The charts are in a bit of a Dog Days slumber, so let’s try a little trivia: What’s the most oft-recurring word on Billboard’s Hot 100 over the last decade? I’m thinking of a word that appeared virtually never prior to, say, 1990 and eventually became ubiquitous. “Bitch”? “Tha”/“Da”? “T-Pain”?
No, the most common word on the chart, pretty much every week, is “Featuring.”
This week, for example, 16 songs with “featuring” credits are on the Hot 100—17 if you count a “duet with” credit on Keyshia Cole’s latest single with Monica. (But then it goes back down to 16 if you exclude the craven Pussycat Dolls single “featuring” existing lead singer Nicole Scherzinger, a la Diana Ross in ’67 or George Michael in ’85.)
A dozen of these tracks, unsurprisingly, come from the worlds of R&B and hip-hop – genres where the team-up is standard operating procedure for both emerging acts (Drake, Kid Cudi) and veterans (T.I., Mary J. Blige). On this week’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, “featuring” appears no less than 37 times.
Back on the Hot 100, three of this week’s “featurers” are in the Top 10, and two are brand-new to the winners’ circle. Examining just these three tracks, you get a sense of the power of the featured-artist credit. Simply put, in pop music, there are friends, and there are friends. All three of these singles benefit to some degree from the name(s) to the right of the magic word.
The oldest “featuring” single in the winners’ circle is “Knock You Down,” from first-time Top 10 denizen Keri Hilson. In June, the electro-hop ditty topped the R&B/Hip-Hop chart and peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100. When it came to guests, the longtime songwriter and background vocalist didn’t screw around: “Knock” includes prominent rap breaks from Kanye West and a whole verse sung by Ne-Yo.
Hilson has been primed to break big ever since her prominent, ethereal vocals on Timbaland’s 2007 megasmash “The Way I Are.” But clearly the double-teaming of ’Ye and ’Yo had something to do with “Knock” outperforming. Prior singles with Hilson in the lead position included the 2008 flop “Energy” (No. 21 R&B, No. 78 pop), and the modest 2009 hit “Turnin’ Me On” (No. 2 R&B, No. 15 pop), which was supported by just one megastar: Lil Wayne.
Wayne remains the busiest man in music (even if his own product is getting forever delayed), and he’s featured on the biggest Hot 100 leap of the week and highest new track in the Top 10: Jay Sean’s “Down.” In a fortnight, the perky pure-pop tune has skipped from No. 63 to No. 32 to No. 6.
How can you tell this song is pure pop? It’s nowhere to be found on the R&B/Hip-Hop list, a rarity for a Cash Money release. It could therefore be argued that the bump Lil Wayne is providing is fairly limited, as the song is rather out of his wheelhouse (not unlike Kevin Rudolf’s “Let It Rock,” on which Weezy also cameoed). But even without black radio supporting it, “Down” obviously would be nowhere without the Cash Money seal of approval. These days, Wayne’s name opens doors; he could probably get a country record onto a few stations if he stuck his name on it.
That leaves the final Top 10 debutante (with emphasis on that last word): “Good Girls Go Bad,” by emo-popsters Cobra Starship featuring Gossip Girl starlet Leighton Meester. It’s the first Hot 100 hit for Meester, who is working on her post-fame debut album for Universal Republic. But it’s also (oddly?) the first pop-chart hit of any kind for Cobra Starship.
It’s therefore a little hard to know who’s using whom on “Good Girls.” On the surface, Meester, a TV-to-pop crossover act, needed the pre-album promotional boost, and the shred of credibility it brings, more urgently. But former Midtown frontman Gabe Saporta’s band has been attaching itself to trendy things for more than three years now—from their their dead-on-arrival theme song to Snakes on a Plane (No. 32 at Modern Rock, 2006) to their forthcoming album track “Pete Wentz Is The Only Reason We’re Famous.” Maybe we should coin a term for featured-artist credits like the one on “Good Girls Go Bad”: the Double Glom-On.
