Lady Business: It’s Been A Good Year For Females On The Hot 100

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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”:

For the first time in its three-month chart life, Alicia Keys’ “No One” sells fewer digital singles than it did the week before. But that’s no problem, as her continued radio dominance means she’s still tops on Billboard‘s Hot 100–even as one song given up for dead starts to make a comeback.

Radio to Timba – All Apologies: At No. 2 for the second time in its chart run, “Apologize” by Timbaland and underperforming chart debutantes OneRepublic earns a belated bullet thanks to radio, which hasn’t given up on the squishy ballad yet. “Apologize” set two consecutive records for total weekly plays on Top 40 radio; in the most recent week, it was spun more than 10,200 times by stations in that format. With only a few hundred totally pure Top 40 stations in the whole country, that’s a buttload of airplay.

So will “Apologize” finally reach No. 1? The problem for Timba and 1R–as we’ve chronicled here before–is that practically no other format is playing the song (no R&B/hip-hop, no modern rock), which means “Apologize” is charting with one hand and several other limbs tied behind its back. Actually, there is one format catching on: the ever-late-blooming adult-contemporary, where the song resides just outside the Top 20. Trouble is, AC is rapidly becoming an all-holiday format right now, so the song’s airplay boost is modest. The song posts a small increase in sales, which helps a bit, but ranked third among all digital sellers behind Alicia’s smash and Flo Rida’s “Low,” “Apologize” is still down 40-50,000 copies on the competition.

Bottom line: with “Low” seeming to slow down and “Apologize” having a tough fight to go the last mile, Alicia Keys will probably be sitting pretty through much of the holiday season. Which is appropriate, in a year where the ladies mostly dominated the gents on the singles charts.

That Was the Year That Was: We’ve spent most of this week debating the year-end album lists that have materialized from music rags. But while most critics still have a chance over the next month to make last-minute tweaks to their ballots, as far as Billboard‘s concerned, 2007 has been over since around Thanksgiving.

For decades now, Billboard has defined the “chart year” differently from the calendar year: it runs from the previous December 1 to the current November 30. (That’s so they can run a big year-end issue the week before Christmas, before everybody disappears from their offices for the holiday.) This weird temporal skew means a couple of things for chart geeks.

First, based on what we already know, we can start predicting what the No. 1 song of the year will be before Billboard makes it official in about three weeks.

Second, the timing means bad news for songs that peaked in the summer or later, and good news for songs that peaked as much as a year ago.

For some context, here’s a list of Billboard‘s No. 1 song of each year for the last 20 years, followed by the date the song actually peaked on the Hot 100:

1987: Bangles, “Walk Like an Egyptian” (20 Dec 1986) 1988: George Michael, “Faith” (12 Dec 1987) 1989: Chicago, “Look Away” (10 Dec 1988) 1990: Wilson Phillips, “Hold On” (9 June 1990) 1991: Bryan Adams, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” (27 July 1991) 1992: Boyz II Men, “End of the Road” (15 Aug 1992) 1993: Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You” (28 Nov 1992) 1994: Ace of Base, “The Sign” (12 Mar 1994) 1995: Coolio feat. L.V., “Gangsta’s Paradise” (9 Sep 1995) 1996: Los Del Rio, “Macarena (Bayside Boys mix)” (3 Aug 1996) 1997: Elton John, “Candle in the Wind 1997″/”Something About the Way You Look Tonight” (11 Oct 1997) 1998: Next, “Too Close” (25 Apr 1998) 1999: Cher, “Believe” (13 Mar 1999) 2000: Faith Hill, “Breathe” (22 Apr 2000) 2001: Lifehouse, “Hanging by a Moment” (16 June 2001) 2002: Nickelback, “How You Remind Me” (22 Dec 2001) 2003: 50 Cent, “In da Club” (8 Mar 2003) 2004: Usher feat. Lil Jon and Ludacris, “Yeah!” (28 Feb 2004) 2005: Mariah Carey, “We Belong Together” (4 June 2005) 2006: Daniel Powter, “Bad Day” (8 Apr 2006)

Notice anything? (Besides the overwhelming suckitude. I mean, Chicago in 1989? What was up with that? Ewwwww.) Fully 60% of these year-demolishing songs peaked before June 1, the midpoint of Billboard‘s chart year; in fact, a sizeable minority (five, or 25%) peaked before the prior year was even over. And out of the remaining eight that peaked after June 1, half had started scaling the Hot 100 by at least late winter or early spring. (Of the outliers, three–by Bryan Adams, Boyz II Men and Coolio–exploded late and fast thanks to their inclusion in hit summer movies. The major outlier, Elton John’s Princess Di-fueled 1997 monster, is an exception to chart history on so many levels it’s barely worth discussing here.)

The less obvious pattern–the kind of thing nerds like me only notice after years of chart-following–is that the big year-end winners tend not to be the sudden exploders but the slow-growers. A long stay at No. 1 helps, certainly (six of the above songs stayed in the penthouse for a double-digit number of weeks). But it’s not essential. Just over half of the above spent five weeks or less at the top, and two of them (by Faith Hill and Lifehouse) never went to No. 1 for even a single week.

