Doubled His Pleasure, Quadrupled His Fun: Chris Brown is 2008’s Stealth Chart Star

Chris Molanphy | December 12, 2008 4:30 am
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The release today of Billboard’s tallies for the year’s biggest U.S. singles and albums produce few jaw-dropping surprises. The top eight songs of the year, according to the Hot 100, come directly from the list of 10 songs in my predictions post last week.

So what about those two songs I called wrong? I’ll get to my bad calls later, but let’s focus for a moment on the act who surprised me by bum-rushing the year-end winner’s circle and taking Nos. 9 and 10.

That would be Chris Brown, who quietly dominates the year-end Hot 100, even though his name doesn’t appear any higher than No. 6 (with a featured-artist credit). In all, the 19-year-old’s name appears four times in the Top 20, three of them as a lead act.

That kind of dominance isn’t totally unheard of—just last year, Fergie appeared thrice in the year-end Top 20—but it’s still pretty remarkable. Combining all of his appearances on both the song and album charts, Billboard names Brown the top pop artist of the year, beating out such ubiquitous-in-2008 acts as Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Alicia Keys and Taylor Swift.

Throw in his supporting performance on another top 100–ranked song by David Banner; his six appearances on the year-end R&B/Hip-Hop list; his co-writing credit on one of Rihanna’s biggest hits; and the fact that one of his top-ranked hits doubled as a jingle for chewing gum, and Brown—more than Wayne, more than T-Pain—comes off as 2008’s true pop utilityman.

A brief rundown of all five of Brown’s appearances on the year-end Hot 100 and all six on the R&B/Hip-Hop list:

Hot 100: 6. “No Air” (Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown) 9. “With You” 10. “Forever” 19. “Kiss Kiss” (Chris Brown feat. T-Pain) 66. “Get Like Me” (David Banner feat. Chris Brown)R&B/Hip-Hop: 13. “Take You Down” 29. “With You” 42. “Get Like Me” (David Banner feat. Chris Brown) 43. “No Air” (Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown) 45. “Kiss Kiss” (Chris Brown feat. T-Pain) 90. “What Them Girls Like” (Ludacris with Chris Brown & Sean Garrett)

Like dozens of African-American acts over the years, Brown has successfully sold himself somewhat differently to white and black audiences. “With You,” his top song as a lead artist on the year-end Hot 100, is a fluttery ballad laden with Stargate’s pseudo-acoustic guitar sound. “Take You Down,” his top-ranked R&B track, is his requisite grown-n-sexy jam, with typically libidinous lyrics that inspire the now-legally-consenting young man to doff his shirt onstage.

For Rihanna, he offered “Disturbia” (the year’s No. 16 single), a track originally co-penned for himself before he realized, correctly, it would be better suited to a woman’s voice. For Jordin Sparks, he provided vocals on the megasmash “No Air” (the year’s No. 6 single), giving her post–American Idol career a shot in the arm after her leadoff single (“Tattoo”) charted decently but sluggishly. And for the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, he managed to sneak the electro-pop “Forever” all over Top 40 radio last summer before anyone realized the “Double your pleasure/Double your fun” lyric wasn’t just an allusion to Doublemint but an actual plug for the stuff.

What sort of impresses me about Brown is that he pulled off this string of successes after it briefly looked like his sophomore album was a dud. In the summer of 2007, Exclusive‘s leadoff single “Wall to Wall” kind of flopped, peaking at No. 22 on the R&B/Hip-Hop list and at No. 79 on the Hot 100. Brown needed a turnaround, fast. It didn’t hurt that his next single, “Kiss Kiss,” included a prominent assist from the indefatigable T-Pain, which sent the Autotuned jam to No. 1 on the big chart and No. 2 on the R&B list. But after that resuscitative triumph, Brown took the lead and never looked back.

