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A History of Remixes Affecting the Top of the Billboard Hot 100, From Mariah Carey to Lil Nas X

It's practically a remix arms race at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 these days, but it's hardly the first time that remixes have played a role in determining the biggest song in the country.

It’s practically a remix arms race at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 these days. Last Thursday (July 11), Billie Eilish debuted her new version of “Bad Guy,” the No. 2 song on the chart, now featuring her longtime pop idol Justin Bieber. In turn, just hours later, Lil Nas X dropped another remix of current No. 1 “Old Town Road” — whose first redo, featuring country vet Billy Ray Cyrus, had helped the song go intergalactic in the spring — with millennial rap mainstay Young Thug and 12-year-old yodeler Mason Ramsey.

Following the first full tracking week for each remix, the two songs — each of whose original versions and remixes are rolled up as a singular listing when calculating a title’s Hot 100 metrics — will duke it out again for the top spot on the chart (dated July 27, with the top 10 scheduled to be revealed on Monday, July 22). But while the stakes are particularly high at the moment, given how “Old Town Road” is just a week away from tying the all-time record for the most weeks a song has ever spent at the chart’s apex, it’s hardly the first time that remixes have played a role in determining the biggest song in the country. Here’s a brief history of remixes that have notably affected the No. 1 position on the Hot 100. 

Mariah Carey feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, “Fantasy” (Remix) (1995)

Truthfully, Mariah Carey didn’t really need anyone or anything’s help to top the Hot 100 in the 1990s: She’d already done it eight times solo that decade by the time she released the delirious pop ‘n’ B classic “Fantasy” in ’95. But the song’s eight-week run at No. 1 on the chart was undoubtedly aided by the song’s popular remix, featuring right-brained Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The unpredictable pairing set the gold standard for the crossover remix, garnering airplay on R&B and hip-hop stations that had deemed Carey’s previous work too pop for their playlists. (Carey would also successfully repeat the formula for future No. 1s, with popular hip-hop-flavored remixes of “Honey,” “Heartbreaker” and “Thank God I Found You.”

Los Del Rio, “Macarena” (Bayside Boys remix) (1996)

“Macarena” was a Spanish-language sensation in Puerto Rico and a couple coastal U.S. cities upon its release in 1993, but it didn’t go supernova stateside until Miami producer duo the Bayside Boys put together a dance remix for the U.S. and U.K. markets, including a sung-spoken English-language vocal. That remix took over the world in 1996, eventually topping the Hot 100 for 14 weeks — the record for a non-English-language song for over 20 years, until a different remixed hit passed it 21 years later. 

Toni Braxton, “Un-Break My Heart” (Hex Hector Remix) (1996)

“Un-Break My Heart” was Toni Braxton’s second straight Hot 100 No. 1 hit off sophomore album Secrets, a heartbreak show-stopper written by Diane Warren and produced by David Foster, two pro’s pros when it comes to adult contemporary-flavored megaballadry. But the song’s longevity atop the Hot 100 — ranging 11 weeks from late 1996 to early ’97 — was helped in large part by the song’s Hex Hector-produced house remix, a hard-charging edit which she performed on multiple award shows, and which gave the song second life on Top 40 radio. Future ballads and downtempo R&B records followed a similar hi-NRG path to double the radio presence in the late ’90s, including Deborah Cox’s “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” and Whitney Houston’s “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay.” 

Joe feat. Mystikal, “Stutter” (Double Take Remix) (2000)

The original version of “Stutter,” co-produced by Teddy Riley, was a soft-edged, acoustic betrayal ballad, languishing as an album track on the R&B singer-songwriter’s sophomore LP My Name Is Joe. But its Double Take remix, helmed by Allen “All Star” Gordon, sharpened the beat with a croaking organ sample from Quincy Jones’ classic soul-jazz instrumental “Summer in the City” — via “Passin’ Me By,” the ’90s hip-hop hit from The Pharcyde that originally lifted it — and a guest verse from No Limit wildcard rapper Mystikal. The new version of the song was released as a single, and became Joe’s first Hot 100 No. 1 as a lead artist in February 2001. 

Jennifer Lopez feat. Ja Rule, “I’m Real” (Murder Remix) (2001)
Jennifer Lopez feat. Ja Rule, “Ain’t It Funny” (Murder Remix) (2001)

After a strong start for Jennifer Lopez’s second album J. Lo, sales were starting to slip a little, so producer Cory Rooney took the set’s third single — the spritely “I’m Real” — and reinvented it. The song’s frenetic, Yellow Magic Orchestra-borrowed hook was replaced with a Mary Jane Girls bubble-funk groove, the lyric was reimagined as a relationship duet, and red-hot Murda Inc. rapper Ja Rule was installed as her co-star. Dubbed the “Murder Remix,” the song took off from there, and after it topped the Hot 100 in September 2001, Rooney repeated the formula with J. Lo‘s “Ain’t It Funny,” whose Ja-featuring Murder Remix followed “I’m Real” to No. 1 the next March. (The two chart-topping versions of the Lopez hits were so thoroughly removed from their originals that Hot 100 rules were subsequently adjusted to no longer group versions of the same title that were substantially different in melody and/or lyrics.) 

