The biggest question of Summer 2019 was finally answered this past week when Billie Eilish’s “bad guy” dethroned Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” at #1 (19 weeks) on the Billboard Hot 100 following a long nine-week stay at #2.
After megastars like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes (“If I Can’t Have You) and more failed to take over the top spot from Lil Nas X, Billie Eilish’s recent victory proves to be one of music’s most compelling success stories on the chart in recent memory. It wasn’t a Rihanna, Adele or Drake destined to debut on top, but rather a 17-year-old alternative sensation known for her arguably anti-pop sound.
With the narrative between “bad guy” and “Old Town Road” still fresh in our memory, Pop Crave looked back at this decade’s most exciting races for #1 on the Hot 100.
TiK ToK/Bad Romance
Two singular songs from artists at the height of their game made the race between Kesha and Lady Gaga on the Hot 100 one of the most exciting in recent memory. Fandoms will long remember “TiK ToK” as the song that blocked Lady Gaga from earning her third #1 on the Hot 100 with what is now arguably her career-defining track. More notably, though, the race is often spoken of in the context of Gaga’s “Just Dance” two years earlier, which many say Kesha used as inspiration for her electro-pop dance anthem. Having “Bad Romance” and “TiK ToK” leading the pack at #1 and #2 helped to further solidify Gaga’s influence on a new decade of music while introducing a fresh and exciting chart-topper to the Top 40 scene.
“TiK ToK” ultimately lead for nine weeks while “Bad Romance” held onto the #2 spot for four weeks. They are each certified 8x and 11x Platinum, respectively.
Pumped Up Kicks/Moves Like Jagger/Someone Like You
“Pumped Up Kicks” by indie-pop sensation Foster The People proved to be the little-record-that-could in 2011. Unfamiliar to the charts until that year, the group went on to find huge success when their breakout track pulled of the rare feat of capturing the alternative rock/indie audience as well as mainstream pop listeners. It also ended the year as Spotify’s most-streamed song.
On the Hot 100, Foster The People was the unfortunate victim of bad timing. Peaking at #3, “Pumped Up Kicks” spent a significant frame of its domination behind superstars Maroon 5 and Adele and their #1 singles “Moves Like Jagger” and “Someone Like You,” respectively. Altogether, “Pumped Up Kicks” spent eight weeks at #3 and ranked as the sixth best-selling digital single of 2011.
Gangnam Style/One More Night
The public missed out on a shirtless Psy performing “Gangnam Style” for the world to see after his viral K-Pop track stalled out at #2 on the Hot 100 against Maroon 5’s “One More Night.”
During a 2013 news conference, Psy cleverly promoted “Gangnam Style” by promising fans he would perform the track “topless” in a place where everyone can watch if it went #1. Despite the track’s streaming domination and unprecedented success on YouTube (3.4 BILLION views to date), it wasn’t enough to unseat the radio-friendly “One More Night.” Perhaps this race would’ve played out differently in 2019 where streams play a bigger role in a song’s success on the Hot 100. If so, then “Gangnam Style” would’ve made history as the first K-Pop song to ever top the chart in its 64-year history.
“Gangman Style” spent seven weeks at #2 behind “One More Night” before dipping to #5 in November that year.
Blurred Lines/Daft Punk
The summer of 2013 on the Hot 100 didn’t really make much sense, and it was all the better for it.
Leading the pack was Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” two established artists who found sudden success with their first Top 10 hits ever. The tracks seemingly came out of nowhere and feel more and more like a contained incident with each passing year.
Inspired by disco and R&B elements, the songs are perhaps more remembered by their shared featured artist and producer, Pharrell, who managed to dominate the Summer of 2013 with his inspired lyrics and rhythm. What made the race so memorable, though, is the sense that these songs could’ve lived another life outside of 2013 and still found success. They didn’t necessarily inspire copy cats or reflect the next big sound that summer. In fact, neither Robin Thicke nor Daft Punk have gone on to produce another Top 10 hit on the chart as a lead artist ever since. It felt like no industry label, radio station or music executive could’ve engineered their wildly left-of-field successes – it was a miraculous act of good timing.
“Blurred Lines” spent a massive 12 weeks atop the chart while “Daft Punk” held steady at #2 for 5 weeks.
Having Miley Cyrus and Lorde paired up at the top of the Hot 100 seems like an impossibly wonderful stan Twitter dream in 2019 that makes you wonder if it really ever even happened to begin with. In addition to “Wrecking Ball” and “Royals” being two plain great pieces of songwriting, Cyrus and Lorde’s music domination represented an important movement among the pop girls.
At face value, Cyrus and Lorde’s public persona couldn’t have been more opposite despite their successes on the chart. On one end was a naked Cyrus swinging atop a wrecking ball, while at the other there was the precocious and camera-shy Lorde all the way from New Zealand. Their legacy remains connected in their differences, though, as each artist placed themselves at the polar ends of what the general public expected from their female pop stars. From their outfits to their live performances and interviews, there was a sense with Cyrus and Lorde that two wholly unique female artists could co-exist on the charts without America pitting them against one another.
“Wrecking Ball” went #1 for two weeks before being displaced by “Royals.” Cyrus hung on in the Top 5 of the Hot 100 during the entirety of Lorde’s nine-week reign before topping the chart for a second time the week of December 14th, 2013.
