Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Post Malone's First Solo No. 1 With 'Circles'

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Post Malone attends the 2019 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on Nov. 24, 2019 in Los Angeles.

This week, Post Malone notches his fourth No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 -- a greater number than any other artist on the chart since the singer-rapper's 2017 breakout -- with his latest Hollywood's Bleeding single, "Circles." 

But while it's in good company among his chart-toppers, "Circles" does represent a first for the Post-man in a couple different categories. First, it's got a more pop/rock-oriented groove than any of his other major hits to date, eschewing his usual trap beats and synth beds for sighing acoustic guitars and loping bass. Second, it's the lone representative among his quartet of No. 1s to be entirely solo, with no co-leads or guest features. 

What, if anything, does the success of "Cirlces" mean for Post's musical output from here? And has the pop/rock/rap star now separated into a new class of stardom -- perhaps one entirely of his own? Billboard staffers debate this question and more below. 

1. Sorta surprising that Post Malone has any new firsts to add to his resume at this point, but indeed, "Circles" is his first No. 1 with his name alone on the marquee. Does this mean something new for Post's stardom, or is it just a fluke that it hadn't happened until this point?

Josh Glicksman: I’m not sure that it adds anything earth-shatteringly notable to his résumé, but it’s applause-worthy nevertheless. Would it be doing a disservice to 21 Savage (“Rockstar”), Ty Dolla $ign (“Psycho”) and Swae Lee (“Sunflower”) to say that they didn’t play a role in each song’s respective success? Surely. But I don’t think any of the three possess the sheer starpower to boost a song to No. 1, and the main appeal for all of the chart toppers is the characteristically excellent Post chorus, anyway.

Bianca Gracie: I can't believe this is technically Post's first No. 1 single, given his massive star power ("Wow.," which only hit the runner-up slot, truly deserved). But I think it has to do with him recently tapping into a new level of impact. He's already proven he was capable of dominating the charts, especially with last year's Beerbongs & Bentleys and "Sunflower" sitting pretty in the Hot 100's top 10 for a staggering 33 weeks. At this point, snagging a chart-topping single just comes naturally for him.

Lyndsey Havens: Even though I have always loved solo-Posty deep cuts (I guess that's a flex?...), I'm well aware that he emerged primarily as an artist who knew who to ride out a stellar collaboration. The fact that he just now has his first solo No. 1 makes perfect sense, though. He's on his third album and seemingly more comfortable with leaning into pop-rock than ever before -- and at this point, why not? He's smart enough to know what sells/streams, and capable enough to deliver it.

Jason Lipshutz: Definitely the latter -- there have been massive Post Malone solo hits, from “Better Now” to “Wow.,” that were staples of the Hot 100’s top 10 for weeks but just never quite got that final push to the top spot. That doesn’t make Post Malone any less of a superstar, though, or an artist that anyone views as overly reliant on his collaborators. “Circles” hitting No. 1, and getting over a hump that those other songs could not, is a nice feather in his zebra-print cowboy hat, but nothing new for Posty as a whole.

Andrew Unterberger: I think it's mostly notable in that there was no real Thing helping goose "Circles" to the top spot. No big guests, no high-profile remixes, no obvious sonic gimmicks or wave-riding (unless you count sorta sounding like Rex Orange County), no particularly viral video -- in fact, I'd consider the video to be downright atrocious. "Circles" is just a pop superstar having a good old-fashioned No. 1 hit essentially entirely on its own merits. As fun as it is for the top of the charts to be littered with exciting comebacks, movie soundtrack smashes and TikTok challenge favorites, it's good and healthy to have a couple of these more basic chart-toppers a year as well. 

2. "Circles" has a pretty new sound for a Post Malone hit, one that's already begun finding its way over to rock/alternative and adult contemporary radio, among other places. How big a stretch was this for Post, and should we expect to hear him follow further down this path on future releases?

Josh Glicksman: I mentioned this in our last edition of Five Burning Questions about Post Malone, but I just don’t think “Circles” is that new of a sound for him. His production is undeniably leagues superior now, but an acoustic guitar-led, pop-folksy-encompassing track isn’t entirely  foreign territory for him. His first full-length, Stoney, features “Feeling Whitney,” “I Fall Apart” and “Go Flex,” with the latter two released as singles. The lyrical content isn’t always analogous, but the sonic foundation is there -- “Circles” speaks more to an impressive maturation than anything else to me.

Bianca Gracie: As much as he clearly loves rap music, Posty has revealed in the past his admiration for country and rock. He often performs with his trusty guitar on stage and worked with Ozzy Osbourne for "Take What You Want," a.k.a. my favorite song on Hollywood's Bleeding. And before the fame, he shared his Bob Dylan fandom with his 2013 cover of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." (Our previous 5 Burning Questions taught me this!) And in a controversial moment, he told GQ last year that he prefers to blur genre lines and doesn't want to be referred to as a "rapper," so I'm sure "Circles" is just the beginning of him experimenting with different sounds.

Lyndsey Havens: If you listen back to tracks like the pop-inspired, Justin Bieber-featuring "Deja Vu" (off Stoney) or the acoustic "Stay" (off beerbongs & bentleys), it's really not much of a shock to hear Post on a track like "Circles" that finds a middle ground between the two. I both expect and hope there's more of this from him going forward. And -- let me get back up on my soapbox -- am still waiting for him to drop a folky pop project one day.

