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Ask Billboard: Is 14 Weeks at No. 1 Still a Big Deal?
'Uptown Funk!' boasts the second-longest reign in the Hot 100's history. But, how much of that is a product of newer chart methodology?
As always, submit questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to email@example.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, Tweet @gthot20
IS 14 WEEKS AT No. 1 STILL A BIG DEAL?
I've been thinking about sending this question for a while now. It's more of a philosophical one, without a specific answer, but the main point is this: With Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk!," featuring Bruno Mars, on top for 14 weeks now, Is a song spending 10 or more weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 as special as it used to be?
The Chart Beat column on April 2 listed all 29 songs to accomplish the feat since the Hot 100 began, and it's no coincidence that all but two of those hits charted after Billboard began compiling data from Nielsen BDS and SoundScan in late 1991. So, something that happened only twice in the chart's first 33 years has now occurred 27 times in the last 23.
It reminds me a bit of when Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone" debuted at No. 1 in September 1995 – a major story, and the first Hot 100 hit to do so – and three more songs earned the same honor before the year was out. Suddenly, the feat became, for the most part, a quirk of chart methodology (that, granted, was still a noteworthy achievement). Further changes to the Hot 100 made such a debut more difficult, but last fall "Shake It Off" became the 22nd song to bow at No. 1, a solid, and not entirely exclusive, amount.
It's easy to make the same kind of observation about long-running No. 1 songs. I'm actually not trying to take away from the accomplishments of "Uptown Funk!," or any of the other hits on that list, but when something that used to be extremely rare now happens more than once a year (on average), does, or should, our enthusiasm diminish?
For me, this topic can lead to two different branches of discussion. One deals with the often-cited problem of comparing songs from different eras. I remember that Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" and Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" had major cultural impact, each attaining the kind of ubiquity that extended far beyond the music industry. Since those two hits each spent 10 weeks at No. 1 in the old, pre-Nielsen era, how much longer might they have stayed at the top under post-1991 measurements?
And, what other pre-1991 songs might have also joined the 10-week club? I especially think of the long stretch between 1984's "Like a Virgin" by Madonna and 1991's "Rush Rush" by Paula Abdul, when not a single song spent more than four weeks at No. 1. Were there really no huge hits during that period, or did the charts merely reflect the somewhat artificial turnover of sales reports and radio playlists that led Billboard to change its methodology soon afterward? It may be fun to speculate, but, in the end, there is no way to answer these kinds of questions definitively.
The second angle is more interesting to me: how much can we attribute this phenomenon to Billboard's changes in methodology and how much might be caused by the nature of the music industry today? It seems that some artists' labels try to increase the longevity of their current hit by waiting a little later to release the next single. That's surely a factor, but also: these days it seems to take more effort on a listener's part to find new music. Growing up, I remember hearing about new songs quite often, either through radio stations playing them and asking listeners to call in, or by MTV and VH1 showcasing new videos. Now, those channels air reality shows instead of music, and radio has become more corporate and automated, spending more time playing established hits over and over again and less time interacting with listeners and seeking out newer music.
Plus, more people instead prefer to browse through their own downloaded libraries or choose the songs they want to stream through on-demand subscription services (or YouTube). The notion of listening to a song that one did not directly request is practically anathema to many consumers today.
With it perhaps harder to introduce new music to the public at large, is it any wonder that we're more likely to stick with the songs we already know and like, keeping them on the charts for weeks, months or sometimes more than a year?
I want all the Bruno Mars fans to know that I'm not dissing "Uptown Funk!" Thank you for letting me share my thoughts.
Great email. And insightful points about smash songs staying on top longer in an era in which radio is more careful about playing the hits since listeners have so many more options than ever before. (Nielsen Audio ratings technology has also helped to tighten playlists: with the inception of the Portable People Meter [PPM], programmers can see exactly when listeners tune out, song by song, so they can more easily pinpoint exactly what songs they should, and shouldn't, play.)
Kind of weird, in a way: in an age of multi-media-influenced short attention spans, we generally hold on to our biggest hits longer than in the past.
Still, I think it's completely fair to laud the success of "Uptown Funk!" while considering its place in chart history. (That's a big part of what Chart Beat has always been about.)
First, if a song is one of just eight singles to lead the Hot 100 for 14 weeks or more in the chart's 56-year history, that's a reign that's among elite company, regardless of any comparisons. Having bested hits in recent years that have also commanded pop-culture attention, like Pharrell Williams' "Happy" (10 weeks, 2014) or Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" (12 weeks, 2013), "Funk" stands as the longest-leading No. 1 of the 2010s. It's also tied for the longest-running No. 1 of the entire 2000s. Those are facts that place "Funk" on top, per that statistic, in recent history.
As you note, comparing No. 1 spans across the Hot 100's history is tricky, since the chart's Nov. 30, 1991 adoption of Nielsen Music data has translated to longer stays at No. 1 and on the chart. With the list's switch from reported sales and radio playlists to electronically-monitored data, it became clear that big hits were remaining hugely popular longer than was believed (as reporters were previously, in part, showing more turnover as a continuous nod to record labels and their latest releases).
For comparison's sake, analyzing chart runs pre- and post-1991 is similar to how looking at baseball home run totals show clear differences before and after the steroid era, or, how in hockey, teams' seasonal points sums have soared since an extra point was awarded for an overtime loss beginning a decade ago. In decades past, and again now, 40 home runs could win you a home run title. But, in the late '90s/early 2000s, you needed almost twice that amount (and, ultimately, good legal representation).
