Chart Beat

Pop, R&B and Love Songs: The State of the Billboard Hot 100's Top 10 in the First Half of 2021

Olivia Rodrigo "drivers license"
Courtesy Photo

Olivia Rodrigo, "drivers license"

A look at the latest trends in the chart's top 10, as analyzed by Hit Songs Deconstructed.

What were some of the most notable trends on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart in the first half of 2021?

Hit Songs Deconstructed, which provides compositional analytics for top 10 Hot 100 hits, has released its 2021 midyear State of the Hot 100 Top 10 report.

Here are five takeaways from Hit Songs Deconstructed's latest in-depth research.

Pop vs. hip-hop: The baton continues to be passed between the two most popular primary genres in the Hot 100's top 10. For the first half of 2021, pop was on top, with a 41% share of all top 10s, as compared to 34% for hip-hop.

Hip-hop won a tight battle for all of 2020 (41% vs. 40%), after pop took 2019 (48% vs. 34%) and hip-hop led in both 2018 (59% vs. 24%, a relative landslide thanks in part to Drake's dominance that year) and 2017 (34% vs. 29%).

Artistic 'License': Helping pop's strong showing, Olivia Rodrigo's "Drivers License" led the Hot 100 for eight weeks in January-March. Still, it reigned with certain atypical characteristics for a No. 1 in the first half of the year. Its length is 3:57, almost a minute longer than the 2:58 average for a leader in that span, owed partly to its signature bridge. Plus, its beats-per-minute is 72, below the average of 87 BPM for a No. 1 in that span.

The song also takes noticeably longer before its first chorus (53 seconds) than the average No. 1 (33 seconds) in the first half of 2021.

R&B on the rise: As a primary genre, R&B rebounded in the first half of 2021, claiming a 17% share of all Hot 100 top 10s (third-best, after pop and hip-hop). It scores its most prominent status since accounting for 20% of all top 10s in 2016, after which it declined to 15% for 2017, 11% for 2018, 10% for 2019 and 8% for 2020.

Silk Sonic most recently represented R&B as a primary genre atop the Hot 100 with "Leave the Door Open," for two weeks in April and May.

Electropop in decline: As a sub-genre, electropop/synthpop has retreated sharply in the Hot 100's top tier, from helping shape 40% of all top 10s in 2017 to 33% in 2018, 21% in 2019 and 11% in 2020. It climbed a notch to 12% in the first half of 2021.

Still, the sound is heard in two songs that topped the Hot 100 in the first half of this year: The Weeknd and Ariana Grande's "Save Your Tears" and BTS' "Butter."

'I know we weren't perfect, but …': A "love/relationships" lyrical theme, as in "Drivers License," remains the most popular for a Hot 100 top 10, appearing in 59% of all such hits in the first half of 2021. It repeats its reigns for all of 2020 (49%) and 2019 (66%).

Plus, and perhaps unsurprisingly, given months of social distancing, an "introspection" lyrical theme rose from 21% for 2020 to 27% in the first half of 2021. It was, however, already steadily advancing, from 16% for 2019, while it triples its share from 9% in 2017.