Five Reasons Why The Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’ Set the All-Time Hot 100 Longevity Record
Here are the five main reasons why “Blinding Lights” has been able to enter uncharted chart territory and snatch the Hot 100 longevity crown
The Weeknd makes history on this week’s Billboard Hot 100: not only does the pop superstar score a top 10 debut with his latest single, “Take My Breath,” but he also captures the chart record for most weeks spent by a single song on the tally, as “Blinding Lights” notches its 88th week on the chart. Originally making its debut on the Hot 100 dated Dec. 14, 2019, “Blinding Lights” has now broken out of a tie held with Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” which spent 87 weeks on the chart from 2012 to 2014, to become the longest-running Hot 100 hit in the survey’s history.
“Blinding Lights” has long been a smash of mammoth proportions: prior to setting the Hot 100 longevity record, the single from The Weeknd’s 2020 album After Hours set the records for longest stays in the Hot 100’s top five (43 weeks), top 10 (57 weeks) and top 20 (79 weeks). Amazingly, the song still resides in the lattermost category, clocking in at No. 18 in its record 88th week on the chart.
Yet it’s worth wondering: how did “Blinding Lights”’ morph from another hit single for The Weeknd into an all-time chart stalwart, shattering various Hot 100 records along the way? Here are the five main reasons why “Blinding Lights” has been able to enter uncharted chart territory and snatch the Hot 100 longevity crown:
1. The Weeknd is a superstar at multiple formats…
Two days before “Blinding Lights” came out in November 2019, The Weeknd released a different song — and sent it straight to the top of the Hot 100 chart. “Heartless” was unveiled as the first taste of his fourth full-length, and its quick ascension to No. 1 confirmed The Weeknd’s pop star power ahead of 2020’s After Hours. Although he was three years removed from his previous album, 2016’s Starboy, at the time, smashes like “Can’t Feel My Face,” “The Hills” and “Starboy” had turned him into a household name, and his My Dear Melancholy EP and Black Panther soundtrack hit “Pray for Me” with Kendrick Lamar in 2018 had kept him active in pop culture prior to his official comeback. Like any pop A-lister, The Weeknd’s track record as a hitmaker set him up for success when he did return with a new project, with top 40 radio and streaming services ready for whatever he had prepared next.
Of course, not every superstar is able to deliver a single that spends months on end on the Hot 100 chart based on name recognition. And while “Heartless” wasn’t able to muster a prolonged chart run, “Blinding Lights” was able to capitalize on the type of superstar The Weeknd has become: a brand name in different styles. A mainstream artist who nimbly straddles genre lines and outpaces the competition at both radio and streaming, The Weeknd doesn’t sound out of place on an afternoon top 40 mix, on soulful R&B playlists, blasting at a hip-hop festival or from the speakers at a nightclub. He’s the rare artist that can both make hedonistic anthems with Future and get the Kidz Bop treatment, and have each appearance feel logical.
So when “Blinding Lights” started to take off, the single did so on a multitude of platforms, reaching disparate listener audiences that most artists wouldn’t be able to unite. As it sets the Hot 100 longevity record, “Blinding Lights” has also topped a whopping 13 different Billboard charts, ranging from Hot R&B Songs to Radio Songs (more on that one in a second) to Adult Contemporary. Before a specific type of song is able to conquer those charts, it takes a singular artist to possess enough influence at each format to help it get there.
2. …And he’s in his biggest era to date.
Even with multiple No. 1 singles, festival headlining slots and awards-show accolades all coming prior to After Hours, The Weeknd’s latest run has dwarfed the success of his previous projects. After Hours debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in April 2020 with 444,000 equivalent album units, according to MRC Data — the third-biggest bow of last year, after Taylor Swift’s Folklore and Juice WRLD’s Legends Never Die — and kept providing The Weeknd with commercial W’s for more than a year afterward. “Blinding Lights” hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 the same week as the album’s chart debut, follow-up “In Your Eyes” followed into the chart’s top 20, and fourth single “Save Your Tears” reached the summit earlier this year after Ariana Grande hopped on the official remix. Overall, After Hours was the eighth-biggest album of 2020 on the Billboard 200 year-end chart, and even as The Weeknd kicks off his next era — new single “Take My Breath” debuts at No. 6 on this week’s Hot 100 — his 2020 album remains in the top 20 of the current Billboard 200 chart.
So how has the overall success of After Hours helped the “Blinding Lights” chart run? By providing The Weeknd with major opportunities in which to showcase the smash. That included, most notably, the Super Bowl LV halftime show — the most coveted performance slot on the planet, which “Blinding Lights” closed out in grand fashion earlier this year. But The Weeknd also performed the song to open the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards last August, during his guest appearance on Saturday Night Live in March 2020, and during his The Weeknd Experience interactive livestream event on TikTok last summer. These all gave The Weeknd the chance to don his red suit, bandage his face up and perform “Blinding Lights” for millions of viewers as his career remained red-hot. And in the case of the Super Bowl, it yielded a real momentum boost for the song, with a 41% increase in streams immediately after the performance.
