The White Stripes And Flo Rida: They’re Both No. 1!*

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

* OK, so one of these acts is, like, president of the United States and the other the president of American Samoa. I’ll get to the White Stripes later…

Yesterday on Idolator, Maura brought up a subject I’ve been downplaying here since 2008 began: mediocre pop-rapper Flo Rida’s depressing death grip on Billboard‘s Hot 100. Mostly, I’ve avoided a deep discussion of his T-Pain-assisted No. 1 smash “Low”–now in its 10th week atop the chart, matching last winter’s run by Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable”–because there’s not much to tell. Its sales have been massive since fall, it has led in radio airplay since mid-January, and no single has seriously challenged it for No. 1 all winter.

But as Maura noted, we’ll have to pay mind to Mr. Rida now that his followup single, the Timbaland-assisted “Elevator,” is making a fast break up the chart. The thought that “Low” would be succeeded by another Flo Rida song is enough to make one swear off Billboard forever.

Don’t despair. There are a lot of ways for this story to play out, and I’d say it’s less than 50-50 that Uncle Flo will succeed himself at the top. Let’s run down some scenarios.

First, let’s examine “Low” itself. It’s down in both airplay and sales for the Billboard tracking week, and if it’s going to hold onto No. 1 much longer, it will be because of weak competition (more on that in a moment). It seems to be approaching a historical sales ceiling: only two songs in legal-downloading history, OneRepublic’s “Apologize” and Soulja Boy’s “Crank That,” have sold more than three million copies. And while “Low” (a hair under the three-million mark on this week’s digital-sales charts) will easily top the cumulative sales of OneRepublic and Soulja Boy (both around 3.1 million) before the counting’s done, the song’s market is likely reaching a saturation point.

On the radio side, the song’s support is heavy but narrow. Since hip-hop seriously crossed over to pop radio a decade ago, there has been a subspecies of rap hit that does only moderate business at R&B radio (think Nelly’s more recent hits, or the Black Eyed Peas). “Low” is one of those songs; it’s never risen above No. 9 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart. When Top 40 radio finally tires of it, it’s done.

Honestly, it should have been done on the Hot 100 weeks ago, if the songs at Nos. 2 and 3 could have sealed the deal. Each has had the opposite handicap from the other: Chris Brown’s “With You” is a radio star–it just toppled “Low” as the most-played song in America this week–but it’s suffered from good-not-great sales throughout its run; this week, at 89,000 copies, it moved just over half of what “Low” sells in an off-week. And Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” has been selling over six figures a week but is taking a while to catch up in airplay; as a full-on club song, its radio exposure probably has a ceiling.

This leaves three songs that could save us from further Flo Rida tyranny–and only one of them is in the Top 10 right now:

“Love Song” by Sara Bareilles, now up to No. 4, is already outselling “Low” at iTunes–that won’t be reflected until next week’s charts–and is turning into a serious radio hit. Her radio deficit is still massive, but if her sales stay this strong, it won’t matter.

“Touch My Body” by Mariah Carey, up 23 spots to No. 34, is charting with one hand tied behind its back: it’s not for sale yet. Considering this handicap, it’s performing phenomenally on the current, iTunes-heavy chart–only radio is providing the song with chart points, and it’s already in the Top 20 in airplay. Such instant airwave dominance is rare. Island Def Jam hasn’t breathed a word about when or if the song will drop on iTunes; so until they do, we have to assume it’ll meander around the middle of the chart. But if they do drop it digitally, stand the hell back.

“Love in The Club” by Usher, currently charting all the way down at No. 51, is the most likely No. 1 contender, and it may even reach that point as soon as next week for one simple reason: iTunes. As this astute commenter noted yesterday, it debuted there last week and is already No. 1. We’ll know if it’s pulled off a coup next week, when we find out how big its first-week sales are. The big question: four years after his Confessions juggernaut, and after numerous album-release delays, how pent-up is demand for Usher?

As for the new Flo Rida hit, “Elevator” is almost certainly on its way to the Top 10, but No. 1 is not a foregone conclusion. With a 72-point leap this week (from No. 100 to No. 28), “Elevator” is making the kinds of moves that are made by a future No. 1. But the main reason for the pole-vault is its debut last week on iTunes.

For an act following up a massive hit, the sales of “Elevator” aren’t exactly explosive; it moved 64,000 copies, well short of the six-figure totals we typically see atop the download chart. Just for comparison, when “Low” hit iTunes last fall, it flew from No. 64 all the way to No. 6 in a single week. No. 28 doesn’t look all that impressive by comparison. As of today, “Elevator” has moved into iTunes’ top five, but it’s still selling less than “Low.”

“Elevator” will probably see one more big surge in the next month, during the week in mid-March that Flo Rida’s album drops. Whether it becomes as massive as “Low” after that will depend on how fast it catches on at radio. In the meantime, I think it’s quite likely that at least one of the above five songs will interrupt tattoo-boy’s epic run.

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

• Yes, the White Stripes are No. 1 on a Billboard chart this week, and at first glance it appears impressive: Hot Singles Sales. They’re tops there for the second week in a row with the third single from Icky Thump, the Patti Page cover “Conquest.”

