“Suck” Blows (Up): Clarkson’s Comeback Could Make It To The Top Of The Pops

The most interesting news on Billboard’s Hot 100 isn’t at the summit, where the entire Top Five has been static for the last couple of weeks. It’s in the basement, where a flotilla of new songs—many by established acts—debuts.

We could talk about the return of Eminem to the Hot 100, for the first time in nearly three years, with his 50 and Dre-supported “Crack the Bottle,” at No. 76.

Or the third single and first ballad from the omnipresent Katy Perry, one notch below. (More on her in a minute.)

Or a couple of all-star duets—mellow twosome Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat (“Lucky,” No. 84) or smoove pair Jamie Foxx and T-Pain (“Blame It,” No. 98).

But all of these budding hits are overshadowed by the single that debuts quietly at No. 97—a song that could well be the chart’s next No. 1 and finally put some distance between Kelly Clarkson and the other American Idol finalists who’ve been chipping away at her crown all these years.

Winter is not normally the time when major labels launch new material from high-priority acts. We’re now deep into the sleepy season on the Billboard charts, as sales of both albums and singles are down across the board, and radio is still playing the piles of hit singles that launched last fall. (Or last spring, in the case of our current No. 1 song, Lady GaGa’s slow-building “Just Dance.”)

But Sony BMG seems to have landed on a hit-’em-while-they’re-napping strategy for launching Clarkson’s fourth album and its post-Clive-feud single, “My Life Would Suck Without You.” Just one week after it was serviced to Top 40 stations, “Suck” is already a burnout hit, garnering some 2,000 spins out of the box and already ranking 58th on the Hot 100 Airplay list. Its low debut on this week’s Hot 100, three notches from the bottom, is the result of a lack of sales data—during the tracking week for this week’s charts, the song hadn’t yet been released to iTunes and the other digital-song services.

But that changed last weekend, and at this writing, “Suck” is already iTunes’ No. 1 seller. We have no idea specifically how well it’s selling, but on next week’s chart, Clarkson will inevitably make a huge leap into the Top 10. The only question is whether she’ll rack up enough sales (plus continued airplay gains) to overtake Lady GaGa atop the chart.

If “Suck” manages to reach the top next week, it will accomplish a few things:

A new record for biggest leap to No. 1: This record was broken three times last fall, twice by T.I. and once by Britney Spears, whose “Womanizer” shot all the way from No. 96 to the penthouse in October. So a 97-to-1 jump by Clarkson’s “Suck” would reset the mark yet again. It’s not out of the realm of possibility—while digital sales are softer now than they were last fall, when T.I. and Britney were racking up first-week sales of around 300,000 downloads, Clarkson’s airplay is already so strong that a starter total in the mid-200s would probably do the trick. Let’s all root for this—as I pointed out last fall, we’re quickly running out of Hot 100 positions from which songs can leap to No. 1, and whoever someday manages to do it from a low enough position will own the record and shut down this silly competition for all time. (I guess a 100-to-1 leap is still always possible.)

Clarkson’s first non-Idol-related No. 1: Despite recording some of the biggest Top 40 hits of this decade, Clarkson hasn’t topped the Hot 100 since her first single, “A Moment Like This,” did the trick in 2002. (That’s right, fellow fans of “Since U Been Gone”: that immortal track peaked at No. 2. You have one Curtis Jackson to thank for that.) “Moment” was Clarkson’s finale song in that first season of American Idol—so she’s arguably never topped the big chart without a direct promotional connection to the TV franchise. Speaking of which…

The first Hot 100 No. 1 by an Idol finalist NOT related to Idol: The show’s first five seasons all produced a No. 1 single by the winner (or, in the case of 2003’s Clay Aiken, the first runner-up). Clarkson’s “Moment” topped the Hot 100 the same way, say, Carrie Underwood’s “Inside Your Heaven” or Taylor Hicks’s “Do I Make You Proud” did—a quick burst of sales. Thousands of hardcore Idol fans bought the CD-singles in their first week of release, propelling these radio-ignored songs to the top. Amazingly, for all the chart success Clarkson, Underwood, Chris Daughtry and others have had in the years since they left the show, no Idol finalist has ever managed to top the Hot 100 with a song not performed on the show’s finale. (This only applies to the Hot 100: on the R&B/Hip-Hop list, Fantasia and Jennifer Hudson have gone to No. 1 with Idol-unaffiliated songs, and Underwood has topped the Country chart numerous times.) A No. 1 ranking for “Suck” would change that.

Regardless of what the song does on the charts next week, it is already reestablishing Clarkson’s rep as the all-time sales leader among Idol finalists. Since Carrie Underwood burst onto the charts in 2005, she has achieved, with two albums and about a dozen singles, sales nearly equal to Clarkson’s three albums and 16 singles. Of course, Underwood has the advantage of two major radio formats, country and pop radio, promoting her wares, while Clarkson relies almost entirely on straight-up Top 40 play (they each get a roughly equivalent boost from adult-contemporary radio).

As the promotional cycle for Underwood’s 2007 album Carnival Ride winds down and Clarkson’s All I Ever Wanted gears up for a March drop date, 2009 should be a good year for Kelly to put some distance between herself and her own Eve Harrington.

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

• Quick, what’s Katy Perry’s biggest hit song? Okay, fine, it’s not much of a question—she’s only had two; three if we include her latest, “Thinking of You,” which debuts at No. 79 this week. But between the first two, a bit of an upset is emerging: “Hot N Cold” has hung around the Top 10 so long that it’s threatening the wretched “I Kissed a Girl” as her fattest hit. (Which is…let’s call it a small consolation, for those of us who find “Hot” more tolerable than that piece of Girls Gone Wild pandering.)

