CHART WATCH: Britney, Look What You Gone Done!

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

Chart Watch is 17 Tracks’ weekly look at the happenings on the Billboard Hot 100 with chart expert Hunter Schwarz.

Britney Spears shattered download records this week as the Max Martin/Dr. Luke creation “Hold It Against Me” debuts atop the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the singer’s fourth No. 1 single. “Hold It Against Me” has sold 411,000 digital downloads, marking not only Spears’ best one-week sales, but also the best first week sales for a female artist. The previous record was held by Taylor Swift, who shifted 325,000 downloads of “Today Was A Fairytale” last February.

Spears also had radio on her side. “Hold It Against Me” was the 23rd most played song in the country — extremely impressive for a week old song. With stats like that, a No. 1 debut on the Hot 100 was inevitable. It used to be rare for songs to make their first chart appearance at No. 1 — only 19 have done it in the 51-year history of the charts — but expect them to become a lot more common. Spears already did it in 2009 with “3,” making Spears the third artist to have multiple songs debut at the top spot (Mariah Carey and Celine Dion accomplished the feat in 1995 and 1998, respectively), and don’t be surprised if it’s not her last. In the age of iTunes, huge one-week sales and high debuts are more common then ever.

With twelve years under her belt, Britney Spears has reached icon status. Want proof? Look no further than the 2010 Forbes list of top earning musicians where Spears landed at No. 5. She might have released a clothing line and made a cameo appearance in a Britney-themed Glee episode, but 2010 was a quiet year for Spears. Compare that with Lady Gaga who was only the seventh biggest earning artist, despite spending virtually the entire year on the road and selling millions of dollars worth of albums, digital downloads and merchandise. Comparing the two pop stars highlights an important fact: Britney Spears makes waves without having to put in that much effort.

“Hold It Against Me” might be better than the phoned-in vocals and cheesy (and completely inappropriate for the mother of two) sexuality of “3,” but it doesn’t hold a candle to some of Spears’ previous work. So how exactly has Spears reached No. 1 with songs like “Hold It Against Me” and “3,” while far superior tracks haven’t been so lucky? The answer is digital downloads. The bulk of Spears’ career has been during a time of transition for the Hot 100 — the time in between the death of the physical single but before the rise of iTunes.

Her first No. 1 was her debut single, “…Baby One More Time,” released in October 1998. Benefiting from a provocative music video that quickly became a TRL staple, the song spent two weeks in the penthouse three months later and helped launch her album of the same name that went to sell over 12 million copies in the United States alone. But Spears’ teen pop anthem was to be her last chart-topping single for a full decade. At the end of 1998, Billboard fundamentally altered the Hot 100. No longer would it be exclusively a singles chart, but it would be a songs chart, meaning album cuts and promotional songs not available for purchase were eligible for charting. Billboard’s move killed the already dying physical single, and the Hot 100 became a radio-dominated chart.

In any other time, an artist like Spears still would have an impressive record in a radio-heavy chart climate, but the mid-2000s were not friendly to pop. Hip-hop and R&B songs spent weeks and weeks at No. 1, and from 2000-2006, Spears only scored two top ten hits (“Oops!…I Did It Again” and “Toxic” both went No. 9 in 2000 and 2004, respectively). Some artists might be pleased with a track record like that, but more should be expected for an artist who was arguably the defining pop star of the 2000s.

Her big break came in 2005 when Billboard began counting digital downloads when calculating the Hot 100. Unfortunately, Spears was less interested in making music by mid-decade and soon descended into her “fat Elvis” period. The effects of Billboard’s changes became apparent when her dark and danceable breakdown opus “Gimme More” went No. 3 in 2007. Her only promotion was a botched VMA performance, but Spears scored the second highest charting song of her career. Such is the power of Britney.

In 2008, nearly a decade after her first No. 1, Spears went No. 1 for a second time with “Womanizer.” The song pole-vaulted 96-1 thanks to massive first week digital downloads. The same chart rules that held back Britney for most of her career helped her disproportionately as she scored her last three chart toppers. Spears has legions of tireless and devoted fans who will buy anything and everything she puts out. It’s to be expected from fans who have seen their star go from being on top of the world to bald and batshit crazy and back again.

“Hold It Against Me” remains the top selling song on iTunes but expect its sales figures to drop next week. If radio airplay continues to grow for the track, however, it will be more than able to make up the difference and keep Britney at No. 1 for a second week, something Spears hasn’t been able to do since “…Baby One More Time.”

Here’s what’s happening on the rest of the Hot 100:

  • How ironic is it that the “anti-Britney” is sharing producers with Miss Spears herself? Avril Lavigne’s “What The Hell” even features a Britney-esque pronunciation of the word “me” (You’re on your knees/begging please/stay with maaaaaay) The song makes it debut at No. 13.
  • The chart’s third highest new debut is Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “H*A*M” from their forthcoming joint LP, Watch The Throne, which opens at No. 23.
  • Wiz Khalifa takes “Black and Yellow” to its highest peak ever — No. 5 — as various parodies of his tribute to the Pittsburgh Steelers pop up around the net. White and purple? Pink and purple?

Here’s this week’s top ten:

1. “Hold It Against Me” – Britney Spears (1st week at No. 1, debut)

2. “Grenade” – Bruno Mars

3. “Firework” – Katy Perry

4. “What’s My Name?” – Rihanna feat. Drake

5. “Black and Yellow” – Wiz Khalifa

6. “Tonight I’m Lovin’ You” -Enrique Iglesias feat. Ludacris

7. “We R Who We R” – Ke$ha

8. “Raise Your Glass” – Pink

9. The Time (Dirty Bit)” – Black Eyed Peas

10. “Just The Way You Are” – Bruno Mars

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