Pop

Five Burning Questions: The Weeknd and Ariana Grande Top the Hot 100 With 'Save Your Tears'

The Weeknd, Ariana Grande
Matt Sayles/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

The Weeknd and Ariana Grande perform on stage at the 42nd annual American Music Awards on Nov. 23, 2014.

More than a year after The Weeknd first dropped his After Hours album in March of 2020, the set is still spinning off No. 1 singles. Following "Heartless," which first topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 2019, and "Blinding Lights," which was No. 1 on Billboard's year-end Hot 100 for 2020, "Save Your Tears" becomes the set's third track to reach the chart's apex this week.

"Tears" jumps from No. 6 to No. 1 on the chart dated May 8, in large part thanks to a boost from a new remix of the song, featuring fellow pop megastar Ariana Grande. The two, who've collaborated together multiple times already, are credited as co-leads on the song's official Hot 100 listing, giving both artists their sixth No. 1 hit on the chart.

Why did the remix do so well? And how has After Hours stayed in the mainstream's forefront so long? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.

1. After multiple months in the top 10, "Save Your Tears" jumps to No. 1 this week in large part due to the release of the song's Grande-featuring remix. Why was the remix so immediately impactful -- and do you think the new version adds much to the original song besides boosting its star power? 

Katie Atkinson: It feels like The Weeknd had this remix in his back pocket and was just waiting for the perfect time to deploy it – and he clearly picked the correct week. I think the immediate impact has everything to do with the familiar pairing of The Weeknd and Ariana Grande and fans loving them together. But for me, while Grande's ethereal vocals are really lovely here, I think history (and radio) will remember the album version as the definitive take on this track.

Katie Bain: Abel + Ari have market-tested chemistry, with the "Save Your Tears" remix (as we all are aware!) rounding out a hat trick of collabs that follow "Love Me Harder" and "Off the Table." These two artists just sound and look great together, and given that they're both mind-spinningly massive stars, it makes sense that their respective fanbases would drive the remix (which was well-hyped by their shared label, Republic) to the top spot. "Save Your Tears" is my favorite track from After Hours, so this one had a lot to live up to for me.

Did it? I guess? I respect that it's good, but it doesn't quite move me. Grande's voice is gorgeous as always, and adding a female perspective adds nuance to the messages (and I do like the new lyrics too, especially "met you once under a Pisces moon"). But did it knock my red jacket off? Not really. I had hoped for something a bit more bombastic, and while the remix nearly gets there, it doesn't give me goosebumps.

Stephen Daw: First of all, the remix was welcomed so openly because "Save Your Tears" is a great song, full stop. That being said, I think the reason it gained so much steam and got boosted to the summit of the charts is because Ariana Grande is a chart-topper through and through, and she was absolutely the right pick to help boost The Weeknd into the No. 1 slot. As far as the remix goes, I think it's fine. It would've been great to see the song actually get a whole mess of new production elements, a tempo change, maybe some added verses from both The Weeknd and Ariana. But at the end of the day, I understand that a good song doesn't need to be messed with too much, and "Save Your Tears" certainly still sounds great with the Ariana add-in.

Jason Lipshutz: Had The Weeknd tapped any old A-lister to hop on the “Save Your Tears” remix, the single may not have powered to No. 1 -- but Ariana Grande is not any old A-lister when it comes to her team-ups with Mr. Tesfaye, from “Love Me Harder” to last year’s “Off The Table” on Positions. Their chemistry is dynamic, their rhythmic-pop sensibilities in lock-step -- so when it was announced that Grande was joining the “Save Your Tears” rework, the top of the Hot 100 was clearly in sight, after months of promotion for the After Hours single.

Andrew Unterberger: The remix does its job: It's super-fun to hear Ari's voice come in instead of Abel's on that first pre-chorus "huhhh-ahhh-uhhh-ahh-uhhhh" backing sigh, and to hear her sing her own new lyrics on the second verse rather than just parroting back the original (like some people). That said, I do wish they had added a little more interplay, or maybe a new bridge or something to really hammer home the identity of this new spin, and make it a worthy standalone companion to the original rather than just a novelty bonus version.

2. For pretty much the entirety of the past decade, the starry remix has been one of the most proven ways to help boost a song lingering in the Hot 100's top tier all the way to No. 1. Do you think the practice is ultimately a positive or negative thing for pop music? 

Katie Atkinson: While it's unquestionably a shameless tactic, I think it's more positive than negative. It's made for some interesting pairings (some more successful than others) and there are some major examples of remixes elevating a song's quality, not just its chart position. A few that come to mind are Billy Ray Cyrus turning Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" into a far more complete single or Beyoncé blessing fellow Houstonian Megan Thee Stallion with a rare feature for "Savage" -- and both of those remixes hit No. 1 and won Grammys.

