He Makes Us Wanna…: Usher’s Our Flo Rida-Killing Hero

Chris Molanphy | March 7, 2008 2:00 am

Ed. note: Chris “dennisobell” Molanphy, our resident chart guru, looks at the upward, downward, and lack of movement on this week’s Billboard charts:

Forget what I said last week: apparently there was pent-up demand for new Usher material.

Even after three intervening years that saw little more than a flop vanity movie and some wedding-related tabloid embarrassment, Mr. Raymond remains beloved by pop and R&B radio and, most importantly, consumers–198,000 iTunes buyers can’t be wrong.

Well, maybe they can. Let’s be honest: “Love in This Club” is probably the weakest leadoff single for any Usher album since he broke big a decade ago. Musically and production-wise, it can’t hold a candle to “You Make Me Wanna…,” “U Remind Me” or “Yeah!” But we’ll overlook that for at least a week, so deep is our gratitude that “Club” dethroned 10-week Billboard Hot 100 dominator Flo Rida, whose “Low” finally succumbs and shrinks to No. 2.

Our gratitude to Usher only deepens as we examine the rest of the Top Five. If he hadn’t made a 50-point surge to No. 1–the third-largest leap to the top in Hot 100 history, after Maroon 5’s “Makes Me Wonder” last year and Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” in 2002–Flo Rida would still be No. 1 this week. That’s less a testament to how strong “Low” still is than to how weak its three upper-chart challengers are: Chris Brown’s “With You,” Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” and Sara Bareilles’s “Love Song” each fall one slot, in lockstep, behind Flo Rida. (Bareilles at least retains her bullet, which means she could come back next week.) Message to Chris, Ri and Sara: thanks for nothing!

“Love in This Club” is Usher’s first real chart test of the iTunes era, and he passes with flying colors. When Confessions, the No. 1 album of 2004, spawned four No. 1 smashes four years ago, iTunes was going on one year old, and the Hot 100 was still compiled using only airplay points and (nearly negligible) physical single sales. Even if iTunes had been a factor on the Hot 100 back then, its effect on Usher’s performance might have been muted: BMG didn’t release the megasmash “Yeah!” to iTunes during most of its chart run, fearful of the effect on album sales. (When they finally relented sometime late in 2004, “Yeah!” became one of the top iTunes downloads of the year.)

But in 2008, with Usher’s album-drop date still up in the air and iTunes the dominant factor on chart performance, the label couldn’t reasonably expect a big hit without uncaging the song online. It seems to have been a worthwhile move: the comeback of one of Sony/BMG’s key superstars is now all but assured.

Here’s a rundown of the rest of this week’s charts:

• A quick word on two songs surging into the Top 20: Flo Rida’s followup hit, “Elevator,” makes a solid 12-space move up to No. 16 after his massive 72-point vault last week. I’ll say it again: this is decent performance, but “Elevator,” unlike “Low,” is going to have to earn its way up the chart the slow-and-steady way.

The even bigger mover, and the biggest sales gainer on the entire chart, is Janet Jackson’s beleaguered single “Feedback,” which after 10 weeks is finally both a Top 40 and Top 20 hit. Thanks to a flurry of digital sales spurred by the release of Discipline, the single leaps 34 places to No. 19. Now, the bad news: with little major-market airplay (“Feedback” is nowhere to be found on the Hot 100 Airplay chart), “Feedback” will fall back next week. If I were at Island Def Jam, I’d be teeing up the far, far better pop track “Rock With U” to radio now.

• Maura mentioned Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova’s “Falling Slowly” the other day, but just to emphasize how big an effect TV exposure has on digital sales, it’s the top debut on the Hot 100 this week at No. 61, thanks entirely to its 41,000 buck-a-song buyers in the week after the Oscars. The song never appeared on any Billboard chart while Once was in theaters, but is still considered current enough to make the charts. That’s not the case with a different TV-benefiting song, John Lennon’s 37-year-old “Imagine,” which sells 20,000 downloads thanks to David “Pageant Boy” Archuleta’s American Idol performance last week.

• Speaking of Idol: Jordin Sparks is still working to erase her reputation as the only one of the show’s winners not to score a No. 1 (or at least No. 2) hit. “No Air” shoots into the Top 10 and will probably make the Top Five in a week or two.

• With the Top 10 of the Hot 100 so sluggish (notwithstanding Usher), I find myself envying the turnover in the Hot Country chart’s Top 10. Carrie Underwood shoots up four spots to take No. 1 with “All American Girl”; her live performance on Saturday Night Live two weekends ago had to have helped. And among the two songs entering the winners’ circle is the indefatigable George Strait, with his roughly 2 millionth Top 10 hit. “I Saw God Today”? Try “I AM God Today”–so dominant is Strait that his earlier Top 10 hit, the Kenny Chesney duet “Shiftwork,” is still there.