Thing is, Hot Singles Sales is the old-school, pre-iTunes chart that tracks actual physical singles–you remember those! So do Jack and Meg White, because they’ve released the track on a series of sexy colored-vinyl 45’s, complete with trading cards and B-sides recorded with Beck. I don’t have access to full SoundScan sales data, but suffice it to say it’s unlikely that “Conquest” is selling much beyond the low five-figure range. Or even less: In a typical week, when there isn’t a new CD single from an American Idol winner or a High School Musical star, the No. 1 single on Hot Singles Sales moves as little as 1,000 copies or less. So, as long as the Stripes keep copies of “Conquest” available, they could be leading this chart for months.

• The biggest digital-sales gainer on the Hot 100 is the second official single from American Idol season six winner Jordin Sparks. “No Air,” her duet with Chris Brown, is up more than 40% in sales for the week and leaps 10 notches to No. 13 on the big chart.

That makes the song a likely near-term Top 10 candidate, but it’s not the only one. Right now, there’s a fleet of planes on the runway from Nos. 11 through 15, all with bullets and upward momentum: Miley Cyrus’ “See You Again,” Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar,” “No Air,” Alicia Keys’ “Like You’ll Never See Me Again,” and Linkin Park’s “Shadow of the Day.”

• New No. 1 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart: Britney Spears’s “Piece of Me,” which peaked in the Top 20 of the Hot 100 a month ago. The strangest track entering that chart’s Top 10: a remix of matchbox twenty’s “How Far We’ve Come.” Yes, that matchbox twenty. (Sorry to leave you with the image of Rob Thomas doing the running man.)

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

Hot 100 1. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (LW No. 1, 18 weeks) 2. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 2, 13 weeks) 3. Rihanna, “Don’t Stop the Music” (LW No. 3, 14 weeks) 4. Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” (LW No. 5, 17 weeks) 5. Alicia Keys, “No One” (LW No. 4, 25 weeks) 6. Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, “Apologize” (LW No. 6, 30 weeks) 7. Snoop Dogg, “Sensual Seduction” (LW No. 7, 13 weeks) 8. Sean Kingston, “Take You There” (LW No. 8, 17 weeks) 9. Webbie, Lil’ Phat & Lil’ Boosie, “Independent” (LW No. 10, 14 weeks) 10. Buckcherry, “Sorry” (LW No. 9, 12 weeks)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Keyshia Cole, “I Remember” (LW No. 1, 17 weeks) 2. Alicia Keys, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” (LW No. 2, 18 weeks) 3. J. Holiday, “Suffocate” (LW No. 3, 21 weeks) 4. Mary J. Blige, “Just Fine” (LW No. 4, 22 weeks) 5. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 7, 13 weeks) 6. Mario, “Cryin’ Out for Me” (LW No. 5, 26 weeks) 7. The-Dream, “Falsetto” (LW No. 6, 12 weeks) 8. Webbie, Lil’ Phat & Lil’ Boosie, “Independent” (LW No. 10, 19 weeks) 9. Snoop Dogg, “Sensual Seduction” (LW No. 8, 16 weeks) 10. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (LW No. 9, 23 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Rodney Atkins, “Cleaning This Gun (Come on in Boy)” (LW No. 1, 23 weeks) 2. Kenny Chesney with George Strait, “Shiftwork” (LW No. 4, 19 weeks) 3. Brad Paisley, “Letter to Me” (LW No. 3, 20 weeks) 4. Alan Jackson, “Small Town Southern Man” (LW No. 5, 16 weeks) 5. Carrie Underwood, “All-American Girl” (LW No. 7, 13 weeks) 6. Gary Allan, “Watching Airplanes” (LW No. 2, 32 weeks) 7. Chuck Wicks, “Stealing Cinderella” (LW No. 9, 27 weeks) 8. Billy Ray Cyrus with Miley Cyrus, “Ready, Set, Don’t Go” (LW No. 6, 31 weeks) 9. Chris Cagle, ” What Kinda Gone” (LW No. 11, 32 weeks) 10. Trace Adkins, ” You’re Gonna Miss This” (LW No. 12, 12 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Foo Fighters, “Long Road to Ruin” (LW No. 1, 18 weeks) 2. Seether, “Fake It” (LW No. 2, 26 weeks) 3. Linkin Park, “Shadow of the Day” (LW No. 3, 21 weeks) 4. Paramore, “crushcrushcrush” (LW No. 4, 15 weeks) 5. Foo Fighters, “The Pretender” (LW No. 5, 30 weeks) 6. Puddle of Mudd, “Psycho” (LW No. 10, 17 weeks) 7. Avenged Sevenfold, “Almost Easy” (LW No. 6, 21 weeks) 8. Rise Against, “The Good Left Undone” (LW No. 7, 35 weeks) 9. Radiohead, “Bodysnatchers” (LW No. 8, 18 weeks) 10. The Bravery, “Believe” (LW No. 9, 21 weeks)

[Photos: AP]

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