2019 American Music Awards

Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Billie Eilish's 'Bad Guy' Replacing Lil Nas X's 'Old Town Road' at No. 1

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Billie Eilish, "bad guy"

It took four months and a whole lot of challengers, but after 19 weeks of having the Hot 100 under his thumb, the change has come for Lil Nas X: Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy," itself a nine-week No. 2 hit, has finally taken the top spot on the chart from his and Billy Ray Cyrus' "Old Town Road." 

The turnover comes this week thanks in part to a new vertical video and cassette single release for "Bad Guy," which gives it just enough of a bump in metrics to rise past the sinking "Old Town Road." But was it the song we were hoping to see finally put an end to Lil Nas X's historic reign? And now that the streak is (at least temporarily) over, how long will it be until we see it topped? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below. 

1. After practically an entire summer of debating, "What's the song that's gonna finally knock off 'Old Town Road'?" we finally have our answer. On a scale from 1 to 10, how satisfied are you in "Bad Guy" being the new sheriff in town? 

Jason Lipshutz: I’d say a 7 -- “Bad Guy” remains one of the better singles of 2019, and Billie Eilish more than deserves a No. 1 single based on the success she’s had this year. I’m also for any No. 1 single that’s slightly off-kilter in structure and generally weird in tone, which “Bad Guy” has in spades. It gets docked a few points for not feeling like a fresh chart-topper, having been released months ago, but still, kudos to “Bad Guy” for rising above its perpetual runner-up status. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride? Not anymore!

Chris Payne: I’ll go with 9 -- the same number of weeks “Bad Guy” was stuck at No. 2 before supplanting Lil Nas X. After “Old Town Road,” the Billie Eilish phenomenon feels destined to be the most enduring marker of this year in music, so I’m glad she got the No. 1 to show for it. It’s a daring, weird-ass song that sounds unlike anything in Top 40 at the moment; we’re destined for years of Billie Eilish imitators, making the “Bad Guy” No. 1 even more deserved. 

Andrew Unterberger: 5. Great song, and a worthy No. 1, but call me old-fashioned (or maybe just weird) -- I had gotten used to the idea of "Bad Guy" as a No. 2. I like when our best and brightest pop stars get their first No. 2, and then have to spend a couple years chasing that No. 1, as Taylor Swift, Drake, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande all had to do before getting theirs. Not to say this is gonna result in Billie Eilish resting on her laurels, but that first Hot 100-topper would've meant just a little bit more if it hadn't come so early in her run as a pop star. (Just ask Shawn Mendes if he finally gets his first with "Señorita" in the next few weeks.)

Taylor Weatherby: I'd say 9. Not only was it the song that was neck and neck with "Old Town Road" essentially all summer, but it's a pretty awesome tale for the new wave of pop stars. It's no secret that Billie Eilish is pop's newest queen, so it's pretty cool to see her top the Billboard Hot 100 anyway. But the fact that it became No. 1 by knocking off another young star like Lil Nas X is a really neat piece of history -- especially because, in the social media age, they can publicly root for each other instead of be pitted against each other (see Lil Nas X's tweet yesterday). Frankly I would've said 10, but the Shawn Mendes stan in me was really pulling for "Señorita" to be the victor.

Xander Zellner: About a 9. Billie Eilish has been unbelievably dominant in 2019, and it's great to see yet another new artist notch their first No. 1 single. As we've touched on before, over his 19-week streak, Lil Nas X stopped mega-stars Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, Post Malone and Camila Cabello from hitting No. 1 -- all of whom had previously reached No. 1 with singles of their own -- so having another up-and-comer (the first born this century!) take over the reigns from LNX feels perfectly fitting, and evident of a changing-of-the-guard moment in pop music.

2. "Bad Guy" debuted on the Hot 100 the same week that "Old Town Road" hit No. 1. What about the song do you think gave it the kind of longevity to allow it to hang around the chart's top tier for long enough to seize the top spot when OTR finally started to lose its footing? 

Jason Lipshutz: “Bad Guy” possesses the type of layers that reveal themselves upon many, many listens. The first few times I heard it, my focus remained on the de-facto instrumental hook and the “duh” that precedes it; then, on the breakdown of the coda, which is a brilliant evaporation of the song’s main tenets; and now, months later, I’m drawn into the breathless verses, which are so melodically arresting that I find myself getting them stuck in my head the most. In short, I’m still not sick of “Bad Guy.” That type of multi-faceted appeal surely helps explain its remarkable longevity.