Here’s a rundown of the rest of this week’s charts:
• We’ve been keeping an eye since last fall on Darius “Hootie” Rucker’s conquering of the Country chart, and this might be the last week we make even a passing reference to his ex-rock band. The ascension of “Alright” to No. 1 not only gives him his third straight chart-topper out of three tries — as Billboard’s Chart Beat column points out, he’s only the fourth act to pull that off in the last 20 years, putting him in the company of Nashville megastars Clint Black, Wynonna and Brooks & Dunn. It also makes Rucker one of the most successful genre-switchers of all time.
We’ve pointed out before that Rucker’s country album and its singles are doing light-years better than the likes of country-come-latelies Jewel, Bon Jovi and Jessica Simpson. But with this hat trick of No. 1’s, Rucker’s track record in Nashville starts to resemble that of some of the greatest all-time genre ecumenicalists. That would include Elvis Presley (whose third Country No. 1 came on his fourth charted single in 1956); B.J. Thomas (whose first Country No. 1 was his last pop No. 1 in 1975; he needed eight more years to score Country toppers two and three); Kenny Rogers (who broke first at Top 40, then took seven singles over nine years to rack up three Country No. 1’s); Anne Murray (third Country topper in 1979, nine years after she launched); and Exile (whose third Country No. 1 in 1984 came four singles after they switched genres and six years after their chart-topping Hot 100 hit “Kiss You All Over”).
With the possible exception of Thomas, it’s hard to argue that any of these acts were well-established pop/rock stars before their Nashville careers began; for Presley, Rogers and Murray the pop and country careers were essentially simultaneous, and for Exile the pop career was bright but exceedingly brief. That makes Rucker’s track record quite singular: a full, very successful and essentially terminated rock career (joke all you want about the Blowfish being flashes in the pan, but they are tied for the 10th best-selling album of all time) followed by a discrete, instantly successful country career. Okay, there’s a gap of about a decade between the end of the former and the start of the latter, but that doesn’t change the rarity of the accomplishment.
• The fifth new R&B/Hip-Hop chart-topper of 2009 assumes the penthouse this week, as Maxwell scores only his second-ever No. 1 hit with “Pretty Wings.” It’s also the first chart-topper from a regular Maxwell album; prior to this, he’d only ever crowned the chart with “Fortunate,” a fluke 1999 hit from the soundtrack to the Eddie Murphy/Martin Lawrence prison dramedy Life.
Turnover atop the R&B/Hip-Hop list has been even slower than usual this year, with only Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” (a holdover from 2008 for seven weeks out of 12 total at No. 1), Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It” (14 weeks), Jeremih’s “Birthday Sex” (two weeks), “Knock You Down” (two weeks) and Drake’s “Best I Ever Had” (seven weeks) preceding Maxwell.
• Speaking of the R&B/Hip-Hop list, it’s not a great week for “Best I Ever Had.” Not only is it evicted from the top of that chart, it also remains stuck at No. 2 on the Hot 100 behind the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” And given Drake’s solid-but-unspectacular digital-sales totals—at 121,000, he’s nearly 100,000 downloads shy of the Peas—it seems doubtful they’ll ever give him a turn at No. 1 on the pop list. On the other hand, His Degrassiness can take solace in the fact that his followup single is already teed up at R&B radio: after a swift eight weeks, “Successful” (apt title), featuring fellow R&B Top 10 denizen Trey Songz, enters the R&B/Hip-Hop winners’ circle.
• A fun chart quirk: on this week’s Alternative list, both the biggest airplay gainer and the highest debut are from acts on self-titled labels.
Breaking into the Top 20 at No. 17 is Metric’s “Help I’m Alive,” on their Metric Music International label. And debuting at No. 37 is “100 Little Curses” from Street Sweeper Social Club, on their eponymous S.S.S.C. label.
Before we get too excited, it should be noted that the latter supergroup, led by Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, is distributed by the behemoth Warner Music Group. But Metric’s album and single, despite some promotional support from the band’s former label Last Gang, are genuinely self-released, making their Top 20 ranking at this all-radio chart truly rare.
