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Ask Billboard: Controversial Hits, Katy Perry’s Sales & Taylor Swift’s Radio Reign

Sia's "Elastic Heart" isn't the first song that's stirred debate - and chart action. Plus, Perry's career sales and Swift's latest achievement.

As always, submit questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, Tweet @gthot20


@gthot20 With the “controversial” “Elastic Heart” video, and its #Hot100 debut at No. 17, what are other songs that charted high – or perhaps low – due to controversy?

Alex M ?@aalleexx101

Hi Alex,

You mean there’s a controversy going on right now other than #DeflateGate?!

(This would probably be a good time to mention that I’ve deflated the “Ask Billboard” mailbag, letting out this week’s questions. But, hopefully to legal levels. Just in case, I better ready a press conference statement …)

Right, Sia’s “Elastic Heart.” As previously reported, it debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 dated Jan. 24:

The bow is largely due to the song’s controversial video, in which Maddie Ziegler stars with actor Shia LaBeouf. The ethereal track rockets onto the Streaming Songs chart at No. 2 with 9.6 million U.S. streams in the week ending Jan. 11, according to Nielsen Music, following the Jan. 7 premiere of its official video. Streams account for 75 percent of the song’s Hot 100 chart points, with nearly all its streaming total from Vevo on YouTube clicks for the clip.

In the video, Ziegler and LaBeouf stage a performance-art cage battle, which has drawn criticism for the difference in their ages (12 and 28, respectively) and their attire (or lack thereof). Sia has rebuked cries of the clip’s inappropriateness. “Maddie and Shia are two of the only actors I felt could play these two warring Sia self-states,” she wrote on Twitter hours after the video’s release.

With 56 years of Hot 100 history, it’s not the first time that controversy has coincided with pop music. Here are five prior hits that inspired debates that helped shape their fortunes on the Hot 100. (If I missed any obvious ones, please join in on Twitter or via

“Let’s Spend the Night Together,” the Rolling Stones
The rock classic, released as a double-sided single, stalled at No. 55 in 1967, thanks to its title and lyrics. Radio instead favored “Ruby Tuesday,” which rose all the way to No. 1 for one week. The Stones famously sang “Night” on The Ed Sullivan Show, but at Sullivan’s insistence directly to Mick Jagger, only with the words changed to “let’s spend some time together.” Jagger agreed … although he famously rolled his eyes right at the camera during their performance.

As recently as 2006, during its first performance in China, the band was not allowed to perform the song at all. “Fortunately, we have 400 more that we can play, so it’s not really an issue,” Jagger said.

“Banned in the U.S.A.,” Luke feat. the 2 Live Crew
The anti-censorship anthem references a legal ruling that the group’s album As Nasty as They Wanna Be was obscene, a decision which was later overturned. Bruce Springsteen gave the act permission to rework his “Born in the U.S.A.” for the chorus, and the song soared to its No. 20 peak in just five weeks in 1990.

“Justify My Love,” Madonna
The queen of pop (controversy) rode waves of disapproval for the song’s salacious video to No. 1 on the Hot 100 for two weeks in January 1991. Further fanning the flames, Madonna released the No. 3-peaking “Erotica” in 1992 … alongside her racy photo book Sex.

“Not Ready to Make Nice,” Dixie Chicks
The trio had tallied 14 top 10s, including six No. 1s, on Hot Country Songs beginning in 1997. In a 2003 concert in London, lead singer Natalie Maines said of President George W. Bush, ahead of America’s then-pending invasion of Iraq, “We don’t want this war, this violence and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”

The result at partisan country radio: the group never reached the top 10, or even top 30, again.

Still, this 2006 song, the group’s statement that it was standing behind Maines’ proclamation, won over fans at-large, becoming its biggest Hot 100 hit (No. 4), even reaching No. 36 on Hot Country Songs and, most prominently, winning Grammy Awards for record and song of the year. “For the first time in my life, I’m speechless,” Maines said with a laugh while accepting the song of the year award.

“Wrecking Ball,” Miley Cyrus
The signature moment, thanks to its video, in Cyrus’ transition from Hannah Montana to Miley just being adult Miley. With 36 million streams logged on Streaming Songs following its release in September 2013, it remains the most-watched official video in the chart’s history. The ballad became Cyrus’ first Hot 100 No. 1, reigning for three weeks.

(By the way, “wrecking balls” is NOT what the Patriots were doing … says this fan … from New England …)

Speaking of Super Bowl topics that are getting completely ignored …


Hi Gary, could we get Katy Perry’s total U.S. sales to date, since it’s around Super Bowl time? Thanks in advance @gthot20

Filippo Bandini ?@Filo97Sea

One person we can probably rule out as guilty in #DeflateGate? Perry. No way she’d want us all talking about footballs’ air pressure instead of what should be her great halftime performance a week from today.

