The Weeknd: Alt Radio's New Star?

Courtesy Photo
The Weeknd in the video for "Starboy" featuring Daft Punk.

"Starboy," the pop/R&B singer's new hit featuring Daft Punk, has made its presence felt at multiple radio formats – including alternative rock.

The Weeknd's "Starboy," featuring Daft Punk, bullets at No. 7 on Billboard's Radio Songs airplay chart (dated Oct. 29) with 101 million in audience, up 17 percent, in the week ending Oct. 16, according to Nielsen Music. And while pop, rhythmic and R&B/hip-hop formats lead the way, a small slice of the song's play stems from a seemingly unlikely source: alternative rock radio.

The song, released on Republic Records, drew 104 spins among Alternative Songs chart reporters in the tracking week, placing it near the 40-position tally's threshold. Should it make the list, it would mark the pop/R&B singer's first chart entry at the format, which historically crosses artists to pop radio, not the other way around.

Eight stations on the Alternative Songs panel played "Starboy" at least once in the tracking week, including KROQ Los Angeles (seven times). "It just happened that he broke at the pop format, and the music lends itself to that, but I think that his fanbase is diverse," says assistant program director/music director Lisa Worden. "[Since] 'Starboy' has Daft Punk [who reached No. 5 on Alternative Songs with "Get Lucky," featuring Pharrell Williams, in  2013], we went, 'All right, let's try this.' We're not gonna force it down our audience's throats, but let's expose it and see what we get."

Other early alternative champions of "Starboy" include WSFS Miami (36 plays) and KTWN Minneapolis (28). "We tend to lean to the pop side, and it seemed like the perfect fit for what we are trying to do here," says WSFS program director John O'Connell. Adds KTWN MD Miles Anzaldo, "While listening to 'Starboy,' I couldn't help but imagine how it would sound next to [pop-leaning alt acts] Twenty One Pilots, K. Flay, The 1975, etc. I want to play music our listeners react to. 'Starboy' is a record our audience reacts to."

Mike DePippa, Republic Senior VP promotion and artist development, rock formats, concurs that The Weeknd's sound, and fanbase, encompasses a wide scope. "When you see the crowds at his festival appearances like Coachella and Lollapalooza or at his sold-out arena shows, it is a cross-section of all types of listeners. Forward-thinking alternative PDs have taken notice and are tapping into it."

As younger audiences have grown up in a more open-border musical world, i.e., with platforms like YouTube and iTunes, as opposed only to often strictly-formatted radio stations, perhaps such a crossover for The Weeknd shouldn't be that surprising.

If "Starboy" makes the Alternative Songs chart, while concurrently appearing on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart, where it's currently No. 20 (10 million in format audience, up 13 percent), it would mark the latest such double-up -- a rare phenomenon, but not an unprecedented one. In 2013, for instance, three hits charted on both Alternative Songs and R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Thrift Shop" (which peaked at No. 14 on Alternative Songs and No. 34 on R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay), Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" (Nos. 5 and 37) and Lorde's "Royals" (No. 1 for seven weeks and No. 3, respectively).