It’s stuff like that that makes Chris Brown the quintessential 21st-century pop act: the ability to work past a flop—in an industry where track record doesn’t mean much anymore—while making like a polymath with the singing and the writing and the dancing (and the shilling). We can’t all have the boundless, springy energy of a 19-year-old, but maybe the message of Brown’s stealth success in 2008 is simple. When pop music, the economy and our very way of life are all circling the drain, maybe you just work a little harder.

Other highlights of the year-end charts – Top 20s for some of the big lists are reproduced in full below.

• I called Nos. 1 and 2 on the big chart exactly, with Flo Rida’s “Low” edging out Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love,” and the next six came from my predix list. As for my blown calls, Brown’s twofer replaced a pair of songs I thought would do better. Colbie Calliat’s “Bubbly” landed all the way down at No. 21, which means I underestimated how much of her heavy airplay and sales fell into the 2007 chart year (it’s always hard to tell). But the mild shocker was Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” which came in at No. 14, below (ha!) the song she evicted from the No. 1 slot last June, Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” (No. 13 for the year; Mr. Satriani, your check is in the mail).

• More repeat names on the big chart: She might be a year past “Umbrella,” but ’08 was arguably Rihanna’s best year overall. She appears three times in the Top 20, all below the Top 10—“Take a Bow” was her biggest at No. 12, followed by the aforementioned “Disturbia” and, one rung below it, “Don’t Stop the Music” at No. 17. She appears two more times on the list, supporting T.I. at No. 37 with his current chart-topper, “Live Your Life”; and supported by Ne-Yo at No. 62 with “Hate That I Love You.” Speaking of Ne-Yo, he’s on the list four times, two of them as a lead act— “Closer” at No. 20 and “Miss Independent” at No. 57; in addition to his Rihanna support, he’s also on Plies’ No. 38–ranked “Bust It Baby, Part 2.”

• If you expected a dominant performance by Lil Wayne, you won’t be too disappointed by his tally: eight appearances on the year-end Hot 100, and—good god!—12 appearances on the R&B/Hip-Hop list. Short of the Beatles in ’64, this kind of track record has got to be some kind of record, even if most of the tracks fall below the top 40 on both lists (that’s where Chris Brown has him beat).

Weezy’s credit breakdown includes four songs as a lead act on both lists (“Lollipop,” “A Milli,” “Got Money” and “Mrs. Officer”) plus a fifth, “Mr. Carter,” on R&B/Hip-Hop. As for featured credits, the sheer breadth is staggering, especially on urban radio: Wayne’s seven appearances there supported T-Pain, Usher, Playaz Circle, Birdman, Lloyd, Jay-Z and T.I., and the Game; the T-Pain and Game tracks made the Hot 100, along with two other Weezy-supported tracks by Wyclef and Kevin Rudolf. Obviously, “Lollipop” is Lil Wayne’s top track on both lists, coming in No. 4 on the Hot 100 and No. 6 on R&B/Hip-Hop.

• Unsurprisingly, Taylor Swift is the most-repeating act on the Country list, with four songs, but she pays a bit of a price for her speedy turnover of hits—none of those tracks makes the Top 20. The highest-ranked, in fact, barely makes the Top 30: “Should’ve Said No” at No. 29. That’s followed by “Picture to Burn” at No. 31, “Our Song” at No. 39 (a massive hit likely hurt because its chart performance was split between ’07 and ’08) and current smash “Love Story” at No. 55. Her performance is almost more impressive on the pop list, which isn’t her home format: “Our Song,” “Teardrops on My Guitar” and “Love Story” all make the year-end Hot 100, at Nos. 41, 48 and 81 respectively. With my local Top 40 station now spinning “Love Story” like it’s a Justin Timberlake cut, don’t be surprised to see Swift looking more like a pop act next year at this time.

