Five Reasons Why Drake Was Able to Make Hot 100 History With His ‘Certified Lover Boy’ Debut Week
Is Drake in 2021 is now officially as big as Michael Jackson or The Beatles at their peaks? Well, maybe not, but let's look at some of the factors behind Drake's incredible chart bow this week.
For 37 years, a Billboard Hot 100 record first set by Michael Jackson — for most top 10 hits on the same album, with seven racked up by his 1982 album, Thriller — had never been bested. And for 57 years, a Hot 100 record set by The Beatles — as the first and only act to sweep the top five in one week — had never even been tied.
But now, extra room next to each record must be made in the history books for Drake, whose Certified Lover Boy launches tracks onto each of the Hot 100’s top five positions, and nine of its top 10 (on the chart dated Sept. 18), breaking MJ’s old mark and tying the Fab Four’s. (The album also moves 613,000 equivalent album units, according to MRC Date, easily 2021’s best first-week number.)
Does that mean that Drake in 2021 is now officially as big as Michael Jackson or The Beatles at their peaks? Well, maybe not, but let’s look at some of the factors behind Drake’s incredible chart bow this week.
1. Chart history leading to more chart history. Drake is hardly a stranger to the Billboard record books — particularly as pertains to the Hot 100, where he already holds the records for most top 10 hits, most top 40 hits, and most hits, period. He’s not even a stranger to these particular marks: While this is the Canadian superstar’s first time passing Jackson’s Thriller record (also shared by Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. and Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814), he tied it on his most recent official LP — 2018’s Scorpion, which also matched Thriller’s seven top 10 hits during the former’s debut week. And though he’d never occupied all top five spots on the chart in the same week before, he did claim the whole top three earlier this year, with the trio of new songs from his Scary Hours 2 pack in March.
It’s not incidental, either. Drake has long had both The Beatles and Michael Jackson in his historical sights — rapping about having “more slaps than the Beatles” and getting a tattoo of him waving to the Fab Four, and repeatedly referencing MJ in his lyrics, most recently boasting “I’m actually Michael Jackson” on Certified Lover Boy‘s “You Only Live Twice.” (One of Scorpion‘s seven top 10 hits, “Don’t Matter to Me,” even featured a posthumous guest appearance from the King of Pop.) Few modern pop stars have been as motivated by history, particularly on the Billboard charts, as Drake, and with each new album he seems to pen his name in bigger font next to theirs in the all-time ledgers.
2. No advance tracks. Counter to conventional wisdom for the overwhelming majority of music history — which assumes albums perform better with at least one or two songs already familiar to listeners — increasingly, albums by major stars are demonstrated to perform as well if not better without any songs previously available. When Drake released Views in 2016, he included then-recent megahit “Hotline Bling” as a bonus cut; on 2018’s Scorpion, advance Hot 100-toppers “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What” were both included on the main tracklist. On CLB, neither last year’s enduring radio smash “Laugh Now Cry Later” (featuring Lil Durk) nor any of the three tracks from Scary Hours 2 earlier this year make appearances of any kind. (Taylor Swift’s Folklore, the most recent album with a first-week performance stronger than CLB‘s 613,000 units moved, was similarly unpreviewed.)
With superstar album artists like Swift and Drake, who have accrued enough general interest that the level of public investment in their new projects is no longer dependent on conventional hit singles, it seems like having previously released songs almost reduces interest in the new project, as if they’re already old news by the time of the album’s release. Meanwhile, having a project consisting entirely of brand-new songs almost forces listeners to check out the whole thing to figure out the highlights, without impatiently skipping to the familiar cuts, or just assuming they get the general idea of the album from the songs they already know. Hence: major consumption numbers across the board for Certified Lover Boy, without any previously established hits to dwarf and/or undercut the rest.
3. Less competition from non-debuts in the the top 10. More than at any other point in Hot 100 history, the chart’s top tier is the province of tracks that debut there, rather than grow to get there. When Walker Hayes’ “Fancy Like” hit No. 9 on the listing last week, it was the first time in nearly four months that a track climbed to the top 10 from another rank in the chart — since The Kid LAROI and Miley Cyrus’ “Without You” jumped 23-8 on the chart dated May 15 — during which time, a resounding 20 singles entered the top 10 via debut. In a musical economy based around streaming and superstars, the slow-growing, word-of-mouth hit is becoming practically anachronistic, with radio’s influence being increasingly marginalized and even most viral TikTok hits hitting a ceiling on how high they’re able to cross over.
All of this is to say that, more than ever, the Hot 100 is based around the powerful debut week — and no artist is more powerful in that respect than Drake, who has now debuted a record-tying five songs at No. 1 (matching Ariana Grande), with his Future- and Young Thug-featuring “Way 2 Sexy” becoming the fifth this week. Only “Stay,” by The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber — the rare 2021 hit song able to simultaneously boast major streaming numbers and massive radio support — has the metrics to really compete with the Drake deluge this week, marking the lone non-Drizzy song in the top 10 with its presence at No. 6, in its ninth total week, four of which it have been spent at No. 1.
4. Much-delayed gratification and savvy release-week marketing. Though the Sept. 3 release date for Certified Lover Boy was only announced a week before — via Drake “hijacking” ESPN’s SportsCenter broadcast to silently reveal the date — it was hardly the first time the project’s release had been promised, or at least teased. CLB was initially due to drop in the back half of 2020, the Official Album to follow the same year’s loosies compilation Dark Lane Demo Tapes. Then that October, Drake pushed the date back to early 2021, before a knee injury triggered another delay. After that, the album sort of existed in the ether, the subject of myriad rumors and whispers, before the final release date was confirmed.
And then, in the week leading up to the album, Drake seized the internet’s attention with a pair of promotional gambits, largely introduced to social media via tweets from TIDAL chief content officer Elliott Wilson. The first was the set’s cover art, created by famed artist Damien Hirst, which featured emojis of a dozen women rubbing their pregnant bellies — an easily parodied, memed and debated image, all almost certainly by design. Then came the real-life billboards, advertising to various cities (again, in an easily recreated and repurposed format) which local guests featured on the album. Both worked as well to advertise the new album as any advance single possibly could have, reminding anybody who’d given up waiting for CLB that the album was in fact still coming — and ensuring that those who had still been waiting patiently for the set to drop were now positively salivating for it.
5. Kanye, Kanye, Kanye. If several bits from these first four factors sound familiar — no singles released in advance, countless delays, a slow and then rapid crescendoing of hype and anticipation — it’s because a lot of it already happened just a week earlier with the release of the album that now boasts the second-biggest debut week of 2021, Kanye West’s Donda. Of course, the two albums are linked by more than timing, as the makers behind the pair of blockbuster sets had long been sparring over social media and via subliminal lyrical disses in the weeks leading up to their releases. It built up to a beef that millions of pop and hip-hop onlookers became giddily invested in, choosing sides and debating who would emerge victorious.
The answer to the last one, clearly, is both of them. CLB technically well out-performed Donda, which debuted with 309,000 units and two entries in the Hot 100’s top 10 in its first week. But that triumph is asterisked both by the latter’s incomplete chart week — having been released on a Sunday morning rather than in the opening Friday hours of the tracking week like the former — and the fact that CLB undoubtedly was boosted by the rising tide of the Donda attention storm from a weekend earlier, which served as better promo for Drake’s album than any of his solo marketing maneuvers. And really, it doesn’t matter which set performed better — since both outpaced every other 2021 release before them, without interfering with one another’s initial chart bows and only helping both releases reach their maximum commercial and cultural impact.