2020 Grammys

Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Maroon 5's Climb to No. 2 With 'Memories'

Wex & Alex
Maroon 5

With the holidays over and Mariah Carey and friends tumbling from the Hot 100's top tier, it's time to see once again how secular pop is stacking up on Billboard's marquee songs chart. And this week, while regular Hot 100-topper Post Malone returns to the top for the third week with his genre-blurring jam "Circles," another familiar chart presence climbs to a new peak of No. 2: Maroon 5, with their "Memories" ballad. 

Though the song has been largely panned by critics, "Memories" continues Maroon 5's nearly two-decade-long winning streak on radio and the Billboard charts -- a chart run that now includes top 2 hits in three straight decades, an achievement that puts them in extremely exclusive historic company. How have they managed to keep up this level of popularity? And will the song make further chart history by climbing one spot higher? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below. 

1. With the holiday songs finally vacated from this week's Hot 100, "Memories" has now climbed all the way to No. 2. On a scale from 1-10, how surprised are you that the song has proven to have legs like this? 

Gab Ginsberg: Let’s go with a 6. It’s not particularly catchy, but I suppose the "Pachelbel's Canon” melody line has potential to stick in your brain. Mainly, if you’re the type to listen to the radio, you’ve probably been forced to listen to this song a lot, which means it may have grown on you. I would be more surprised if this song weren’t by Maroon 5 and it was doing this well.

Jason Lipshutz: I’m saying a 1, and if 0 was an option here, I’d give it one of those. This is Maroon 5! They just spent the entirety of the 2010s releasing pop songs that have proven to have legs like this; Adam Levine and co. consistently flirt with the summit of the Hot 100, and even their relative misses -- 2015’s “This Summer’s Gonna Hurt Like a Motherf--ker,” 2018’s “Wait” -- still reach the top 40 on the chart. “Memories” is more sonically sparse and thematically contemplative than their other recent hits, but pity the fool who doubts the commercial prospects of a Maroon 5 single in this current day and age.

Andrew Unterberger: Like a 7.5. I really thought this time Maroon 5 had went too far with the schmaltz -- even their sappiest radio hits in the past still had backing grooves! -- and that this would be quickly relegated to live-singalong-only status in the pop memory. But I guess you don't get to be a radio fixture for nearly 20 years without being smarter than your critics, and clearly M5 knew they were tapping into something here. Again. 

Taylor Weatherby: 7. While I feel like I’ve heard it on the radio a ton in the past few months -- and I don’t listen to the radio often -- I didn’t think “Memories” had quite the excitement around it that a song like 2018 Hot 100-topper “Girls Like You” did. No one seemed to really be talking about it, and it just didn’t seem like a super strong song compared to others in Maroon 5’s catalog. Then again, their fans have continued to show up with every release no matter how much it feels like a hit, so seeing them at No. 2 (especially with the holiday tune drop-offs) isn’t insanely shocking.

Xander Zellner: About a 6. The lyrics aren’t particularly clever and they’re certainly cheesy. Plus, it’s a bit of a downer (Adam Levine said the song was inspired by the group’s late manager, Jordan Feldstein, and anyone who’s lost someone), vastly different from the upbeat and cheery hits that have become custom for Maroon 5 for over a decade. But, it’s Maroon 5, who consistently perform well at pop and AC radio, and who know how to push a song (did you notice they released three dance remixes, by Dillon Francis, Cut Copy and Devault, which all count towards its streaming totals?). And this is the group’s first follow-up single to “Girls Like You” -- the biggest hit of their career—and a Super Bowl headlining spot. Despite what you think of the song, it shouldn’t be wholly surprising that they’re still delivering hits. 

2. "Memories" has drawn a lot of flak for its perceived cheesiness and brazenness, particularly relating to its "Pachelbel's Canon" melodic lift. How fair is the criticism, do you think? 

Gab Ginsberg: Let’s be real, America loves cheese, especially when it’s a nostalgic-sounding, reimagined version of a classic tune. See also: Train’s “Play That Song,” which was inspired by "Heart and Soul" and peaked at No. 41 on the Hot 100.