• You wanna talk about repeating? Ugh: take a look at the Modern Rock list, whose Top 10 is half dominated by just two acts, Foo Fighters and Linkin Park. The shocker is which Foos cut takes the crown—not the record-setting “The Pretender,” which spent a staggering 18 weeks on top, but rather “Let It Die,” the third single from their latest album, which reached the top at midsummer. How? Here again, we’ve got a big hit whose chart performance was split between ’07 and ’08—which makes “Pretender’s” No. 2 placement for this year kind of amazing. As for “Die,” it actually benefited from its less explosive rise: weeks before it was chosen as a radio single, numerous stations were already playing it, no doubt boosting its total points.

For those of you who lean more toward the bro-rock or butt-rock side of things, the top Mainstream Rock song of the year was Puddle of Mudd’s “Psycho,” which as you see below also made No. 4 on the Modern list—the morphing of the rock formats continues! As for you latte-sippers, the top Triple-A (Adult Album Alternative) track was Jack Johnson’s “If I Had Eyes”

M.I.A. ’s “Paper Planes,” the most delightfully unexpected Top Five hit of 2008, ended up at No. 35 for the year. Below, I’ve included the top portions of the airplay and digital sales lists, and you will note that “Planes” ranked 20th among the year’s top-sellers. If radio had caught onto the track a little faster—it didn’t rank among the 100 most-played radio songs at all—it might’ve done even better.

• Hot 100 underperformers include Mariah Carey, whose “Touch My Body” finishes the year at No. 22—when you consider where her new-millennium competitor Leona Lewis ended up, that’s a bit humbling. David Cook did decently but not brilliantly for a newly minted American Idol champ, coming in at No. 69 with “The Time of My Life”; he did avoid the embarrassment of underperforming his Idol runner-up, as David Archuleta’s “Crush” made No. 76. Britney Spears appears twice on the list, but both tracks are toward the bottom, thanks to bad timing: “Womanizer” (No. 80) came out pretty late in the year, and “Piece of Me” (No. 83) was a late-’07 hit. Finally, Beyoncé is a surprise Hot 100 no-show, as her two 2008 smashes came too late in the year to qualify; expect high placement for both “If I Were a Boy” and “Single Ladies” on the 2009 list.

• A quick word about the year’s top album: I was right about one thing in my little rant last week—Josh Groban did indeed place higher than Lil Wayne. But the unexpected No. 1 album of 2008, according to Billboard, is Alicia Keys’s As I Am, something I didn’t see coming at all. (Groban’s Noël ranks second, and Weezy’s Tha Carter III ranks third.)

To recap, because Billboard’s chart year runs not from January to December, but from December to November, any album that sold well in the prior year’s holiday season gets a huge leg up in the year-end tally. That entirely explains the No. 1 placement by Keys, who sold about 1.8 million copies of As I Am—literally half of its total—in the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s 2007.

On the one hand, I’m encouraged that the album taking the title went on to sell more than a million copies in calendar 2008—and that it isn’t a damned Christmas album. As I pointed out last week, some 80% of the sales of Groban’s album took place during 2007’s holiday season—a shoddy way to win the prize as 2008’s top album. Still, if you care about the real calendar rather than Billboard’s, Keys’ album isn’t a much better winner than Groban’s. If Billboard started the clock in January, Keys would likely rank just outside the Top 10.

When Soundscan does its final sales tally for the year in early January, you can expect Tha Carter III, the year’s true dominator, to get its just reward as 2008’s actual top disc.

Year-End Charts: 2008 For Billboard’s purposes, the “chart year” ran from the issue dated Dec. 7, 2007, through the issue dated Nov. 29, 2008.

