Ed. 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”:
It’s been charting for less than three months, but Alicia Keys’ “No One” feels like it’s been around forever. It broke into the Top 10 of Billboard‘s Hot 100 after only four weeks, but then its movement slowed to a crawl; in each of the last four weeks, it’s only moved up one spot. But that last one-spot move gives Keys’ squonky, fascinatingly weird ballad the win, as it evicts Chris Brown’s “Kiss Kiss” from No. 1.
Nothing Succeeds Like Success: Sometimes the charts really do tell the industry something it didn’t already know. Sure, “No One” is already popular–it’s led in overall U.S. radio airplay for weeks. Sure, Keys is beloved, and the album was expected to land successfully (even if some of us thought she’d be facing much stiffer competition). But I doubt whether anyone in the industry–besides Clive Davis–expected As I Am to ring up the second-fattest sales week of 2007, outdoing the mark set by the Eagles just two weeks ago.
In short, the message of this week isn’t just “Alicia Keys is popular”; it’s “You forgot how goddamned crazy-popular Alicia Keys is, and you’d better get behind her ASAP.” Keys thumping Celine Dion by a three-to-one margin gives the greenlight to any radio program director still holding out on “No One” to give it a spin. The song has yet to even appear on the adult-contemporary chart, which might seem odd given the song’s dayshift-friendly tempo. Keys has actually had a middling career at A/C stations thus far (only 2004′s “If I Ain’t Got You” came close to the chart’s Top 10), and as we’ll see in a minute, A/C radio is the key to chart longevity. So if more conservatively programmed stations, of any format, jump on the “No One” bandwagon, Keys’ squeaker of a No. 1 hit could settle in for a long run, a la the 10-week, airplay-fueled camp-out enjoyed by Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” roughly one year ago.
Such an airplay surge for Keys could be the one thing that holds back her main Hot 100 competitor, “Low” by rapper Flo Rida and… um, vocoderizer T-Pain. Up two more spots to No. 4, “Low” is now the second-best-selling digital single (and the top seller on iTunes; Keys edges out “Low” as Billboard‘s overall best-seller, thanks to other online sources like AOL and digital streams). Even after its explosion into the Top 10 last week, it’s hard to say where “Low” goes from here, because its airplay still lags “No One” by a country mile. If Keys wilts more than we’re expecting next week and “Low” takes a commanding lead in digital sales, “No One” could be shown the door. But Flo Rida’s got to catch up in airplay fast if he’s going to capitalize on his fat sales and enjoy the kind of chart run seen by Soulja Boy’s “Crank That.”
Carrie’s Not So Merry: As Jess and Maura have pointed out, in recent years adult-contemporary radio has adopted the crazy-making all-Christmas format with gusto. Mere moments after doorstep jack-o-lanterns’ candles are extinguished, numerous A/C stations stop spinning Celine 30 times a day to start burning out the Mel Torme chestnuts and Mariah Carey rafter-raisers. If there’s a silver lining to this (and, god help us, it’s microscopic), it’s that A/C finally gives its tight, slow-moving playlists a rest for two months, sparing us the umpteen-billionth play of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten.” However, for artists who depend on A/C play, there are unintended consequences.
This year’s casualty, if you can muster even a shred of pity for her: Carrie Underwood. Regular readers of the column will know we’ve been watching the record-setting Hot 100 run of her deathless hit “Before He Cheats” as it’s climbed the list of all-time longevity champions. Now 64 weeks old, “Cheats” is the third-longest-lived song in Hot 100 history, an amazing achievement and even a respectable one, given the song’s twangy sound and unlikely crossover from country to pop radio. But virtually the only thing keeping the song alive at this point is A/C radio airplay. This week, “Cheats” falls to No. 47, just three notches above the line where Billboard rules mandate that old songs must be permanently removed from the chart.
The influx of all-Christmas playlists will inevitably lead to a dropoff for Underwood’s old smash, probably by next week. Which is a shame, because she’s just two weeks away from taking over second place on the all-time list from its undeserving holder: Jewel’s “You Were Meant for Me/Foolish Games,” a “two-sided” hit that exploited a mid-’90s chart technicality to combine the runs of two separate radio hits into a 65-week chart listing. Underwood’s more impressive, single-song hit will also fall well short of beating the champ, icky wedding staple “How Do I Live” by LeAnn Rimes (69 weeks).
Underwood’s got a lot to be thankful for after the run she’s had. But if she’s feeling blue about losing out to an Alaskan yodeler and another country-to-pop ingénue, she should take it up with Mannheim Steamroller.
Stuff to Watch: As if we didn’t have enough reasons to be annoyed by Fergie, this week her “Clmusy” moves into the Top 10 by displacing two marginally more interesting hits: Finger Eleven’s “Paralyzer” and Rihanna’s “Hate That I Love You.” Both of the latter songs receive “backward bullets” from Billboard, meaning they grew in sales and/or airplay even while getting shoved backward on the chart. I continue to be amazed that the stick-to-your-brain Rihanna/Ne-Yo ballad isn’t charting better, but it will probably wilt soon; Z100 in New York has already moved on to Ri’s fourth single from Good Girl Gone Bad, the club-friendly “Don’t Stop the Music.” Expect that to debut soon, and expect “Clumsy” to continue its inevitable march into the Top Five.
The top 20, with last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses:
1. Alicia Keys, “No One” (LW No. 2, 11 weeks)
2. Chris Brown, “Kiss Kiss” (LW No. 1, 10 weeks)
3. Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, “Apologize” (LW No. 3, 16 weeks)
4. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (LW No. 6, 4 weeks)
5. Colbie Caillat, “Bubbly” (LW No. 5, 21 weeks)
6. Soulja Boy, “Crank That (Soulja Boy), Soulja Boy Tell’em” (LW No. 4, 19 weeks)
7. Kanye West feat. T-Pain, “Good Life” (LW No. 7, 10 weeks)
8. Fergie, “Clumsy” (LW No. 12, 6 weeks)
9. Baby Bash feat. T-Pain, “Cyclone” (LW No. 8, 17 weeks)
10. Kanye West, “Stronger” (LW No. 9, 17 weeks)
11. Finger Eleven, “Paralyzer” (LW No. 10, 24 weeks)
12. Rihanna feat. Ne-Yo, “Hate That I Love You” (LW No. 11, 12 weeks)
13. Timbaland feat. Keri Hilson & D.O.E., “The Way I Are” (LW No. 13, 25 weeks)
14. J. Holiday, “Bed” (LW No. 14, 18 weeks)
15. matchbox twenty, “How Far We’ve Come” (LW No. 15, 12 weeks)
16. Jordin Sparks, “Tattoo” (LW No. 18, 8 weeks)
17. Fergie, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (LW No. 16, 31 weeks)
18. The-Dream, “Shawty is a 10″ (LW No. 17, 11 weeks)
19. Daughtry, “Over You” (LW No. 23, 15 weeks)
20. Pink, “Who Knew” (LW No. 20, 24 weeks)