The song rules the ranking a year after it began a three-week command on the Alternative Airplay chart (dated March 20, 2021). It subsequently topped Pop Airplay for two weeks starting this January and Adult Pop Airplay for two weeks in February.
How rare is it for an Alternative Airplay No. 1 to cross to the top of the Radio Songs chart, as compared to other individual formats? And how commonly do Pop Airplay and Adult Pop Airplay No. 1s also lead the all-format list?
Since Dec. 5, 1998, the Radio Songs chart has reflected weekly U.S. all-format airplay audience. It’s currently a ranking of the most-heard titles on over 1,300 terrestrial and satellite stations as monitored by Luminate, formerly MRC Data.
Here’s a look at which individual formats have contributed the most No. 1s on Radio Songs over that 23-plus-year span.
232 Radio Songs No. 1s Since December 1998
163 (70%) – also hit No. 1 on Pop Airplay
122 (53%) – Rhythmic Airplay
82 (35%) – Adult Pop Airplay
68 (29%) – Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
47 (20%) – Dance/Mix Show Airplay
39 (17%) – Adult Contemporary
17 (7%) – Adult R&B Airplay
12 (5%) – Alternative Airplay
9 (4%) – Adult Alternative Airplay
4 (2%) – Country Airplay
4 (2%) – Latin Pop Airplay
1 (<1%) – Latin Rhythm Airplay
1 (<1%) – Mainstream Rock Airplay
(Note that songs can count for multiple charts above, as “Heat Waves” contributes to the No. 1 totals for Alternative Airplay, Pop Airplay and Adult Pop Airplay. Plus, only individual-format charts are included in this research, so charts that combine multiple formats in particular genres, such as Rock & Alternative Airplay, R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay and Latin Airplay are excluded.)
Expectedly, Pop Airplay No. 1s are the most popular among Radio Songs leaders, given mainstream top 40 radio’s longstanding tenet of playing the biggest hits among all formats, even if it has historically focused on pure-pop with notable helpings of adult, hip-hop and dance and more occasional breakthroughs from alternative, country, Latin and other formats.
Pop Airplay’s leading count of 70% of all its No. 1s also ruling Radio Songs since December 1998 is also not just a matter of the high volume of Pop Airplay reporters: Nearly 160 stations contribute to Pop Airplay, making it the individual-format chart with the most panelists. But narrowly in second place among total reporters is Country Airplay, with nearly 150, and only 2% of all Country Airplay No. 1s have also topped Radio Songs. (Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” broke that barrier in 2009.)
Also unsurprisingly, Rhythmic Airplay, with the rhythmic format inhabiting the middle lane between mainstream top 40 and R&B/hip-hop, ranks second, with 53% of its No. 1s having also led Radio Songs since December 1998. Adult Pop Airplay, with adult top 40 similarly occupying the ground between mainstream top 40 and adult contemporary, is next with 35% of its leaders having topped Radio Songs.
Two formats have sent one No. 1 each to the Radio Songs summit in the last 23-plus years: 3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite” crowned Radio Songs after topping Mainstream Rock Airplay in 2000 and Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s smash “Despacito,” featuring top 40 staple Justin Bieber, crossed from Latin Rhythm Airplay in 2017.
Meanwhile, potential history awaits, as no Christian Airplay, Gospel Airplay, Regional Mexican Airplay, Smooth Jazz Airplay or Tropical Airplay No. 1s have ruled Radio Songs.
As for “Heat Waves,” released in June 2020, in addition to its radio airplay, the song also gained prominence on TikTok, helping to reignite interest at mainstream and adult top 40 last fall and send it to new heights this year. It places at No. 3 on both the Pop Airplay and Adult Pop Airplay charts dated March 19 and ranks as the top recurrent title at alternative, after wrapping its chart-topping run on Alternative Airplay.
Beyond any external factors, “Glass Animals have songs that have real longevity in them, because they’re brilliant songs and [frontman, and “Heat Waves” writer] Dave [Bayley] is a brilliant songwriter, but there’s a lot of nuance in them,” the group’s manager, Amy Morgan, told Billboard in January. “Heat Waves” “has a lot of interesting chords underneath the main melody, and there’s a lot of complexity in what sounds, from the outside, quite simple. And those songs – those that are not straight out-of-the-box, obvious songs – take a while to grow.”