Britney Spears 'Work'-ing Toward Top 20 Hot 100 Debut

Britney Spears
Randee St. Nicholas

'Work B**ch!' is headed for a lofty launch on next week's chart. And, while radio is excited about the track's potential, programmers concerned about the song's title and lyrics are playing an edited version

One more time, Britney Spears has caused a circus-like frenzy ahead of a new album.

"Work B**ch!" introduces Spears' eighth studio set, due Dec. 3. While the track is off to a fast start at radio, its title and lyrics are causing some programmers concern, leading to airplay for a label-issued lyrically-edited version.

Still, look for the track to storm the Billboard Hot 100 next week following its first full week of sales, streaming and airplay. (It debuts this week on Dance/Electronic Songs at No. 16 due largely to early airplay.) Industry sources forecast "Work" to sell 175,000 downloads by the end of the tracking week on Sunday (Sept. 22). Such a sales sum would likely lead to a top 20 Hot 100 bow, with a top 10 start a possibility depending on the song's finalized sales total, as well as its first-full week of airplay and streaming.

Check Billboard.com on Wednesday (25) for highlights of next week's Hot 100, including where "Work" will arrive.



This week, in addition to its entrance on Dance/Electronic Songs, "Work" enters Radio Songs at No. 69. It begins after slightly more than two days of airplay with 16 million audience impressions, according to Nielsen BDS. The song is in line to launch in the top 25 of the Pop Songs airplay chart, highlights of which will post Monday (23) on Billboard.com. (Aiding its start, participating Clear Channel-owned chart reporters played "Work" hourly on Monday).

EXTRA 'WORK': RADIO PLAYING EDITED VERSION

While BDS data backs that pop radio is clearly excited to spotlight a new Spears song, its lyrical content is causing PDs considerable thought. RCA Records has serviced stations with two versions: the original "Work B**ch!" and a seemingly safer "Work Work" edit. RCA executive VP/GM Joe Riccitelli says that so far, "It feels like a 50/50 split" as to what version stations are deciding to play.

Pop program directors back up Riccitelli's assessment.

"Britney, can you please put out a record out without the word 'bitch' in it?" pleads KHHM Sacramento, Calif., PD Pattie Moreno. "Please, can you help a girl out?"

Still, says Moreno, who's programming the "Work Work" edit, "Listeners are over-the-top excited about this song."

WPST Philadelphia is also playing the "Work Work" version. "We even got an official intro to play before the song with Britney saying 'Work Work,' " notes PD Dave McKay.

McKay recalls past songs like Meredith Brooks' 1997 No. 2 Hot 100 hit "Bitch" and Elton John's 1974 No. 4-peaking classic "The Bitch Is Back" and wonders if context plays a part in the song's acceptability on radio. It might be one thing for Brooks to self-deprecatingly refer to herself as the song's title, but another for Spears to use the term more accusatorily.

That it's pop radio also plays a factor. PDs are careful about content on a station that prides itself as one that mothers and daughters can listen to together. Conversely, at adult male-focused rock radio, for instance, Jet's "Cold Hard Bitch" or Godsmack's "Cryin' Like a Bitch!" aren't as jarring.

Not that all at pop radio are coming down on the side of caution.

WNOW New York PD Gillette is spinning the original version of "Work." "'Bitch' is not a dirty word," he says. "No complaints so far. Plus, it's a great dance track."

Ultimately, Gillette urges looking past the song's title to what he sees as a song with a valuable message.

"If you actually listen to the lyrics, it's motivational, even educational: there is no free lunch. If you want something, you have to work for it.

"So far, the listeners love it."