Jason Lipshutz: Is it cheesy? Sure. Does it sound a whole lot like “Pachelbel’s Canon”? Definitely. I’d wager that Maroon 5 would cop to both of these charges, though. “Memories” is designed to be saccharine, and is effective in its wistfulness, seemingly grabbing the torch away from Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved” as the current song on Top 40 radio that will get you the most misty-eyed. As for its familiar melody, there’s a reason why “Memories” gets immediately lodged in your head -- Maroon 5 isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here, and like Johann Pachelbel’s late-17th-century wheel just fine, thank you very much.

Andrew Unterberger: I don't think it's a very good song -- Maroon 5 haven't had a single that I thought was since 2015's "Sugar" -- but it's hard to deny that it has its uses. Besides, Maroon 5 have become about as critic-proof as any band this century (if not in all of rock history); catch them on their stadium tour this summer and see how bothered they are by their latest round of negative reviews. 

Taylor Weatherby: I mean, I get it. But that’s also what makes “Memories” so damn catchy: It’s simple, the lyrics are relatable (even if they’re ridiculously cheesy), and its melody is ultra familiar -- the formula for a hit song, really, whether you like it or not. I also think that’s kind of become Maroon 5’s shtick now. They don’t really seem like they take themselves too seriously, and they are pros at making melodies/hooks that stick in people’s heads. Lastly, they’ve had haters ever since their second album wasn't just More Songs About Jane. “Memories” is further proof of all of that. 

Xander Zellner: Pretty fair. “Cheers to the wish you were here but you’re not / ‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories” is about as direct as you can get, and doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

3. With the ascent of "Memories," Maroon 5 now become just the second group in chart history -- following all-time rock legends The Rolling Stones -- to chart top two Hot 100 hits in three consecutive decades. What is it about the group that allows them to keep scoring such massive crossover hits two decades into their career, and which of their seven top two hits do you think will be the best-enduring? 

Gab Ginsberg: Adam Levine alone is a huge celebrity and brand at this point; he’s also a consistently great pop songwriter and performer, and the band is always touring and releasing music. It also pays to be smart about your features -- Cardi B, Christina Aguilera and Kendrick Lamar have all helped them make it to the top 10. I think "Moves Like Jagger" and "Payphone" (the former is one of their catchiest songs ever, while the latter is one of their most gut-punching heartbreak tracks) will endure until the end of time.

Jason Lipshutz: Maroon 5 has become one of those rare acts to transcend the shifts within the sound of popular music and uncover persistent hooks in a variety of different styles; the group debuted nearly 20 years ago and sound nothing like they did back then, shedding their shaggy pop-rock skin to become something more amorphous and rhythmic, yet no less deniable. “Girls Like You” has become their biggest hit to date and has the best chance to endure (thanks in part to recency bias, too, since it was just huge in 2018), although don’t sleep on “Sugar,” a delectable pop track that will endure on wedding playlists for decades.

Andrew Unterberger: Maroon 5 are the rare band whose longevity was actually helped by the decline of rock music in the pop sphere; without enforced rock-based standards to check themselves against for cultural approval, they were free to shapeshift and collaborate and embrace being a pop group. They're also the century's ultimate example of success breeding more success -- in an era without a ton of artists for Top 40 radio to essentially default to, Maroon 5 have always been there with a new single to provide an agreeable playlist option, guaranteed not to alienate either younger or older listeners. Based on how often I still hear it at weddings, I'd bet "Moves Like Jagger" proves their most unkillable -- though if "Memories" does indeed become a sentimental favorite, it's got a shot at lasting forever.  

Taylor Weatherby: I’m not going to lie, I think Adam Levine’s role on The Voice has definitely helped them endure, so I’ll be particularly interested to see how they do in this decade now that he’s done — though “Memories” is already proving that may have no impact on their success. But, like I said in my previous response, they’ve mastered the art of an unforgettable (and arguably, timeless) melody/hook. Even if some of their songs are a bit annoying, they’re easy to remember and generally pretty fun to sing along to. As for which of the songs will be best-enduring, I’d say it’s a toss up between “Moves Like Jagger” and “Sugar.” “Moves” will always feel like one of their biggest hits in my mind, and “Sugar” has that iconic wedding-crashing music video. 

