While Lipa has notched four No. 1s on the chart, all since 2018 (and boasts three songs on the latest list), John earns his first Pop Airplay appearance since the chart dated Jan. 31, 1998, when “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” wrapped its run.
Put in further perspective, the top three songs on the current tally are by artists who were not born until more than five years after John’s last entry. “Stay” by The Kid LAROI, born in August 2003, and Justin Bieber (a relatively senior age 3 at the beginning of 1998), hits No. 1, while Olivia Rodrigo, born in February 2003, ranks at No. 2 with “Good 4 U” and No. 3 with “Deja Vu.”
And, the No. 1 song on Pop Airplay at the time of John’s last visit until this week? Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply,” which took over for Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.”
John never got knocked down: He’s grossed $1.27 billion in touring since the start of 1998, according to Billboard Boxscore; tallied four top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 in that span; and, in 2019, he celebrated the release of his hit musical biopic Rocketman.
But, he’s certainly back up again at pop radio.
“Top 40 thrives when it’s diverse, and listens to its audience,” says Alex Tear, SiriusXM and Pandora vp of pop music and programming. “We’re excited to have Sir Elton John back.”
In “Cold Heart,” released Aug. 13 on Mercury/EMI/Interscope Records, John sings part of his No. 18-peaking 1990 Billboard Hot 100 hit “Sacrifice” and Lipa reprises his No. 6 1972 classic “Rocket Man” and his No. 25 1983 nugget “Kiss the Bride.” The new blend sports co-writing and co-production credit for Australian trio Pnau.
Over its first two weeks, “Cold Heart” has drawn 6.2 million U.S. streams and sold 13,300 downloads, according to MRC Data. As announced Sept. 1, the cut is set to appear on John’s album The Lockdown Sessions, due Oct. 22.
SiriusXM’s Venus led all Pop Airplay chart reporters with 74 plays for “Cold Heart” Aug. 23-29, making it the channel’s fourth-most-played song in the tracking week. SiriusXM’s Hits 1, also a Pop Airplay panelist, played it 22 times.
“The first mention of the project had us curious, for sure,” Tear says. “Then we heard it, and it sounds great.”
The debut of “Cold Heart” makes history for John. As he appeared on the first Pop Airplay chart, dated Oct. 3, 1992, when “The One” ranked at No. 6, he boasts the longest span of entries on the survey: a month shy of 29 years. Meanwhile, his span of debuts on Billboard charts now stretches over 51 years, dating to the arrival of his first title, “Border Song,” on the Hot 100 dated Aug. 15, 1970.
John’s iconic catalog, as well as Lipa’s lofty status, is helping make “Cold Heart” a fit for pop programmers.
“I was really excited to add this record,” says Jeremy Rice, Cox Media Group pop format leader and program director of Pop Airplay reporter WBLI Nassau, NY. “The younger audience is familiar with so many classic hits because of social media and commercials, [and] Dua Lipa is key here. It’s a cool twist of a remake with a dance beat.”
“It’s already a hit,” echoes Otis Day, assistant pd/music director at Midwest Communications’ Pop Airplay reporting station WIXX Green Bay, Wis. “It’s instantly familiar, with one of today’s biggest pop stars singing a hook everyone already knows.”
Adds Beth Cruise, pd of Great Plains Media-owned KKSW Topeka, Kan., “People gravitate toward nostalgia as comfort during this pandemic. ‘Cold Heart’ brings that.”
Pop radio has long dabbled in classics, whether in their original form or remixed. Dating to the era of the Pop Airplay chart’s inception, stations in the format played The Righteous Brothers’ 1965 standard “Unchained Melody” 25 years later, sparked by its central placement in the 1990 blockbuster Ghost. Later that year, DNA’s remix of Suzanne Vega’s 1987 a cappella album cut “Tom’s Diner” updated the original with, like “Cold Heart,” added tempo.
Among other examples, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s “The Grease Mega-Mix” hit No. 12 on Pop Airplay in 1996, reviving the famed 1978 film Grease‘s “You’re the One That I Want,” a Hot 100 No. 1 in 1978, “Greased Lightnin’ ” and “Summer Nights.” Plus, Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 Hot 100 leader “Dreams” received top 40 play last year amid, as Rice cites, its TikTok resurgence.
Like Pnau, Kygo has also helped bring two superstars back to Billboard radio charts by reworking prior hits. In 2019, his and the late Whitney Houston’s “Higher Love,” originally a Hot 100 No. 1 for Steve Winwood in 1986 that Houston first covered solo in 1990, became her first Pop Airplay entry since 2000 (reaching No. 29), as well as her first Adult Contemporary top 10 since 2003. In 2020, Kygo and Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” a Hot 100 No. 1 for Turner in 1984, hit the AC chart’s top 20.
Muses Tear of “Cold Heart” (which concurrently jumps 16-13 on AC and 32-24 on Adult Pop Airplay), “The project has a chemistry and authenticity to it, and feels mass-appeal modern. It’s cool that all three songs found their way to radio. Elton, Whitney and Tina are legends that deserve to be revisited, remixed and elevated for the next generation to hear.”
Says Rice, “Labels should do more collabs like this.”