Katie Bain: It totally depends on the quality of the remix. I think ultimately we all just want to hear music that makes us feel something, and if a star can come in and juice up an already juicy hit, I don't see how anybody loses. (In that vein I suggest everybody now takes three minutes and 30 seconds to listen to the Missy Elliott remix of Jack Ü's "Take U There.") Obviously a lot of these remixes are ploys for apex chart position, but I don't think effective ploys and actual art have to be mutually exclusive.

Stephen Daw: In the grand scheme of things, I think that remixing your song to give it a chart boost is a largely inoffensive, effective method. Yes, there is the concern that if artists just keep remixing the same song over and over again, then we'll never get to hear new music from them. But I would argue that if the remix is fresh and different enough, then it's worth taking a new approach to your song to see what else you can come up with, especially if it means working with someone that both you and your fans are going to love having on the track. All I ask is that we start spicing them up a little bit.

Jason Lipshutz: The addition of a star to an existing hit by way of a remix has become such a proven formula because... listeners love it! The combination of a known quantity (a hit single) with another known quantity (a popular artist), in a way that’s a mystery until fans actually listen to the remix, piques listener curiosity week in and week out. The “Save Your Tears” remix reached No. 1 in part because so many pop fans were wondering how Grande would enmesh herself in the world of “Save Your Tears,” a song many already loved.

Andrew Unterberger: It's mostly harmless, if a bit shameless -- though I can't help wish there was still more of a place for the '90s concept of a guest-starry hit remix, which often not only added new one or multiple new vocalists, but entirely new lyrics, a different beat, maybe a thematic twist, and even its own music video. Yes, it takes a lot more work and thoughtfulness, but shouldn't that be what we expect from our best and brightest pop stars? Abel and Ariana are certainly capable -- we even saw the latter get pretty close recently with her excellent, star-studded "34+35" remix -- but the bar for remixes is so much lower these days that it's hard to really blame them for merely doing what they need to in order to clear it.

3. The Weeknd's After Hours set makes history with this No. 1, becoming just the second album (after Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814) to score Hot 100 No. 1s in three separate calendar years. With so many albums of recent years coming and going seemingly in a week or two, what does it say about either The Weeknd or pop music in 2021 that After Hours has been able to extend its dominance over such a long period? 

Katie Atkinson: There are a lot of possibilities, but one I've been really wondering about is radio. I know I've barely listened to the radio in the past year-plus because I've barely been in my car, so I'm wondering if it took people longer than usual to passively discover each successive single without that traditional outlet. Add that to The Weeknd's team doing a masterful job of going old-school and timing each release to a big awards show and leveraging the Super Bowl halftime for visibility, and you're continually finding new listeners beyond the fans who streamed the full album day one.

Katie BainAfter Hours has had an unusually long cycle because of COVID. Had the pandemic not happened, I'm not sure we would have gotten such longevity from this album, as I suspect The Weeknd would have already moved on to other things. But given the current uncertainty around public health, touring and future releases, The Weeknd's team has smartly milked the LP for all it's worth, dropping the Grande and Rosalía remixes, scoring a huge look for the album with the Super Bowl halftime show and just extending its shelf life until, I imagine, what's possible in terms of their next move (we know The Weekend is working on another album) becomes clearer.

Stephen Daw: I think it says definitely that After Hours is one of the best pop records of the last decade, and it should be remembered as such. Every time I go back and listen to the album, I find something new to obsess over in the production, the lyrics or the vocals, which is what great pop records do on a regular basis. The Weeknd is one of the most talented artists currently making music, and other artists should take note of the hyper-focused work he's done to make this record stick out in people's minds a year and change after its release.

Jason Lipshutz: Credit The Weeknd for masterfully rolling out After Hours: he hit all the right beats on this album campaign, from the November 2019 return with “Heartless” to the prolonged radio push of “Blinding Lights” to the Super Bowl halftime hits parade to the perfectly timed “Save Your Tears” remix. Perhaps the most impressive feature of it all: the entire campaign has felt of the same piece, with The Weeknd’s evolving face bandages and the ‘80s-inspired synth-pop at the heart of its biggest hits. Chart stats aside, running an album campaign this cohesive over 18 months feels downright impossible in 2021

Andrew Unterberger: The simultaneously faster-and-slower pace of the Hot 100 -- where the No. 1 seems to turn over every week, but the biggest and most enduring hits last in the top 10 for months, even a year in the case of Tesfaye's previous chart-topper -- makes it friendlier to long rollouts. In this relatively depressed streaming market, extended radio prowess (which The Weeknd can almost always count on these days) can make you a fixture in the top tier even without that release-month streaming excitement, and can even get you close enough to the top to grab a No. 1 with the right push. And as I've said before in this column, The Weeknd has never been one to leave potential No. 1 hits on the table.

