She’s Got One Thing Going for Her: Britney Two Heartbeats Away from Soulja Boy Atop Hot 100

tnbritney-single-cover.jpgEd. note: Chris “dennisobell” Molanphy, our resident chart guru, looks at the upward, downward, and lack of movement on the Billboard Hot 100 in the latest installment of “100 And Single”:

Would this improve the judge’s opinion at all? During the worst week of her annus horribilis, Britney Spears’ comeback single “Gimme More” does even better than we suggested last week. “More” slams into the top three on Billboard’s Hot 100, just two spaces below the still-reigning “Crank That (Soulja Boy).” Just think–besides Kanye West, the only thing standing between Britney and her second career No. 1 single is a hit by a guy as young as she was when she recorded the first one. Kind of redeems all the other crap going in her life, doesn’t it? Um…right?

Perhaps Timba Can Tell Britney How To “Apologize”: The chart’s top two positions, occupied by Soulja Boy and West’s “Stronger,” are virtually the only ones static in this week’s Top 10, as three songs break up the party, each soaring a minimum of 16 spaces. The biggest explosion, of course, is by Spears, who shoots 65 places to No. 3 in a jump fueled almost entirely by digital sales; she’s now tops on iTunes and has sold 179,000 downloads overall. Interestingly, when Soulja returned to No. 1 last week, his one-week sales number was around 4,000 higher; so Spears’s number is impressive but not remarkable. Surprising as this sounds, “Gimme” is now instantly the second-biggest hit of Britney’s career and her first Top Five single since “…Baby One More Time” went to No. 1 in the winter of ’99. (For the record, the great “Toxic” peaked at No. 9 in 2004.) For “Gimme” to remain a chart fixture, airplay will have to pick up, and her radio scans were practically static this week; so as we’ve been saying on Idolator for weeks, you probably shouldn’t expect this burst of 99-cent curiosity/pity sales to continue. “Gimme” could be off our radar not long after Halloween.

Just missing the Top Five is the indefatigable Timbaland, who scores the third straight hit from the poorly reviewed Shock Value: “Apologize” leaps to No. 6 from outside the Top 20, even while his deathless summer smash “The Way I Are” remains planted in the Top Five. At this point, Timba has to regard the Shock project as a mixed success. His segue from rapping on Nelly Furtado’s and Justin Timberlake’s hits to scoring his own–including two tracks without their help–has been remarkably smooth (somewhere in a Florida mansion this week, Scott Storch is surely grinding his gold-fronted teeth). But all this radio love isn’t doing much for the album, which reaches the half-year mark this week with only 687,000 cumulative sales. That’s respectable, until you consider that Kanye West and 50 Cent each sold that many albums in a single week last month. Also, for what it’s worth, the third song slamming into the Top 10 this week is fueling a much bigger album-sales surge…

Told Her That You Love Her More: Not since 1990, when Suzanne Vega scored a smash on the pop and R&B charts with a dance remix of an a cappella song, has a whiter-than-white girl found herself with an unlikelier Top 10 hit. Feist’s “1, 2, 3, 4″ continues its improbable climb, gliding 20 spaces to No. 8. As Maura reported yesterday, the tune’s appeal to folks with pleated pants, minivans and mortgages is fueling a burst of album sales for Feist’s The Reminder, but the chart performance of the song itself is even more remarkable. To those of you who said last week, “Well, triple-A stations are playing it, right?”–believe me, folks, radio has nothing to do with this hit. On Billboard’s Hot 100 Airplay chart–which supplies data for the radio side of the main Hot 100 and incorporates all currents-based radio formats–Feist’s song appears nowhere in the Top 75. What Leslie Feist has here is still an all-sales phenomenon, as incessant plays of Apple’s iPod Nano commercial send thousands to their computers to buy the perky little ditty featured within. And they’re not just heading to iTunes, either: “1, 2, 3, 4″ is the top-seller on Amazon’s brand-new MP3 store, which just launched last week. So, assuming Billboard is including Amazon results in its digital-sales tally, Feist’s sales there are fueling her chart climb. Ironic, ain’t it? Amazon’s best-selling MP3 is a song people learned about from Apple–the very company Amazon and the labels supporting its new store are hoping to defeat.