So, combine all of the above information, and as far as 2007 is concerned, you’re looking for a smash hit that: grew steadily on the way up; peaked as early in the year as possible (last December-February would be best); and dithered on its way back down. Here are the likely candidates, and they’re almost all by women:

Beyoncé, “Irreplaceable”: The 800-booty gorilla. Spent 10 weeks on top of the charts, racking up not just huge sales but positively massive airplay totals. To us, this old-ass song is solidly ’06 material, but to Billboard, its timing for the ’07 charts was near-flawless, as it just started its long run at No. 1 by mid-December. It wasn’t a longevity champ or anything, but it definitely took its time coming down. The presumptive favorite.

Avril Lavigne, “Girlfriend”: The Energizer Bunny. Materialized in the Top 10 in March and then–as Matos noted in one of his fun “Project X” family polls–stayed there for some five months, a staggering run in the winner’s circle. Only spent a single week at No. 1 but was just so consistent week to week.

Gwen Stefani feat. Akon, “The Sweet Escape”: All about timing. It never went to No. 1, but it peaked at No. 2 in a long, ideally timed chart run starting in late winter, cresting in April and still holding as late as September. Amassed big sales points and consistent airplay throughout its run. And let’s face it, it’s your drugstore-checkout-line fungus of the year: “OOH-ooh…WHEEEEE!!-ooh…”

Rihanna feat. Jay-Z, “Umbrella”: The consensus pop song of the year. A seven-week Hot 100 champ, but more challenged than it might appear. Sales were huge and airplay was very strong, but it exploded too quickly, shooting to No. 1 from outside the Top 40 in a single week thanks almost entirely to its iTunes debut. Airplay peaked later than sales and ended up quite strong. But don’t be surprised if this places lower in the year-end survey than you expect.

T-Pain feat. Yung Joc, “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”: Apres moi, le deluge. For all his featured-vocal credits, the Painmeister’s biggest 2007 hit was his own, and like Avril’s hit, it hung around the chart’s upper reaches forever. Its run up the chart was a little slower than the fall back down, but it was well-timed and fueled by both Top 40 and heavy R&B airplay.

Plain White T’s, “Hey There Delilah”: The stealth bomb. Positively crawled up the list most of the winter and spring before finally emerging as a mid-summer smash, and its iTunes sales and adult-contemporary airplay can’t have hurt. Big hits by earnest white boys have pulled major upsets before (Lifehouse, Nickelback), and this one has real potential to do the same.

Fergie, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”: The hit that wouldn’t die. Fergie’s had a huge year on the Hot 100 in general, but most of her hits have been short-lived (e.g., “Glamorous,” which went to No. 1 last March–I defy anyone to hum a few bars to me now). “Girls,” however, with its big crossover to A/C radio, is the major exception, and its relatively slow rise and slow-back-down chart run is textbook for a year-end favorite. Only its late-spring-through-fall timing might keep it from the crown. Hell, take a look below–it’s still clinging to the bottom of the Top 20 as we speak.

Stuff to Watch: Staying focused on yearly charts instead of weekly ones, here’s one last, and slightly depressing, piece of advice–take a good look at what’s leading the Hot 100 this week. You think you’re sick of “No One” and “Apologize” now? We’ll be talking about them a year hence–they’ll probably be among the top Billboard hits of 2008. Talk about a meal that repeats on you…

This week’s top 20, with last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses: 1. Alicia Keys, “No One” (LW No. 1, 12 weeks) 2. Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, “Apologize” (LW No. 3, 17 weeks) 3. Chris Brown feat. T-Pain, “Kiss Kiss” (LW No. 2, 11 weeks) 4. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (LW No. 4, 5 weeks) 5. Soulja Boy, “Crank That (Soulja Boy), Soulja Boy Tell’em” (LW No. 6, 20 weeks) 6. Colbie Caillat, “Bubbly” (LW No. 5, 22 weeks) 7. Fergie, “Clumsy” (LW No. 8, 7 weeks) 8. Kanye West feat. T-Pain, “Good Life” (LW No. 7, 11 weeks) 9. Rihanna feat. Ne-Yo, “Hate That I Love You” (LW No. 12, 13 weeks) 10. Baby Bash feat. T-Pain, “Cyclone” (LW No. 9, 18 weeks) 11. Finger Eleven, “Paralyzer” (LW No. 11, 25 weeks) 12. Jordin Sparks, “Tattoo” (LW No. 16, 9 weeks) 13. Kanye West, “Stronger” (LW No. 10, 18 weeks) 14. Timbaland feat. Keri Hilson & D.O.E., “The Way I Are” (LW No. 13, 26 weeks) 15. matchbox twenty, “How Far We’ve Come” (LW No. 15, 13 weeks) 16. J. Holiday, “Bed” (LW No. 14, 19 weeks) 17. Playaz Circle feat. Lil Wayne, “Duffle Bag Boy ” (LW No. 22, 10 weeks) 18. Daughtry, “Over You” (LW No. 19, 16 weeks) 19. The-Dream, “Shawty is a 10” (LW No. 18, 12 weeks) 20. Fergie, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (LW No. 17, 32 weeks)