Jason Lisphutz: I’d expect Post to continue straddling the line between sounds, because he understands how much value there is in appealing to multiple formats. The beauty of Hollywood’s Bleeding is that it contains songs like “Circles” and “Take What You Want,” featuring Ozzy Osbourne and a blistering guitar solo, but also tracks with Young Thug and DaBaby that cater to his core hip-hop base. Will future albums feature more explicit nods to country, or R&B, or dance music? Maybe, maybe not. Genre lines don’t mean much to Post Malone, and while “Circles” is a resounding success from a sonic standpoint, I doubt it’s indicative of a sea change within his approach.

Andrew Unterberger: Yeah as my co-writers have pointed out, if your'e familiar with his albums (or even just his non-chart smashes that everyone seems to know anyway), this is hardly brand new material for Post Malone. Still, it is pretty stark to me that he's never had an official single this cleanly divorced from trap and hip-hop before -- which may not ultimately mean much for his career evolution, but is certainly worth keeping an eye on regardless. 

3. Across the last three years (2017-2019), no other artist has as many No. 1 hits to their credit as Post's four. As improbable as it may have once seemed, when we think back to the popular music of the late '10s a couple decades from now, will Post Malone be the first artist we think of?

Josh Glicksman: That’s a bit of a stretch, though the numbers certainly indicate there’s a case to be made. Post Malone has tallied more than his fair share of irresistible jams in the back half of the decade, but I still think the public will gravitate more toward names like Drake, Ariana Grande, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Even artists that haven’t released proper albums in many years (Rihanna, Adele, Justin Bieber) still live in the heads of many, and would likely impede Post from snagging that title.

Bianca Gracie: Drake will definitely be the artist who's at the tip of my tongue, but honestly, Post isn't too far behind. He's scored handfuls of multi-Platinum records with ease, is a streaming monster, has blossomed into a coveted touring artist and even broke a Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart record, swiping it from Michael Jackson. What he's been able to accomplish in such a short time span has been pretty impressive to witness.

Lyndsey Havens: I don't think he'll be the first, but I definitely think he'll be in the conversation. One of Post's most compelling qualities is that no matter how successful he becomes, he's still often looked at as a bit of an unexpected underdog and I don't imagine that will change -- nor do I think it works against him, clearly.

Jason Lipshutz: Maybe! It’ll probably take a few years of perspective to truly understand the impact of Post Malone on popular music, and whether or not he’s the defining artist of the past few years, as opposed to Drake, or Taylor Swift, or Ariana Grande, or Ed Sheeran, or someone else who’s not coming to mind. Who knows? Maybe we’ll first think of a musician whose artistry was not defined by radio hits, but who captured the general mood of the back half of this decade, like Lana Del Rey, Frank Ocean or Kacey Musgraves. But Post Malone being mentioned in the same breath as those names showcases how high and fast his ascent has been.

Andrew Unterberger: To me it kinda comes down to whether Drake is ultimately considered more of an early-'10s artist (when he first came to national prominence and played a major role in reshaping the sound of popular music) or a late-'10s artist (when he all but stamped "Property of Toronto" on the Billboard charts). If the former, then it's basically between Post, Cardi B and Ariana Grande for the late-decade honors, and I'm not sure anyone quite represents the face of the post-genre streaming age as well as Post's tatted, smiling mug. 

4. "Circles" is the second song of its titular theme to hit No. 1 on the Hot 100, after Billy Preston's "Will It Go Round in Circles" in 1973. What's your favorite "Circle"-related song not to go to No. 1?

Josh Glicksman: Mac Miller’s “Perfect Circle / God Speed.” The decidedly cognizant, braggadocious front half gives way to unbarred perspective into a darker moment during Miller’s journey with drug abuse. Brooding with painstaking lyrics like, “Them pills that I’m popping, I need to man up, admit it’s a problem/ I need to wake up before one morning I don’t wake up,” the nearly eight-minute, two-part track from 2015 effort GO:OD AM is one of the most underrated cuts from the late rapper’s entire discography.

Bianca Gracie: I know Lady Gaga's "Dancin' in Circles" wasn't an official single but the 2016 Joanne deep cut is one of the more overlooked songs on the record -- especially given the fact that Gaga called upon Beck for help writing it. It's an unapologetic self-love anthem that has echoes of dubby reggae, and perfectly highlights the singer's seductive side.

Lyndsey Havens: Huh, this question.... definitely took me by surprise. But to the surprise of no one who knows me, I have to go with "Circle of Life" from The Lion King, of course -- the one performed by Carmen Twillie and Lebo M

Jason Lipshutz: C’mon, it’s gotta be “Circle of Life” from The Lion King. Chills when Simba gets held up to the world!

Andrew Unterberger: Not a lot of reasons to talk about the Friends of Distinction on Billboard these days, but let me take the opportunity to give them their second shoutout of 2019 here, this time for the beautifully over-the-top, horn-led melodrama of their 1969 soul crossover hit "Going in Circles."  

5. Simple yes or no question: Is "Circles" Post Malone's best single yet?

Josh Glicksman: Simple answer: yes. “Circles” is Post Malone’s most complete song -- succinct, poignant verses, stellar production and a chorus so sticky that it’s practically doused in a full bottle of maple syrup. It’s not the type of song that’s going to make you stop everything at once and dissect every ounce of the track on first listen, but good luck avoiding subconsciously humming the tune, from the moment the last “run away” rings out until the next time you get to glide on the song’s opening acoustic notes.

Bianca Gracie: Uh no! "Rockstar" would like a word.

Lyndsey Havens: The best is yet to come.

Jason Lipshutz: Yes. What a triumph “Circles” is, a total delight even for non-Post diehards. It’s going to endure as one of his signature hits when all is said and done, mark my words.

Andrew Unterberger: Man, "Rockstar" is close, and will likely endure as the song he's best remembered for. But yeah, Post-pop just gets no better than "Circles." 

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