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Pop on Top for 2021: State of the Billboard Hot 100, According to Hit Songs Deconstructed

A look at key trends in the Hot 100's top 10 throughout 2021.

What were some of the most notable trends on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart throughout 2021?

Hit Songs Deconstructed, which provides compositional analytics for top 10 Hot 100 hits, has released its 2021 State of the Hot 100 Top 10 report.

Here are five takeaways from Hit Songs Deconstructed’s year-end research, from pop reclaiming its status as the most popular primary genre among Hot 100 top 10s to the rise of retro and rock influences and more.

Pop over hip-hop: Pop was the most popular primary genre in the Hot 100’s top 10 in all of 2021, with a 39% share of all top 10 hits. Hip-hop ranked second, infusing 34% of all top 10s.

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Pop and hip-hop have traded top honors in the Hot 100’s top 10 in each of the past three years, after hip-hop won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018:

2021: Pop, 39% / Hip-hop, 34%
2020: Hip-hop, 41% / Pop, 40%
2019: Pop, 48% / Hip-hop, 34%
2018: Hip-hop, 59% / Pop, 24% (a relative landslide thanks in part to Drake’s dominance that year)
2017: Hip-hop, 32% / Pop, 31%

Pop No. 1 … at No. 1: Pop was even more prominent among No. 1 Hot 100 hits than overall top 10s in 2021, at 56% – thanks to weekly leaders from acts including BTS (three No. 1s) and Olivia Rodrigo (two) – and doubling hip-hop’s second-place 28% share.

Pop has dominated as the top primary genre among Hot 100 No. 1s in each of the last three years, though with extreme fluctuations between pop and hip-hop over the past five years (owed in part to a smaller sample size than all top 10s, given the narrower focus on No. 1s):

2021: Pop, 56% / Hip-hop, 28%
2020: Pop, 48% / Hip-hop, 38%
2019: Pop, 73% / Hip-hop, 20%
2018: Hip-hop, 67% / Pop, 33%
2017: Pop, 42% / Hip-hop, 33%

R&B on the rise: R&B/soul has ranked as the third-most prominent primary genre in the Hot 100’s top 10 every year from 2017 through 2021.

In 2021, however, R&B/soul logged a new high share among Hot 100 top 10s over that span, at 18%. That’s up after three straight years of decline, from 15% in 2017 to 11% in 2018, 10% in 2019 and 8% in 2020.

Among hits helping R&B/soul gain in 2021, Justin Bieber‘s “Peaches,” featuring Daniel Caesar and Giveon, led the Hot 100 for a week, followed by Silk Sonic‘s “Leave the Door Open,” which ruled for two frames.

Major hits, minor keys: Songs in minor keys were the most prominent among Hot 100 top 10s in 2021, as they have been each year since 2017:

2021: Minor, 59% / Major, 39%
2020: Minor, 60% / Major, 40%
2019: Minor, 55% / Major, 43%
2018: Minor, 71% / Major, 28%
2017: Minor, 65% / Major, 35%

Hit Songs Deconstructed noted in its year-end report, “This trajectory closely mirrors the rise and fall of hip-hop songs, which are most often in a minor key.”

While the overall split among Hot 100 top 10s in 2021 was minor key at 59% and major key at 39%, among No. 1s it swung 67% major and 33% minor, due to pop’s dominance at No. 1, as noted above.

Retro, rock roar: “Looking outside the hip-hop genre, the 1980s skyrocketed” as an influence among [non-hip-hop] Hot 100 No. 1s, in 2021, Hit Songs Deconstructed highlights. Sonically, the ’80s impacted no non-hip-hop No. 1s in both 2018 and 2019, inched to 8% for 2020 and soared to 31% in 2021.

Hit Songs Deconstructed co-founder Dave Penn defines an ’80s influence as leaning “more toward the earlier side of the decade” and is heard “mainly through instrumentation: ’80s-sounding synths and drums.” The Weeknd charted two Hot 100 No. 1s in 2021 with an ’80s influence: “Blinding Lights” and “Save Your Tears,” with Ariana Grande, both of which “possess an early-’80s new wave influence, as well.”

Rock has also bounded as a notable influence among non-hip-hop Hot 100 No. 1s, up from no presence in 2017 to shares of 25% in 2018 and 2019, 38% in 2020 and 46% in 2021, helped by such as hits as Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U.”