Chris Payne: I’ll start with what didn't give “Bad Guy” the longevity, because I find that more telling. Remember when Billie dropped the Justin Bieber remix in what felt like an all-in, chips-to-the-center play for No. 1?  That was in early July, and “Old Town Road” brushed it off easily. Instead, “Bad Guy” got to the top this week largely off the staying power of the original. The cultural phenomenon is about Billie’s whole persona -- not just “Bad Guy” -- and that rising tide boosted her biggest single immensely. 

Andrew Unterberger: Adaptability, maybe? "Bad Guy" had already proven a pretty big anomaly as a hit single by simultaneously topping Billboard's Pop Songs and Alternative Songs airplay listings -- two charts that should almost be antithetical to one another by definition -- while its opening pulse also gives it a kind of EDM energy, and its late beat switch turns it into a trap banger. You might raise some eyebrows slotting it into a country playlist, but otherwise, there's not really a format that couldn't try to claim "Bad Guy" as its own, as music fans of all stripes have slowly learned over this summer.

Taylor Weatherby: I feel like "Bad Guy" has been just as ubiquitous as "Old Town Road" has this summer -- you can't really go anywhere without hearing it. If we're getting technical, the fact that it has more than 700 million streams on Spotify alone speaks to the volume of plays it was getting on a weekly basis since its Hot 100 debut, which also speaks to the power of Billie's relatively young fan base. All of this has contributed to "Bad Guy" also topping the Pop Songs and Alternative Songs charts, which both help its Hot 100 stance as well. And let's be honest, the second Billie released that Justin Bieber remix (and that amazing fan girl pic), there was no stopping it.

Xander Zellner: The Justin Bieber remix certainly helped keep it afloat later on, but mostly I'd say it's a testament to the originality of the song and her style a music. Billie's sound is so different from everything else in pop right now, and it's been a source of fascination among listeners.

3. While "Bad Guy" becomes part of Billboard history by ending a record streak at No. 1, let's also take a moment to recognize the history it just fails to make -- coming one week away from tying the record of weeks spent at No. 2 without hitting No. 1, currently shared by Foreigner's "Waiting For a Girl Like You" and Missy Elliott's "Work It." Which feat would you rather have on your resume: spending one week at No. 1 on the Hot 100 or spending ten weeks at No. 2? 

Jason Lipshutz: Give me the No. 1 song any day of the week. Having the longest run at No. 2 (or sharing the runner-up record with a few others) is a cool bit of trivia and factoid appreciated by chart-lovers the world over, but having the top song in the country must be an astonishing feeling, a one-of-a-kind accomplishment that has helped the Billboard charts endure for decades. If I’m an old man bouncing a grandchild on my knee, I want to tell them about the time I topped the chart, not the time I stayed at No. 2 the longest amount of any artist ever. Imagine the blank-stare reaction!

Chris Payne: When I was a little kid, I first learned the concept of a Billboard No. 1 though my dad’s Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits, by Fred Bronson. For every No. 1 song, there was a full page with a big photo and write-up of the artist. Down in the corner of each page, they mentioned what was No. 2 in tiny text, with no further details. About 18 different pictures of Mariah, just footnotes for all that came up short.  Give me that full page (or the cover image of the YouTube video, the first entry in the Instagram story, whatever) over being the answer to some question that everyone gets wrong at bar trivia anyway. 

Andrew Unterberger: Showing my Hot 100 sentimentality here again, but gimme the 10 weeks at No. 2. There's something romantic about coming so close so long and never quite getting there -- it'll never drive the headlines the way Lil Nas X's historic run at No. 1 did, but it's the stuff true chartwatcher obsessiveness is made of. Plus, look at that company you're keeping! Putting yourself in the club of the 1,000-plus songs to spend a week at No. 1 means you're inevitably rubbing shoulders with a couple dated duds, but you couldn't ask for better neighbors in the history books than one of the best power ballads of the '80s and one of the best rap hits of the '00s. 

Taylor Weatherby: One week at No. 1. Obviously I'm not an artist myself, but judging by how artists respond to reaching No. 1 (on any chart, for that matter), it seems like one of the most meaningful feats of their career. Sure, holding any sort of record is cool, but why be No. 2 when you can be No. 1, am I right?

