This Monday, Billboard announced that for the second week in a row, DaBaby’s “Rockstar,” featuring Roddy Ricch, was the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 — already making it the longest-reigning song on the chart in nearly two months.
Before “Rockstar” repeated on top (on the chart dated June 20), six songs had taken their first turn atop the Hot 100 in consecutive weeks: “The Scotts,” by The Scotts, Travis Scott & Kid Cudi, “Say So” by Doja Cat featuring Nicki Minaj, “Stuck With U” by Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé, “Rain on Me” by Lady Gaga and Grande, and then “Rockstar” in its first frame at No. 1.
If that seems like an unusual amount of turnover at the Hot 100’s apex, it is — at least for the last three decades. You have to go back to 1990 to find a run of at least six straight new No. 1s in six weeks, with an autumn run of one-week first-timers that lasted from Nelson’s “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection” in September until Mariah Carey’s “Love Takes Time” reigned for thee weeks in November. Such coming and going at No. 1 was much more common in the years immediately prior to that — including a run of eight straight first-timers in 1989 — but in the decades since, it’s been rare for even four or five new chart-toppers to reign consecutively on the Hot 100.
What happened? Well, the biggest reason for the decreased shuffling atop the Hot 100 post-1990 was almost certainly the introduction of Nielsen SoundScan and BDSRadio technology (now named Nielsen Music/MRC Data) to Billboard’s Hot 100 chart methodology in November of 1991, which ultimately ended up determining that hit singles enjoyed longer peaks on radio and in sales (and subsequently, on the Hot 100) than previously believed.
Before that, the chart was more susceptible to promotional influence from labels who wanted to avoid their artists blocking each other in the chart’s top tier. “The minute you had your peak position, the labels wanted it out of the way,” late ’80s Billboard director of charts (and manger of the Hot 100) Michael Ellis explained in 2017. “They’d work it down to get rid of it, so the next single could come up, whether it was by that artist or another artist that they were trying to get [a hit].”
For much of the ’90s, longevity was the name of the game on the top of the Hot 100, with the all-time record for longest stay at No. 1 being broken three times between the years 1992 and 1996. Fast forward decades later, and that mark has again been bested twice in the last three years, with streaming dominance now the driving force behind them — along with faster turnaround times for new remixes and videos to give hit singles extra jolts of vitality, and increased social media omnipresence for artists to continue to promote their hit singles in infinite different ways.
Why then, the sudden change of course in 2020? Well, as with everything going on in the world the past three months, the COVID-19 pandemic likely plays a role: With fewer communal spaces than ever for pop to build consensus and seemingly everyone in the world spending their lives bored on the Internet, idle hands have led to a lot of quickfire hits. “There’s a lot of music coming out rapidly at the moment, and you have a lot of artists at home in a way they’ve never been at home before — and they’re not touring, but focused on recording new music,” says John Fleckenstein, co-president of Doja Cat’s RCA label. “They like to make music and put it out the next day, if possible, so there’s a lot of that energy happening.”
And as you may have noticed, the six No. 1s have one specific thing in common besides their quick rises: they’re all from multiple credited artists. Coming off a long run of solo artists at the top of the chart, most recently with Drake’s “Toosie Slide” and The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” in April and May and stretching all the way back to Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” last September and October, collabs are once more ruling the roost on the Hot 100.
And with these team-ups — many long-hyped, all built around big names, some added to a song midway through its run — comes an automatic baked-in excitement, from radio and from fans. That excitement usually manifests in a huge launch in streaming and sales, or a sizeable bump following a newly released remix adding on an established superstar like Nicki Minaj or Beyoncé, which then recedes slightly as the thrill of the new fades. (Even “Rockstar,” the only one of the six No. 1s not to either debut on top or be boosted by a starry remix, initially bowed at No. 9 and slid out of the top 10 the next week, before making its way back up.)
“When it comes to big events/launches, like these particular records… if you’re an established star, the biggest week will be the first week, and then it tends to decline after that,” Fleckstein says, citing typical heralded streaming and sale starts; radio airplay continues to build more steadily. Hence: a lot of event records, a lot of quick ascents and short stays at No. 1.
That’s especially true in 2020, when fan armies are more enthusiastic and determined than ever to get their artist of choice to No. 1 — not just through traditional consumption, but through organized efforts to affect the metrics needed to get songs over the hump. And star artists are taking advantage of that fan excitement, not just with big-name remixes but also new varieties of physical singles and sales bundles to encourage the purchasing of one or more copies of a song. This has led to sales totals becoming more of a first-week factor than usual on the charts this spring, despite overall single sales numbers long trending downwards. (“Stuck With U,” “Rain on Me,” “The Scotts” and “Say So” — the latter following its remix release — are together responsible for four of the six biggest first-week sales numbers of 2020.)
“The competition with the artists, with the Hot 100, is not something I’ve really seen for a while,” says RCA co-president Joe Riccitelli — adding that in particular, “The fan clubs really compete for that chart.”
The labels are competing, too. Aimie Vaughan-Freühe, svp at Megan Thee Stallion label 300 Entertainment, says that the volatility at the top of the Hot 100 allowed her and her team to strategize a time to pounce on “Savage,” after the initial disappointment of it losing out to “Say So” for the top spot following the first full week of its remix’s release. “We all strategized and tried to get it to that next level, to go to No. 1… and we missed it that [first] week,” she laments. “But instead of feeling defeated, we dusted ourselves off. We knew the Ariana and Bieber [“Stuck With U”] duet was coming, that we couldn’t get that. So we were like, ‘Can we get it the following week?’”
With “Stuck With U” falling out of the top 10 in its second week, the door was open, and Vaughan-Freühe and her team stormed through it. “What we did was we strategized,” she explains. “I talked to Dee [Sonoram] and Shadow [Stokes] and the urban rhythm department daily, like 20 times a day, about how we could increase our audience. And Megan was all in. We had her doing every morning show, we had her doing every countdown, and really getting herself out there, which helped build up the audience.”
Eventually, the efforts paid off — a 55% spike in sales that week, thanks largely to a variety of physical/digital combination offerings, certainly helped — and “Savage” climbed through its window to capture the chart’s top spot. “When we got the call that it went [No. 1], I swear to God we almost all cried, we were so happy,” the 300 svp recalls. “‘Cause it was so hard-fought and we had missed it, and then we got it! So it felt even sweeter.”
Of course, it’s worth noting that while we’ve had eight different No. 1s over the past two months — compared to just one over this period last year — the difference there really might just be the absence of that one song, which rides booming streaming numbers and growing crossover radio approval to total ubiquity. This spring has yet to produce an “Old Town Road,” or a “Despacito,” or even a “The Box,” the breakout Roddy Ricch solo hit that topped the chart for 11 weeks earlier this year. Without Lil Nas X’s chartbusting smash owning every week last Spring, the top of the Hot 100 may have looked a lot like this, with new big-name collabs and remixes from starry duos like Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber, and Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish — all of whom got to No. 2 in their first full week, but were unable to unseat “Road” — essentially taking turns at No. 1.
Whether that song is still on the horizon for this year remains to be seen, and with “Rockstar” still gaining in radio and streaming (and a topical new Black Lives Matter Remix of the song also having debuted on Friday), the possibility of it already being here can’t be discounted. But if not, expect more shooting-star releases from big names to take advantage of an unusually open period in Hot 100 history — especially as the Hot 100 remains one of the only music-related venues in this country that is open — and then to hand the baton off to the next one before long.