EMI Fiddles, Smooches, And Wins The Hot 100 Race While Rome Burns

Chris Molanphy | June 20, 2008 3:30 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:

EMI is the Bear Stearns of the music industry–once mighty, now declining rapidly and ripe for takeover and obliteration. But you’d never know it looking at the new Billboard Hot 100: two singles on EMI’s U.S. flagship label, the 66-year-old Capitol Records, sit in the top two positions.

The chart is crowned by Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida,” the band’s first-ever chart-topper and arguably the first No. 1 hit fueled entirely by Apple Inc. One lip-smack below them is Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” which reaches No. 2–the latest leap in an inexorable march that will probably put her atop the chart before you fire up your July 4 barbecue.

Whether Perry ousts Chris Martin & co. from the penthouse next week or the week after will depend on the public’s buying behavior this week, following the release of Coldplay’s new blockbuster album. The interplay of song sales and album sales in the iTunes era is hard to predict–as shown by Lil Wayne’s drop from No. 1, which we called wrong in a major way just last week.

Let’s start with Capitol’s victory. According to Billboard, the one-two punch of Coldplay and Perry marks the first time Capitol–that specific label, not any EMI/Capitol-distributed subsidiaries–has owned the Hot 100’s Top Two since the first week of September 1967. You might guess that the Beatles were involved, and they were, but at No. 2. The gold medalist back then was Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” which took over No. 1 from the Fabs’ “All You Need Is Love.” So: a coltish female and a best-selling British group–it’s the same combo as this week, albeit in reverse order. (Let’s hope history repeats and Perry never makes the Top 20 again, like Gentry, who deserved better.)

As for Coldplay, the title track from their new album remains the country’s top-selling digital track for a third week, shifting roughly another quarter-million downloads. Until now, the song has been charting on the Hot 100 almost entirely from sales points, but radio finally joins the party; Billboard reports that the song is receiving top-20 airplay at a couple of niche formats, modern rock and adult top 40 (i.e., pop stations that appeal to your 30/40-something rugrat-raisers and Starbucks-drinkers). As a result, “Viva” makes its first appearance on the all-genre Hot 100 Airplay list, ranking as the 65th most-played song in the country.

Still, let’s not kid ourselves: sales points are what made “Viva la Vida” a smash. And those sales have been exclusive to one store, iTunes. (As of this week, you can finally buy the song at Amazon, but those sales don’t fall into the current chart’s tracking week.) The million-plus iTunes purchases of “Viva” over the last month have been fueled almost entirely by the aggressively colorful Apple television commercial that’s been running since late May.

For months, we’ve been watching the chart fortunes of the songs Apple chooses for its highest-profile iPod and Macintosh ads. Each has made a bigger splash than the last: from Feist’s iPod nano-fueled hit last fall, which reached the Top 10; to Yael Naïm’s MacBook Air-shilling smash this winter, which debuted in the Top 10. Now, Apple can claim its biggest win ever: a No. 1 hit it created virtually alone.

Am I overstating things? Sure, Coldplay is one of the world’s biggest bands, and anything they release is bound to sell, Apple ad or no Apple ad.

But in the last month, we’ve had a nearly perfect, scientifically sound experiment: two simultaneous Coldplay singles with completely different promotional strategies. The first single, “Violet Hill,” was released earlier and promoted aggressively to rock radio, and the band shot a Beatlesque music video, which has been receiving copious MTV play. The other single, “Viva,” was released not long after “Violet,” but it was promoted to radio later, and it did not receive any formal video treatment–except for Apple’s TV ad.

In this accidental Pepsi Challenge, “Viva” has been the bigger hit by far, outselling “Violet” by as much as six to one. Apple can legitimately point to their ad as the X-factor: unlike “Violet,” “Viva” has had little airplay, no video play and no other TV exposure except a taped performance on the MTV Movie Awards–which was two weeks ago and didn’t seem to overwhelmingly help the song one way or another.

In short, any record executives rooting for a waning of Apple’s influence over their industry have to look at this week’s Hot 100 as very, very ominous news.

The only thing that will stop the Coldplay song’s dominant chart run now is if fans decide to buy their album to the exclusion of their singles. You’d think I could make that prediction confidently. But I’m a little gun-shy this week, after I confidently–and wrongly–predicted in my last column that the owner of the next No. 1 album would also remain on top of the Hot 100.

It seemed like such a safe bet. We’d been talking about Lil Wayne’s stunning, expected million-plus album sales for days. In the most triumphant week of his career, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the all-around Weezy frenzy would keep the spring-dominating single “Lollipop” at No. 1 for another week?

