One-Week Superstar: Flo Rida’s Hot 100 Sales Bonanza

flo-rida.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”:

It’s weeks like this when you begin to see why record execs fear the Internet and hate Steve Jobs. In a post-holiday frame where 98% of albums–the industry’s cash cow–sell less than the week before, iTunes enjoys its annual post-Christmas, iPod-filling sales bonanza, fueling a record week of sales for 99-cent digital singles. The big beneficiary: Billboard’s current Hot 100 champ, Flo Rida, whose No. 1 smash with T-Pain, “Low,” becomes an all-out blockbuster, selling more downloads (nearly half a million) in a single week than any song in iTunes history.

The Magic of Post-Christmas: Ever since the dawn of accurate sales counts in 1991, we have learned more about the music-buying habits of the consumer, especially at holiday time. If the weeks leading up to Christmas give us a window into what people want to give each other–in other words, how our angelic sides behave–the week after Christmas tells us what the devil’s whispering in our ears.

It was that very first post-SoundScan post-Christmas, after all, that gave Nirvana its dawn-of-a-generation moment, as hordes of teens home for the holidays in 1991 returned the Michael Jackson CDs their grandparents gave them for Nevermind.

In 1998, DMX invented the hip-hop December blockbuster in similar fashion, dropping his second album on the counterintuitive release date of December 22 and ringing up 670,000 first-week sales, mostly to kids whose parents would never put anything called Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood under the tree. The decade since has seen a score of hip-hop acts try to replicate the same feat, holding CDs until the last three weeks of the year, to try to get a piece of that unaccompanied-minor-with-a-gift-card dollar.

The dawn of the iTunes age has done for singles what SoundScan did for albums, offering a snapshot into not so much people’s dirtiest impulses, as their most fleeting. Simply put, what songs do new iPod owners want to own now-now-now!!–and what artists do they never expect to own at full length?

Since the iTunes Store opened for business in 2003, songs both great and dreadful have benefited from the post-Santa sweepstakes, everything from OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” to D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” and Fergie’s “Fergalicious.” Three of the aforementioned came from albums that were also big sellers; but all four songs, as digital downloads, momentarily outsold their respective albums, at least to that point (D4L’s album never caught up with the sales of “Laffy Taffy”).

Fifty-two weeks ago, “Fergalicious” moved 294,000 digital singles in the seven days after Christmas, setting the iTunes sales record that held until this week. It’s interesting (blissful, almost) to recall a time, pre-“Big Girls Don’t Cry,” when Fergie was still perceived as a song-to-song act and her album was a semi-flop. One year later, with the Ferg crossed over to adult-leaning radio and The Dutchess triple-platinum, Fergie can rest easy. Which is good for her, because her iTunes record wasn’t just beaten, it was obliterated.

Riches of an Embarrassment: Just by being at the right place–the top of the charts–at the right time, Flo Rida sells a mind-blowing 470,000 digital downloads, topping Fergie’s year-old sales mark by nearly 60%. For the record, the country’s top-selling single outdoes this week’s top-selling album, Mary J. Blige’s Growing Pains, by nearly two-and-a-half-to-one.

Given how flaccid “Low” is as a song, one wonders if a few thousand of those buyers, on their maiden voyage through iTunes sometime on Boxing Day, simply decided to click “BUY” on the site’s current No. 1 seller as a 99-cent, what-the-hell lark. In general, what was already a hit before the holiday remains a hit afterward, just with more sales. (The exception: rising teen country star Taylor Swift, who rides two tracks, including one nearly year-old country hit, into the Top 20 for the first time.)

The Top 20 we’ve pasted below looks very static, positions-wise — but every song listed posts a digital-sales increase ranging from 123% to 330%. That former, smaller increase went to Sara Bareilles, whose “Love Song” was already selling strongly before Christmas. The latter, fatter increase belongs to Soulja Boy, whose old hit “Crank That” returns to the Top Five some four months after it peaked. The song’s 245,000 in sales is higher than in any week the song was No. 1 on the Hot 100 last fall. If I were Soulja Boy, I’d be worried: a nation of iPod carriers have voted on his career trajectory with a cacophony of 99-cent mouse clicks.

Stuff to Watch: The one Hot 100 chart factor we haven’t discussed at all this week is radio airplay, and there’s a good reason. Right up to New Year’s Day, radio playlists are dominated either by holiday fare or, in the case of Top 40 stations, year-end hit surveys. That makes it a nearly negligible factor on this week’s chart, where sales have such an outsize influence. But as I type, playlists are returning to normal, and that plus the inevitable comedown in digital sales will make next week’s chart rather topsy-turvy. Expect the old hits that saw comebacks this week, the “Crank That”s and “Stronger”s, to plummet again, and rising hits like Wyclef’s “Sweetest Girl” and Chris Brown’s “With You” to resume their march upward. The one current riser to watch will be Bareilles–her smaller sales increase this week suggests that the song is already a growing hit and if airplay catches up, she could make a play for the big chart’s Top Five after the new-year shakeup hits.

The top 20, with last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses:
1. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (LW No. 1, 10 weeks)
2. Alicia Keys, “No One” (LW No. 2, 17 weeks)
3. Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, “Apologize” (LW No. 3, 22 weeks)
4. Chris Brown feat. T-Pain, “Kiss Kiss” (LW No. 4, 16 weeks)
5. Soulja Boy, “Crank That (Soulja Boy), Soulja Boy Tell’em” (LW No. 11, 25 weeks)
6. Fergie, “Clumsy” (LW No. 5, 12 weeks)
7. Colbie Caillat, “Bubbly” (LW No. 7, 27 weeks)
8. Finger Eleven, “Paralyzer” (LW No. 6, 30 weeks)
9. Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” (LW No. 9, 9 weeks)
10. Jordin Sparks, “Tattoo” (LW No. 8, 14 weeks)
11. Baby Bash feat. T-Pain, “Cyclone” (LW No. 13, 23 weeks)
12. Wyclef Jean Featuring Akon, Lil Wayne & Niia, ” Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)” (LW No. 12, 16 weeks)
13. Sean Kingston, “Take You There” (LW No. 15, 9 weeks)
14. Kanye West, “Stronger” (LW No. 20, 23 weeks)
15. Rihanna feat. Ne-Yo, “Hate That I Love You” (LW No. 10, 18 weeks)
16. Kanye West feat. T-Pain, “Good Life” (LW No. 14, 16 weeks)
17. Taylor Swift, “Our Song” (LW No. 26, 14 weeks)
18. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 16, 5 weeks)
19. Taylor Swift, “Teardrops on My Guitar” (LW No. 23, 30 weeks)
20. Natasha Bedingfield feat. Sean Kingston, “Love Like This” (LW No. 18, 11 weeks)