• In the midst of a snoozy R&B Top 10, singer-songwriter The-Dream is quietly amassing his biggest hit as a lead artist: the glass-shattering, Smoove B-like “Falsetto” sneaks up to No. 4, outdoing the No. 6 R&B peak of “Shawty Is a 10.”

Bets on when his label finally releases his duet with Rihanna, Idolator fave “Livin’ a Lie”? (My theory: Rihanna’s people are waiting until her current album is bled dry of singles.)

• This week a tremendously unhip act who’s now on his fifth album scores his first Modern Rock Top 10 hit–after he’s crossed over to soccer moms and Starbucks denizens. This goes against the typical pattern; for example, suburban Volvo-rockers Nickelback are now considered poison to Modern programmers, years after their dominant “How You Remind Me” days. But surf-pop bro Jack Johnson defies convention, inching into the Top 10 with “If I Had Eyes”; prior to this, his best performance on the chart was the No. 22 peak of the Brushfire Fairytales track “Flake” back in 2002. Guess his new album’s whole dude-I’m-totally-bummed-out vibe did the trick.

Top 10s Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses:

Hot 100 1. Usher Featuring Young Jeezy, “Love In This Club” (LW No. 51, 3 weeks) 2. Flo Rida feat. T-Pain, “Low” (LW No. 1, 19 weeks) 3. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 2, 14 weeks) 4. Rihanna, “Don’t Stop the Music” (LW No. 3, 15 weeks) 5. Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” (LW No. 5, 18 weeks) 6. Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, “No Air” (LW No. 13, 9 weeks) 7. Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, “Apologize” (LW No. 6, 31 weeks) 8. Alicia Keys, “No One” (LW No. 5, 26 weeks) 9. Webbie, Lil’ Phat & Lil’ Boosie, “Independent” (LW No. 9, 15 weeks) 10. Snoop Dogg, “Sensual Seduction” (LW No. 7, 14 weeks)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Keyshia Cole, “I Remember” (LW No. 1, 18 weeks) 2. Alicia Keys, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” (LW No. 2, 19 weeks) 3. J. Holiday, “Suffocate” (LW No. 3, 22 weeks) 4. The-Dream, “Falsetto” (LW No. 7, 13 weeks) 5. Mary J. Blige, “Just Fine” (LW No. 4, 23 weeks) 6. Chris Brown, “With You” (LW No. 5, 14 weeks) 7. Mario, “Crying Out for Me” (LW No. 6, 27 weeks) 8. Shawty Lo, “Dey Know” (LW No. 11, 22 weeks) 9. Webbie, Lil’ Phat & Lil’ Boosie, “Independent” (LW No. 8, 20 weeks) 10. Snoop Dogg, “Sensual Seduction” (LW No. 9, 17 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Carrie Underwood, “All-American Girl” (LW No. 5, 14 weeks) 2. Rodney Atkins, “Cleaning This Gun (Come on in Boy)” (LW No. 1, 24 weeks) 3. Alan Jackson, “Small Town Southern Man” (LW No. 4, 17 weeks) 4. Kenny Chesney with George Strait, “Shiftwork” (LW No. 2, 20 weeks) 5. Chuck Wicks, “Stealing Cinderella” (LW No. 7, 28 weeks) 6. Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This” (LW No. 10, 13 weeks) 7. Gary Allan, “Watching Airplanes” (LW No. 6, 33 weeks) 8. George Strait, “I Saw God Today” (LW No. 12, 4 weeks) 9. Chris Cagle, “What Kinda Gone” (LW No. 11, 32 weeks) 10. Jason Aldean, “Laughed Until We Cried” (LW No. 14, 30 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Foo Fighters, “Long Road to Ruin” (LW No. 1, 19 weeks) 2. Linkin Park, “Shadow of the Day” (LW No. 3, 22 weeks) 3. Seether, “Fake It” (LW No. 2, 27 weeks) 4. Paramore, “crushcrushcrush” (LW No. 4, 16 weeks) 5. Puddle of Mudd, “Psycho” (LW No. 6, 18 weeks) 6. Foo Fighters, “The Pretender” (LW No. 5, 31 weeks) 7. Rise Against, “The Good Left Undone” (LW No. 8, 36 weeks) 8. Avenged Sevenfold, “Almost Easy” (LW No. 7, 22 weeks) 9. Jack Johnson, “If I Had Eyes” (LW No. 11, 13 weeks) 10. Radiohead, “Bodysnatchers” (LW No. 9, 19 weeks)