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 the latest Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
Everyone agrees: the single has won. On his blog, where he tracks the Billboard Top 10 every week, my friend Robert Myers points out that Carrie Underwood’s cover of the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You” can only be purchased from the iTunes store; that it’s “getting virtually no radio play”; and that right now it’s No. 52 on the country chart. Then there’s this:
Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100, May 19, 2007
1. Maroon 5, “Makes Me Wonder” (A&M/Octone)
2. Ne-Yo, “Because of You” (Def Jam)
3. T-Pain ft. Yung Joc, “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” (Konvict/Nappy Boy/Jive)
4. Avril Lavigne, “Girlfriend” (RCA)
5. Timbaland ft. Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake, “Give It to Me” (Mosley/Blackground)
6. Carrie Underwood, “I’ll Stand By You” (Fremantle)
7. Fergie ft. Ludacris, “Glamorous” (will.i.am/A&M)
8. Akon, “Don’t Matter” (Konvict/Upfront/SRC)
9. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony ft. Akon, “I Tried” (Full Surface)
10. Gwen Stefani ft. Akon, “The Sweet Escape” (Interscope)
As Myers surmises, Underwood’s placement at No. 6 (where it’s been for two weeks now) is entirely the doing of downloadable singles. You might think this development would have democratized things more than they have. But increasingly, the Hot 100 resembles the class system: if you make the Top 10, it’s more likely than not that you debuted there. If the major-label system survives, it seems logical that it will deal mostly (if not entirely) in singles and leave albums to the indies. In critical terms, this will make things easier–the indie-vs.-major argument can actually mean something again. But if this week’s Top 10 is anything to go by–if most weeks’ Top 10s are anything to go by–things will keep right on slogging along as usual. Hooray, democracy.
The last time I looked at the current Top 10 was two months ago, and this week there are four repeats. Of those and in that time, only “Girlfriend” has shifted much: it alternately hits my ear as a work of genius and as a set of expertly crafted parts (cheerleader chorus, power-ballad bridge) that never entirely gel. I think I’ve figured out what I find off about it: Avril’s enunciation. Hearing her bite down at the fricative ends of words that most users of post-Valley-girl upspeak would close with a “d” sound, or just leave hanging, makes Lavigne sound like an adult impersonating a teenager instead of empathizing with or standing in for one. Then again, that prissiness makes her sound more like the motherfucking princess she’s singing as; and so the song keeps turning. If I think about it any more than I already have it’ll probably end up my single of the year.
This week’s No. 1 is by a band that nestled into position immediately upon release, two weeks ago. As white R&B vocalists go, I’ll take Adam Levine over Jay Kay from Jamiroquai, which “Makes Me Wonder” resembles even more than it does the actual disco it’s patterned after. But I’d also advise Levine to purchase better material: what’s good for Jamiroquai isn’t necessarily good for you. Anyway, Ne-Yo would be No. 1 if he weren’t fucking up the scheme of things by selling tons of albums. “Because of You” is a damn good arrangement of a damn good song, which Ne-Yo sings with a agreeably kinetic delivery that, and this is important, doesn’t ooze the condition of being completely full of shit. Smart, sane R&B that actually sells is always an up; in this company, it makes Ne-Yo look like a near-genius.
There’s probably something genius about reclaiming “I’ll Stand By You” for country, but I have to admit: the first time I heard Underwood’s version, I felt aggrieved. This is funny because I never felt particularly assaulted whenever the original came on; it gave its requisite stirring-ballad lift and then disappeared till next time. (The Pretenders’ version peaked at No. 16 in December 1994.) In a sense, it shouldn’t have taken this long for someone to hit in America with a cover–Girls Aloud went to No. 1 in the U.K. in November 2004–though I semi-consciously figured the remake would be R&B, not country. Maybe my dashed expectations are why I recoiled. It sounded better after I relaxed, not to mention inevitable if not horribly obvious. But it still ain’t gonna be my wedding song.
That honor will surely belong to some iteration of the legend, “ft. Akon.” It’s certain that at the rate of productivity at which The Man They Couldn’t Age is currently propelling, Akon appearances will soon flood out of every satellite channel, like ravens hurtling out of windows in Hitchcock’s The Birds. Three of anything in the Top 10 at the same time is a rare occurrence, good records included. Granted, Nos. 8-9-10 isn’t as snappy a headline as Nos. 1-2-3. But it’s impressive, especially if you’re looking for something resembling a bright spot for corporate hegemony as an artistic practice. And without his supporting-player turn on “I Tried,” that Bone Thugs-n-Harmony comeback would have been even more improbable.
So here’s to Akon penetrating every cranny of modern existence. He can warble in the background of officially sanctioned Beatles catalogue-tweakings for Cirque Du Soleil; he can guest-freestyle on a Greensleeves Rhythm Album; he can star on his own pirate radio show in London; he can duet on an Aerosmith cover with Carrie Underwood; he can join the String Cheese Incident during its Bonnaroo encore. I’m sorry–did I say the single has won? Silly me. Akon has won–today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our godforsaken lives.