Project X: Hooking Up With Billboard’s Hot Singles

We here at Idolator are obsessed with charts: Sales charts, best-of charts, even charts that chart other charts. In an attempt to keep track of all the rankings and reports that are compiled on a daily basis, we’ve asked Jackin’ Pop editor Michaelangelo Matos to break down charts from every genre imaginable. After the click-through, his take on Billboard‘s most recent Hot 100 chart:

Project X No. 4: Puttin’ on the Hits

Hi. I’m Casey Kasem, and here’s the Top 10 of Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending March 24, 2007:

1. Fergie ft. Ludacris, “Glamorous” (Interscope) 2. Mims, “This Is Why I’m Hot” (Capitol) 3. Akon, “Don’t Matter” (Universal Motown) 4. Gwen Stefani ft. Akon, “The Sweet Escape” (Interscope) 5. Gym Class Heroes ft. Patrick Stump, “Cupid’s Chokehold” (Lava) 6. Fall Out Boy, “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” (Fueled by Ramen/Island) 7. Daughtry, “It’s Not Over” (RCA) 8. Justin Timberlake, “What Goes Around . . . Comes Around” (Zomba) 9. Avril Lavigne, “Girlfriend” (RCA) 10. Nelly Furtado, “Say It Right” (Geffen)

This is a big week for noblesse oblige. Take the lazy, industry-centered, I-love-my-fans “humility” of “Glamorous”–a perfect No. 1 for a quarter when there ain’t shit else going on, and therefore absolutely convincing. Fergie’s mid-song interjection of “fuck yo'” is eighty bajillion times more convincing than the “goddamn it” on “Have Mercy” from RJD2’s new abomination. In fact, it takes the prize for best gratuitous curse word in the Top 10, beating out both the “goddamned” in the chorus of “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” and Avril’s “I’m the motherfucking princess.”

“Arms Race” unfolds like a videogame, another new challenge issued with each room cleared: Make your way past the giant, ugly hook! Try to avoid being blasted away by hyper-compressed distortion! Do your best to sidestep the dreaded “thrashy part”! It’s awful, but it’s fascinatingly awful. Given enough exposure I think I might start to love it, its faults so thoroughly ingrained they become comfortable. Avril, as usual, plays the pushiness-as-irresistibility card, with nothing else in the 10 (or in “Girlfriend” itself) coming near the lines, “She’s, like, so whatever/You could do so much better.”

Except, of course, “I’m hot ’cause I’m fly/You ain’t ’cause you’re not,” a hook line that earned the circle game it was treated to by Rob Harvilla. “I could sell a mil saying nothing on the track” is one towering boast, and it also can be used as a weapon with which to beat its speaker over the head. In fact, don’t even mention lyrics when it comes to this song or you will get angry people in your face. Just check the customer reviews on the iTunes Music Store. Fully two-thirds of them are zero- or one-star ratings followed up by variations of “What will come of the children?!?” The other third consists of comments along the lines of, “U just old shut up,” accompanied by four or five stars. But this record is popular not because it’s simple or stupid, but because it’s mesmerizing. How intellectual were doo-wop records? Not very, right? You don’t listen to those for what they say, you listen to them for how they sound. This is the same thing. It’s instrumental hip-hop in the same way as anything DJ Shadow ever did, and it could only be that way by including words.

In fact, Mims starts his first verse by explaining that in order to accomplish what he’s doing at the moment, he doesn’t even need to do it. Don’t you wish more artists would take his advice? I’ll nominate Gwen Stefani, particularly when she honks out the rhymes “crazy,” “lazy,” “save me,” and “an-gray.” Similarly, Daughtry’s nü-Nickelback anthem has that “I’m talking to you, man” tone beloved of politicians and the Vegas-bound down cold. When he advises, “Don’t get caught up in yourself,” it’s hard not to hear leaving out the part as (I like to think) it was originally written: “Get caught up in muh-HEEE!”

Brian Eno once mused that the world’s problems might be solvable by means of oyster sauce and backing vocals; he also guessed that while most records don’t have backing vocals, most hit records do. Akon can be taken or left to an extent few popular artists have approached, though I do like the way the chorus of “Don’t Matter” features a response of “‘Cause I got you” that resembles cartoon ducks. The tiny filtered response of the “Cupid’s Chokehold” verses–“We can be on the phone for three hours”/”Not saying one word”–makes the track even more than does “And now she’s got her own song.” The looped “ay!”s and ululations of “Say It Right” stick in a way Nelly Furtado herself really doesn’t.

Justin Timberlake’s Greatest SongTM does resonate, but you can spot trouble coming when he sings the line, “The funny thing about that is, I was ready to give you my name.” Right at “the funny thing is,” you can hear him lean into it, to imply confrontation; it’s the equivalent of a conversation with a friend you owe money when they pipe up, in the middle of an unyielding line about nothing, “Oh, by the way.” It also signals that you’re going to have to sit through a Pink Floyd false ending and choir-strewn coda that eats up the song’s last two minutes. Maybe if he concentrates really hard and the market doesn’t fall into the ocean, Justin can make the second-greatest album of all time too.

Project X takes a critical look at a different Top 10 list biweekly. Suggestions can be sent to