Will Justin Bieber Interrupt His Own Historic Run at No. 1 With New Song 'Friends'?
It's been 14 weeks now that "Despacito," the Latin pop smash from Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee whose chart velocity Justin Bieber accelerated exponentially by appearing on the song's remix, has reigned at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 -- and every week, its run gets more historic.
This week (on the chart dated Aug. 26), "Despacito" tied the record for the longest-reigning Hot 100 No. 1 to be mostly sung in a foreign language, matching the 14-week run of Los Del Rio's Bayside Boys-remixed "Macarena" in 1996. If "Despacito" stays on top for another week, it'll hold that distinction on its own, as well as setting the new benchmark for the second-longest-running Hot 100 champion ever, breaking a tie with "Macarena" and six other smashes, dating back to Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" in 1992-'93. And then, of course, if it lasts another two weeks -- making 16 weeks on top total -- it'll tie Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's 1995 single "One Sweet Day" for the longest stay ever atop the Hot 100.
Is anything creeping up from behind "Despacito" that may keep it from cruising any further into the Hot 100 record books? Well, not a ton has changed since we looked at this question a couple weeks ago -- DJ Khaled's "Wild Thoughts," featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller, is still at No. 2 but not notably gaining in overall chart points on "Despacito," although "Thoughts" dethrones "Despacito" atop the Radio Songs chart this week.
Meanwhile other recent hits (French Montana's Swae Lee-featuring "Unforgettable," Imagine Dragons' "Believer") have crawled into the top 5, but without the momentum necessary to pose much of a threat to the top spot as of now. "Mi Gente," J Balvin and Willy William's wildcard Latin smash, is bounding up the chart (28-23 in its sixth week), but seems as yet out of range for No. 1 contention, and it's also without an announced English language remix to potentially propel it further forward. So, it seems like there's nothing on the Hot 100 currently with a huge chance of dethroning "Despacito" before it hits the 16-weeks-at-No. 1 mark.
But what about something that isn't on the chart yet? Chart obsessives have spent much of the past few weeks theorizing about which artists could potentially interrupt the run of "Despacito" by releasing a new single that would likely crown the Hot 100 in short order. Taylor Swift? Adele? Rihanna? Who's a big enough star to thwart the momentum of this potentially unprecedented, Bieber-assisted Latin smash?
Well ... how about Bieber himself? The pop superstar, seemingly in the midst of the most bulletproof run of his career, announced on Monday (Aug. 14) that he would be releasing a new song this Thursday, titled "Friends," as a collaboration with producer BloodPop (and songwriters Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter). Given that Bieber has already replaced himself at No. 1 once this year -- the coronation of "Despacito" atop the Hot 100 came at the deposition of DJ Khaled's Bieb-assisted "I'm the One," also featuring Quavo, Lil Wayne and Chance the Rapper -- could his new song do the same, unseating "Despacito" before it hits the hallowed 16-week mark?
It wouldn't be an unprecedented bow for Bieber. Both "I'm the One" and "What Do You Mean" -- the latter an advance single from 2015's Purpose LP -- debuted atop the Hot 100, making Bieber the first solo male (and one of only three artists ever) to send two singles to No. 1 on the Hot 100 in their opening frame. Which isn't to say No. 1 has become a guaranteed landing spot for Bieber by any means: His last song, a featured turn on David Guetta's "2U," premiered on the Hot 100 at No. 16, and slipped from there. But if you're talking about artists with the commercial juice to send a song immediately to the chart's apex, Bieber is certainly on the very short list, and may indeed be the top name at this point.
However, the chances of "Friends" becoming Bieber's third single to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100 are likely very small. That's because his decision to release the song at noon on a Thursday will effectively cripple his first-week numbers. Billboard's streaming and sales tracking week for songs ends each Thursday night/Friday morning at midnight, which means that the streams and sales from the first 12 hours of availability for "Friends," along with its first three-and-a-half days of airplay (as the airplay tracking week runs Monday-Sunday), will represent the sum total of its first week. Traditionally, for artists of Bieber's stature, that results in little more than a first-week cameo on the Hot 100 -- for instance, P!nk debuted at No. 82 on this week's Hot 100 with a day's worth of streaming and sales points for her well-received, Thursday-released quasi-comeback single "What About Us."
The real question, of course, is what "Friends" will be able to accomplish in its second week. While the 12 hours' worth of initial streaming and sales points it'll accrue on Thursday aren't likely to be enough to pose a threat to "Despacito" on its path to 15 weeks at No. 1, could it become a challenger in time to pass the summer-slayer before it hits a potential record-tying week 16? That's harder to say. Losing those 12 hours' worth of numbers will definitely hurt: A significant percentage of a hit song's first-week digital sales in particular tend to happen on its first day.
And even this deep into the run of "Despacito," "Friends" will still need a strong bow to immediately threaten its Hot 100 supremacy. The way "Despacito" is currently trending on the Hot 100, "Friends" would probably need a week about as strong as the opening frame for "I'm the One" -- where it sold 171,000 (according to Nielsen music), was streamed 53.9 million times and drew 35 million in all-format airplay audience, all very robust numbers for a single in its first week -- to have a chance of besting it. With the new song's Thursday release basically chopping one of its legs out from under, it really might come down to how immediately accessible and commercial the song is, beyond the names in its credits, to determine whether or not it has a real chance at interrupting "Despacito" before week 16 on top. Will "Friends" be more like "I'm the One" or "2U"?
Also key is radio impact, a metric that contributes roughly a third of the Hot 100's chart points each week: "Despacito" currently boasts 135 million in airplay audience and, unlike sales and streams, radio tends to show a more steady arc for all songs. So, that smash is likely to sport a big lead over a new song, even by Bieber, for the foreseeable future.
(Additionally in play: "Friends" or "Wild Thoughts," if they were to reach No. 1 on the Hot 100, could always yo-yo between Nos. 1 and 2 with "Despacito" -- remember that Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You" had its 12-week run at No. 1 interrupted for two weeks. So, "Despacito" could still potentially tie or break the 16-weeks-at-No. 1 record … just nonconsecutively.)
Of course, this all begs the question of what Bieber himself will be rooting for. If "Friends" does cut short the reign of "Despacito," he'll essentially be blocking himself from history -- strange timing for an artist who has the chance to put the ultimate exclamation mark on an already legendary two-year-plus run of pop mega-success.
However, if Justin does rocket to No. 1 with "Friends," it won't come without its own historic implications: The Beatles are the only artist to ever go back-to-back-to-back ("I Want to Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You" and "Can't Buy Me Love," in 1964) without outside interruption atop the Hot 100. (Bieber mentor Usher came close: he nearly notched three consecutive No. 1s in 2004, but his reign was interrupted by Fantasia's "I Believe" for one week, following back-to-back rules for "Yeah!" and "Burn" and ahead of the command of "Confessions Part II.") And if "Friends" reigns for a while, Bieber could even conceivably put The Black Eyed Peas' record 26-week consecutive span at No. 1 (set in 2009) in his sights -- he's already currently at 15 weeks thanks to "I'm the One" (one weeks) and "Despacito" (14).
So regardless of what happens between "Despacito" and "Friends" the next two weeks, it's almost certain to mark a historic achievement of some sort for Justin Bieber. And undoubtedly, it says something about The Bieb's current standing in the pop hierarchy that perhaps the only person standing in the way of him breaking a Hot 100 record that's stood for more than two decades is himself.