4. After Hours also gets in the record books for this No. 1 by becoming just the seventh album since 2010 to notch three Hot 100 No. 1s -- following efforts by Katy Perry (Teenage Dream), Adele (21), Rihanna (Loud), Taylor Swift (1989), Justin Bieber (Purpose) and Drake (Scorpion). Which artist not currently on that list do you think will most likely be next to join that exclusive company? 

Katie Atkinson: I'm surprised Ariana isn't already on that list, so she's my pick. It's probably because of the quick pace of her album eras that she hasn't done it yet, so if she stretches out the timeline on her next blockbuster project, it will happen.

Katie Bain: Beyoncé has been close to this achievement in the past -- 2003's Dangerously in Love spawned two No. 1s and another two top 5 Hot 100 hits -- and very arguably should've gotten there with at least one of her last two classics (2013's self-titled and 2016's Lemonade). I'd love to see her take her rightful place as queen of the club.

Stephen Daw: When I read the names on this list, I instinctively thought Ariana Grande's name would definitely be on it (I now realize that Thank U, Next only launched two No. 1 singles). It's frankly a matter of time before Ms. Grande gets added to that list, in my humble opinion -- she's proven to be a dominant figure in the top 10 throughout her career, while also proving that she is extremely smart about who she works with and how she releases music. I'll just call it now: Ariana's next album is going to have three No. 1 singles. Feel free to quote me on it.

Jason Lipshutz: Bruno Mars will be on that list eventually, I’d bet -- maybe even as a member of Silk Sonic, if his Anderson .Paak collaboration can spin off two more chart-toppers following “Leave The Door Open”! If only Mars had included “Nothin’ On You” with B.o.B on his 2010 debut, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, he’d be on there already... or if “Uptown Funk!” with Mark Ronson had been added to a deluxe edition of 2012’s Unorthodox Jukebox, somehow. Bruno’s been close, but he’ll get there for real soon enough.

Andrew Unterberger: Grande certainly has a case, having previously gotten as close as an artist can get: Thank U, Next spawned a pair of No. 1s in the title track and "7 Rings," as well as a No. 2 with "Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored." But I'll switch it up and go with Travis Scott -- who, lest we forget, has scored three No. 1s of his own since 2018's Astroworld ("Highest in the Room," "The Scotts" with Kid Cudi, "Franchise" featuring Young Thug and M.I.A.), all currently untethered to any one full-length project. He could surprise release an album tonight with all three of these tracks on it and join this club instantaneously.

5. Also making a decent bit of history with this No. 1 is Grande, who becomes just the second artist (after Paul McCartney) to score three No. 1s as a co-lead artist with three different duet partners (along with Justin Bieber on "Stuck With You" and Lady Gaga with "Rain on Me"). Who else do you think Grande could pair up with next to help her break the tie with Sir Paul? 

Katie Atkinson: Let's just shoot for the moon and ask for an Ari and RiRi duet! Any music Rihanna releases next will rocket up the charts, so if she invites Ariana along for the ride, it will be a bullet to No. 1.

Katie Bain: As a devoted Bey stan, I am again going to give her as an answer. Imagine them together -- all of those vocal runs, all of that hair. We saw what Beyoncé did for Megan Thee Stallion with the Hot 100-topping "Savage" remix, and she's always been one to link with her fellow pop royalty (see: the steamy Shakira collab "Beautiful Liar," the DGAF Gaga collab "Telephone" the wedding standard Ed Sheeran collab "Perfect," plus anything she's ever done with her husband.) A Grande collab thus doesn't feel too out of reach. I'd be fine to toss The Weeknd on that track, too.

Stephen Daw: Let's take two standoms and unite them around a singular cause — the Arianators and the BTS Army joined in musical harmony. Not only would an Ariana x BTS collab send fans into an absolute tailspin of excitement, it would also very likely be an excellent pop song. Take the sugar-sweet pop musings of a hit like "Dynamite," mix it up with some of the pop-meets-R&B stylings of a single like "Positions," and you've got a hit on your hands.

Jason Lipshutz: Imagine seeing “Adele & Ariana Grande” pop up on your streaming platform of choice. Is there any way you’re not pressing play to hear that vocal duel? Is there any way that song isn’t hitting No. 1? Let’s make it happen!

Andrew Unterberger: I've been calling for an Ariana Grande/Billie Eilish full-length album collab for about as long as the latter's been around. That may be a ways off now that the latter has announced her upcoming new album -- with no credited featured artists, at least on the early tracklist -- but a Grande remix of one of the tracks from that could still be in the cards. It's a proven recipe for success, certainly.