while fans buy it in droves.

We’ll probably still be talking about “4 Minutes” in the weeks to come, because I expect it to see an iTunes sales surge when Hard Candy, her new album, drops. If her airplay keeps growing, that burst of sales might finally propel the song to No. 1.

• The biggest mover in the Top 40 this week is the latest single by John Mayer, “Say,” which vaults to No. 12 from No. 35. “Say” has actually been out since last fall, when Mayer released it on the soundtrack to the geezer flick The Bucket List. So what accounts for this belated explosion? (Bucket isn’t even out on DVD yet.) You can thank, or blame, reality TV. Mayer performed the tune a couple of weeks ago on Dancing with the Stars–and in the first full week after that performance “Say” sold 92,000 downloads, a jump of 131%. But it’ll be a while before Mayer’s ditty is polluting your brain, “Daughters”-style, at the grocery store: “Say” only ranks 65th in radio airplay.

• Country demigod George Strait scores his 43rd No. 1 hit with “I Saw God Today.” That’s a record for most No. 1 hits, beating out… George Strait, who surpassed Conway Twitty’s 40 No. 1’s back in 2006 and has been padding his total ever since. As I remind readers from time to time, the Hot Country list is all-airplay. In case you’re curious, on the all-genre Hot 100, “Saw God” ranks at No. 33, mostly thanks to all that country radio exposure; he only sold about 12,000 downloads of the song last week.

• For the first time since last August, the Modern Rock Top 10 contains no Foo Fighters songs, as two of Dave Grohl’s former No. 1 smashes simultaneously fall out of the winners’ circle. The recent hit “Long Road to Ruin” tumbles to No. 12 from No. 4, while the deathless “The Pretender,” which spent 36 of its 38 chart weeks in the Top 10, finally falls to No. 13. I would have loved to have told you that there were no Foos songs and no Linkin Park songs on that list, but just this week, the fourth Top 10 hit from LP’s Minutes to Midnight, “Given Up,” moves up to No. 8. For a Fooless, Linkinless Top 10, you’d have to go all the way back to April 2007.

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

Hot 100 1. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (LW No. 2, 6 weeks) 2. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (LW No. 1, 10 weeks) 3. Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, “No Air” (LW No. 3, 16 weeks) 4. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love in This Club” (LW No. 4, 10 weeks) 5. Mariah Carey, “Touch My Body” (LW No. 5, 10 weeks) 6. Madonna feat. Justin Timberlake, “4 Minutes” (LW No. 7, 5 weeks) 7. Ray J & Yung Berg, “Sexy Can I” (LW No. 6, 12 weeks) 8. Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” (LW No. 9, 25 weeks) 9. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 8, 21 weeks) 10. Miley Cyrus, “See You Again” (LW No. 11, 21 weeks)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love in This Club” (LW No. 1, 11 weeks) 2. Mariah Carey, “Touch My Body” (LW No. 2, 11 weeks) 3. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (LW No. 3, 6 weeks) 4. Ray J & Yung Berg, “Sexy Can I” (LW No. 5, 15 weeks) 5. Keyshia Cole, “I Remember” (LW No. 4, 25 weeks) 6. Ashanti, “The Way That I Love You” (LW No. 8, 10 weeks) 7. Rick Ross feat. T-Pain, “The Boss” (LW No. 7, 15 weeks) 8. Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, “No Air” (LW No. 12, 7 weeks) 9. Alicia Keys, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” (LW No. 9, 26 weeks) 10. J. Holiday, “Suffocate” (LW No. 10, 29 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. George Strait, “I Saw God Today” (LW No. 2, 11 weeks) 2. Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This” (LW No. 1, 20 weeks) 3. James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” (LW No. 3, 27 weeks) 4. Taylor Swift, “Picture to Burn” (LW No. 5, 15 weeks) 5. Phil Vassar, “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” (LW No. 6, 25 weeks) 6. Brad Paisley, “I’m Still a Guy” (LW No. 8, 9 weeks) 7. Rascal Flatts, “Every Day” (LW No. 9, 9 weeks) 8. Chris Cagle, “What Kinda Gone” (LW No. 4, 40 weeks) 9. Lady Antebellum, “Love Don’t Live Here” (LW No. 11, 29 weeks) 10. Carrie Underwood, “Last Name” (LW No. 12, 6 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Seether, “Rise Above This” (LW No. 2, 9 weeks) 2. Puddle of Mudd, “Psycho” (LW No. 1, 25 weeks) 3. Atreyu, “Falling Down” (LW No. 3, 13 weeks) 4. The Raconteurs, “Salute Your Solution” (LW No. 7, 4 weeks) 5. 3 Doors Down, “It’s Not My Time” (LW No. 6, 9 weeks) 6. The Bravery, “Believe” (LW No. 5, 29 weeks) 7. Flobots, “Handlebars” (LW No. 15, 3 weeks) 8. Linkin Park, “Given Up” (LW No. 13, 7 weeks) 9. Death Cab for Cutie, “I Will Possess Your Heart” (LW No. 10, 5 weeks) 10. Disturbed, “Inside the Fire” (LW No. 11, 4 weeks)

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