Chart Beat

Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Arizona Zervas' Viral Smash 'Roxanne'

Established pop star Dua Lipa has the top debut on the Billboard Hot 100, with her new jam "Don't Start Now" bowing at No. 30 on this week's chart. But just four spots below that at No. 34 is a new entry from an artist many music fans might not be so immediately familiar with: Los Angeles-based rapper Arizona Zervas

Zervas seems well on his way to having the runaway hit of late 2019 with "Roxanne," an instantly memorable pop-rap concoction with an attention-grabbing intro, a sing-along chorus and about an album's worth of addicting mini-hooks. Unsurprisingly, the song has taken off on video sharing service TikTok, and currently stands as the most-streamed song in the country on Spotify. 

How far will the song's rapid ascent up the Hot 100 take it? And will we be hearing more from Arizona Zervas in the decade to come? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below. 

1. A No. 34 debut for an artist with no Billboard history is pretty head-turning. What do you attribute the song's viral velocity to? 

Lyndsey Havens: I expect to see many more debuts like this in the future, as the concept of a "viral hit" continues to become the new norm for breaking talent. In addition to the catchy chorus and earwormy whistle, "Roxanne" has two main drivers working in its favor: it uses the same title as the late '70s classic by The Police, and sounds eerily similar to one of the great modern pop hitmakers in Post Malone. And as a result, there's a layer of intrigue built in; not only is a 24-year-old artist continuing a legacy older than he is, but any time a newer artist is compared to someone more established, people feel inclined to listen and weigh in.

Carl Lamarre: TikTok continues to be a winner in injecting life to a lot of these new records. The song itself is pretty catchy, but if you recall, some kid by the name of Lil Nas X watched his single gallop into the history books, courtesy of this nifty app. 

Jason Lipshutz: “Roxanne” doesn’t have a fresh genre permutation like “Old Town Road” or an immediately quotable lyrical hook like “Truth Hurts”; this appears to be a TikTok phenomenon borne of a catchy, generally straightforward pop-R&B single with an immediate chorus. A top 40 debut for an artist on nobody’s radar six weeks ago is still a pretty surreal sensation, but when you have a song that sounds like Juice WRLD heard Drake’s “In My Feelings” and said “I want one of those,” good things are going to happen, regardless of how big or small your profile may be.

Kevin Rutherford: “Roxanne” not only had the benefit of virality via TikTok — when it started breaking there, it was largely unavailable on DSPs, meaning appetites for the song weren’t satiated simply by playing it a half dozen times on Spotify or Apple Music until you got bored and moved on. So once the song appeared on major services, its arrival was slightly more heralded than your average fledgling artist due to already-existing demand. That, coupled with its continued gain in popularity on TikTok and the addition of even more new listeners who found the song once it started climbing the individual services’ own charts, created quite the monster of a Hot 100 debut by newcomer standards.

Andrew Unterberger: The sound of this song's intro — phone-line "brrrrp!"s over sublime guitar chords and a lightly knocking hip-hop beat -- is also the sound of record execs across the country calling their assistants into their office and hollering "FIND ME THIS KID!" I can't remember the last pop song that seemed to have "SMASH" written in lights this bright above its first 15 seconds. By the time it gets to its chorus (which combines Eddie Murphy's greatest on-screen musical moment with his greatest recording career moment), it's game over. TikTok or no TikTok, this song was destined for ubiquity.  

2. From the assorted other songs of Zervas' currently available on streaming, would "Roxanne" seem to be a fluke for the 23-year-old, or do you think its success might be repeatable?

Lyndsey Havens: Honestly, I feel like we already have so much music that sounds like what he's making — and that's not the worst thing. If anything, it may make it easier for Zervas to continue sliding onto playlists, but it also makes it that much harder for him to compete and come out on top. Personally, I think this song may be his only one to blow up. And if/when I'm wrong, I will be the first to admit it.

Carl Lamarre: I think Arizona has a solid chance to build a career after the success of “Roxanne.” If you check out “FML,” he gives me early Drake vibes circa “Money to Blow." He knows the importance of penning a sugary hook, which is crucial in creating a sustainable career. He can definitely march his way into another hit, if he keeps his choruses light and interesting.

Jason Lipshutz: This kid certainly seems like he’s figured out a winning formula in a modern music moment dominated by streamable hip-hop, short run times and ephemeral hooks. “Roxanne” has the biggest of the latter, but “FML” is exactly the type of warbling croak-rap that could pop up on some high-profile playlists, and “Drinking Problem” fits into the burgeoning genre of post-Malone — blurry, downcast, rock-tinged rap that could have ripped right from Beerbongs & Bentleys’ B-sides.

