Ask Billboard: Songs Two Good Not To Be No. 1

Three of the top 10 biggest sales weeks for song downloads have occurred this year.

G otye, Justin Bieber and Maroon 5 have stormed the record books in recent weeks, earning three of the top 10 best sales weeks since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking digital downloads in 2003.

Meanwhile, other notable sales feats have recently been set.

What's behind these surges? Let's take a look.

"Somebody That I Used to Know," Gotye featuring Kimbra (542,000)

On the Digital Songs chart dated April 28, the song sold 542,000 downloads, marking the fourth-best digital sales week ever. "Somebody" benefited from the artists' performance on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" (April 14) and a "Glee" cover of the song on the Fox TV series' April 10 episode. Radio airplay has also greatly contributed to the song's chart success, with it rising 8-6 on last week's Radio Songs chart with an all-format audience of 85 million (up 19%), according to Nielsen BDS.

"Boyfriend," Justin Bieber (521,000)

Two weeks earlier, on the April 14 Digital Songs chart, Bieber's "Boyfriend" stormed in at No. 1, selling 521,000 downloads. Only Flo Rida's "Right Round" debuted with a higher total (636,000, the week of Feb. 28, 2009 - the all-time best sales frame). Credit Bieber's sexy sales start, which now ranks as the fifth-biggest downloads frame, to pent-up demand for new material from the 18-year old singer. "Boyfriend" is the lead single from his upcoming album "Believe" (due June 19), his first non-holiday studio album since "My World 2.0" in November 2009.

"Payphone," Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa (493,000)
And finally, "Payphone" arrived last week on Digital Songs with the best digital sales frame (493,000) by a group, besting the 465,000 sold by the Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow" the week of April 18, 2009. The start of "Payphone" marked the eighth-best sales week overall.

The song's handsome launch could be attributed to two major factors. For one, It's the band's first single since its Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 smash "Moves Like Jagger." That song, featuring Christina Aguilera, entered the Hot 100 at No. 8 the week of July, 9, 2011. Nine weeks later, it spent its first of four weeks at No. 1, making it the band's biggest single. As of last week (May 5), the song was still on the Hot 100 for a 44th week, marking the group's longest-ever stay on the chart (surpassing the 43-week run of 2004's "This Love.") So, clearly, there was going to be a lot of interest in whatever the band released as its follow-up single.

Secondly, the group and Khalifa premiered "Payphone" last Monday (April 16) via a performance on NBC's "The Voice." The band's front man, Adam Levine, is a coach on the reality competition program. After the performance, the song became available via digital retailers.

Beyond those three lofty launches, other recent download sales marks are worth recapping.

fun.'s "We Are Young," featuring Janelle Monae, racked a record seven weeks of sales exceeding 300,000 downloads.
On the April 28 Digital Songs chart, the song ranked at No. 2, selling 333,000 downloads, representing an unprecedented seventh straight week of 300,000 or more in digital sales. No song previously registered more than five weeks (consecutive or not) of such stratospheric download totals.

The only other title to rack five weeks of sales of 300,000-plus was Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie," featuring Rihanna, which broke the barrier for five weeks non-consecutively in July/August 2010.

Fun.'s success with "Young" began last year, when "Glee" plucked the song out of relative obscurity and covered it on its Dec. 6 episode. The following week, on the Dec. 24 Digital Songs chart, the "Glee" cover debuted at No. 3 with 137,000. The original version by the band debuted at No. 25 with 49,000 (up 1,650%).

Sales of fun.'s "Young" tapered off over the holidays, but came back strong after it was used in a stunt-filled Chevrolet Super Bowl (Feb. 5) commercial touting its 2012 Sonic automobile. On the Feb. 25 Digital Songs chart, "Young" drove from No. 22 to No. 1 with 296,000 downloads sold (up 338%). Three weeks later, it began its seven-week streak of 300,000-plus sales frames. As with Gotye's "Somebody," radio has served as a major contributing factor to the ubiquity of "Young." The track has led Radio Songs the past three weeks, registering 136 million audience impressions (up 4%) on last week's ranking.

Last week (May 5), the Digital Songs chart's top two sellers each moved more than 400,000 for only the second time outside of the Christmas holiday.
Thanks to Maroon 5's arrival at No. 1 with "Payphone" (493,000) and Gotye's "Somebody " staying strong at No. 2 (463,000), the top two on Digital Songs both sold more than 400,000 for only the second time outside of the Christmas season.

The only other time such a two-fer occurred was on March 5, 2011, when Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" logged its first full week on the chart (No. 1 with 509,000) and Cee Lo Green's "F**k You! (Forget You)" was at No. 2 (412,000). Both Gaga and Green were basking in the glory of performances of their respective songs on the Grammy Awards that week, hence the strong sales of both tunes.

And, for the past eight weeks, the top-selling song has sold more than 300,000, a record streak.

Five of those weeks are owed to fun.'s "Young" while the remaining three were the debuts of Bieber's "Boyfriend" and Maroon 5's "Payphone" and the post-"SNL"/"Glee" rise of Gotye's "Somebody."