Hip-Hop

Five Burning Questions: Cardi B Climbs 'Up' to No. 1 on the Hot 100

Cardi B
Flo Ngala

Cardi B

For the fifth time since she first broke through with "Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)" just three and a half years ago, Cardi B has a new single on top of the Billboard Hot 100.

"Up," Cardi's first release of 2021, climbs one spot from No. 2 -- where it debuted five weeks earlier, stuck at the time behind Olivia Rodrigo's eight-week No. 1 "Drivers License" -- to the chart's apex. It becomes just the second of Cardi's five No. 1s to hit the top without any other credited artists as collaborators, and the first song since 24kGoldn and Iann Dior's "Mood" initially topped the chart in October 2019 to reach No. 1 on the Hot 100 for the first time after originally debuting lower on the chart.

What does Cardi's latest No. 1 mean for her? And why have so few songs climbed to No. 1 on the Hot 100 recently? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.

1. When "Up" was blocked from No. 1 in its debut week by the continued reign of Olivia Rodrigo's "Drivers License," it seemed likely that No. 2 would be the song's Hot 100 peak -- especially given how the only new No. 1s on the chart so far since last November had all been either debuts or re-entries. On a scale from 1-10, how surprised are you that "Up" was able to get over the top this week?  

Rania Aniftos: About a 2 or 3. After that incredible performance at the Grammys, I couldn’t get “Up” out of my head (or Cardi’s stunning 18-pound outfit – HOW did she pole dance with all that weight?). It was my favorite performance of the night and took “Up” to the next level. Clearly, I’m not the only one who felt that way.

Katie Atkinson: 8! I loved that when "Up" launched just shy of the top spot, even though many expected her to go No. 1 after "WAP," Cardi celebrated because it was her highest solo debut ever and she was the first woman rapper to debut in the top five since Lauryn Hill. It's like she put great chart karma into the world and she was rewarded for it.

Carl Lamarre: Let's go with 6. I think I'm more surprised that "Up" usurped the throne from Drizzy's "What's Next." My gut told me that Drake would run laps around the summit for an undisturbed period. Credit goes to Cardi and Co. for unleashing a fiery performance at the Grammys, and along with the release of the song's Mood Board Visualizer last week, upping the numbers on the board for her bouncy bop.

Jason Lipshutz: A 6! When “Up” debuted at No. 2 on the Hot 100 and was blocked by “Drivers License” -- and then, a few weeks later, when Drake’s “What’s Next” barged into the top spot last week -- I naturally assumed that Cardi’s latest hit would only reach No. 2 during a competitive moment at the top of the chart. My assumption did not account for the fact that “Up” gets stronger with every listen, or that Cardi is an A-list artist whose sprawling fan base can patiently power a song up the chart. I’m pretty surprised, but I guess I shouldn’t have been.

Andrew Unterberger: Yep, 6 sounds about right. I always liked "Up," but I didn't think it quite had the juice to wait out both the final four weeks of Olivia Rodrigo's reign and an all-top-three Drake debut week before taking over. But considering there was barely any drop-off in its performance the first few weeks after its debut, it's hardly shocking that it's still going this strong after a month.

2. Why do you think it's become so hard in recent months for hits to complete a more traditional climb to No. 1 of the Hot 100? Do you see the trend persisting for the rest of 2021?

Rania Aniftos: Because virality on TikTok and elsewhere is so intense at first -- and then the hype slowly fades -- it’s no surprise that a traditional climb is scarce these days. “Drivers License” is the perfect example: It was so popular and so inescapable, that within a week, I knew everything about a love triangle between three teenagers that I hadn’t heard of before the song’s release. I’m sure the trend will persist for the rest of 2021 and possibly beyond, because of social media’s influence on how people discover music nowadays.

Katie Atkinson: I think it's hard to compete with the curiosity and fanfare around a brand-new song in the streaming era – and I don't see that changing anytime soon. It typically takes a new remix or a new music video to get an older song to the top, because you have to offer something new to give casual listeners a reason to engage with the song again once it's old news. In addition to the sustained popularity of "Up" since its release, especially on radio, it needed that buzzy Grammy performance to get fresh eyes and ears on it.

Carl Lamarre: People are losing interest quicker. It's either that or the records that we'd consider home-run caliber songs aren't as potent as we'd like them to be. I think the success of previous Hot 100 chart-toppers like "Mood," "Rockstar," "The Box," and "Driver's License" accrued longevity because they were undeniable jams. No matter who came close to superseding them, they found a way to stiff-arm the competition because of their catchiness.

Jason Lipshutz: While “Up” is thus far the only song that’s climbed to No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 2021, there were plenty of instances of that traditional rise last year, from Doja Cat’s “Say So” to Jawsh 685’s “Savage Love” to 24kGoldn and Iann Dior’s “Mood.” I’d expect the Hot 100 chart-toppers to continue as a mix of culture-capturing No. 1 debuts and songs that slowly but surely become smashes -- some years there will be more of the former, and some more of the latter.

Andrew Unterberger: It may say something about radio's impact still being a little lesser with a year of global shutdown, since usually the songs that climb to No. 1 need the boost from radio's slow-building airplay gains. It also doesn't help that radio usually takes a pretty long time to catch up to the more gradually viral TikTok hits of recent years, meaning that by the time a "Telepatía" or "No More Parties" starts getting legitimate airplay, its streaming juice has already started to fade, making it tough for these songs to make a real push for the chart's top.

3. "Up" is Cardi's fifth No. 1 on the Hot 100, and second without another credit artist on the song. Does it break any new ground for her or her career, or is it more a fortification of her pre-existing strengths and stardom?

