Traditionally, Billboard Hot 100 records are set incrementally and ultimately broken by relatively small margins: Take the famous record for endurance at No. 1 on the chart, which has grown while changing hands over the last 30 years from 13 weeks to 14 weeks to 16 weeks to 19 weeks. Every so often, though, you get a record-setter that blazes so far past the previous holder that it makes you wonder if you’re talking about a different chart altogether — as is the case this week, when U.K. band Glass Animals reaches No. 1 with their smash hit “Heat Waves,” doing so in the song’s 59th week on the listing (dated March 12).
Not only is that the longest a song has ever taken to hit No. 1 on the Hot 100, it beats the previous record by 24 weeks, a 69% difference. What’s more, the previous record-holder had a conspicuously nontraditional journey to the apex — Mariah Carey’s 1994 holiday classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You” built up its chart run over the course of multiple decades, as a perennial re-charter that began charting in consecutive years in 2012 but did not actually top the listing until 2019. (Even the second-longest run to No. 1 pre-“Heat Waves,” by Los Del Rio’s “Macarena” with its 33-week trek to No. 1, had a long interruption, as the song fell off the Hot 100 for nearly four months after its first 20 weeks, before re-entering with new momentum; by comparison, “Heat Waves” took only 61 weeks total from its debut for its 59-week chart journey.)
How were Glass Animals able to take this unprecedented trek to No. 1 on the Hot 100 with their international breakout single? Here are five factors that certainly contributed:
1. Taking the alternative-to-pop long crossover route.
A common factor in many of the longest-enduring Hot 100 hits is that they started on a different radio format before crossing over to pop — and eventually spreading to many others in between. This was certainly the case with “Heat Waves,” which debuted on Billboard‘s Alternative Airplay chart in November 2020 and topped it in March 2021 — about a month after it bowed on Pop Airplay, which “Waves” finally topped this January. It’s a similar route to ones taken by previous long-trek alt-to-pop Hot 100-toppers like Vertical Horizon’s “Everything You Want” (26 weeks) and Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open” (27 weeks), as well as Imagine Dragons’ No. 3-peaking “Radioactive,” which until The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” passed it last year, held the record for longest total run on the Hot 100 with 87 weeks.
2. Longer Hot 100 endurance in the 2020s.
As suggested by the previously alluded-to record 90-week run of “Blinding Lights” on the Hot 100 in 2019-21, big hits have a tendency to hang around the Hot 100 — particularly its upper stretches — for longer than they used to. In fact, even with its 59 weeks on the chart, “Heat Waves” is still only the third-longest-running Hot 100 hit currently in the chart’s top 20, behind both Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” (69 weeks) and The Weeknd and Ariana Grande’s “Save Your Tears” (61 weeks), at Nos. 15 and 20, respectively. Meanwhile, of the five songs with the longest runs in the chart’s top 10 and the top five — both lists led by “Lights” — none are from longer ago than 2016.
The reasons for this are many, but in large part due to streaming supplanting song sales as a major driver of consumption on the Hot 100 (which also factors radio airplay), and allowing for greater chart endurance in the process. (Listeners are likely to buy a song only once, but they can stream it countless times over many weeks.) Meanwhile, rather than try to compete with the freshness and immediacy that streaming can offer, pop radio has largely slowed down its playlist turnover and drifted further than ever towards established hits — particularly in the last couple years over the course of the pandemic, where familiarity has been paramount as radio seeks programming safety amid fewer workers commuting and, thus, potentially listening in cars. It all adds up to major cross-platform hits lasting longer than they ever have before.
3. Virality breeding further virality.
We’ve long been used to the concept of a song going viral resulting in an accelerated journey to a high, quick peak — one that usually dies out nearly as quickly. But a few years into the TikTok era, virality is proving it doesn’t have to be so fast or extreme: Instead, songs have longer, more gradual, and sometimes less linear growth curves — where it can be harder to tell what point you’re currently at in the curve in real time. Such was the case with “Heat Waves,” which spread very slowly over multiple bumps — one from a fanfic trend in late 2020, one just from a sense of seasonal appropriateness in mid-2021, and one from a remix trend on TikTok a little later that year.
While none of the bumps resulted in stratospheric gains for the song, they’ve all added up to the song being one of the biggest streaming hits of the past couple years — and one that now has a life of its own well beyond any of the mini-trends it’s been involved with. It’s never reached higher than No. 5 on the Streaming Songs chart, but it’s been on the chart for 49 weeks now, and returns to that No. 5 peak this week — nearly four months after hitting it initially. It wouldn’t be surprising at this point if it was still pretty close to there a couple months from now.
4. A slow-burner.
Appropriately for a song of its title, “Heat Waves” isn’t a pop scorcher so much as a slowly enveloping temperature shift. Whereas the major trend of 2020s pop has been the return of uptempo — from “Blinding Lights” to “Levitating” to “Stay” — “Heat Waves” instead wriggled into the charts with a decidedly midtempo groove and a catchy-but-low-key chorus, one less obviously immediate but arguably even more insidious. It’s the sort of song that takes more than a couple listens to prove totally addictive; just listening to it, you can hear why it wasn’t a crossover smash immediately out of the gate, but it’s also hardly shocking that it eventually became a favorite to millions of stateside pop fans, either.
5. Lack of major new competition.
As evidenced by last November’s Encanto soundtrack and its breakout single “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” owning the Billboard 200 albums chart and Hot 100 respectively over the past month, there have not been a large number of major new song or album releases dotting the calendar thus far in 2022 — with most of the songs recently rising in the upper stretches of the Hot 100 (GAYLE’s “abcdefu,” Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin,” Justin Bieber’s “Ghost”) being holdovers from 2021. With “Heat Waves” remaining fairly steady in radio and streaming over recent weeks, what put it over the top on the Hot 100 was not any particular new gain in metrics, but rather just holding on long enough while “Bruno” started to drop at a greater rate.
It will be interesting to see now if “Heat Waves” can reign for as long as “Bruno” did merely through the steadiness that’s defined its 2022 to date, or if another hit — either one of those aforementioned risers, or a new song that we don’t know about yet — will rise to actually seize the mantle from it.