Top Hot 100 Songs of the Year 1. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (Poe Boy/Atlantic) 2. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (SYCO/J/RMG) 3. Alicia Keys, “No One” (MBK/J/RMG) 4. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (Cash Money/Universal Motown) 5. Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, “Apologize” (Mosley/Blackground/Interscope) 6. Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, “No Air” (19/Jive/Zomba) 7. Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” (Epic) 8. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love In This Club” (LaFace/Zomba) 9. Chris Brown, “With You” (Jive/Zomba) 10. Chris Brown, “Forever” (Jive/Zomba) 11. Ray J & Yung Berg, “Sexy Can I” (Knockout/DEJA 34/Epic/Koch) 12. Rihanna, “Take a Bow” (SRP/Def Jam) 13. Coldplay, “Viva La Vida” (Capitol) 14. Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” (Capitol) 15. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (Grand Hustle/Atlantic) 16. Rihanna, “Disturbia” (SRP/Def Jam) 17. Rihanna, “Don’t Stop the Music” (SRP/Def Jam) 18. Natasha Bedingfield, “Pocketful of Sunshine” (Phonogenic/Epic) 19. Chris Brown feat. T-Pain, “Kiss Kiss” (Jive/Zomba) 20. Ne-Yo, “Closer” (Def Jam)

Top Digital Songs of the Year 1. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (Poe Boy/Atlantic) 2. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (SYCO/J/RMG) 3. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (Cash Money/Universal Motown) 4. Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” (Capitol) 5. Coldplay, “Viva La Vida” (Capitol) 6. Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” (Epic) 7. Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, “Apologize” (Mosley/Blackground/Interscope) 8. Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, “No Air” (Jive/Zomba) 9. Rihanna, “Disturbia” (SRP/Def Jam) 10. Madonna feat. Justin Timberlake, “4 Minutes” (Warner Bros.) 11. Rihanna, “Don’t Stop The Music” (SRP/Def Jam) 12. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (Grand Hustle/Atlantic) 13. Natasha Bedingfield, “Pocketful of Sunshine” (Phonogenic/Epic) 14. Pink, “So What” (LaFace/Zomba) 15. Alicia Keys, “No One” (MBK/J/RMG) 16. Chris Brown, “Forever” (Jive/Zomba) 17. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love in This Club” (LaFace/Zomba) 18. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (Atlantic/RRP) 19. Rihanna, “Take a Bow” (SRP/Def Jam) 20. M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (XL/Interscope)

Top Hot 100 Airplay Songs of the Year 1. Alicia Keys, “No One” (MBK/J/RMG) 2. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (Poe Boy/Atlantic) 3. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (SYCO/J/RMG) 4. Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, “Apologize” (Mosley/Blackground/Interscope) 5. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (Cash Money/Universal Motown) 6. Chris Brown, “With You” (Jive/Zomba) 7. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love in This Club” (LaFace/Zomba) 8. Jordin Sparks Duet With Chris Brown, “No Air” (19/Jive/Zomba) 9. Ray J & Yung Berg, “Sexy Can I” (Knockout/DEJA 34/Epic/Koch) 10. Rihanna, “Take A Bow” (SRP/Def Jam) 11. Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” (Epic) 12. Chris Brown, “Forever” (Jive/Zomba) 13. Ne-Yo, “Closer” (Def Jam) 14. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (Grand Hustle/Atlantic) 15. Mariah Carey, “Touch My Body” (Island) 16. Chris Brown feat. T-Pain, “Kiss Kiss” (Jive/Zomba) 17. Alicia Keys, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” (MBK/J/RMG) 18. Colbie Caillat, “Bubbly” (Universal Republic) 19. Rihanna, “Don’t Stop The Music” (SRP/Def Jam) 20. Kardinal Offishall feat. Akon, “Dangerous” (KonLive/Geffen/Interscope)