(Plus, Perry doesn’t know anything about air pressure. I mean, when she tries to get airplay, she almost never faces any pressure from radio! … Am I right? … Is this thing on? …)

I’ll even answer this question despite what city I’m afraid the “Sea” is an abbreviation for in your Twitter handle, Filippo.

Why Katy Perry’s ‘Prism’ Era Is More Impressive Than You Think

Here’s a look at the U.S. sales of Perry’s three Capitol Records studio albums, according to Nielsen Music:

Teenage Dream: 2.94 million; One of the Boys: 1.65 million; PRISM: 1.56 million

And, her 15 top-selling downloads, all of which have sold more than 1 million each:

“Firework”: 6.8 million; “E.T.,” feat. Kanye West: 5.8 million; “Dark Horse,” feat. Juicy J: 5.78 million; “Roar”: 5.77 million; “California Gurls,” feat. Snoop Dogg: 5.7 million.

“Hot ‘N’ Cold”: 5.6 million; “Teenage Dream”: 4.7 million; “I Kissed a Girl”: 4.6 million; “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”: 3.7 million; “Wide Awake”: 3.3 million.

“Part of Me”: 2.78 million; “The One That Got Away”: 2.75 million; “Waking Up in Vegas”: 2.3 million; “Unconditionally”: 1.2 million; and, “Thinking of You”: 1.1 million.

Meanwhile, Perry might have plans to do more than just play halftime next Sunday.

… #InflateGlate?



Hey Gary,

Taylor Swift is having a fantastic year. Perhaps this will be her best year yet, wouldn’t you say?

Here’s something that I’ve noticed regarding how much radio loves her: she currently tops the Adult Contemporary chart with “Shake It Off” for a fourth consecutive week (and eighth total), while she leads the Pop Songs and Adult Pop Songs charts with “Blank Space” for a sixth and fifth week, respectively.

That means that Taylor’s been holding the top spot at all three pop radio formats for four weeks now. How rare is that?


Rick Thomas
Frankfort, Kentucky

Hi Rick,

Great observation. To answer your question, I looked back at each weekly No. 1 in the nearly two decades that all three charts have existed side-by-side-by-side. (Adult Contemporary dates back to 1961, Pop Songs started in 1992 and Adult Pop Songs spun off from AC in 1996.)

Since 1996, just four acts have topped all three charts simultaneously, with Swift scoring the second-longest such triple reign. The other three acts all dominated with one song concurrently:

5 weeks, Celine Dion, “Because You Loved Me” (1996)
4 weeks, Taylor Swift, “Blank Space” (Pop Songs, Adult Pop Songs), “Shake It Off” (AC) (2015)
2 weeks, Adele, “Rolling in the Deep” (2011)
1 week, Sam Smith, “Stay With Me” (2014)

Swift is in esteemed company. Clearly, it takes a combination of a hit (or, in Swift’s case, hits) palatable to all three formats – i.e., cool enough for top 40 radio (Pop Songs) but adult-friendly enough to quickly win over the more conservative AC format. It’s more common for a multi-format smash to top all three charts, but generally, it rules Pop Songs or Adult Pop Songs before fading at those formats and then, after building enough familiarity, crowning AC, a la Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” John Legend’s “All of Me” or, going back further, Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

Meanwhile, Swift’s simultaneous reign on all three charts with different songs emphasizes the strength of “Blank Space” and the sustainability of “Shake It Off” (the latter of which also led Pop Songs and Adult Pop Songs before hitting No. 1 on AC).

Billboard 200 Chart Moves: Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ Hits 4 Million in U.S. Sales

Also notably, three of the songs listed above have tripled up at No. 1 since 2011 after none did for 15 years. That’s partially due to AC’s modernization. As pure pop music has ruled pop radio in recent years (squeezing out rock and hip-hop), many big hits have been easily playable for AC. On the Jan. 31 AC chart, in fact, the top half of the 30-position AC chart consists entirely of top 10 hits on Pop Songs except for Colbie Caillat’s “Try.” In contrast, 10 years ago this week, AC was very much finding hits exclusive to the format, like Phil Collins’ “Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away,” Rod Stewart’s “What a Wonderful World” (featuring Stevie Wonder) and Elton John’s “Answer in the Sky.”

So, it’s a combination of chart timing, AC’s evolution and, of course, Swift’s evolution, reinforcing just how hit-packed her 1989 is (and that’s before we get to “Style,” which should be the set’s third multi-format monster).

It’s almost easy now to forget that just a few months ago Swift’s full-on segue from country to pop was a bit controversial (… why couldn’t have #DeflateGate happened then when no one would’ve noticed?) But, Swift is continuing to swell her following exponentially even almost a decade into her career.

1989 has been a “game-changer for Taylor,” says Chris Patyk, program director of Pop Songs reporter KEGY (Energy 103.7) San Diego. “She went completely, pure pop and, in the process, is gaining new fans.

“It has to be exciting for her.”