The phrase “music brings people together”, has been in our conscious for decades but there is a literal truth to this notion when you look at what we buy and what we hold onto.
Less than 3 percent of the 1,086 songs that have reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart have spent at least 10 weeks there. As a self-professed Billboard geek, this intrigues me. The fact that all but 8 of the 38 songs were sung by minority artists inspires me and I’ll take inspiration over intrigue every day. Going even deeper into this, only 3 songs have ever spent 16-weeks at number one and each of them feature multiple artists from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
All to say, the music we buy and hold onto for literal months on end is, without a doubt, diverse and inclusive. Just look at the below list. Take it in and smile. This is what life looks like when we put on our headphones, let our feet do the talking and our minds do the walking. We sing. We dance. We get lost. We do these things together and with no qualms about who is doing the singing.
16, “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, April 13, 2019
16, “Despacito,” Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, May 27, 2017
16, “One Sweet Day,” Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men, Dec. 2, 1995
14, “Uptown Funk!,” Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, Jan. 17, 2015
14, “I Gotta Feeling,” The Black Eyed Peas, July 11, 2009
14, “We Belong Together,” Mariah Carey, June 4, 2005
14, “Candle in the Wind 1997,” Elton John, Oct. 11, 1997
14, “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix),” Los Del Rio, Aug. 3, 1996
14, “I’ll Make Love to You,” Boyz II Men, Aug. 27, 1994
14, “I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston, Nov. 28, 1992
13, “The Boy Is Mine,” Brandy & Monica, June 6, 1998
13, “End of the Road,” Boyz II Men, Aug. 15, 1992
12, “Shape of You,” Ed Sheeran, Jan. 28, 2017
12, “Closer,” The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey, Sept. 3, 2016
12, “See You Again,” Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, April 25, 2015
12, “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke featuring T.I. + Pharrell, June 22, 2013
12, “Boom Boom Pow,” The Black Eyed Peas, April 18, 2009
12, “Yeah!,” Usher featuring Lil Jon & Ludacris, Feb. 28, 2004
12, “Lose Yourself,” Eminem, Nov. 9, 2002
12, “Smooth,” Santana featuring Rob Thomas, Oct. 23, 1999
11, “God’s Plan,” Drake, Feb. 3, 2018
11, “Independent Women Part I,” Destiny’s Child, Nov. 18, 2000
11, “I’ll Be Missing You,” Puff Daddy & Faith Evans featuring 112, June 14, 1997
11, “Un-Break My Heart,” Toni Braxton, Dec. 7, 1996
11, “I Swear,” All-4-One, May 21, 1994
10, “In My Feelings,” Drake, July 21, 2018
10, “One Dance,” Drake featuring WizKid & Kyla, April 23, 2016
10, “Hello,” Adele, Nov. 14, 2015
10, “Happy,” Pharrell Williams, March 8, 2014
10, “We Found Love,” Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris, Nov. 12, 2011
10, “Low,” Flo Rida featuring T-Pain, Jan. 5, 2008
10, “Irreplaceable,” Beyonce, Dec. 16, 2006
10, “Gold Digger,” Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx, Sept. 17, 2005
10, “Dilemma,” Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland, Aug. 17, 2002
10, “Foolish,” Ashanti, April 20, 2002
10, “Maria Maria,” Santana featuring The Product G&B, April 8, 2000
10, “Physical,” Olivia Newton-John, Nov. 21, 1981
10, “You Light Up My Life,” Debby Boone, Oct. 15, 1977
If you sit back and think about it, our musical tastes are finicky. Just ask every single one or two-hit wonder who had their 15 minutes of fame only to be put on the Spotify shelf nine months later. And yet, we gave these 38 songs several months of ear time. They struck a chord with us long enough to be in Billboard lore. Even more telling is the relative recency on display here.
The first Billboard song reached number one in 1958. It took 19 years for a song to stay at number one for 10-weeks and four additional years for the second to do so. Then, another 11-years passed before another song stayed number one for 10-weeks. Since then, 36 songs have accomplished the feat. But why? What changed? I was having this discussion with someone who was skeptical about the increasing longevity of number one songs over the past two decades and particularly the past several years. Their argument goes something like this:
“It used to be that people had to pay for music in order for it to chart. People also didn’t release two or three albums a year like Drake and Future. This new phenomena of free music and frequent releases skews the data and favors current artists over past ones.”
Yes and no. It is true that artists like Drake, The Cast of Glee (yes, them), Ariana Grande, and Lil’ Wayne have broken Billboard Hot 100 records with a multitude of releases and high streaming numbers. For instance, Drake can release an entire album and have every song chart somewhere in the Hot 100. This was not the case in 1999 or 1989. It is also true that consumers can drive a songs chart performance without paying a lick of money for the song. But, the Billboard Hot 100 is supposed to survey the most popular songs, not the most popular songs that people can afford to buy. As well, 26 of the 38 songs that have spent more than 10 weeks at number one, did so before Billboard began accounting for video play and streaming numbers. Lastly, there is a huge difference between a song debuting in the top ten or even at the number one spot and the song staying there for weeks on end. All to say — if a song stays number one for 10 weeks, it is because physical and digital sales, online streaming numbers, radio play, and video play from we the consumers have kept it there. Period. End. Of. Discussion.
We want songs that make us feel good and we care less about the gender, race, or ethnicity of the artist behind it. This is the truth but it hasn’t always been. When Dr. Dre released ‘The Chronic’ in 1992, there were people who loved the music but weren’t sure if they were allowed to love it. As such, the songs did okay on the Billboard Hot 100. The same can be said for Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’. Two decades later, they are seen as watershed moments in music history — more revered, remembered, and inspiring than the hundreds of Billboard songs and albums that went number one. We knew what we liked but we were more concerned with the acceptance of what we liked. It was cool to like Dr. Dre but it was safer to like Boyz II Men who broke a multitude of Billboard records in their own right. This should take nothing away from Boyz II Men. Instead, it says more about the shopping and listening habits of buyers who weren’t ready to openly express their musical selves any more than they were ready to openly admit that they liked someone of the opposite race, gender, or sexual orientation.
We are a long ways away from those times and our musical habits are a demonstration of that. Now, collaborations of artists from different genres, genders, races, and ethnicities are the norm. In fact, music producers bring them together because they know that buyers want and demand them. Think: Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift for ‘Bad Blood’, Ed Sheeran and Beyonce for ‘Perfect’, and Maroon 5 and Cardi B for ‘Girls Like You’. All number one songs that would not have gone number one without the diverse collaborations. This occurs even as the world is in the midst of racial and gender tensions. Consider: Two out of the three longest lasting numbers one’s (‘Old Town Road’ and ‘Despacito’) have come out the last two years. One has an otherwise washed up country artist and a new age rap sensation teaming together for an anthem about Wranglers and booties. The other is a Canadian pop sensation together with Latin hip hop stars singing a song with lyrics that are 90% Spanish. Are they glossing over the world around them? No. They are making music that transcends culture challenges and we are eating it up.
It is very likely that ‘Old Town Road’ will break the all-time record next week. It will stand alone as the only song in the 61-year history of the Billboard Hot 100 to spend 17 weeks at the top spot. Again, there have been 1,086 number one songs. None of them have spent more than 4-months on top. But we’re in a different era, a different frame of mind, a different lens of acceptance and inclusion. To be clear, this hasn’t fully translated to equal pay and equal rights in the more substantive parts of everyday life for everyday people. It can be difficult to celebrate diversity success in a bubble without having your bubble burst with the injustices that are occurring every day. That said, there is goodness in seeing the fruits of our community labors coming together in something as powerful and inspiring as music.