Women in Music 2018
How Old Is the Average Act at No. 1 on the Hot 100?
An analysis of six decades of history reveals the number.
From May through August, the lead artists at No. 1 were, in order, in their teens (Desiigner, 19), 20s (Drake, 29), 30s (Justin Timberlake, 35) and 40s (Sia, 40). Never before in Hot 100 history had four consecutive No. 1s led by artists in those brackets in that exact order. (As recently as 2013, however, the chart hosted acts at No. 1 in all four age tiers throughout the year.)
The variety of ages at No. 1 in 2016 led to this question: With such a wide range this year, what is the average age of a solo Hot 100-topping artist?
After crunching the numbers of six decades of Hot 100 history, the magic figure is … well, first, let's look decade-by-decade (beginning with the 1960s, just after the chart's Aug. 4, 1958, launch. Here are the averages of each decade (based on the total No. 1s by soloists, counting lead billings), with the data revealing a fairly consistent succession:
Overall, the average age of a lead solo artist at No. 1 on the Hot 100 historically is … 28.5.
Five takeaways from this research:
• That artists are most often in their mid- to late 20s when crowning the Hot 100 mirrors pop music's target audience, as top 40 radio has historically sought to reach listeners ages 18 to 34. (The Hot 100's airplay panel was entirely top 40-based until the early '90s, at which point other formats joined the mix.)
• A notable four-year difference exists between the age of the average No. 1 hitmaker in the '80s (30.8) and the current decade (26.8). In the '80s, several of the rock era's founding fathers, and mothers, continued to top the chart, such as Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. That trend largely ended by the '90s, except for the occasional leader by veterans like Meat Loaf, Elton John and Cher (who was 52 when "Believe" led in 1999; no lead artist over 50 has since topped the Hot 100).
Thus, McCartney, for example, was able to parlay his success with The Beatles into solo chart dominance. Also in the '80s, Phil Collins scored seven solo Hot 100 No. 1s between the ages of 33 and 38, and his former Genesis bandmate Peter Gabriel led at 36 in 1986 with "Sledgehammer." Plus, Lionel Richie logged five No. 1s during the '80s between 32 and 36 following hits with the Commodores. As pop, rock and R&B matured, the '80s were often welcoming to frontmen who'd become established in hit groups in the '60s and '70s.
Also key: The 1981 birth of MTV helped usher in a bigger visual element to hit music than ever before, and certain veterans (as Don Henley confirmed in the 2013 documentary History of the Eagles) were not comfortable with the transition, whereas younger artists were born into the video era. YouTube effectively replaced MTV as the music video hub, and hit music has remained largely youth-driven.
• To reiterate, only lead soloists were counted for this analysis, as researching all groups could get dicey (i.e., confirming ages of all members, as well as exact group lineups at particular times). Plus, how exactly do you confirm ages of The Chipmunks or The Archies, cartoon acts? (It's like on the crossover episode of The Simpsons and Family Guy, when Stewie asked 10-year-old Bart how long Nelson had been beating him up, and Bart responded, with a groan, "24 years.")
Still, a look at the ages of all four Beatles, since the group holds the record for the most Hot 100 No. 1s (20) among all acts, finds that all were in their 20s for each of the band's leaders. George Harrison was 20 when "I Want to Hold Your Hand" became The Beatles' first No. 1 in 1964, and John Lennon and Ringo Starr were both 29 when the group tallied its last three leaders in 1969-70.
• The youngest and oldest lead solo artists, respectively, to top the Hot 100 both did so less than a year apart in 1963-64: Stevie Wonder was 13 when "Fingertips – Pt 2" led for three weeks in August 1963. On May 9, 1964, then-62-year-old Louis Armstrong (backed by The All Stars) reigned with "Hello, Dolly!"
Of course, this type of research is not entirely predictive. Days-old Blue Ivy Carter charted on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs in 2012 (her cooing granted her a featured role on dad Jay Z's "Glory"), while Fred Stobaugh was 96 years young when "Oh Sweet Lorraine" hit the Hot 100 in 2013. Any artist of any age could defy averages on any chart in any given week.
• As for the all-time average age of 28.5 for a Hot 100-leading artist, The Chainsmokers' Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart are 31 and 26, respectively. Thus, their average age? 28.5.