Little Big Town

Little Big Town photographed in 2014.

Matthew Welch

Little Big Town has found itself a big hit in its buzzy single "Girl Crush." The track races 17-3 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart (dated April 11) in the wake of news coverage about how the ballad, with its mistaken lesbian-themed storyline, was allegedly having difficulty scoring radio airplay. It's the biggest chart hit for the quartet since "Pontoon" sailed to No. 1 in September 2012.

"Girl Crush" is sung from the point of a view of a woman whose jealousy of another woman's desirability is dubbed a "girl crush." The lyrics are directed to a man who is involved with the other woman: "I want to taste her lips, yeah, 'cause they taste like you/ I want to drown myself in a bottle of her perfume."

News of the song's alleged lukewarm reception at radio garnered headlines like: "Little Big Town's 'Girl Crush' Rankles Puritanical Country Radio" (Los Angeles Times, March 27), "Radio Stations Pull Little Big Town's 'Girl Crush' Over Complaints of Song's 'Gay Agenda' " (Huffington Post, March 27) and "Why Stations Are Pulling Little Big Town's 'Girl Crush' … and What That Says About Country Radio" (Washington Post, March 25).

Then, such stars as Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton began defending the song, stirring more interest. Also helping drive attention: Little Big Town performed the cut on NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (March 24).

After speaking with country radio programmers, Billboard reported on March 27 that the controversy isn't as widespread as other media outlets have described. Case in point: "Girl Crush" rises 32-26 on Country Airplay with a 28 percent gain to 8.7 million in audience, the largest percentage gain among songs in the top 30 (according to Nielsen Music). It scored play on 140 of the 145 reporting stations to the Country Airplay chart panel. It also zooms 4-1 on Country Digital Songs (60,000 downloads, up 137 percent for its best sales week yet) and 20-2 on Country Streaming Songs (1.6 million U.S. streams, up 115 percent). Parent album Pain Killer likewise benefits: It logs its best sales week (6,000, up 113 percent) since Christmas and returns to the top 10 on Top Country Albums (15-7).

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TUBE TUNES: On Top Country Albums, ABC's Nashville franchise yields its seventh top 10 companion album, as Nashville: On the Record, Volume 2 debuts at No. 3. Of the TV show's releases, only Nashville: On the Record has charted higher, reaching No. 2 in May 2014; the series' first album, 2012's Nashville: Season 1: Volume 1, also peaked at No. 3. The new album starts with 13,000 sold.

SMITH RACES (AGAIN): Also on Top Country Albums, Canaan Smith enters at No. 16 with his debut self-titled EP (3,000 sold). Helping to drive the set's sales, lead single "Love You Like That" reaches the Hot Country Songs top 20, rising 26-20 in its 26th week.

Nashville native Smith first stepped into the entertainment spotlight in 2009: as a contestant on CBS' The Amazing Race.

Additional reporting by Gary Trust