You’d think that, but you’d be very wrong. “Lollipop” falls to No. 3 on the big chart, and that small move masks how seriously the song cratered. Digital sales of “Lollipop” in all its flavors–single version and album version, explicit and “clean”–drop, collectively, by more than a third from the week before (99,000 total downloads, down from 154,000). If not for radio airplay–“Lollipop” is still the most played song in the country–the song probably would’ve fallen out of the Top Five entirely. What happened?

Apparently, last week’s singles-chart dominance by Weezy was just an amuse-bouche for the release of Tha Carter III. Once the album was available, fans sensibly decided that buying it was a sounder financial move than continuing to buy a half-dozen singles piecemeal. Simple economics, right?

Except, until recently, this hasn’t been the trend. Back in November, I wrote in this column that, counterintuitively, “the release of an album seems to help, not hurt, already-rising songs whose release preceded their respective albums.”

We had plenty of such evidence last fall. Alicia Keys reached No. 1 with “No One” the same week her album debuted with an impressive three-quarter-million in sales. Carrie Underwood saw her single “So Small” fly up the Hot 100 the same week her album debuted at No. 1. And how about the best Lil Wayne analogy of all: Kanye West, who debuted last September with 950,000 albums, nearly identical to Weezy’s total; in that same week, his “Stronger” shot to No. 1 on the Hot 100. In all of these cases, the release of the album seemed to serve as fanfare to the buying public: hey! buy my album, or if you’re too cheap, go to iTunes and download the first single.

Not this time. I have two theories about what’s changed since last fall.

1. The cumulative effect of multiple singles. You don’t release a half-dozen songs from an album, and score measurable airplay on all of them, without people deciding that album must be worth buying. Unlike Keys, Underwood and West, Weezy was too impatient to release just one leadoff single. Even if reviews for Tha Carter III have been a bit tepid, it’s blindingly obvious that an album with six preordained hits must be worth a Hamilton. Which makes 99 cents for “Lollipop” seem like less of a deal.

2. The digital market still evolving–and becoming more album-friendly. The longer iTunes becomes entrenched as the nation’s No. 1 music retailer, the more comfortable people get with the idea of buying song bundles there. The consumer who used to think, “digital is for singles, plastic is for albums” is probably coming around to the idea that albums can be digital, too. Never mind the fact that dozens of brick-and-mortar music stores have closed since last Christmas.

Which brings us back to Coldplay: both of the above trends apply to them. They have front-loaded the new album with two established hits, and they are megastars on iTunes. Early word has the album debuting with a record week of digital sales–they scored more than 140,000 downloads on the first day. By that rationale, sales of “Viva la Vida,” the song, are sure to drop as fans devote their dollars to the full-length. Looking at the best-sellers on iTunes as of today, it’s a little hard to tell (more than one version of the song is selling), but “Viva” does appear to be down overall.

If I were betting man, I’d lay money that the dreaded Perry will be No. 1 on the Hot 100 next week. But you didn’t hear that from me.

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

• While we’re discussing the ways in which I was wrong, let me highlight two other recent botched calls.

Perhaps injecting my bias a bit overmuch, last week I speculated that the Pussycat Dolls’ new single, “When I Grow Up,” would recede this week. After all, the song’s big leap last week was the result of the MTV Movie Awards, and that show doesn’t exactly have legs. Oh, how wrong I was: “Grow Up” springs forward 13 places to No. 18, spurred by a 16% rise in digital sales. I forgot what a force the Dolls have always been at iTunes, where hits like “Stickwitu” and “Buttons” generated top 10 sales for months on end in 2005 and 2006. So: well done, Interscope promotions. Fair play to Nicole and all that.

My other bad call came a little less than two months ago, when Chris Brown debuted at an impressive No. 9 with “Forever” and I speculated that the Rihanna-like club track had “already peaked.” Color me blush: “Forever” returns to the Top 10 this week, at a new peak of No. 8. As I noted in early May, the song debuted entirely on sales to rabid Brown fans, but it was going to need airplay to maintain its lofty position. It took a while, but it’s finally happening: “Forever” is now the 15th most-played song on the radio, and its sales have held up all this time–it returned to the digital-sales top 10 last week.

Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll return to being overconfident and obnoxious in a week or two.

• How dominant is Kenny Chesney on the Country chart? Enough that his “Better as a Memory” ousted Carrie Underwood from the No. 1 spot after she spent just one week there. And here’s the kicker: her “Last Name” scores a bullet from Billboard, meaning that it grew in chart points last week; Chesney’s song just grew more. “Better” jumps to No. 1 from No. 4, overtaking Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts in the process.

All four singles from Chesney’s last album, September 2007’s Just Who I Am, have reached the Top Two on the Country list. Actually, all made it to No. 1, except the George Strait duet “Shiftwork,” which peaked at No. 2, strangely. (I mean: Chesney plus Strait–that’s the closest thing to a No. 1 guarantee you can get.)