Xander Zellner: I mean, everyone has their own personal degrees of competitiveness, but I would unquestionably rather spend one week at No. 1 on the Hot 100. A No. 1 hit is still a No. 1 hit, no matter how many weeks it ruled, and no one can take that away. No one wants a silver medal, especially one with distinction. The "No. 2" record feels a little dubious, no? Especially considering Missy Elliott never got her chance to shine at No. 1 ("Work It" was blocked by Eminem's "Lose Yourself"). Yes, the stakes are a little different for Billie--this is her first major single and she'll almost certainly return to the top 10, and perhaps No. 1 again as her career progresses. But there's no doubt that having a No. 1 single is superior to peaking at No. 2.

4. The last time a song besides "Old Town Road" was No. 1 was the week of April 6-12, 2019. What's something that was true about the world (or about your own life) back then that feels a million years away at this point? 

Jason Lipshutz: I feel like I saw Us in theaters -- talking about the ending, quivering at Lupita N'yongo's cracked voice -- approximately 80 years ago. The fact that it was still going strong at the box office when “Old Town Road” first hit No. 1 is truly staggering to me.

Chris Payne: Thinking there was a solid 10% chance Woodstock 50 would actually happen

Andrew Unterberger: Man, just look at this five-day weather forecast from April 12 -- nothing but high 50s and low 60s temperatures to be found in the greater New York area. Was there really ever an era of weather so frigid in the five boroughs? Were buses allowed on the roads? Did they have to cancel school? 

Taylor Weatherby: That Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman college admissions scandal feels like it was at least a year ago, if not two. (Then again, I kind of stopped paying attention to what was happening, probably because the Full House fan in me wanted to keep Aunt Becky's memory sacred.) In my own life, April 6 was the day I spent with the Jonas Brothers for our cover story (shameless flex), which feels like it was years ago but also just yesterday depending on the day. Honestly I still have moments where I'm like "Wait, the Jonas Brothers really are back in 2019?"

Xander Zellner: I'm an avid viewer of Game of Thrones, and the realization that the final (and, albeit, underwhelming) season had yet to begin when "Old Town Road" first hit No. 1 is staggering. That feels like a lifetime ago, right? Perhaps it was because the season was only seven weeks long, but, wow, the conversation around that show really came to a screeching halt after the finale.

5. Let's set the over-under for the new record 19-week streak of "Old Town Road" being broken in August 2034, 15 years from now. Which are you taking?

Jason Lipshutz: Oh, definitely the under. Just look at how two of the last three summers birthed an all-time Hot 100 smash, in 2017’s “Despacito” and this year’s “Old Town Road,” respectively. Granted, 20 weeks is an incredibly long time to stay in the top spot, but given how streaming has made the dominance of the top 10 songs of the Hot 100 generally more glacial, it’s going to happen sooner than later. 

Chris Payne: Under. A few weeks ago, it seemed totally plausible -- perhaps likely -- that “Old Town Road” mania would be enough to carry it past 20. With the way streaming allows one super-song to tower over everything else these days, I’d bet on “Old Town Road” losing its title within that 15-year period. Maybe much sooner. 

Andrew Unterberger: I'll say over. I think due to its proximity to "Despacito" a couple years ago, we may underrate just how extraordinary and anomalous the "Old Town Road" run was, and just how big a difference there is even between 16 weeks and 19 weeks at No. 1. There'll be cultural phenoms this big again over the next 15 years, but not many, and maybe not any that both have a sense of marketing and pacing as brilliant as LIl Nas X's, and a lack of significant competition from any other runaway hits in the meantime. 

Taylor Weatherby: I'm thinking under. If streaming keeps up its domination -- or hell, if there's a new form of music consumption created in the next 15 years that takes over streaming -- I have a feeling we'll see another song hold at No. 1 for 20 weeks soon enough. As we saw with "Old Town Road," the combination of streaming and social media is insanely powerful, and I only see those two things impacting how songs perform on charts like the Hot 100 even more in coming years. And something tells me Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men are already plotting on how to take their Hot 100 record back...

Xander Zellner: Under. I don't think it'll take nearly that long for the record to be broken. With the way we've incorporated streaming into our charts, it's become a little easier for songs to make big runs atop our chart, as opposed to just relying on airplay and sales data (just goes to show how impressive the 16-week run was for "One Sweet Day"). And there's certainly going to be another song within the next few years that becomes a cultural phenomenon and takes the world by storm, just like "Old Town Road." My guess is that Lil Nas' record will hold for about five years.

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