Lorde's 'Royals' Expands Reign To R&B Radio

Charles Howells


The song's crossover continues to its most unlikely format yet, garnering major-market R&B/hip-hop airplay

Even though its lyrics decry some of the clichés of R&B/hip-hop ("Every song's like gold teeth, Grey Goose, tripping in the bathroom"), Lorde's "Royals" is finding favor at the radio format.

The track enters Billboard's Nielsen BDS-based R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart this week at No. 46.

The crossover marks the latest, and seemingly most surprising, of the song's journey. The U.S. breakthrough hit for the 16-year-old New Zealander has topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks running and has sold 2.7 million downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

"Royals" has topped the Alternative Songs, the adult alternative Triple A chart and, as of this week, Pop Songs airplay charts, while also scaling Adult Pop Songs, Adult Contemporary and, thanks to remixes, Dance/Mix Show Airplay and Dance Club Songs.

The song also becomes the first Alternative Songs No. 1 to reach the top five on Rhythmic, where it jumps 6-3 with Greatest Gainer honors (up 783 plays) for a third consecutive week.

While its rise on Rhythmic (which features the likes of Drake, Jay Z and Chris Brown in its top five this week) might seem somewhat surprising, the format does feature heavy doses of pop from the likes of Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and Miley Cyrus, making Lorde's segue to the chart understandable.

But, R&B/hip-hop? For someone who's "never seen a diamond in the flesh"?

Certain format programmers aren't concerned.

"We're playing 'Royals' because we feel that it's a hit record that can cross formats," says KBFB Dallas OM/PD Mark McCray. The R&B/hip-hop station is one of 18 playing the song, having spun it 68 times in the Oct. 14-20 BDS tracking week. "It's easy to try to categorize music into boxes, but sometimes there are those songs that you have to play because they're so strong. 'Royals' is one of those songs."

"The texture of it easily fits with all the hits from Drake and the R&B we currently play," McCray says. "Feedback has been positive. It's awesome to be able to introduce the hip-hop audience to this song. Thankfully, the Dallas/Ft. Worth area is progressive and music-savvy."

Notably, Republic has promoted "Royals" to alternative, pop and adult radio. It's not putting such an official push at R&B/hip-hop, making its unsolicited airplay at the latter format more impressive.

"We noticed local download sales on the song. Then, my staff started talking about it around the same time that [New York's hip-hop-leaning rhythmic WQHT] Hot 97 began playing it," says Al Payne, PD of R&B/hip-hop WERQ Baltimore, which played "Royals" 13 times last week. "Those three indicators usually signal strong potential."

"Royals" is quickly joining a select group of songs to cross to a vast array of radio formats. Three of those smashes? The top Hot 100 songs of each of the last two years and one of the biggest so far this year.

In 2011, Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" topped the Hot 100 for seven weeks and spread to a whopping 12 airplay charts, encompassing formats from pop, rock and adult to dance, R&B/hip-hop and even Latin.

Last year, Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," featuring Kimbra, led the Hot 100 for eight frames, while also topping Adult Contemporary, Adult Pop Songs, Alternative Songs, Dance/Mix Show Airplay, Pop Songs and Triple A. (While it climbed to No. 10 on Rhythmic, it didn't reach any R&B/hip-hop surveys).

Earlier this year, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' "Thrift Shop," featuring Wanz, crowned the Hot 100 for six weeks. It hit No. 21 on Alternative Songs before crossing to a No. 34 peak on R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay. (Like "Royals," "Thrift Shop" found support at R&B/hip-hop despite a theme that ribs the lux, to quote Lorde, synonymous with the format's lifestyle.)

While the early acceptance for "Royals" at R&B/hip-hop radio is noteworthy, the song reaches the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart with 2.7 million in audience at the format. That's just 2% of its overall audience (166 million; "Royals" concurrently climbs 2-1 on the all-format Radio Songs chart this week).

Still, as the song has become a perhaps unlikely multi-format juggernaut, it's also the latest example of how format lines are blurring, with Avicii's folktronica track "Wake Me Up!" No. 1 on Triple A, typically the haven of acoustic-based singer/songwriters and rootsy rock bands. (The Swedish DJ doesn't seem likely to grow a beard any time soon that would confuse him for a member of Mumford & Sons.)

Songs like "Royals" and "Wake Me Up!" also add support to the thinking that younger generations consume music from multiple platforms, not just, say, one favorite radio station, and, thus, don't think of formats as strictly as in the past. Plus, technology has evolved and become more accessible, helping to create hits mixing previously unthinkable contrasts.

Payne cites another multi-format from the recent past: "The crossing over of 'Royals' reminds me of M.I.A.'s 'Paper Planes'," he says of the song that rose to No. 4 on the Hot 100, No. 12 on Alternative Songs and No. 36 on R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay in 2008.

Best of all, Payne says, "'Royals' is blending well with our core artists like Drake, J. Cole and Jay Z, while Ariana Grande's 'The Way,' Ciara's 'Overdose' and Mike WiLL Made-It's '23' prove that our audience no longer cares what we consider 'urban,' 'rhythmic' or 'pop.'

"They like what they like."