• I mention this as consolation to Maura: her pick for Summer Jam of ’08, Lloyd’s “Girls Around the World” featuring Lil Wayne, may be a meager pop hit (No. 72 on the Hot 100). But over on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs list, it’s outcharting Estelle and Tyga by a damn sight, rising four notches this week to No. 15. Since this is an airplay-dominated chart, I think we can safely predict “Girls” will be booming from many a Jeep as the mercury rises–as sure a sign of summeriness as we Americans have. Got me throwin’ up my hands!

Top 10s Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads/percentage change in parentheses):

Hot 100 1. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 2, 6 weeks) 2. Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” (LW No. 4, 6 weeks) 3. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (LW No. 1, 14 weeks) 4. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (LW No. 3, 18 weeks) 5. Rihanna, “Take a Bow” (LW No. 5, 10 weeks) 6. Natasha Bedingfield, “Pocketful of Sunshine” (LW No. 9, 18 weeks) 7. Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, “No Air” (LW No. 7, 24 weeks) 8. Chris Brown, “Forever” (LW No. 11, 8 weeks) 9. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love in This Club” (LW No. 6, 18 weeks) 10. Metro Station, “Shake It” (LW No. 14, 11 weeks)

Hot Digital Songs 1. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 1, 244,000 downloads, -4%) 2. Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” (LW No. 2, 216,000 downloads, +8%) 3. Metro Station, “Shake It” (LW No. 8, 120,000 downloads, +28%) 4. Rihanna, “Take a Bow” (LW No. 3, 111,000 downloads, -5%) 5. Natasha Bedingfield, “Pocketful of Sunshine” (LW No. 5, 109,000 downloads, -3%) 6. Chris Brown, “Forever” (LW No. 7, 105,000 downloads, +36%) 7. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (LW No. 6, 94,000 downloads, -9%) 8. Jesse McCartney, “Leavin'” (LW No. 11, 88,000 downloads, +26%) 9. Madonna feat. Justin Timberlake, “4 Minutes” (LW No. 9, 78,000 downloads, -8%) 10. Pussycat Dolls, “When I Grow Up” (LW No. 12, 75,000 downloads, +16%)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Keyshia Cole, “Heaven Sent” (LW No. 1, 12 weeks) 2. Plies feat. Ne-Yo, “Bust It Baby (Part 2)” (LW No. 3, 16 weeks) 3. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop” (LW No. 2, 14 weeks) 4. The-Dream, “I Luv Your Girl” (LW No. 5, 16 weeks) 5. Chris Brown, “Take You Down” (LW No. 4, 12 weeks) 6. Alicia Keys, “Teenage Love Affair” (LW No. 6, 18 weeks) 7. Lil Wayne, “A Milli” (LW No. 11, 8 weeks) 8. Usher feat. Beyonce and Lil Wayne, “Love in This Club, Part II” (LW No. 7, 8 weeks) 9. Trey Songz, “Last Time” (LW No. 10, 20 weeks) 10. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love in This Club” (LW No. 9, 19 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Kenny Chesney, “Better as a Memory” (LW No. 4, 13 weeks) 2. Carrie Underwood, “Last Name” (LW No. 1, 14 weeks) 3. Blake Shelton, “Home” (LW No. 5, 21 weeks) 4. Brad Paisley, “I’m Still a Guy” (LW No. 2, 17 weeks) 5. Rascal Flatts, “Every Day” (LW No. 3, 17 weeks) 6. Montgomery Gentry, “Back When I Knew It All” (LW No. 6, 17 weeks) 7. Alan Jackson, “Good Time” (LW No. 9, 10 weeks) 8. Dierks Bentley, “Trying to Stop Your Leaving” (LW No. 10, 23 weeks) 9. Lady Antebellum, “Love Don’t Live Here” (LW No. 7, 37 weeks) 10. Brooks & Dunn, “Put a Girl in It” (LW No. 13, 8 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Weezer, “Pork & Beans” (LW No. 1, 9 weeks) 2. The Offspring, “Hammerhead” (LW No. 2, 6 weeks) 3. Foo Fighters, “Let It Die” (LW No. 3, 11 weeks) 4. Linkin Park, “Given Up” (LW No. 4, 15 weeks) 5. Seether, “Rise Above This” (LW No. 5, 17 weeks) 6. Death Cab for Cutie, “I Will Possess Your Heart” (LW No. 8, 13 weeks) 7. Flobots, “Handlebars” (LW No. 6, 11 weeks) 8. Nine Inch Nails, “Discipline” (LW No. 7, 8 weeks) 9. Disturbed, “Inside the Fire” (LW No. 11, 12 weeks) 10. The Raconteurs, “Salute Your Solution” (LW No. 9, 12 weeks)