Ask Billboard: How Does The Hot 100 Work?

Katy Perry

Photograph by Ryan McGinley

Readers check in on how the Hot 100's points system ranks songs, the record run of AWOLNATION's 'Sail' and the many animals running rampant in current hits

As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, Tweet questions to Gary Trust: @gthot20


Hey Gary,

In its 55th week on the Hot 100, "Sail" by AWOLNATION climbs into the top 20, reaching a new peak at No. 20. If it continues sailing up the chart and eventually hits No. 1, it will mark the longest climb in the chart's history to the top. Yet, it's too early to forecast that.

What is not too early to predict is the probability of it breaking another record. Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" holds the mark for the longest stay on the Hot 100: 76 weeks. It seems like "Sail" might not yet have reached its peak. (Imagine Dragons' smash single "Radioactive" could also beat Mraz's record but "Sail" could be a better bet, since it's still rising.)

Do you think "Sail" will make history as the Hot 100's longest-charting hit?


Rick Thomas
Frankfort, Kentucky

Hi Rick,

We've noted that "Sail" is the first song ever to climb to its peak after a year on the chart in the Hot 100's 55-year history. But, great observation that "Sail" could be in its way to setting another longevity mark.

First, "Radioactive" appears to be a possibility to pass "I'm Yours." It ranks at No. 14 in its 56th week. After peaking at No. 3 in July, it's still receiving significant pop, adult and rock airplay and should continue to grace playlists as a "recurrent" (staying in rotation after its peak, as opposed to being dropped from stations' libraries). This week, it also sold 65,000 downloads and pulled in 2.9 million streams.

More atypical, clearly, is the journey of "Sail," which could also be a threat to Mraz's mark. This week, "Sail" becomes one of just 25 songs ever to spend at least 55 weeks on the Hot 100. Of those, only three don't boast a top 10 peak: Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait" (No. 11; 56 weeks), Duncan Sheik's "Barely Breathing" (No. 16, 55 weeks) and "Sail."

Considering that "Sail" reaches a weekly best in airplay (21 million, up 15%) and sales (77,000) this week and has been in the Streaming Songs' top 25 since the week of Feb. 16, putting the song on watch to topple Mraz's record seems smart. Like "Radioactive," it'll need to stay on-air and maintain sales and streaming. Unlike "Radioactive," the song doesn't have the major crossover support of adult radio. Still, it will score pop and alternative play going forward.

As for how "Sail" has made its lengthy trek up the Hot 100, check out this week's Billboard magazine (featuring Katy Perry on the cover). A two-page spread covers the song's more than-two-year timeline on various charts; it first graced Alternative Songs the week of Feb. 19, 2011. Persistent promotion by the Red Bull record label, AWOLNATION's vigorous touring and TV synchs have helped the song build its story and its record run up the Hot 100.

Not a bad accomplishment for a moody cut that's hardly similar to current more obviously melodic pop hits.

"Because the song was so left-of-center, a lot of radio programmers pushed back at first," says Todd Sievers, managing partner at Co5 Music, which handles promotion for Red Bull.

"But, we won them over."