Shaken Up: The three big Top 10 debuts mean several songs are given their walking papers, including Pink’s late-blooming “Who Knew,” 50 Cent’s cursed “Ayo Technology” and–wow, finally!–Nickelback’s umpteenth hit, “Rockstar.” The latter is notable only because “Rockstar” is, in its 34th week, belatedly breaking at some of the Top 40 and Hot AC stations that were holding out; so while we snobs might delight at Kroeger & co. not scoring a bigger hit, you can probably expect “Rockstar” to continue to pollute our environments for months to come, as more slow-moving stations pile on.

Speaking of slow-moving hits, those of you following the continuing saga of Carrie Underwood’s race for the record books should know that “Before He Cheats” slips out of the Top 40 (down to No. 44), but holds on for a 57th week on the Hot 100. This moves the song past Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” and Faith Hill’s “The Way You Love Me,” both 56-weekers. She’s within striking distance of the all-time longevity top five, but will have to hold on for two more weeks to move past two 58-week easy-listeners, Santana’s “Smooth” and the Fray’s “How to Save a Life.” For those of you thinking, How hard can this be? She’s only at No. 44!: Billboard removes songs from the chart that are older than 20 weeks and fall below No. 50–so if Underwood drops more than six rungs next week, “Cheats” is gone for good.

Stuff to Watch: Next week, let’s see if Kanye West’s latest single, “Good Life,” rebounds on the chart after a weird five-space “backward bullet”–the “P.Y.T.”-sampling song gets pushed back to No. 18 from No. 13, but simultaneously earns Billboard’s “Greatest Gainer/Airplay” award, meaning that a slew of new stations are pumping it even as its iTunes sales soften. Also, keep an eye on Justin Timberlake’s sixth (yes, seriously) FutureSex/LoveSounds hit, the slow jam “Until the End of Time,” which is creeping quietly toward the Top 40 but might see a burst of activity soon, thanks to a just-released-to-radio remix that transforms the song into a BeyoncĂ© duet.

The top 20, with last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses:
1. Soulja Boy, “Crank That (Soulja Boy), Soulja Boy Tell’em” (LW No. 1, 12 weeks)
2. Kanye West, “Stronger” (LW No. 2, 10 weeks)
3. Britney Spears, “Gimme More” (LW No. 68, 4 weeks)
4. Timbaland feat. Keri Hilson & D.O.E., “The Way I Are” (LW No. 3, 18 weeks)
5. Fergie, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (LW No. 4, 24 weeks)
6. Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, “Apologize” (LW No. 22, 9 weeks)
7. J. Holiday, “Bed” (LW No. 5, 11 weeks)
8. Feist, “1, 2, 3, 4″ (LW No. 28, 3 weeks)
9. Keyshia Cole feat. Missy Elliott & Lil Kim, “Let It Go” (LW No. 7, 15 weeks)
10. Colbie Caillat, “Bubbly” (LW No. 10, 14 weeks)
11. Nickelback, “Rockstar” (LW No. 8, 34 weeks)
12. Alicia Keys, “No One” (LW No. 16, 4 weeks)
13. 50 Cent feat. Justin Timberlake & Timbaland, “Ayo Technology” (LW No. 6, 8 weeks)
14. Pink, “Who Knew” (LW No. 9, 17 weeks)
15. matchbox twenty, “How Far We’ve Come” (LW No. 11, 5 weeks)
16. Plies feat. T-Pain, “Shawty” (LW No. 12, 16 weeks)
17. Baby Bash feat. T-Pain, “Cyclone” (LW No. 18, 10 weeks)
18. Kanye West feat. T-Pain, “Good Life” (LW No. 13, 3 weeks)
19. Rascal Flatts, “Take Me There” (LW No. 50, 10 weeks)
20. Justin Timberlake, “LoveStoned” (LW No. 17, 13 weeks)