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The Unlikely Candidates Earn First Alternative Songs No. 1 With 'Novocaine'

Unlikely Candidates
Errick Easterday

Unlikely Candidates

The song reigns in its 33rd week.

Completing a 33-week trek, The Unlikely Candidates' "Novocaine" hits No. 1 on Billboard's Alternative Songs airplay chart dated March 14.

The five-piece scores its first No. 1 on a Billboard chart. Previously, its top Alternative Songs peak was No. 12 as featured on Dirty Heads' "Celebrate" in April 2018, while its top high as a lead act had been No. 35 with "Follow My Feet" in November 2013.

Prior to 2020, a 33-week rise to No. 1 would have tied a chart record. In early February, however, Meg Myers' "Running Up That Hill" obliterated the mark, crossing the finish line at the end of a 42-week marathon. "Novocaine" instead ties the for the second-longest trip to the top in the chart's 32-year history.

Most Weeks to No. 1 on Alternative Songs
42, "Running Up That Hill," Meg Myers (Feb. 1, 2020)
33, "Novocaine," The Unlikely Candidates (March 14, 2020)
33, "Out of My League," Fitz and the Tantrums (Oct. 12, 2013)
32, "Mountain at My Gates," Foals (March 19, 2016)
32, "Animal," Neon Trees (Oct. 2, 2010)
31, "1901," Phoenix (Feb. 20, 2010)
30, "Dissolve," Absofacto (Jan. 18, 2020)

Three of the songs above have hit No. 1 this year. Likely not coincidentally, all are by relative newcomers to the chart's upper reaches, with Myers, like The Unlikely Candidates, earning not just her first No. 1 but first top 10 with "Running Up That Hill." Absofacto, meanwhile, led in his first chart visit.

Not that that makes 2020 unique, however; all seven songs listed above became each act's first Alternative Songs top 10. More to 2020's slowdown, multiple radio formats have adopted more measured rotations in recent times, amid greater competition from other audio services and partly due to more available research data points.

"It’s funny that the song we wrote about being a slacker ended up being our highest-achieving one ever," The Unlikely Candidates frontman Kyle Morris tells Billboard. "I think that’s also why it did so well, though. Everyone can relate to being a bit of a slacker now and then. 'Novocaine' is about hitting the snooze button when you’re late for work, watching that extra episode of Netflix, and spending whatever cash you have left on things with extra cheese or at the bar with your friends trying to shake off the week. I was sort of half-lamenting and half-celebrating being in this hazy paycheck-to-paycheck existence and not being able to fully get my life together. It came from an honest place, and I think people connected to that."

Adds Morris: "Also, there was a perfect storm of events and passionate people that made it work. Our label Another Century was 100% behind us pushing as hard as they could for the song. The video got picked up by the YouTube algorithm and started getting millions of views. Our streaming platforms gained a lot of attention from featured playlists. We had the support of radio DJs and PDs all across the country who took a chance and believed in the song. We also had our booking and management keeping us focused.

"We’ve also been grinding it out tirelessly on the road year after year. It took a village and ton of hard work get 'Novocaine' to the top."

The Unlikely Candidates are the fourth act to land a first Alternative Songs ruler in 2020. In addition to Myers and Absofacto, White Reaper's maiden entry "Might Be Right" topped the Feb. 15-dated chart in its 28th week. Comparatively, 2019 saw five acts earn first No. 1s the entire year.

Concurrently, "Novocaine" pushes 4-2 on the all-rock-format Rock Airplay tally, hitting a new high, up 16% to 7 million audience impressions, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data.

"Novocaine" is currently without an album, but Morris tells Billboard that the band has "a bunch of songs ready for a full-length that will hopefully be coming out this summer. In the meantime, I think we are going to release another track, and then we are putting out a new single to radio." The band is currently on a headlining tour across the U.S.

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