Likewise, for decades, a 100-point season in the NHL would likely secure a team a division championship. Now, it barely gets you into the playoffs. (And, no, I'm not bitter, writing this as the Bruins have just been eliminated from playoff contention in their last game of the regular season …)
Similarly, a 10-week Hot 100 No. 1 in the '70s was a first. Now, it's much more common.
And, note that changes in chart methodology and behavior over the years is considered whenever Billboard presents an all-time recap, such as the Hot 100's top 100 songs all-time for the chart's 55th anniversary in 2013, or any feature spotlighting an individual act's biggest hits. As we always note in some form, which gets to the heart of this "Ask Billboard" discussion, era adjustment is key to making sure that the '90s, 2000s and '10s don't overrepresent against times when chart runs were less robust: "Due to changes in chart methodology over the Hot 100's history (i.e., the inclusion of Nielsen Music airplay monitoring and point-of-sales tracking and the recent inclusion of streaming data, among earlier modifications), certain eras are weighted differently to account for chart turnover rates over various periods."
Along those lines, perhaps a fair way to consider long-running No. 1s over the years is simply to look at the singles to rack the longest reigns by decade. Here's a breakdown of each decade's hits with the most weeks at No. 1. (We'll group 1958, when the chart began, with the '60s and combine the '80s with the charts through Nov. 23, 1991, before longer rules became the new normal).
Longest-Leading Hot 100 No. 1s by Decade
14 weeks, "Uptown Funk!," Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
12, "Blurred Lines," Robin Thicke feat. T.I. + Pharrell
10, "Happy," Pharrell Williams
10, "We Found Love," Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris
9, "Royals," Lorde
9, "One More Night," Maroon 5
9, "Call Me Maybe," Carly Rae Jepsen
9, "TiK ToK," Ke$ha
8, "All About That Bass," Meghan Trainor
8, "Somebody That I Used to Know," Gotye feat. Kimbra
14 weeks, "I Gotta Feeling," The Black Eyed Peas
14, "We Belong Together," Mariah Carey
12, "Boom Boom Pow," The Black Eyed Peas
12, "Yeah!," Usher feat. Lil Jon & Ludacris
12, "Lose Yourself," Eminem
11, "Independent Women Part I," Destiny's Child
10, "Low," Flo Rida feat. T-Pain
10, "Irreplaceable," Beyonce
10, "Gold Digger," Kanye West feat. Jamie Foxx
10, "Dilemma," Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland
10, "Foolish," Ashanti
10, "Maria Maria," Santana feat. The Product G&B
1990s (Nov. 30, 1991-Dec. 31, 1999)
16 weeks, "One Sweet Day," Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men
14, "Candle in the Wind 1997"/"Something About the Way You Look Tonight," Elton John
14, "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)," Los Del Rio
14, "I'll Make Love to You," Boyz II Men
14, "I Will Always Love You," Whitney Houston
13, "The Boy Is Mine," Brandy & Monica
13, "End of the Road," Boyz II Men
12, "Smooth," Santana feat. Rob Thomas
11, "I'll Be Missing You," Puff Daddy & Faith Evans feat. 112
11, "Un-Break My Heart," Toni Braxton
11, "I Swear," All-4-One
1980s (Jan. 1, 1980-Nov. 23, 1991)
10 weeks, "Physical," Olivia Newton-John
9, "Endless Love," Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
9, "Bette Davis Eyes," Kim Carnes
8, "Every Breath You Take," The Police
7, "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You," Bryan Adams
7, "Billie Jean," Michael Jackson
7, "Ebony and Ivory," Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder
7, "I Love Rock 'N Roll," Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
10 weeks, "You Light Up My Life," Debby Boone
8, "Night Fever," Bee Gees
8, "Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)," Rod Stewart
7, "Shadow Dancing," Andy Gibb
6, "My Sharona," The Knack
6, "Le Freak," Chic
6, "Alone Again (Naturally)," Gilbert O'Sullivan
6, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Roberta Flack
6, "Joy to the World," Three Dog Night
6, "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Simon & Garfunkel
1960s (Aug. 4, 1958-Dec. 31, 1969)
9 weeks, "Hey Jude," The Beatles
9, "The Theme From 'A Summer Place'," Percy Faith and His Orchestra
9, "Mack the Knife," Bobby Darin
7, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," Marvin Gaye
7, "I'm a Believer," The Monkees
7, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," The Beatles
7, "Tossin' and Turnin'," Bobby Lewis
6, "In the Year 2525," Zager & Evans
6, "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," The 5th Dimension
6, "Are You Lonesome To-night?,"Elvis Presley With the Jordanaires
6, "The Battle of New Orleans," Johnny Horton
6, "It's All in the Game," Tommy Edwards
So, there are the songs that have spent the most time at No. 1 by decade. In all, it's a pretty good snapshot of the most successful hits of each era, although the statistic is merely one way – and, certainly, a key one – to measure popularity. Ultimately, these are the songs with the longest tails to their mass-appeal.
Of course, many No. 1s that spent far fewer weeks on top have made significant impacts. This decade, even, Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball" led for three weeks, but, given the way its video swung into pop consciousness, it's arguably one of the 2010s' top songs, even if it didn't come close to tallying double-digit weeks atop the Hot 100. And, as January's four-part Chart Beat feature shows, songs that have peaked at every position, even No. 100, have gone on to become classics.
Where will "Uptown Funk!" eventually stand among the best-remembered hits? Only time, and long-term future sales, airplay and streams, will tell. Meanwhile, its 14-week run at No. 1 looks like it might be over come Wednesday. Still, the song has clinched a spot among the longest-leading Hot 100 hits all-time, and that's, regardless of chart methodology changes over decades, unquestionably an impressive honor.