(Billboard issue date August 15, 2009; based on data collected July 27-August 2)
Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads/percentage change in parentheses):
1. The Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling” (LW No. 1, 8 weeks)
2. Drake, “Best I Ever Had” (LW No. 2, 13 weeks)
3. Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me” (LW No. 4, 15 weeks)
4. Keri Hilson feat. Kanye West and Ne-Yo, “Knock You Down” (LW No. 3, 19 weeks)
5. Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody” (LW No. 5, 27 weeks)
6. Jay Sean feat. Lil Wayne, “Down” (LW No. 32, 5 weeks)
7. Sean Kingston, “Fire Burning” (LW No. 6, 13 weeks)
8. The Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow” (LW No. 6, 21 weeks)
9. Lady GaGa, “LoveGame” (LW No. 8, 16 weeks)
10. Cobra Starship feat. Leighton Meester, “Good Girls Go Bad” (LW No. 12, 10 weeks)
Hot Digital Songs
1. The Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling” (LW No. 1, 215,000 downloads)
2. Jay Sean feat. Lil Wayne, “Down” (LW No. 17, 137,000 downloads)
3. Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody” (LW No. 2, 129,000 downloads)
4. Drake, “Best I Ever Had” (LW No. 3, 121,000 downloads)
5. Cobra Starship feat. Leighton Meester, “Good Girls Go Bad” (LW No. 9, 103,000 downloads)
6. Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me” (LW No. 5, 102,000 downloads)
7. Sean Kingston, “Fire Burning” (LW No. 4, 100,000 downloads)
8. The Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow” (LW No. 8, 89,000 downloads)
9. Keri Hilson feat. Kanye West and Ne-Yo, “Knock You Down” (LW No. 10, 84,000 downloads)
10. T.I. feat. Mary J. Blige, “Remember Me” (CHART DEBUT, 81,000 downloads)
Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs
1. Maxwell, “Pretty Wings” (LW No. 2, 14 weeks)
2. Drake, “Best I Ever Had” (LW No. 1, 16 weeks)
3. Mario feat. Gucci Mane & Sean Garrett, “Break Up” (LW No. 5, 13 weeks)
4. Beyoncé, “Ego” (LW No. 5, 12 weeks)
5. Ginuwine, “Last Chance” (LW No. 6, 23 weeks)
6. Young Money, “Every Girl” (LW No. 4, 17 weeks)
7. Keyshia Cole with Monica, “Trust” (LW No. 9, 15 weeks)
8. Trey Songz, “I Need a Girl” (LW No. 7, 21 weeks)
9. Twista, “Wetter (Calling You Daddy)” (LW No. 8, 18 weeks)
10. Drake feat. Trey Songz, “Successful” (LW No. 11, 8 weeks)
Hot Country Songs
1. Darius Rucker, “Alright” (LW No. 2, 17 weeks)
2. Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy” (LW No. 1, 22 weeks)
3. Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me” (LW No. 3, 16 weeks)
4. Rascal Flatts, “Summer Nights” (LW No. 6, 16 weeks)
5. Randy Houser, “Boots On” (LW No. 11, 24 weeks)
6. Jason Aldean, “Big Green Tractor” (LW No. 9, 12 weeks)
7. George Strait, “Living for the Night” (LW No. 8, 10 weeks)
8. Lady Antebellum, “I Run to You” (LW No. 4, 29 weeks)
9. Kellie Pickler, “Best Days of Your Life” (LW No. 10, 38 weeks)
10. Blake Shelton, “I’ll Just Hold On” (LW No. 12, 24 weeks)
Hot Alternative Tracks
1. Linkin Park, “New Divide” (LW No. 1, 11 weeks)
2. Silversun Pickups, “Panic Switch” (LW No. 2, 21 weeks)
3. Cage the Elephant, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” (LW No. 3, 20 weeks)
4. Green Day, “21 Guns” (LW No. 4, 11 weeks)
5. Shinedown, “Sound of Madness” (LW No. 5, 17 weeks)
6. Pearl Jam, “The Fixer” (LW No. 11, 2 weeks)
7. Kings of Leon, “Notion” (LW No. 7, 10 weeks)
8. Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody” (LW No. 6, 29 weeks)
9. Anberlin, “Feel Good Drag” (LW No. 8, 44 weeks)
10. Manchester Orchestra, “I’ve Got Friends” (LW No. 9, 19 weeks)
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