3. The right sound for radio, at the right time.
One year before “Blinding Lights” set the record for most weeks logged on the Hot 100, the song made history on another Billboard chart when it spent its 19th week at No. 1 on the Radio Songs tally, surpassing the 18-week mark set by Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” 22 years earlier. The Weeknd had enjoyed previous success at different formats, but the radio ubiquity of “Blinding Lights,” which topped out at 26 weeks at No. 1 on Radio Songs, was literally unprecedented — the difference between a hit that lingers in heavy rotation for multiple months and a once-in-a-generation radio smash that gets regular play for over a year and eventually results in a Hot 100 record.
“‘Blinding Lights’ is one of those special, melodic, mass-appeal songs with multi-format and multi-generational appeal,” Jon Zellner, president of programming operations at iHeartMedia, told Billboard last year when the song set the Radio Songs record. Erik Bradley, music director at Chicago’s WBBM-FM, added, “It just had a little more of a retro vibe to it, and it just felt like it was going to be one of the top couple songs for the entire year. And that happened.”
The “retro vibe” is worth noting in particular, since “Blinding Lights” arrived at radio at the end of a relatively downtempo period at top 40 — Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” Halsey’s “Without Me” and Khalid’s “Talk” were among the biggest songs of 2019 — and helped kick off a trend of uptempo, throwback-leaning pop hits, including Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain on Me,“ Doja Cat’s “Say So” and BTS’s “Dynamite.” The bright, synth-heavy arrangement of “Blinding Lights” worked alongside the songs concurrently succeeding when it settled in for its Radio Songs run in 2020; had The Weeknd released it in 2018, for instance, perhaps it wouldn’t have fit in with the rest of power rotation and become quite as dominant.
4. The pandemic played a large part.
Part of that uptempo revival at radio can be chalked up to the coronavirus pandemic — which shut down the U.S. in March 2020, the same month The Weeknd released After Hours — and the mass desire to hear uplifting pop during a time of lockdown and uncertainty. “I don’t know that during a pandemic, you want to be so sad and ‘the world is ending,'” Bradley told Billboard last year.
Yet the pandemic also impacted the Hot 100 run of “Blinding Lights” in other ways. For one, fewer blockbuster albums were released over the course of its chart run, with projects delayed due to the shutdown, tours postponed or cancelled and promo opportunities scrapped out of necessity. Of course, The Weeknd’s own plans were affected by the pandemic — his After Hours arena tour, scheduled for last year, was postponed to 2022 — but by setting up “Blinding Lights” prior to shutdown and growing the single into a smash, he was able to do with the song what other A-list artists could not with their music over the past 17 months. And with fewer major projects coming out, there were fewer opportunities for “Blinding Lights” to get pushed down, or off, the Hot 100.
That lack of competition ultimately turned into a positive for both The Weeknd and music fans seeking comfort-food hits, as another effect that the pandemic had on popular music was pushing listeners toward the familiar. Turnover at radio and on streaming platforms has slowed down during shutdown, with the same songs spending longer than usual near the top of streaming charts and radio program directors more likely than ever to keep multiple songs by the same artist in heavy rotation, provided those artists are mass-appeal superstars.
The general preference for the familiar has helped other artists, too: Justin Bieber has been able to promote a handful of songs to top 40 radio at the same time, and Ariana Grande recently became the first artist to have three singles simultaneously in the top 10 of the Pop Airplay chart. For The Weeknd, however, the longer shelf life of songs in radio rotation and on streaming charts has been particularly helpful as he’s rolled out other singles from After Hours. “In Your Eyes” and “Save Your Tears” were able to enjoy their own runs as hits without decreasing the appeal of “Blinding Lights”; listeners were fine regularly engaging with two or three The Weeknd songs, and as such, they were able to coexist on the Hot 100 for longer than usual.
5. Don’t underestimate the Weeknd-Max Martin combo.
The main reason why “Blinding Lights” just set the Hot 100 longevity record? It’s an excellent pop single: immediately catchy but eminently pulse-pounding, stuffed with hooks that recall other classic singles and styles but which never sound overly derivative. And that highly professional pop construction can be credited primarily to The Weeknd, who has turned his soulful croon into a commanding mainstream instrument over the past decade, and Max Martin, the most important pop producer of the 21st century, who co-wrote and co-produced the track.
“Blinding Lights” is not the first time The Weeknd and Martin have worked together: the producer helped the rising singer fully breach stardom five years earlier with his first Hot 100 chart-topper, “Can’t Feel My Face,” and contributed to his Beauty Behind The Madness and Starboy albums. Yet After Hours — which features Martin as a co-producer on five songs, including “In Your Eyes” and “Save Your Tears” — is where the pair sound most in synch on the vision of a full project, with Martin helping supply ‘80s-spiked synths and crisp melodies that perfectly complement The Weeknd’s vocal textures.
Martin has helmed dozens of hits over the past quarter-century, for artists ranging from Britney Spears to *NSYNC to Taylor Swift to Ariana Grande, and his presence in sculpting and perfecting the longest-running song in the history of the Hot 100 should not be discounted. Neither should The Weeknd’s: if the pop superstar has become Martin’s latest muse, then he is also maximizing (excuse the pun) the opportunity that collaborating with a super-producer affords. “Blinding Lights” had the pedigree to become an all-time hit, but The Weeknd was the one who sealed the deal.