Since it reached the Top 10 four months (18 weeks) ago, “Hot” has never left the winners’ circle, the only song from last September to have held on that long (Taylor Swift’s current Top Five hit “Love Story” is also that old, but during that time it has departed the Top 10 and returned). By contrast, Perry’s “Kissed” was in the Top 10 for only 14 weeks. Of course, it was at No. 1 for seven of those weeks, amassing huge digital sales (3.1 million total) and radio airplay.

But even though “Hot” has never ranked higher than No. 3 on the big chart, its underlying data is about to outstrip that of “Kissed.” At just under 2.9 million digital sales, “Hot” is within about 200,000 downloads of beating the lifetime total for “Kissed.” You can expect “Hot” to surpass its predecessor in about a month. As for airplay, “Hot” has spent 20 weeks on the Hot 100 Airplay list, just shy of the 21 weeks “Kissed” amassed before dropping off radio playlists last October—and “Hot,” currently ranked 10th in airplay nationwide, shows no signs of dropping off anytime soon, for better or worse.

• How big a hit is Lady GaGa’s “Just Dance”? Big enough that, even while it spends its third week atop the Hot 100, it’s crossing over to the R&B/Hip-Hop chart, where it debuts this week at No. 87. The R&B list is dominated by radio airplay, and certain stations on Billboard’s urban-radio panel lean in a more centrist, dance-friendly direction, which likely explains how this mall-tastic bit of white-girl schlock is making the transfer. And the Akon connection can’t hurt.

• The Modern Rock chart is dominated by the usual array of bro-rock favorites, but one Pazz & Jop–endorsed hipster act is making a belated crossover: MGMT, whose “Kids” broke into the Top 20 last week and is bulleted at No. 19 this week. That makes it the duo’s biggest U.S. hit; the awesome “Time to Pretend” peaked at No. 23 last May.

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. Lady GaGa feat. Colby O’Donis, “Just Dance” (LW No. 1, 24 weeks) 2. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (LW No. 2, 14 weeks) 3. Kanye West, “Heartless” (LW No. 3, 11 weeks) 4. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 4, 17 weeks) 5. Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (LW No. 5, 19 weeks) 6. All-American Rejects, “Gives You Hell” (LW No. 10, 10 weeks) 7. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 7, 40 weeks) 8. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 6, 25 weeks) 9. Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil Wayne, “Let It Rock” (LW No. 8, 21 weeks) 10. Britney Spears, “Circus” (LW No. 11, 7 weeks)

Hot Digital Songs 1. Lady GaGa feat. Colby O’Donis, “Just Dance” (LW No. 1, 192,000 downloads) 2. All-American Rejects, “Gives You Hell” (LW No. 4, 169,000 downloads) 3. Kanye West, “Heartless” (LW No. 2) 4. Pussycat Dolls, “I Hate This Part” (LW No. 13) 5. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (LW No. 5) 6. Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (LW No. 3) 7. Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil Wayne, “Let It Rock” (LW No. 6) 8. Britney Spears, “Circus” (LW No. 7) 9. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 8) 10. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 9)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (LW No. 1, 15 weeks) 2. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 2, 19 weeks) 3. T-Pain feat. Ludacris, “Chopped ‘N’ Skrewed” (LW No. 3, 18 weeks) 4. Jim Jones & Ron Browz feat. Juelz Santana, “Pop Champagne” (LW No. 6, 18 weeks) 5. Ne-Yo feat. Jamie Foxx & Fabolous, “She Got Her Own” (LW No. 10, 10 weeks) 6. Musiq Soulchild feat. Mary J. Blige, “IfULeave” (LW No. 8, 18 weeks) 7. Beyoncé, “Diva” (LW No. 14, 10 weeks) 8. Usher, “Trading Places,” (LW No. 5, 23 weeks) 9. Kanye West, “Heartless” (LW No. 12, 14 weeks) 10. Ne-Yo, “Miss Independent” (LW No. 4, 26 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Alan Jackson, “Country Boy” (LW No. 5, 17 weeks) 2. Brad Paisley with Keith Urban, “Start a Band” (LW No. 1, 19 weeks) 3. Blake Shelton, “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” (LW No. 9, 24 weeks) 4. Billy Currington, “Don’t” (LW No. 4, 27 weeks) 5. Dierks Bentley, “Feel That Fire” (LW No. 8, 18 weeks) 6. Toby Keith, “God Love Her” (LW No. 10, 13 weeks) 7. Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally, “Down the Road” (LW No. 11, 13 weeks) 8. Keith Urban, “Sweet Thing” (LW No. 12, 11 weeks) 9. Brooks & Dunn feat. Reba McEntire, “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” (LW No. 13, 15 weeks) 10. Sugarland, “Already Gone” (LW No. 2, 21 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Kings of Leon, “Sex on Fire” (LW No. 1, 22 weeks) 2. Incubus, “Love Hurts” (LW No. 3, 14 weeks) 3. Shinedown, “Second Chance” (LW No. 3, 18 weeks) 4. Apocalyptica feat. Adam Gontier, “I Don’t Care” (LW No. 4, 29 weeks) 5. Paramore, “Decode” (LW No. 6, 15 weeks) 6. Seether, “Breakdown” (LW No. 7, 18 weeks) 7. The Offspring, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” (LW No. 5, 26 weeks) 8. Anberlin, “Feel Good Drag” (LW No. 8, 16 weeks) 9. The Airborne Toxic Event, “Sometime Around Midnight” (LW No. 11, 24 weeks) 10. Saving Abel, “18 Days” (LW No. 12, 15 weeks)