The battle for #1 between Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea proved to be so memorable that it even inspired a new Stan Twitter term: “Problem’d”
Grande’s “Problem” was, well, “Problem’d” from the #1 spot on the Hot 100 by Azalea’s “Fancy” when it spent five weeks at #2 behind the smash single. Azalea joined The Beatles as the only artists to hold the #1 and #2 spots simultaneously with their first two Hot 100 hits while also becoming just the fourth solo female rapper to ever top the chart (first since Shawwna in 2003).
Grande’s now-infamous peak at #2 helped create an underdog narrative for the pop singer among her most devoted fans. Much of the singer’s later successes were spoken in the context of “Problem’s” chart history, specifically the fact that Grande had yet to hit #1 despite being one of the biggest stars in the world. It was this perceived failure on her part to top the chart that created so much more excitement around “thank u, next” when it became the singer’s long-awaited first #1 on the Hot 100. The history behind “thank u, next” made the accomplishment an even more meaningful career moment, proving that not everyone’s road to success follows the same timeline.
Shake It Off/Anaconda
If you’re going to get blocked from the #1 spot on the Hot 100, at least you can say it was against Taylor Swift.
Rising to #2 on the Hot 100 the week ending September 6th, Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” had all the makings of a #1 hit on paper. After debuting at #19 on the chart just one week earlier, Minaj nearly stormed her way to the very top of the chart following her viral and NSFW “Anaconda” music video that set the internet ablaze. The victory simply wasn’t in the cards for Minaj, though, as Swift debuted her lead ‘1989’ single, “Shake It Off” at #1 the same week.
Pop music history would certainly look different today if the roles had been reversed. Five years later, Swift’s ‘1989’ era is viewed as one of the most successful and adored eras in all of music history while Minaj (like Grande before her) continues to be the victim of unfair jokes regarding her notorious string of #2 singles. If Minaj has proven anything, though, it’s that her legacy is built on so much more than just the Hot 100.
The Hills/Hotline Bling
Drake’s arguably biggest song to never reach #1 was notably blocked by his protege The Weeknd and the hauntingly innovative track, “The Hills.” The forward-thinking “Hotline Bling” feels like a surefire #1 in 2019 with its internet-friendly music video and meme-able moments, while “The Hills” pulled off the exciting feat of preserving Abel’s dark SoundCloud-pop aesthetic in the Top 40 landscape.
What makes this track duo especially memorable, though, is the history behind Drake and The Weeknd’s relationship. The two have been speculated to have ongoing beef and falling-outs over the years after Drake helped introduce Abel to his legions of fans back in 2010. A public narrative of resentment between the two began to form with the help of Abel’s summer 2015 cover Rolling Stone interview. In his interview, Abel admits he gave up “almost half” of his album for Drake’s ‘Take Care’ in an effort to make it in the industry. The two performers remain intertwined in the media today, a rare example among mainstream male artists that makes you rethink how much more common such narratives are between female performers.
Drake pulled ahead of “The Hills” following three weeks at #2, but it wasn’t enough to reach the top spot as Justin Bieber (“Sorry”) and Adele (“Hello”) debuted their two smash hits the same week.
Bodak Yellow/Look What You Made Me Do
“Bodak Yellow” and “Look What You Made Me Do” proved to be two of the most buzz-worthy singles of 2017 for the completely different reasons. While streaming audiences began to hail Cardi B as the next big thing in music, another corner of the internet was simultaneously promoting the downfall of Taylor Swift and her polarizing critical failure of a lead single. Perhaps this race wasn’t so much exciting as it was disappointing.
Cardi B’s success was an undeniably exciting narrative. Starting from humble beginnings in The Bronx, the dancer-turned-rap superstar managed to dethrone pop’s biggest force with an almost chorus-less anthem that defied modern songwriting. She also became the first female rapper since Lauryn Hill to go #1 as a solo artist on the Hot 100. And yet, much of Cardi B’s praises upon topping the chart were spoken in the context of Swift’s failure. For better or worse, the race for #1 remains one of the most memorable chart moments of 2017 that represented a changing of the guards in pop music.
“Look What You Made Me Do” spent three weeks at #1 before being dethroned by “Bodak Yellow.” This marked Cardi B’s first #1 and Swift’s fifth.
7 rings/break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored
For Ariana Grande, it wasn’t a question of if she’d have a #1 on the Hot 100 following the release of ‘thank u, next,’ but rather *which* single would top the chart.
Possibly the best problem you can have on the charts, Grande managed to block herself from earning her third Hot 100 #1 single with “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” as it debuted at #2 between her previous chart-toppers “7 rings,” (#1) and “thank u, next” (#3). No such feat has ever been accomplished among a solo artist male or female. In terms of all musical acts, Grande became the first to claim the top three spots since The Beatles in 1964 with”Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout” and “Do you Want to Know a Secret.”
The fan base was so invested in “buwyg,ib” going #1 that they even encouraged people to stop listening to “7 rings” altogether with the hashtag, #BOYCOTT7Rings. Today, Stan Twitter continues to revisit the moment and the missed opportunity of Grande earning a coveted three #1 songs from the album.
Can you think of other memorable song/artist pairings to lead the Hot 100 we didn’t cover? Share your thoughts with us at @PopCrave!