Top R&B/Hip-Hop Songs of the Year 1. Alicia Keys, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” (MBK/J/RMG) 2. Keyshia Cole, “I Remember” (Imani/Geffen/Interscope) 3. Mary J. Blige, “Just Fine” (Matriarch/Geffen/Interscope) 4. Keyshia Cole, “Heaven Sent” (Imani/Geffen/Interscope) 5. J. Holiday, “Suffocate” (Music Line/Capitol) 6. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (Cash Money/Universal Motown) 7. Jazmine Sullivan, “Need U Bad” (J/RMG) 8. Alicia Keys, “No One” (MBK/J/RMG) 9. Jennifer Hudson, “Spotlight” (Arista/RMG) 10. Trey Songz, “Can’t Help But Wait” (Song Book/Atlantic) 11. Jaheim, “Never” (Divine Mill/Atlantic) 12. Mario, “Crying Out For Me” (3rd Street/J/RMG) 13. Chris Brown, “Take You Down” (Jive/Zomba) 14. Lil Wayne, “A Milli” (Cash Money/Universal Motown) 15. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love in This Club” (LaFace/Zomba) 16. Plies feat. Ne-Yo, “Bust It Baby, Part 2” (Big Gates/Slip-N-Slide/Atlantic) 17. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (Grand Hustle/Atlantic) 18. The-Dream, “I Luv Your Girl” (Radio Killa/Def Jam) 19. Webbie feat. Lil’ Phat & Lil’ Boosie, “Independent” (Trill/Asylum/Atlantic) 20. Alicia Keys, “Teenage Love Affair” (MBK/J/RMG)

Top Country Songs of the Year 1. James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” (Raybaw/Warner Bros./WRN) 2. George Strait, “I Saw God Today” (MCA Nashville) 3. Alan Jackson, “Small Town Southern Man” (Arista Nashville) 4. Darius Rucker, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” (Capitol Nashville) 5. Blake Shelton, “Home” (Warner Bros./WRN) 6. Phil Vassar, “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” (Universal South) 7. Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This” (Capitol Nashville) 8. Keith Anderson, “I Still Miss You” (Columbia) 9. Rodney Atkins, “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)” (Curb) 10. Brad Paisley, “I’m Still A Guy” (Arista Nashville) 11. Toby Keith, “She Never Cried In Front Of Me” (Show Dog Nashville) 12. Alan Jackson, “Good Time” (Arista Nashville) 13. Jimmy Wayne, “Do You Believe Me Now” (Valory) 14. Chris Cagle, “What Kinda Gone” (Capitol Nashville) 15. Kenny Chesney With The Wailers, “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven” (Blue Chair/BNA) 16. Carrie Underwood, “Just A Dream” (19/Arista/Arista Nashville) 17. Keith Urban, “You Look Good In My Shirt” (Capitol Nashville) 18. Lady Antebellum, “Love Don’t Live Here” (Capitol Nashville) 19. Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ On A Woman” (Arista Nashville) 20. Rascal Flatts, “Every Day” (Lyric Street)

Top Modern Rock Tracks of the Year 1. Foo Fighters, “Let It Die” (Roswell/RCA/RMG) 2. Foo Fighters, “The Pretender” (Roswell/RCA/RMG) 3. Weezer, “Pork And Beans” (DGC/Geffen/Interscope) 4. Puddle of Mudd, “Psycho” (Flawless/Geffen/Interscope) 5. Seether, “Fake It” (Wind-up) 6. Seether, “Rise Above This” (Wind-up) 7. Foo Fighters, “Long Road To Ruin” (Roswell/RCA/RMG) 8. Disturbed, “Inside The Fire” (Reprise) 9. Linkin Park, “Shadow Of The Day” (Warner Bros.) 10. Linkin Park, “Given Up” (Warner Bros.) 11. The Bravery, “Believe” (Island) 12. Saving Abel, “Addicted” (Skiddco/Virgin/Capitol) 13. The Offspring, “Hammerhead” (Columbia) 14. Staind, “Believe” (Flip/Atlantic) 15. Carolina Liar, “I’m Not Over” (Atlantic) 16. Coldplay, “Viva La Vida” (Capitol) 17. 3 Doors Down, “It’s Not My Time” (Universal Republic) 18. The Offspring, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” (Columbia) 19. Death Cab For Cutie, “I Will Possess Your Heart” (Atlantic) 20. Chevelle, “I Get It” (Epic)