Rihanna feat. Britney Spears, “S&M” (Remix)

With her much-hyped, Britney Spears-co-starring version of “S&M,” Rihanna could be viewed as the pioneer of the strategically timed star remix. The new “S&M” didn’t musically reimagine the song so much as just add a single new element to it — Britney — whose appearance was guaranteed to generate higher levels of interest. And as it happened, the new version of the song debuted while “S&M” was at the precipice of topping the Hot 100, stuck at No. 2 behind Katy Perry’s Kanye West-featuring “E.T.” for three straight weeks. The sales spike brought on by the remix — still at the peak of the iTunes era — were enough to put it over the hump, and “S&M” became Rihanna’s 10th Hot 100 No. 1, and a co-credited Britney’s fifth. 

Katy Perry feat. Kanye West, “E.T.” (2011)
Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Bad Blood” (2015)
Sia feat. Sean Paul, “Cheap Thrills” (2016)
Maroon 5 feat. Cardi B, “Girls Like You” (2018)

A quick mention for these four No. 1 hits, which weren’t really dubbed remixes, but saw their single versions add a notable rapper absent on their parent albums — an increasingly popular trend in the 2010s. In these cases, such quasi-remixes don’t aim to augment, but moreso replace the originals in the public memory; casual fans might not even be aware that album versions without the guest rappers even exist. That might be a mixed blessing in the case of awkward fits like Kendrick Lamar on “Bad Blood,” but for more natural appearances like Sean Paul on “Cheap Thrills” or Cardi B on “Girls Like You,” it’s now almost impossible to imagine the songs without them (though perhaps less so for adult contemporary listeners). 

Katy Perry feat. Missy Elliott, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” (Remix)

Another strategically released star remix, Katy Perry dropped the Missy-featuring version of “Last Friday Night” after the song got stuck, like “S&M,” for three straight weeks at No. 2 on the Hot 100 in 2011 (behind LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” featuring Lauren Bennett and Goonrock). The bump from sales of the Missy version (which was also discounted to 69 cents on iTunes) helped put it over the top, and the song ruled the chart for two weeks in the late summer. Like Lil Nas X, Perry had the urgency of chasing history: “Last Friday Night” marked her fifth consecutive No. 1 single off sophomore LP Teenage Dream, making it just the second album in history (after Michael Jackson’s Bad) to launch five Hot 100 No. 1s. 

Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber, “Despacito” (Remix)

Truthfully, “Despacito” was already a fairly major hit in its original duet incarnation — hitting No. 44 on the Hot 100 (and No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs), an excellent mark for an entirely foreign-language song, particularly back in 2017 — before its remix added Canadian pop star Justin Bieber to the mix. But his presence sent the song into hyperdrive, propelling it 48-9 in one week on the Hot 100, and topping the chart just three weeks later. And from there of course, it ruled nearly the entire summer, spending a record-tying 16 weeks on top before being dethroned by Taylor Swift’s comeback single, “Look What You Made Me Do.” 

Ed Sheeran (duet with Beyoncé), “Perfect” 

Again, not an official remix — the Beyoncé-co-starring version of “Perfect” was specifically billed as a “duet” — but another late-arriving new version of a hit song to help put it over the top on the Hot 100. The slow-building “Perfect” ballad had gradually climbed its way to No. 3 on the Hot 100, but had its work cut out for it unseating the streaming monster that was Post Malone’s 21 Savage-featuring chart-topper “Rockstar,” a nine-week No. 1. But the massive spike in streams and sales thanks to Beyoncé’s appearance on “Perfect” was enough to send it to No. 1, and to earn her a co-credit on the song’s listing at the beginning of its six-week stay atop the chart — though by the end of the run, the original version had resumed as the best-performing version of the song, and her name was taken back off the listing in its final week on top. 

Travis Scott, “Sicko Mode” (Skrillex Remix)

“Sicko Mode” had already been held up at No. 2 for four non-consecutive weeks on the Hot 100, so when it seemed like it finally had a lane to No. 1 near the end of 2018, Travis Scott didn’t take any chances. The already bombastic hip-hop jam got an even harder-hitting remix from Skrillex in late November, giving “Sicko Mode” just enough sales and streaming juice to climb that final hurdle, interrupting the seven-week reign of Ariana Grande’s “Thank U Next” to become Scott’s first-ever No. 1 in early December. “Love to Skrillex!” Scott ended his message to Billboard, upon hearing the good news. 

Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road” (Remix)
Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road” (Diplo Remix)
Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus, Young Thug & Mason Ramsey, “Old Town Road” (Remix)

Let the historical record show that for one week, Lil Nas X topped the Hot 100 entirely on his own, as the original version of “Old Town Road” lept 15 to 1 on the Hot 100 dated April 13, before any remixes helped him with anything. But perhaps we’re not talking about him being one week away from Billboard immortality at this point if not for the spate of remixes that followed — particularly of course the Billy Ray Cyrus-featuring first remix, which brought the song to a whole new plane and has in fact since taken over the original in terms of its overall popularity. Now, the question remains if Billy Ray, along with new guests Young Thug and Mason Ramsey, can help fend off the superduo of Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish for one more week, allowing Lil Nas X to tie one of Billboard‘s most prestigious chart records. If not, you can’t say it’s for a lack of trying.