Rania Aniftos: I think it’s an extra bit of validation for Cardi, who has gotten a lot of success doing collabs throughout the past few years. It’s reassurance that she’s still got it on her own, and even though it’s been a while since her last album, her fans aren’t going anywhere.

Katie Atkinson: It just further proves her staying power. She's a consistent hitmaker all by herself – even if she doesn't burst right to the top out of the gate.

Carl LamarreCardi's latest feat hopefully reminded people of her pre-existing powers as a superstar musician. She has the zest to command anyone's ears and attention on social media. She also knows how to read the room when it comes to releasing a record. By playing the quality-over-quantity game, she's successfully racked up more accolades, plaques, and TV placements than most of her male counterparts. It's time to recognize that Cardi B is a legitimate superstar for the present and future.

Jason Lipshutz: The latter. When I think of the success of “Up,” I think about the potential longevity of Cardi B’s time as a superstar: after initially dominating in 2017 with “Bodak Yellow” and then dropping an excellent debut album in 2018’s Invasion of Privacy, the success of “WAP” and “Up” over the past eight months has already made her second era a huge win before it’s even begun. “Up” gives her five Hot 100 chart-toppers -- as many as undisputed hip-hop titans Eminem, Ludacris and Diddy -- in less than four years’ time. This achievement continues to suggest that Cardi B is in for a long ride as a commanding rap force.

Andrew Unterberger: It's a worthwhile reminder that she doesn't need a co-star to top pop marquees, but I doubt anyone really needed that at this point. Cardi's a superstar, and topping the Hot 100 with songs that connect even without a major co-star or career/narrative hook is just what superstars do.

4. While Invasion of Privacy was one of the most successful debut albums of the 2010s, Cardi has slow-played its follow-up somewhat, dropping just a single or two a year since its 2018 release. Why do you think Cardi has been able to maintain her chart-topping success and general career momentum with this strategy?

Rania Aniftos: Well, she hasn’t released much in the music world, but she certainly hasn’t disappeared off the face of the Earth. Cardi does an excellent job remaining in the press and generally on people’s radars through her Twitter rants, political thoughts and Instagram selfies. She nailed the momentum formula by taking her time, dropping some top-quality singles and building anticipation without letting people forget about her.

Katie Atkinson: It all goes to her personality. Even with only a couple of songs a year, she never leaves the headlines, thanks to a viral tweet here or an impromptu Instagram Live video there. It feels like she's always in an album cycle the way she never leaves the spotlight -- but somehow, she never feels overexposed either. It's her superpower.

Carl Lamarre: See Answer No. 3. The slow-cooker mentality works because Cardi is not overstuffing us with content. Cardi already does a fantastic job keeping her fans enthralled with her social media antics while simultaneously allowing whatever single she has out at the moment to marinate. She's strategic with her releases and always has a sturdy rollout plan to ensure the record's longevity, hence why her songs can thrive for almost three, four months on the Billboard charts.

Jason Lipshutz: Following Invasion of PrivacyCardi stayed busy as a guest artist, hopping on tracks by Maroon 5, Ed Sheeran, Migos and Lil Nas X, among others; then she took time off in early 2020 to work on new music, avoiding over-saturation in the process. Instead of flooding the zone with new material, Cardi turned the releases of “WAP” and “Up” into events, hyping up their debuts online and keeping listeners’ attention laser-focused on one new single at a time. Cardi will no doubt return with a new full-length that garners a ton of attention, but until then, she’s been smart about promoting her official singles in a way that continues her positive momentum.

Andrew Unterberger: She seems to have a pretty good sense of when a new single can just be a new single, and when it has to be a proper event. Not every single of hers have been the latter -- "Bartier Cardi," "Money" and "Press" were all kinda in-betweeners in that respect, though all were still quite strong -- but she also hits the public with an "I Like It" or "WAP" every year or two, which proves to be the same sort of culture-shifter that "Bodak Yellow" was originally. Score enough of those, and your next album can wait until you're damn well ready.

5. "Up" becomes the 16th Hot 100 No. 1 with the titular direction in its name. Which is your favorite of the other 15?

Rania Aniftos: I’m going to have to say Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” mostly because of the rickrolling Internet meme. It’s so random and so funny. Oh, and I love that iconic trench coat from the music video.

Katie Atkinson: There are a lot of good choices there, but it's Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" for me, no question. That song was my everything as a six-year-old and it remains an absolute smash. If Ariana Grande released that song today with the exact same production, it's hitting No. 1 all over again. (Actually, J. Cole kind of already did…)

Carl Lamarre: Gotta pay homage to Luda's "Stand Up." For one, the video is epic. Secondly, it's a Kanye West production. The old Kanye was untouchable as a producer in the 2000s.

Jason Lipshutz: My March Madness-style final four would be Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up Pt. 1,” Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” Ludacris’ “Stand Up” and Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” Gaye defeats Astley handily, while Ludacris squeaks out a W against Wham! thanks to the “Stand Up” music video. In the finals, “Got To Give It Up Pt. 1” edges out “Stand Up,” and confetti rains down on one of the smoothest jams of all time.

Andrew Unterberger: I'll go back to 1968 for Archie Bell & The Drells' "Tighten Up," a rubbery early funk classic that sounds just as irresistible over half a century later. Next time Megan Thee Stallion wants to shout out H-Town history with one of her new singles, she could do a lot worse than updating this one.

Cardi B Earns Fifth No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100 With 'Up' | Billboard News