Kevin Rutherford: “Roxanne” isn’t a fluke, but it’s far and away Zervas’ best song at the moment. That doesn’t mean the success of “Roxanne” won’t spur curious streams for, say, “No I in Team,” which is his other currently available song that feels like it could be a modest hit in the sense that it’d probably chart if recorded by a more established type -- let’s say Post Malone. There’s something about “Roxanne” that reminds me a bit of Kent Jones’ “Don’t Mind,” so there’s a chance Zervas could go more his route with no major hits since, but Zervas’ early success even before getting signed probably means future hits are on the horizon.

Andrew Unterberger: The exact success of "Roxanne" might not be repeatable, but Zervas certainly has a cozy sonic spot carved out for himself in the turn-of-the-decade pop landscape already -- essentially halfway between Post Malone and Juice WRLD, two guys that essentially blanket the Hot 100 with every new release. Give this guy a major-label budget, access to the game's biggest guest stars and a meeting with Louis Bell and the ceiling is considerable. 

3. A high-profile remix (or seven) seems inevitable for this song. If you were Zervas or his manager, which guest would your first call be to?

Lyndsey Havens: This song is begging for some vocals from a woman. I can see Summer Walker fitting pretty seamlessly on this track — and elevating it.

Carl Lamarre: I'm going to go with Juice WRLD. He would float smoothly alongside Arizona. Also, I can't get over the idea of them doing a cover art with the name Arizona Juice. Either way, Juice's impact would give the original a nice boost too, similar to his guest spot on Lil Tecca's "Ransom (Remix)." I do think a Drake feature would also be fire. If he wants a super home run, then call up Post Malone, who would relish this kind of opportunity and squeeze “Roxanne” into a number No. 1 ASAP. 

Jason Lipshutz: Someone get Ty Dolla $ign on the phone. He needs to croon 16 bars over this beat immediately, flesh out the run time to a proper four minutes and make some lovably goofy Sting reference somewhere along the way.

Kevin Rutherford: STING OR BUST. Realistically, probably a rapper. I’d try DaBaby.

Andrew Unterberger: Is Roxanne Shanté available? What are the UTFO guys up to these days? 

4. "Roxanne" showdown: Arizona Zervas or The Police, whose do you prefer?

Lyndsey Havens: Psh, please.

Carl Lamarre: I'm always rooting for the kids. You probably won't catch me singing The Police at a house party. Now "Roxanne" is a vibe I can get down to, especially when I’m trying to do it “all for the ‘Gram.”

Jason Lipshutz: I mean, one is one of the greatest rock songs of the 1970s, and arguably the crown jewel in one of the strongest singles discographies in modern music. The other came out a month ago, but does, ostensibly, go up in the club. While this is a tough showdown, I’ll give the Police the edge — for now, at least.

Kevin Rutherford: The Police, but both have great hooks. I’d love a mashup.

Andrew Unterberger: Talk about great intros: Great as AZ's is, there's still no competing with that alarm-clock guitar, stomach-churning bass, unexplained cackle and first "RRRRRRRRRROXANNNNNNNNE....." from 40 years ago. (Worth pointing out that neither hit's lyrical treatment of its titular female is as endearing as its overall songcraft, though.)  

5. The last time we had a 5BQ about a viral hit that seem to come almost completely out of nowhere, it ended up being the longest-reigning Hot 100 hit of all time. How high do you see "Roxanne" going from here? 

Lyndsey Havens: I can see it making the top 10, for sure. And while I don't think this song will go away anytime soon, and believe it's worthy of sticking around, I also don't think it's going to launch Arizona Zervas into a chart-topping artist. And hey, that's okay; as he says himself, he's living for the 'gram anyway.

Carl Lamarre: The fact it debuted at No. 34 is scary to me because he doesn’t even have a video out yet. I think if he drops a dope visual and gives this song the remix treatment, he can easily live in the top 10 for a minute.

Jason Lipshutz: At least into the top five of the Hot 100, and the key reason why is its pop radio potential. “Roxanne”’s hook, sound and lyrical concept all make sense for top 40, and if Zervas gets the right push, his single could be one of the defining songs of the first few months of 2020. “Roxanne” is already dominating streaming services, but if it makes a pretty reasonable leap onto radio and is introduced to a different demographic, the sky’s the limit. 

Kevin Rutherford: Top five at least, no question. To debut at No. 34 while most of the U.S. probably still doesn’t know your name or your song is a good sign. Hell, radio hasn’t even signed on yet in full force; once “Roxanne” starts infiltrating the airwaves (and it’s gonna; I mean, come on), its Hot 100 stock will continue to rise. It’s also an interesting time right now for popular music on streaming services; unlike, say, the success of “Old Town Road,” there isn’t a major frontrunner at streaming right now; the most-streamed song in the country this week barely broke 30 million streams. It’s a good time for a viral hit like “Roxanne” to pounce, and pounce it will. It’ll need radio to get to No. 1, and that definitely seems possible.

Andrew Unterberger: Say hello to your first (non-Mariah) Hot 100 No. 1 of the 2020s.