Xander Zellner: Adam Levine existing definitely helps. Levine has been a judge on The Voice since 2011, and also delved into other shows like Songland and Sugar (specifically named after a Maroon 5 song!), helping him become one of the most familiar faces in music today. The group has also never really left over the past decade -- while most artists disappear momentarily in-between album cycles, Levine is still on TV while Maroon 5 may be in the studio. That constant presence has helped them remain at the forefront, and “Moves Like Jagger” (with an assist from fellow original Voice coach Christina Aguilera) will unquestionably be their best-enduring song.

4. With its classical leanings, sentimental lyrics and slow pacing, "Memories" seems almost custom-designed to be a future graduation song. Of all the super-clichéd graduation songs to rise to omnipresence over the years, which one still kinda gets you a little misty? 

Gab GInsberg: Vitamin C's "Graduation (Friends Forever)." And yes, I realize this is also basically "Pachelbel's Canon."

Jason Lipshutz: Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)” still towers over the field, even as it celebrates the 20th anniversary of its single release a few days from now. Those strings! Those vocal runs buried snugly in the background! That hook, perfect for swaying! Hard to imagine finishing this song without a lump in my throat, and impossible to foresee any other song coming for Vitamin C’s graduation belt anytime soon.

Andrew Unterberger: It's been long enough for me to come back around to the brilliant curveball that was Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," an acoustic ballad just powerful and sentimental enough for a generation of sentimental grade-schoolers to overlook its relatively bitter core. Still think it was a weird choice for Seinfeld, though. 

Taylor Weatherby: Talk about a cliché… Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)” will always hit me in the feels. What’s hilarious is that I was eight when it actually was a popular graduation song, but maybe that’s just it -- it was relevant to me every time I “graduated,” from elementary school all the way through college graduation. The funniest thing about “Graduation” still enduring, though? It also interpolates "Pachelbel's Canon.” 

Xander Zellner: Graduation songs are a weird sub-class of music because most sound like they’re eulogizing someone (Sarah McLachlan's “I Will Remember You,” Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again,” etc.). With that said, is there a more perfect (or iconic) graduation song than Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)”? It’s cheesy and clichéd, yes, but also nostalgic and unmistakably about graduating, and not dying. I remember hearing that at my middle and high school graduations, and even at bars before my college graduation. And yes, getting misty-eyed each time.

5. Simple final Q: Does "Memories" climb one spot higher, becoming the first new No. 1 of the 2020s and making Maroon 5 the first band to ever score No. 1s in three straight decades?

Gab Ginsberg: Sure, why not? “Girls Like You,” which I also found pretty boring, pulled it off.

Jason Lipshutz: I don’t see it, especially with a new Justin Bieber single to compete with and a few still-growing hits like Arizona Zervas’ “Roxanne” and Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” vying to climb higher, not to mention a current No. 1, Post Malone’s “Circles,” that’s still got juice. Maybe it will sneak into the top spot for a week or two, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Andrew Unterberger: Tough for me to feel confident going against it at this point, but if I had to wager I'd say it gets lapped next week and recedes from there. With Maroon 5, though, there's always the next single. 

Taylor Weatherby: I think it will. With how much it’s on the radio, its insane streaming numbers (406 million on Spotify alone, 330 million on its official vid on YouTube), and the fact that it doesn’t really have much competition at the start of the year, “Memories” is pretty much poised to climb that one extra spot. Sure, it’s kind of insane to think that they would beat out The Rolling Stones and be the only band to ever have No. 1s in three straight decades. But at this point, the proof is in the pudding: Maroon 5 are hitmakers, even if they’re not quite rock icons. Haters can hate, but you can’t argue with success like theirs.

Xander Zellner: Nah, Justin Bieber and Roddy Ricch would like a word.

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